The Architecture of Life: 2008

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Revelatory Christmas – New Vision of Economic Value

This is the first post in a series called "Transformational Economics".

I no longer live in a world with a collapsing economy. I am creating a new one.

This Christmas our family decided to give non-material gifts to the adults in our family.

The week before the big day, I sat down at my computer and wrote letters to everyone in my family.

I have a big family and by the time I was done, I had worked fourteen hours crafting the words that would truly express why I love the people I love, who they are for me and why I find them special.

When I was done, I found a new and unexpected peace. This struck me as strange at first because I am a man who acknowledges those he loves. After some thought, I realized I had never once spent that much time in one sitting, thinking about the people I care about. I saw my new found peace had always been available to me. My obsession with my "agenda" in life had merely obscured it.

I had enrolled my family in a "new kind of gift giving" in advance. When we gathered to celebrate it was like no Christmas in our past. My family is an intimate and loving group. We have had many wonderful times together in the past, but by removing ourselves from commercial culture and expressing our love directly instead of by purchasing (let’s be honest) unwanted gifts, we discovered a new and profound intimacy.

The experience changed me and helped me create a new conversation I had been crafting, a conversation designed to be shared.

The Myth of the Collapsing Global Economy:

Falling down is not always a bad thing. Waterfalls do it with abandon and are one of the most beautiful phenomena on earth.

Like almost everyone on the planet, I wasted a lot of energy in the Fall of 2008 locked in fear about the financial markets and how their collapse would impact me, my family, my businesses and my life. Every day the news reports seemed to add to my internal experience of failure and helplessness.

But I found a way out of that morass. I realized in early December that the “collapsing global economy” is just a story; a repetitive, debilitating conversation that lives in fear and insufficiency. It is a "created reality" like all other realities.

I am not saying it is a myth without power. That disturbing drama has its impact on the real world. Self-destructive conversations have consequences not only for individuals, but also for nations and economic systems. People are hurting and afraid.

But though its effects are real, the sad and pitiable tale we are telling about the global economy is also a self-fulfilling prophesy. At its core is a commonly held bad attitude, an anxiety-addicted belief in scarcity.

At our house, our finances are stretched. We have had to give up things we care about…but really, we are just fine. We are healthy. Our children and grandchildren are well and happy. We are not starving. The sun rises every morning. Most of us in this country have what I often refer to as “rich people’s problems.”

Billions of people in the world – and some here in the U. S. - really live on the edge of survival. They would laugh at our self-pity. They face much worse every day and have dealt with it their entire lives.

So I am no longer going to play that game. On Christmas day I made my stand. I will no longer meekly engage in that economic melodrama like a sheep being led to slaughter. I choose not to live like I am powerless. Living in fear, buying the spin so eagerly promoted by Fox and CNN is not putting money in my pocket, supporting my family, making me more effective or enhancing my life in any way.

To the contrary, it has exactly the opposite effect.

A New Conversation:

In 2009 I am creating a conversation that is more powerful, more fulfilling and more workable. I am creating hope and abundance. I am creating a world in which anything is possible, a world in which people all over this planet make the impossible possible every day. I am creating a life for me and my family in the new paradigm I see building all around me.

You may think I am a pie in the sky idealist, but I argue I am a pragmatist. Think about it. How is that negative story working for you? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? How do you feel after you finish watching the news? Is something good happening in your life because you are sure things are bad?

I doubt it. Why don’t you give a new story a try?

The tale I am telling is that the changes going on in our world are the collapse of a tired old way of being and the genesis of a new one that will transform our lives for the better. I am creating a conversation about a new "bottom up" economy in which all are included, one already being built all over the planet by the young and the visionary.

I am creating a system of exchange and value that recognizes our interdependence and is endlessly innovative. I am building an economy of infinite possibility, of sufficiency and abundance…an economy that works for everyone.

The conversation I am having is that the old is falling away and the new is born. I am telling the story of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, its wings unfolding…a story of the glory of flight.

