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Jordan Peterson on why you need to clean your room

Sometimes the basics really matter.

Dr. Jordan Peterson. (Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
  • Jordan Peterson believes that only by taking care of your immediate environment can you then move onto bigger challenges.
  • The idea stems from millennials who want to change capitalist economic structures though can be applied broadly.
  • In a distracted age, our inability to pay attention to our environment is leading to increased rates of anxiety and depression.

Recently, an Equinox member tried to walk out of the club carrying a stack of towels. When management stopped him, he thought they were offering to help carry the towels to his car. He was baffled upon learning that you're not actually allowed to steal club property. He had assumed, as a paying client, they were rightfully his.

In some ways this is an upgrade from how many members treat towels. I'm always amazed by how many men leave them strewn across the floor and benches even though they have to, by design, walk by a bin on the way out of the locker room. Not just towels: shaving cream and hair in sinks; treating benches like drying racks for sweaty clothing; hangars and plastic and energy drink containers and…

I feel like I'm in nursery school again, only back then my peers generally had better manners. While I can't speak for the women's changing room, I've been told it's not much better.

I was introduced to Jordan Peterson's work thanks to his "Clean Up Your Room" tangent on the Joe Rogan podcast. Rather than offense—the most common response when pointing out men can't clean up after themselves—this rant was a breath of fresh air.

The context is different, though the general idea remains intact. The idea stems from a lecture on millennials trying to change economic systems—a talk, he admits, that's a "bit pretentious." The Canadian professor believes that 18-year-olds cannot possibly know anything about economic structures. Beyond the specifics of his argument, generality is summated in one sentence:

"If you can't even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?"

Fleshing out the idea, he continues:

"My sense is that if you want to change the world, you start with yourself and work outward because you build your competence that way. I don't know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can't keep your room organized."

Jordan Peterson on Cleaning Your Room - The Joe Rogan Experience

Peterson suggests displaying your own competence locally, managing what you can actually control, before championing larger causes predominantly out of reach. It's humbling, he continues, because you're not "exceeding your domain of competence."

Self-competence is a foundational theory in his last book, 12 Rules For Life. For example, Rule #2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping, another way of expressing the biblical maxim about doing unto others and so on. Not taking care of yourself "with attention and skill," he writes, paves the road to "self-disgust, self-contempt, shame, and self-consciousness."

A whole lot of selves, which is part of the problem. The intensive focus on the individual is a motivating factor behind the rise in populism: pockets of communities, and pockets within pockets, disenfranchised and disempowered, refusing reason to scream "what about me." Community building and participation are powerful methods for alleviating the anxiety and depression that become emotionally taxing when you feel isolated. Problem is, our mediums for expression, namely social media, merely echo. Cleaning up your Twitter feed might be another necessary step in this process.

Just as carelessness online is common, a similar scenario unfolds walking through a gym locker room. Consumed as we are by the device in our hands, we lose spatial awareness. Someone else will clean up that towel or wipe away the shaving cream (or pick up those fingernail clippings—yeah, that too). How many times has someone almost (or fully) walked into you because their attention was consumed? How many times have you walked into someone?

When you can't orient yourself spatially your ignorance of others is guaranteed. One basic example I can't even believe I have to write, but having lived through it dozens of times, is worth a mention.

There are no shoes in yoga studios. A number of members wear flip-flops around the gym (or around life, being Los Angeles). Instead of depositing their sandals in the shoe rack, they simply step out and leave them in the doorway, forcing other members to step (or trip) over them while entering the room. The rack is less than four feet away. Whether it's privilege or lack of self-awareness (or both, as the two go hand-in-hand) is open for discussion. The result is always a messy room.

Otti Logan, 16, gets a folding lesson from Zen tidiness guru Marie Kondo.

(Photo by Joanne Rathe/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Peterson's argument stems from teenagers and economic systems, but here's another glaring example: climate change. Humans are the most wasteful species in the history of the planet. Our ability to manipulate natural resources into plastics, chemistry, and tons of useless products now floating around oceans is a major underlying cause of carbon emissions. Instead of waking up to clean our room, we bury our heads in our phones.

"Kondo" might be a buzzword (and annoying Instagram hashtag), but the underlying Shinto principles are worth exploring. Westerners would do well studying more Japanese culture, especially the focus on collectivism and philosophy of bowing—basically, the de-emphasizing of "me".

Kondo's platform is rooted in simplicity and elegance: Treat everything as if it's sacred. Place your attention in the environment and not only does your environment improve, so do you. In an overworked and overstressed culture like America, more emphasis on objects directly in front of our eyes would do our collective nervous system wonders. Which is a hard message to get across in the land of fragmented awareness.

Explaining why he wrote 12 Rule For Life in the book's introduction, Peterson offers an overview for our collective success:

We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It's asking a lot. It's asking for everything.

