11-24-12 - The Adapted Eye

Buying a house for a view is a big mistake. (*)

Seattle is a somewhat beautiful place (I'm not more enthusiastic because it is depressing to me how easily it could have been much better (and it continues to get worse as the modern development of Cap Hill and South Lake Union turn the city into a generic condo/mall dystopia)) but I just don't see it any more. When we got back from CA I realized that I just don't see the lake and the trees anymore, all I see is "home".

There are some aspects that still move me, like clear views of the Olympics, because they are a rare treat. But after 4 years, the beauty all around is just background.

We have pretty great views from our house, and I sort of notice them, but really the effect on happiness of the view is minimal.

(* = there are benefits to houses with a view other than the beauty of the view. Usually a good view is associated with being on a hill top, or above other people, or up high in a condo tower, and those have the advantages of being quieter, better air, more privacy, etc. Also having a view of nature is an advantage just in the fact that it is *not* a view of other people, which is generally stressful to look at because they are doing fucked up things that you can't control. I certainly appreciate the fact that our house is above everyone else; it's nice to look down on the world and be separate from it).

I was driving along Lake Wash with my brother this summer and he made some comment about how beautiful it was, and for a second there I just couldn't figure out what he was talking about. I was looking around to see if there was some new art installation, or if Mount Rainier was showing itself that day, and then I realized that he just meant the tree lined avenue on the lake and the islands and all that which I just didn't see at all any more.

Of course marrying for beauty is a similar mistake. Even ignoring the fact that beauty fades, if we imagine that it lasted forever it would still be a mistake because you would stop seeing it.

I've always thought that couples could keep the aesthetic interest in each other alive by completely changing their style every few years. Like, dress as a hipster for a while, dress as a punk rocker or a goth, dress as a preppy business person. Or get drastically different hair cuts, like for men grow out your hair like an 80's rocker, or get a big Morrisey pompadour, something different. Most people over 30 tend to settle into one boring low-maintenance style for the rest of their lives, and it becomes invisible to the adapted eyes in their lives.

I suppose there are various tricks you can use; like rather than have your favorite paintings on the wall all the time, rotate them like a museum, put some in storage for a while and hang up some others. It might even help to roll some dice to forcibly randomize your selection.

I guess the standard married custom of wearing sweats around the house and generally looking like hell is actually a smart way of providing intermittent reward. It's the standard sitcom-man refrain to complain that your wife doesn't fancy herself up any more, but that's dumb; if she did dress up every day, then that would just become the norm and you would stop seeing it. Better to set the baseline low so that you can occasionally have something exceptional.

(add : hmm the generalized point that you should save your best for just a few moments and be shitty other times is questionable. Think about behavior. Should you intentionally be kind of dicky most of the time and occasionally really nice? If you're just nice all the time, that becomes the baseline and people take it for granted. I'm not sure about that. But certainly morons do love the "dicky dad" character in TV's and movies; your typical fictional football coach is a great example; dicky dad is stern and tough, scowly and hard on you, but then takes you aside and is somewhat kind and generous, and all the morons in the audience melt and just eat that shit up.)

One of the traps of life is optimizing things. You paint your walls your favorite color for walls, you think you're making things better, but that gets you stuck in a local maximum, which you then stop seeing, and you don't feel motivated to change it because any change is "worse".

I realized the other day that quite a few ancient societies actually have pretty clever customs to provide randomized rewards. For example lots of societies have something like "numbers" , which ignoring the vig, is just a way of taking a steady small income and turning it into randomized big rewards.

Say you got a raise and make $1 more a day. At first you're happy because your life got better, but soon that happiness is gone because you just get used to the new slightly better life and don't perceive it any more. If instead of getting that $1 a day, you instead get $365 randomly on average once a year, your happiness baseline is the same, but once in a while you get a really happy day. This is probably actually better for happiness.

I think the big expensive parties that lots of ancient societies throw for special events might be a similar thing. Growing up in LA we would see our poor latino neighbors spend ridiculous amounts on a quincenera or a wedding and think how foolish it was, surely it's more rational to save that money and use it for health care or education or a nicer house. But maybe they had it right? Human happiness is highly resistant to rational optimization.


Aaron said...

Yeah, we're pretty good adapting to comfort and then dismissing it, but... it's much harder to adapt to discomfort. It has a way of just eating at you, and the worse it is the worse it eats at you. Not having a view would suck. Even if you don't appreciate the view you have on a daily basis, you'd anti-appreciate the lack of a view :)

I like the ideas about having some good dynamic range in life. I like the contrast between driving the minivan and the Speed, between commuting in to work in the office and working at home.

More and more I think someday we need a subscription service to spice life up and take care of some of the dysfunctional shit modern urbanites slip into. Personal trainers for more than just exercise. A little life coaching, keeping us on track with our goals (hey, how's that iphone app you were thinking about writing work on, etc?), take care of mundane bill-paying crap, hold back a bit of your paycheck then, somewhat like you say, hand you a fat stack of your $20 bills one day and say "leave your desk and go spend this".

Per Vognsen said...

"More and more I think someday we need a subscription service to spice life up"

You're not taking this far enough. It needs to be like an RPG. Every week, someone rolls 5d20 and looks up what's going to happen on a chart. Roll high enough and you get to fuck a supermodel. Roll low enough and you get beaten up by club-wielding thugs.

Someone needs to make this premise into a movie. The Game meets Jumanji.

Per Vognsen said...

I just remembered that Borges wrote a short story based on this very idea: http://www.class.uh.edu/mcl/faculty/armstrong/cityofdreams/texts/babylon.html

MH said...

Happiness is internal and fixed.

Beauty is just what rating genes externally feels like internally, just like fear is what uncertainty feels like.

MH said...

(When your brain thinks something is going to go wrong. When its going to go right its excited)

old rants