The tale I am creating is not one of soft-hearted idealism. It lives in the material, in the brains and words of human beings. It is a story of hard science, corporate and political realities, a pragmatic evolution forged in technology and human cultural evolution that has been growing for many years. It is a new interpretation of reality that is available to everyone all the time. Real people can act on it in their lives at any moment. It is a conversation that makes things work where they do not, like all new technologies that have value.

We are going home, home to our better selves, home to new relationships, new systems of behavior, new technologies and new societal and economic structures. Given the state of the world we have had in the past, that is a good thing.

But before we can move forward, we have to see the debilitating conversation that prevails around us for what it is. We must turn negativity into possibility. We must make our stands for a world that works and act upon them. We must quiet the cruel wind of fear that fills the tattered sails of the sinking ship of excess, failure, scarcity, corruption, partisanship, self-interest and greed that has plagued our country and our world.

Sounds too big and too hard? It’s not. All we have to do is change the subject. All we have to do is notice the "glass half full" rather than the "glass half empty" and share what we see with those we meet. After all, positive interpretations are no less real than negative ones. There is ample evidence for both and I would assert that positivism is more practical and effective.

Perhaps you are convinced the world really is going to Hell in a handbasket and there is nothing you can do about it. Well think about this.

Throughout your life, neurons and other nerve tissues in your brain grow in response to your environment. The process is called neurogenesis. New synapses and whole new neurons are actually being added into the circuitry of your brain in response to the world around you. Metaphorically, they grow a lot like muscle tissue. If you use your muscles, they grow and get stronger. If you sit on the couch all day and watch TV, they atrophy.

Something (roughly) similar happens in your brain. Everything you think, feel and experience is a result how those nerve tissues respond to your experience. Experience grows new neurons and creates new neural networks.

The more often a particular neural pathway is reinforced by environmental cues, the stronger it gets and the more embedded in your memory. So the behavior, attitudes and values with which you approach life – and the nature and context of your relationships with others – are built into your nervous system. They are not just ethereal ideas or attitudes. They are aspects of your physiology.

How you see the world and how the world sees you is built into your brain. But because your brain is constantly changing and growing, over time you can change that hard wiring simply by altering your thoughts, actions or your environment. Attitudes and values are not casual things. They are physical and the source of your everyday experience of life.

That means your words have power. Speaking is an act of creation. Over time, the way you describe the world creates your world. If you want a "better world," all you have to do is "cast your vote" each day for the world that is already working.

Ever notice who is always around when your life doesn’t work? You are. You can blame it on your circumstances if you want to, but all that does is make it persist. You can blame others, but all that does is make you suffer. Maybe you should consider an alternative.

I invite you to join me in a new conversation. We can create it together in the days and months to come…and before you know it, a new and vibrant economy will emerge.

GO TO SECOND POST - Transformational Economics II

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

His and Hers Homes - Designing Relationships

Creighton Welch of the San Antonio Express News wrote another article a few days ago that used me as a primary source.

This one talks about the stress on relationship that can be caused by taking on a change in your living space. Creighton's last article - on choosing the right remodeling contractor - is here.

At Truehome, a full third of our exercises relate to this important part of creating a healing home. The Express News article hits on the subject lightly, but there is much more possible than what is included in that article.

If you want to know more about how you can create a successful team with your housemate or spouse when taking on a project, and even about using your home to empower your most important relationships, see the "Remodeling Your Relationships" pages on our website or sign up for one of my upcoming seminars.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Truehome Workshop Seminars

I am excited to announce that starting early in 2009, I will be offering both consulting services and weekend seminars in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas based upon demand.

Ever since my techniques for designing homes that "fit who people are" were the subject of a major article in the New York Times last July, people have asked when I might offer the Truehome Workshop in a seminar format.

In the last several months, between my architecture firm and the work that was going on at, I could not see how I could pull that off. But the international media attention our project has received has convinced me there is a demand.

Go Magazine, the Texas A & M architecture school, the San Antonio Express News, Hommes Magazine in Athens, Greece and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia have all run stories on me and our approach to design.

The last chapter of Sam Gosling's popular book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You lauds our project. Sam is a brilliant University of Texas behavioral psychologist who just won the APA's "2008 Distinguished Scientific Early Career Contribution to Psychology" award, so to have his endorsement is quite a feather in my cap.