Do we have the will for "everything"? The notion that "someone else will do it" cuts across economic classes, ethnicities, and genders. While I don't agree with Peterson that millennials know nothing about economics—they're inheriting the future we're creating and should be allowed a voice in the matter—he's right about the most basic principle imaginable: Clean up your room and you clean up yourself.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Human brains remember certain words more easily than others

A study of the manner in which memory works turns up a surprising thing.

Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Researchers have found that some basic words appear to be more memorable than others.
  • Some faces are also easier to commit to memory.
  • Scientists suggest that these words serve as semantic bridges when the brain is searching for a memory.

Cognitive psychologist Weizhen Xie (Zane) of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) works with people who have intractable epilepsy, a form of the disorder that can't be controlled with medications. During research into the brain activity of patients, he and his colleagues discovered something odd about human memory: It appears that certain basic words are consistently more memorable than other basic words.

The research is published in Nature Human Behaviour.

An odd find

Image source: Tsekhmister/Shutterstock

Xie's team was re-analyzing memory tests of 30 epilepsy patients undertaken by Kareem Zaghloul of NINDS.

"Our goal is to find and eliminate the source of these harmful and debilitating seizures," Zaghloul said. "The monitoring period also provides a rare opportunity to record the neural activity that controls other parts of our lives. With the help of these patient volunteers we have been able to uncover some of the blueprints behind our memories."

Specifically, the participants were shown word pairs, such as "hand" and "apple." To better understand how the brain might remember such pairings, after a brief interval, participants were supplied one of the two words and asked to recall the other. Of the 300 words used in the tests, five of them proved to be five times more likely to be recalled: pig, tank, doll, pond, and door.

The scientists were perplexed that these words were so much more memorable than words like "cat," "street," "stair," "couch," and "cloud."

Intrigued, the researchers looked at a second data source from a word test taken by 2,623 healthy individuals via Amazon's Mechanical Turk and found essentially the same thing.

"We saw that some things — in this case, words — may be inherently easier for our brains to recall than others," Zaghloul said. That the Mechanical Turk results were so similar may "provide the strongest evidence to date that what we discovered about how the brain controls memory in this set of patients may also be true for people outside of the study."

Why understanding memory matters

person holding missing piece from human head puzzle

Image source: Orawan Pattarawimonchai/Shutterstock

"Our memories play a fundamental role in who we are and how our brains work," Xie said. "However, one of the biggest challenges of studying memory is that people often remember the same things in different ways, making it difficult for researchers to compare people's performances on memory tests." He added that the search for some kind of unified theory of memory has been going on for over a century.

If a comprehensive understanding of the way memory works can be developed, the researchers say that "we can predict what people should remember in advance and understand how our brains do this, then we might be able to develop better ways to evaluate someone's overall brain health."

Party chat

Image source: joob_in/Shutterstock

Xie's interest in this was piqued during a conversation with Wilma Bainbridge of University of Chicago at a Christmas party a couple of years ago. Bainbridge was, at the time, wrapping up a study of 1,000 volunteers that suggested certain faces are universally more memorable than others.

Bainbridge recalls, "Our exciting finding is that there are some images of people or places that are inherently memorable for all people, even though we have each seen different things in our lives. And if image memorability is so powerful, this means we can know in advance what people are likely to remember or forget."

spinning 3D model of a brain

Temporal lobes

Image source: Anatomography/Wikimedia

At first, the scientists suspected that the memorable words and faces were simply recalled more frequently and were thus easier to recall. They envisioned them as being akin to "highly trafficked spots connected to smaller spots representing the less memorable words." They developed a modeling program based on word frequencies found in books, new articles, and Wikipedia pages. Unfortunately, the model was unable to predict or duplicate the results they saw in their clinical experiments.

Eventually, the researchers came to suspect that the memorability of certain words was linked to the frequency with which the brain used them as semantic links between other memories, making them often-visited hubs in individuals's memory networks, and therefore places the brain jumped to early and often when retrieving memories. This idea was supported by observed activity in participants' anterior temporal lobe, a language center.

In epilepsy patients, these words were so frequently recalled that subjects often shouted them out even when they were incorrect responses to word-pair inquiries.

Seek, find

Modern search engines no longer simply look for raw words when resolving an inquiry: They also look for semantic — contextual and meaning — connections so that the results they present may better anticipate what it is you're looking for. Xie suggests something similar may be happening in the brain: "You know when you type words into a search engine, and it shows you a list of highly relevant guesses? It feels like the search engine is reading your mind. Well, our results suggest that the brains of the subjects in this study did something similar when they tried to recall a paired word, and we think that this may happen when we remember many of our past experiences."

He also notes that it may one day be possible to leverage individuals' apparently wired-in knowledge of their language as a fixed point against which to assess the health of their memory and brain.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

Videos
  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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