I just read a really frustrating article on wire titled “Autonomous Vehicles Might Drive Cities To Financial Ruin.” The title should be enough of a red flag, but I figured i’d dive in and see what was up. Well, It’s actually worse than I expected. The writer complains that self driving cars will lower city tax revenues because cops won’t be able to pull them over and fine the driver any more. Cities make billions of dollars in parking violations and it’s certainly true that these revenue sources will deplenish if you take out the human error involved in driving around. She goes on to frame this as a sort of social justice concern, worrying that such a loss in revenue may mean public transportation being cut, disproportionately affecting minority groups. Of course she doesn’t make note of the fact that police traffic stops, tickets and fines, disporationaly affect minorities. It’s worth considering how lowering the amount of traffic stops might actually be the ideal social justice perspective. However that’s not her major error. The real flaw in her thinking comes from not realizing how these self driving cars will ultimately lower the cost of travel for everyone. Uber Pool and Lyft Line, services where you can split your ride with strangers, already have driven the cost of ride sharing close to that of public transit. One of my recent rides in Atlanta was $3 for 5.5 miles of travel. Atlanta’s bus service MARTA would have cost me $2.50. Imagine how much lower this could get if there was no driver to pay. Maybe instead of her call to “press pause on aggressive plans to deploy driverless cars in cities across the United States”, we should actually be looking to accelerate the process by getting regulations out of the way.
Working from home is difficult. Staying motivated and disciplined when you could easily just lay around and scroll memes can be quite the task. I’ve been exclusively self employed for almost a year now and Ive had to learn how to master this skill. I’ve noticed productivity is often about getting the specific variables right. Here’s a list of my variables and maybe you find some insights to your own struggles in those.
Natural light to keep me awake and focused
Chairs that promote good posture without being too uncomfortable
Filling breakfast to give me fuel for the day
Music, usually without lyrics to help zone into my work
Work in room other than my bedroom to keep myself from getting sleepy
Facing a window so I have something stimulating to look at
Sober unless doing casual work like art
Exercise in the morning to get blood flowing and keep myself awake
I have an intense interest in ethics and using philosophy to discover general rules for how to live life and interact with others. This passion has always lead me to take the position of ethical egoism very seriously. Ethical egoism, which i’ll just call egoism for the rest of this, is the idea that when at the crossroads morality, you ought to always choose the thing that is in your self interest. Of course egoism doesn’t mean you can’t help others or value the interest of others. Simply that the core principle that should motivate one’s moral actions should be based in self interest.
Virtue ethics is the idea that morality is not about specific actions, or specific results, but about the character of the person making those moral choices. Aristotle is the old dead philosopher often credited with its creation. He starts with idea that all people want to and should seek their eudaimonia. The simple translation of this word is happiness, but that’s a bit misleading. Eudaimonia is a much grander final goal in life. Think of it as fulfilment beyond just simple fleeting pleasures and temporary happiness. The major way Aristotle thinks we can reach such a state is through learning to live out the virtues. The virtues are the characteristics one can embody when making choices. The virtue of courage is needed to make the action to defend your community against an invader. The virtue of temperance (not to be confused with the temperance movement) is needed to learn how to enjoy alcohol in moderation without going overboard. For Aristotle, the way in which me discover the virtues is by finding the middle of two extreme vices. Courage is in between being a coward and seeking out danger for example.