Blogs have lauded my efforts to "disrupt the way in which people think about architecture". It's been a fun ride and all indications are that it will continue. As a result we decided the time to develop a seminar program is now. We hope to have our first event scheduled in Austin by March of 2009.

I will also make myself available for speaking engagements and for group consulting about how to effectively create a home that fits. We use the Truehome methods on institutional projects too, particularly non-profit and religious institutions.

By special arrangement, I will also entertain speaking engagements at other locations outside the geographic market in which my architecture firm operates.

The seminars will be open to both consumers and professionals - like architects and interior designers - who want to be trained to use the Truehome Workshop or to develop their own methods of applying psychology and human factors to their design practices.

If you have an interest in attending a seminar or arranging a speaking engagement, contact me via e-mail at; or by phone at either our Austin office at 512-444-0777 or in my office in Round Top at 979-249-5961.

I look forward to meeting you and spreading the gospel of designing "homes that fit the lives of real people."

Loving Jim Crow To Death

In my "real life," in addition to running an architecture firm, I am the publisher of a rural quarterly called the Round Top Register based in a rural Central Texas with a population of 77. My neighbors are mostly nice people, but very conservative. They are finding it hard to change.

Many of them - black, white and Hispanic - like me have strong feelings about the state of race in this country and we are not always on the same side of the fence. My county voted over 70% Republican in the last election. I printed this story in the first issue after Barack Obama became the president elect of the United States.

by Christopher K. Travis

I got a call November 13th, nine days after the election of America’s first African-American President.

The caller – whose voice had the characteristic twang of my fellow rural Texans - asked me “...why none of the papers were reporting that Klan incident that happened at the Dairy Queen in Bellville.”

According to the man on the phone, he met a guy he knew “at the lumber yard” and his buddy had seen the whole thing. There had been a ruckus at the Dairy Queen in Bellville (a small community about 50 miles outside Houston) when some black people “got served before some white people.”

Next thing you know, he claimed, the Ku Klux Klan was swarming all over the place in hoods and sheets. They were blocking traffic and asking people in passing cars what they thought about black people. Before long police were all over the place. He wanted to know why the event didn’t get any media coverage.

I wondered how such a controversial event could occur so close to my home and I not hear about it. After all, we are the largest circulation per issue editorial publication in the region and we try to keep up. I began questioning the caller about his ‘friend’, telling him I needed an eye witness if I was going to write a story about the confrontation.

I said I would look into it, but he wouldn’t let me off the phone. He began to recite a litany of things he thought were going wrong with our country - the national debt, entrenched special interests in Washington, and more. He really got warmed up about the subject of border security. He claimed all the illegal aliens had voted and swayed the presidential election, then proceeded to tell me a racist joke.

I got off the phone and called the Austin County Sherriff’s department. Just as I suspected, no such event occurred. It was an attempt to create controversy where there was none, and to intimidate those who had taken hope at the election of Barack Obama.

I didn’t get the caller’s name but I knew who he was. His name is Jim Crow.

I know Jim. We grew up in the same neighborhood. He was practically a member of my family, though we never got alone.

Upset and angry, I told my wife about the conversation and she related a story she heard that same day. Apparently a friend’s insurance man had arrived that morning on a sales call. He wanted to know if she had heard they were tearing out the Rose Garden at the White House now that Obama was elected.

Confused, she said she had not heard about that. “It’s true,” said her agent. “They’re replacing it with a watermelon patch.” Apparently Jim Crow sells insurance, too.

Two weeks before the election, a national polls reported that 30% of my fellow Texans still believed Barack Obama is a Moslem. All of us had been buried in election coverage for two years. There is not the remotest possibility anyone who has a television or reads a newspaper lacked the opportunity to expose that obvious lie.

However, you see, ‘Moslem’ is a pseudonym. Jim Crow likes to use pseudonyms. When used to refer to Barack Obama, ‘Moslem’ really means ‘black and untrustworthy’. People who believe lies in the face of all evidence want to believe those lies. Jim Crow has a lot of relatives down here.

