Neophile

Neophile [nee-uh-fahyl] is a term used by counterculture cult writer Robert Anton Wilson to describe a particular type of personality. A neophile or neophiliac can be defined as a personality type characterized by a strong affinity for novelty.

Neophiles/Neophiliacs have the following basic characteristics: The ability to adapt rapidly to extreme change. A distaste or downright loathing of tradition, repetition, and routine. A tendency to become bored quickly with old things. A desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty. A corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest.

A neophile is distinct from a revolutionary in that anyone might become a revolutionary if pushed far enough by the reigning authorities or social norms, whereas neophiles are revolutionaries by nature. Their intellectual abhorrence of tradition and repetition usually bemoans a deeper emotional need for constant novelty and change. The meaning of neophile approaches and is not mutually exclusive to the term visionary, but differs in that a neophile actively seeks first-hand experience of novelty rather than merely pontificating about it.

The opposite of a neophile is a neophobe; a person with an aversion to novelty and change. Wilson observes that neophobes tend to regard neophiles, especially extreme ones, with fear and contempt, and to brand them with titles such as ‘witch,’ ‘satanist,’ ‘heretic,’ etc. He also speculates in his ‘Prometheus Rising’ series of books that the industrial revolution and related enlightenment represents one of the first periods of history in which neophiles were a dominant force in society. Neophiles accelerate change because they like it that way.

Open-source advocate and programmer, Eric S. Raymond observes that this personality is especially prevalent in certain fields of expertise; in business, these are primarily computer science and other areas of high technology. Raymond speculates that the rapid progress of these fields (especially computers) is a result of this. A neophile’s love of novelty is likely to lead him or her into subjects outside of the normal areas of human interest. Raymond observes a high concentration of neophiles in or around what he calls ‘leading edge subcultures’ such as science fiction fandom, neo-paganism, transhumanism, etc. as well as in or around nontraditional areas of thought such as fringe philosophy or the occult. Raymond observes that most neophiles have roving interests and tend to be widely well-read.

There is more than one type of neophile. There are social neophiles (the extreme social butterfly), intellectual neophiles (the revolutionary philosopher and the technophile), and physical/kinetic neophiles (the extreme sports enthusiast). These tendencies are not mutually exclusive, and might exist simultaneously in the same individual.

The word ‘neophilia’ has particular significance in Internet and hacker culture. The New Hacker’s Dictionary gave the following definition:

‘The trait of being excited and pleased by novelty. Common among most hackers, SF fans, and members of several other connected leading-edge subcultures, including the pro-technology ‘Whole Earth’ wing of the ecology movement, space activists, many members of Mensa, and the Discordian/neo-pagan underground. All these groups overlap heavily and (where evidence is available) seem to share characteristic hacker tropisms for science fiction, music.’

Recent research uncovered a possible link between certain predisposition to some kind of neophilia and increased levels of the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAO). MAO inhibitors are a class of antidepressant drugs prescribed for the treatment of depression. They are particularly effective in treating atypical depression.

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