Though I think this sort of middle ground approach for discovering the virtues, has its flaws, I’m very interested in the synthesis of virtue ethics with egoism. Obviously one can see where valuing eudaimonia can be interpreted as a sort of egoism. If at the core of our ethics is the question of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves, then the core is a matter of self interest. Maybe more intriguing is how virtue ethics helps us flesh out egoism. It’s not enough to say “you ought to act in your self interest”. The question that must follow is, how do we know if something is actually in our self interest or not? We could simply it down to impulsive wants, that may lead us to some confusing contradictions. I may want to shoot up heroin all weekend but I also have a value for maintaining healthy relationships with my family and friends. Both of these are my expressed values, yet It’s unlikely I will be able to successfully do both. If the standard for self interest is simply “what I want to do”, then I’m not really closer to knowing which choice is best. It may be tempting to resolve this by categorizing specific actions as good or bad. But such an approach isn’t very universalizable. Shooting up may be intuitively in the bad category, but there’s certainly cases where it might be in your self interest. Soldiers in Vietnam used heroin was a way to self medicate and deal with the horrors of war. Most of which were able to come home and quit cold turkey. This is where the virtue ethics comes in. If you want to truly act in your self interest, then the specific actions you take are less relevant than the mind set and intentions of why you took those actions. It would make sense to embody virtues and characteristics, that are universalizable, to help insure you always make the choice that is in your best interest. For example, If you want to know what the best choice to make is, then you must live with the characteristic and virtue of valuing truth and logic. This is what helps us reach a better egoism. It’s through embodying virtues that we can get closer to resolving the question of knowing what is truly in our self interest.
It’s tempting to always approach interior design as a top down system. We may start a conception of how we want a room to look and disrupt the natural order of the room, to reorganize it to fit with this conception. Then we try to force our habits to match the design of the room. The whole approach can come with a lot of problems. We may find it difficult to adjust our behaviors. Or find forcing an aesthetic on a room will feel clunky and awkward. However this is not the only way to approach interior design. Consider a more natural or bottom up tactic. One that conforms with our natural spontaneous activities.
Within the study of economics, there is a concept called Spontaneous Order. It is an insight about how order can develop without the need of top down design. Complex and functional systems can be built through what looks like chaos. Evolution is a solid example of this. There’s (likely) no top down design to nature. Why a specific body part evolved can be explained simply through understanding the complex and chaotic incentives that animals face over generations. Walking around on a busy city block is another example. There’s no cop telling you to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. No expressed rules for when to get out of someone’s way. Yet the vast majority of the time, you aren’t bumping into people. The relevant insight here, is that sometimes designs doesn’t need to be over thought. Often systems should just follow the natural order and incentives already in place.
So how do we apply this concept to interior design?
To start off, let’s discuss furniture. Have you ever not had a night stand by your bed? Seriously think about it. Everyone reading this can probably be fit into two categories of experience. Either you left your parents house with a night stand and take it for granted, or you didn’t have a night moving out and asap found a substitute or bought your own. Without one you find yourself with noticeable inconveniences. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and you need your glass of water. Most people have it conveniently placed in arms reach on a stand, at a height near the height of the bed. If you didn’t have the nightstand, the placement of your glass of water becomes a lot more inconvenient. It’s either on the floor, below the bed, or away from the bed on some other piece of furniture. Naturally the incentives are clear for you to buy a nightstand to place besides your bed.
It’s easy to see how we can use this idea for something like furniture, but what about aesthetic design choices?
Here I’ll use a personal example to help illustrate my point. When I first moved into my current room, I found myself often sitting in my bed, always facing a certain direction. This happened to be the most comfortable spot to sit on my bed, were I might naturally lay around while passing the time. Unfortunately while in that spot, the only thing I had to look at was a blank wall. Not just any blank wall, but a pretty ugly one at that. A makeshift wall previously installed in the room before I moved in. My basic incentive was to find something to increase the value of staring off into this direction. I knew I needed something large to cover as much of the wall as possible. I knew it had to be interesting to look at as to avoid getting bored. This lead to purchasing a large world map. Hanging up on my wall, it covers most of the ugly and fulfills all of wants. I have something interesting to look at that never really gets boring. Simply through designing around my natural activities, I was able to reach a meaningful design choice.
Next time you’re designing the interior of a room, consider taking an approach that accounts for your natural behaviors. Obverse exactly how you live in your room. Consider where you eyes fall and where you place your belongings before going to bed. Pay attention to your natural activities and design around those incentives instead of trying to confirm your actions to some grander design. Pay attention to the spontaneous order of interior design.