Hate dies hard. It is the child of fear and as old as mankind. The fact that we have elected an African-American as our President does not mean it has gone away - or will go away any time soon. What this landmark change in our politics may do is flush it from the shadows. Let us hope that is all it does, because if hate has its way it will tear this nation apart.

I have lived with this darkness all of my life. My own family owned over 100 slaves when Texas was a Republic. They raised cotton and cattle, corn and grain, and their field hands were black before and after the emancipation proclamation. Jim Crow cooked up a way to turn political slaves into economic slaves. He’s a clever guy.

Most of the people who loved and cared for me when I was a little Texas boy openly called black people “niggers” and expected them to “stay in their place.” Everyone in my family knew old Jim Crow. He was welcome in our house.

I was raised in Waco, Texas. The Klan was particularly active in my home town in the first twenty-five years of the last century. The disturbing image on the right is the charred corpse of Jesse Washington after a lynching that took place there on May 15, 1916.

As far back as I can remember I felt ashamed of my ancestors because of these facts. I loved my family, but I hated old Jim.

I am not sure when I decided Jim had it wrong, but by the time I was in the sixth grade, at the time of John F. Kennedy’s election, I began to stand up to my parents about the issue.

My mother, a well-educated and sophisticated southern woman, smiled to see my idealism. In those days she was an idealist herself, and though deep down she harbored the attitudes of her parents, considered it uncouth to use racial slurs. It was something done by white trash.

Our family, like many fallen upper-class Southern families, was taught to give back to the disadvantaged. So the women in our clan tried to be kind to ‘colored people’. It was expected of people of their station. However, I had seen that gentility turn to hate in their eyes too many times not to see through the charade.

My step-father was not so covert. He was a close friend of Jim Crow’s and I never got along with him. When he found out hate speech offended me, he often used it to taunt me - sometimes to tears.

I remember how lonely and confused I felt when my grandparents and great-grandparents, people who loved me with a passion and always showed me the greatest kindness, began to commiserate about the failings of the ‘colored race’. It marked me.

In the last few years I realized I have been trying to make up for it ever since. To an outsider, it is obvious. The Queen and I have only caucused in two elections in the last thirty-five years. The first time was for Jesse Jackson. The second time was for Barack Obama.

My vote was not about the issues. It was about my own issues with Jim Crow.

Jim was a very successful politician for many years here in Texas. Twenty-seven ‘Jim Crow’ laws were passed in the Lone Star state from 1866 to 1958. Texas was among the South's most lynch-prone states. At least 355 people, most of them blacks, died in Texas mob violence between 1889 and 1918.

That official statistic most likely underestimates the actual death toll and the race of the victims. Orientals, Hispanics, Jews, gays and Native Americans were also killed by mobs and much was hidden. Jim Crow had a lot of friends in law enforcement in those days.

Truth is he still does.

When I first started The Round Top Register in 1995, I interviewed an old boy in his late seventies, a German-American man who had lived in the area since birth. He told me a story which haunts me still. I have no idea if it was true or not, but he swore by it.

He claimed that back in the “teens or twenties” a rumor started that a black man in a town eight miles from my home called Burton had raped a white woman in another close town named Carmine. Perhaps the woman really was raped. However, often ‘raped’ was a word like ‘Moslem’. It could mean a black man had sex with a white woman, or sometimes was simply seen in the company of a white woman.

This old boy claimed a posse of vigilantes from Carmine got their guns and broke down doors in Burton until they found the ‘guilty’ party. They then took him out in the woods, chained him to a tree and set him on fire. According to the story, they went to a local bar, got drunk and started bragging about what they had done. The tale got around and county sheriff at that time drove to Carmine and found the perpetrators.

According to the man I interviewed, he walked up to them, shook their hands, thanked them for saving the county money, then drove back to La Grange.

That story may be completely fictitious, but when Jim Crow was running Texas, that kind of thing happened over and over.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968 did not put old Jim out of business. Not even close. Some people think they have heard enough about racism in this country. Some people think the fact that we have elected Barack Obama president means we have finally arrived in the “dream” world of Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you believe that, I’ll bet you are not African-American, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, Asian-American, Moslem or Native American. Those folks know King’s dream has not become a reality. Some of them find out almost every day.

If you moved to a country whose majority was not of European descent, the same thing would happen to you. Jim Crow is not particular. It’s ironic, but hate doesn’t discriminate. You don’t have to be African-American to get his attention.

All you have to be is different. That’s why we use the word “alien”. It’s also a pseudonym. Even worse is ‘illegal alien’.

Aliens are scary. Think Roswell and War of the Worlds. Imagine a Hispanic with huge pointed teeth bursting out of your chest on a space ship in another galaxy. You get the idea.

Jim Crow and his buddies have always twisted words and worked in darkness like cowards. They do their business in dark rooms on dark nights with dark metaphors.

They rely on our unwillingness to confront them openly. They rely on the fact that most of us will not tell the insurance salesman who makes a racist joke he just lost a customer. Jim knows we will just smile uncomfortably and let it go…because after all, we southerners are "nice" people.

Last February, when I was still the Editor of the Round Top Register, I passionately endorsed the candidacy of Barack Obama. Given that Fayette County voted over 70% Republican, that was not a popular decision where I live. Our current editor – also a Republican – has pointed this out. He is probably right.

In that endorsement I pointed out the following: “No one wants to talk about race and gender. The media dances around it. The campaigns duck the subject as though it were an illicit affair or a charge of corruption. But isn’t the fact we have come to the point in our history that a black man or a woman could become President what is most exciting about this race?

“Isn’t that a powerful signal to the world that we are still the most vibrant, egalitarian, compassionate and politically advanced nation on earth!

“Think what it will mean, if and when it happens, about who we are!”

There is one reason I bring up this admittedly uncomfortable subject now – right after we have accomplished this great leap in race relations in our nation.

The truth is the last election did proved that America is, exactly as I predicted, “…the most vibrant, egalitarian, compassionate and politically advanced nation on earth.”

So if that is the case, why am I on this high horse? Let me answer with a question. If we cannot extinguish racism and other forms of discrimination in this country, then where on Earth will it end?

If you watched the faces of people from all over the world on the day after, you know by making that choice we gave new hope to people all over this planet. They need hope, because Jim Crow and his cousins live in every nation and, in most of them, he still has a lot of political and economic power.

His relatives in Iraq kill children simply because they are Shiite or Sunni or Kurd. His drinking buddies in Europe make sure the fix is in. Racial and cultural minorities are quietly excluded from a fair shake.

Ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural minorities experience discrimination everywhere. Millions have died from it.

In 1994, over the course of roughly 100 days, hundreds of thousands of Rwanda’s Tutsis were exterminated by Hutu militia because they were different. Most estimates indicate the death toll was between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people.

That is chicken feed. Just in the last century you can barely count the genocides on two hands.

The numbers are in dispute, but here is a summary of the mass killings in the last century.

Mao in China – 20-73 million; Stalin in Russia – 4-60 million; Hitler in Germany – 15-50 million; Japan’s Tojo– 6-30 million in China; Pol Pot in Cambodia – 2-3 million; Kim II-sung in North Korea – 1.6 million; Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia – 1.5 million; Ismail Enver in Turkey – 1.2-1.5 million; Ykubu Gowon in Nigeria – Over a million; and Brezhnev in Armenia – 900,000.

Why the carnage? Because the victims were seen as alien.

So that’s why I am bringing this up in the first Round Top Register since the election. I want to ask you to open your eyes and look into your heart. I want you to see we have just taken a big step, but the journey is long and we have far to go.

For those who are fighting this good fight, I want to point out there are only two things that disarm Jim Crow. Anger and violence only make him stronger. They are his stock in trade.

The first weapon against Jim is the truth. The second weapon is absolutely lethal. It was taught to us by Jesus Christ and preached by Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is the practice of loving your enemy. In the war against racism and hate, the most deadly weapons we have are love, compassion, understanding, patience, and forgiveness.

Old Jim Crow. What a guy. I just love him to death!
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Boost from "Topranked Wellness Sites"

Andreas Guibeb, the author of two popular blogs - Top Ranked Wellness Sites and Top Ranked Local Business Blog - posted a very positive review of Architecture of Life and our approach to design.