One of my favorite contemporary thinkers is a guy named Jordan Peterson. He’s mostly a psychologist and deals with a lot of work around “Archetypes”. Throughout our human evolution we have noticed characteristic patterns, and group those together into abstract mental images. So like when I say, The Trickster, you intuitively think of a set of characteristics that make up this archetype. Be it lying, stealing, joking around, etc. The evolutionary aspect is very important here. Not only have we evolved to understand archetypes of people but archetypes of events (birth, death, etc), and archetypes of myths, narratives and symbols (resurrection, The Hero’s Journey, lions as a symbol for strength, etc). Deep in out psychology there are “spiritual” symbols and experiences waiting to be tapped into when the moment is right. I don’t mean these things are ideas shared from a god or whatever. They can have purely physical explanations. One example Peterson brings up, is the commonality of symbols in ancient religions all around the world. Both European and South Americans cultures shared the symbol of a tree connecting heaven and earth, with a snake circling around it. Sometimes this included a hell aspect below the tree. The easiest explanation is to consider that most of our evolutionary history was literally that. Our ancestors lived in trees. The heaven of sorts was near the top of the tree. That’s where all the socialization and eating happened. With the ground of the tree being the dangerous place filled with snakes and lions. You can see how generations of animals evolving in these situations would start to develop these archetypal associations. The early animals that survived would have to have had instincts deep down inside them, that made them see the tree as good and the snakes below as risks. Any animal that didn’t would have been bread out of the gene pool pretty quick. These instincts would have obviously stuck around in our evolution. They become more of an abstract association. You don’t need to be presented with a reason for thinking of the world as a tree connected to heaven and hell. You just have to have the subconscious instincts. This offers up a pretty thorough explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. When people enter into hallucinations, they often see the same symbols and archetypes as other people. Not because there are literal demons and ghosts to see. More because these ideas are deep in our psyche and can come out at times when they are triggered.
How exactly we trigger these spiritual things to come out is important to address. The human mind is very complex and still misunderstood. However I have some personal experiences and ideas that might help us flesh this out. I’ve had sessions of prayer that were so moving and powerful that it could be explained as spiritual. Moments that brought me to tears. I don’t think it was because I was actually interacting with God. A more simple explanation would be to write it off as just normal brain chemistry interactions. These moments only ever happened when there was psychological priming. It could be a lack of sleep from staying up late at night, causing my brain to amplify my emotions and induce minor hallucinations. If I already believe (and i did at the time) that God exists and that I’m interacting with him, then it makes sense that in a vulnerable mental state, I start to fill in the gaps of my experience with my assumptions on God. I’ve noticed too, that often spiritual experiences happen in spiritual places while doing spiritual things. Maybe you’re listening to a great worship song that is touching you deeply. You zone out into this song. You dance wildly, spinning in circles and doing repetitive, almost animalistic actions. Or maybe in a more traditional church you find yourself standing up and sitting down in rapid succession. What if these are the exact things that prime us to have intense feelings of being possessed by the holy spirit? Cults are well aware that they can trick people by psychological priming them to have spiritual experiences. In the 80’s there was a cult that almost took over a huge voting block in Oregon. The Rajneeshpuram. There’s a Netflix doc on this. It’s great and worth watching. The videos of their initiation process show people dancing wildly, screaming, singing and spinning in circles. This lowered a lot of their psychological barricades. Weakening the mind’s ability to tell fact from fiction. If followed by a sermon like lecture from a charming and wise old man, it makes sense were a defenseless mind might start to believe nearly anything said.
The mind is so sensitive. Even the chemical interaction of what food you eat that day, can have notable impacts on your psyche. Drugs like DMT can induce amazingly visual hallucinations tapping into the dreaming parts of your brain. Ingesting chemicals can be a simple explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. If you dig around demonology reports, drugs are extremely common. People attempting to summon a demon almost always have ingested some sort of drug first.
If we can explain away an experience with basic psychology, why bother to complicate our metaphysics with things like gods and ghosts? With all these insights, it’s hard to see where there’s room left for legitimately spiritual experiences. When you have a spiritual experience, remain skeptical. Do no attribute to a God what could be easily explained with simple psychology.