Andreas is a self-described "
Passionate evangelist for the promotion of all things in tune with our holistic (whole) mind, body and spirit wellness."

But he obviously knows a thing or two about blog promotion and SEO too. An interesting guy.

Here's a quote from his review:

"Christopher K. Travis, the Managing Partner of Sentient Architecture LLC, a Texas based full architecture services company reminds me of George Bernard Shaw’s tailor.

"George Bernard Shaw said that 'the only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes measurements anew, each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.'"

The whole article can be read here. Thanks for the shout out, Andreas!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Disrupting Architecture at Texas A & M

The latest issue of the newsletter of Texas A & M Architecture school includes an article about my lecture on October 30th.

I was pleased my lecture made the "news" at A & M, but seeing my picture on their website motivated me to make two decisions.

I doubt I will wear a Hawaiian shirt next time I lecture, and this morning, I stuck the American Heart Association food charts back on my fridge and went on a diet. In situations like this, I am often disturbed to find I am not a good looking in real life as I am in my head.

The article in full is here. It was a great experience and I offer my thanks once again to Lou Tassinary and Xuemei Zhu for giving me the chance to try to "disrupt the thinking" of their students.

Here is part of my lecture that was reported in the article.

“The conversation with human factors and behavioral factors in design is actually the central requirement of having a successful design practice,” he told the students.

“How you relate to people, how you understand people, how much you’re able to get inside their heads and predict what portion of the things people tell you about themselves is accurate relative to the space you’re designing is crucial.”

Travis wonders why architects don’t have a similar role in designing residences that designers have on, for example, the iPhone. “The iPhone is about design not based on something cool, but about how people use something in a way that is effective. That’s what ergonomics is too. When you get into your Toyota and everything’s in the right place and makes sense that’s because somebody did a whole lot of user experience work.

“Where is that in architecture?” he asked. “Right now, less than five percent of houses built in this nation involve an architect.”

There’s never been more of a need for home design, he said. “People are smart, well educated, they have become used to well-designed offices and things in their lives,” he said. "It’s very intuitive to expect that from your home. The reason that we don’t is because we don’t see the possibility of something different.”

Travis sees architecture teetering on the precipice of irrelevance. “Architecture has become something that is a luxury item for the wealthy,” he said. “I say there’s a new wave coming, and it has to do with how you tailor a living space to human beings. This is an entirely different point of view, a development that should occur over the next 20 years,” he continued, “because if it doesn’t, our future is going to become irrelevant.

Frankly, more irrelevant than it is now, because it already is for most of us who can’t afford it.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Lou Tassinary and Roger Ulrich also collaborated on a new study just published in the latest edition of the journal Environment and Behavior.

In the study, 210 psychology students were purposely given frustrating tasks to do on the computer, to get them angry. The testing was alternately done with, and without, photographic and abstract scenes of nature on the walls of the room in which the irritating tests were given.

For men, there was a marked reduction in anger when the nature scenes were on the walls as compared to when they were not.

For women, the posters seemed to have no impact. If you want to learn more about this study you can find an article about it here on

New evidence like this that positive environments have a big impact on health and well-being are coming from all directions these days. Mind/body research in many universities have been publishing proof that how we feel in the buildings we build impacts not only our mood, but our health, for many years now.

It is time for mainstream architecture and architecture schools to take these findings seriously and do like we are doing at Truehome, developing methods of programming that allow practitioners t0 understand the "emotional architecture" of the inhabitants of the buildings they are designing.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Talk @ Texas A & M Architecture School

Pity the poor architecture students at Texas A & M University! About 80 of them were forced by their professor to listen to me for almost an hour a couple of weeks back.

The talk was great fun and the students seemed to really enjoy it. The course is called "Social and Behavioral Factors in Design," and was taught by Xuemei Zhu Ph.D. , a delightful young woman who works at A & M's Center for Health Systems & Design who was recently quoted in Time Magazine.

The lecture was set up by Lou Tassinary Ph.D. Lou is the Associate Dean for Research at A & M's architecture school, and the Director of its Environmental Psychophysiological Laboratory.

He is an expert on perception and other subjects on which I speculate. He sat in the back of the room during my lecture and I half expected him to jump up at any moment and contradict me since I wandered into areas in which he has much more expertise than me, but apparently I did not err in ways that were too onerous.

Afterwards he took Dr. Zhu and I out for an enjoyable lunch and they both asked me if I would consider lecturing again this coming semester.

Of course I said "yes." There is nothing I like more than preaching to design professionals about the importance of human factors to design. It was great fun terrifying those undergraduates not only with the realities of architectural practice, but also with the challenges involved in collecting criteria for design from clients who are often less than rational in their choices when involved in a project.

A & M's Center for Health Systems and Design is the child of one of the "deans" of therapeutic, human-centered design, Dr. Roger Ulrich, who conducted the first rigorous scientific study of evidence-based design which was published in Science way back in 1984.

Dr. Ulrich's research has since been highly influential in the design of hospitals. According to Dr. Ulrich, the American Medical Association (AMA) made it headline news of the week. “This highlighted, along with other evidence in the emerging field of mind-body medicine, the need to consider a broader picture, including physical environment, of factors that affect patient outcomes and the health of patients,” Ulrich says.

The Lucile Packard’s Children’s Hospital at Stanford, a celebrated design, was expressly influenced by Ulrich’s Science article. According to Ulrich, “That research evidence was used to justify the design to provide views of gardens and nature and access to the outdoors for patients, families, and staff. You could tie dollar benefits to aesthetic amenities that previously had been considered nice-to-have luxuries, and we began to sketch out the basic elements of evidence-based design.” (Source: Healthcare Financial Management Association)

So being asked to lecture in such an august setting was an honor. My thanks to all for the experience.

Anthropology and Truehome

I finally finished my presentation for the panel I am joining at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco.

Our panel does is led by Dori Tunstall, Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Dori works in design antropology. While cramming the last few days for the event, I discovered that some of the things I do with my clients are techniques used by anthropologists. So that is a relief.

I have not had a course in anthropology since I was a freshman in college, so I was bit intimidated being the only non-anthropologist on the panel.

But I expect it will be just fine...except for one thing. Our panel's presentation is entitled somewhat formidably "Engaging in Transdisciplinary Praxis: Comparative Questions, Assumptions, Methods and Evidence of Anthropology's Disciplinary Interlocutors."

Ever notice how academics sometimes go out of their way to make it hard to understand what they are talking about?

Dori's panel is going to talk about how different disciplines approach similar problems in terms of theory, by using a method created by Alan Barnard in his book, History and Theory in Anthropology. Barnard's framework says theories can be broken down into four pieces: questions, assumption, methods, and evidence (QAME).

So I had to squeeze the theory that informs my Truehome process, which basically deals with questions like "what is a home" and "what is a human being" and "how do you design a home to fit a human being" into 25 slides.

Anyone who knows me will consider that a miracle. I am not known as "a man of few words."

Given there are a lot of other people out there that don't know what the heck I am talking about due to my innate verbosity, I will share it with you. You can find the link on here.

Our panel starts at 8AM on Saturday the 22nd. I hope those anthropologists don't stay up too late partying. It's a lot more fun to play to a full house. In any case, see you guys in San Francisco!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NARI Publishes SA Express Truehome Article

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) just published Creighton Welch's story on my take on remodeling construction on its website. You can see it here.

Since I started out my career as a remodeling contractor and restoration builder, I am happy to get a little press from my home boys at the NARI.

These associations do a lot of good work, and can be very helpful to both contractors and designers, especially in these hard times for the industry. Early in my career, my company was recognized by another such organization, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

In the Greater Houston area where I started, my company was named Remodeler of the Year way back in 1981. That honor helped us establish the credibility of that company. It was a big hand up. I would recommend anyone in the construction industry consider becoming a member of these associations.

Just as our architecture firm is now a member of the American Institute of Architects, back when I was building, I counted on the counsel of my local association.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Truehome Down Under!

Well, tie me kangeroo down, sport!

The Sydney Morning Herald published an article today called "Home is Where the Psyche Is" in its Lifestyle section.

Written by Ella Mudie, Truehome and I are cited along with more eminent luminaries of the design and psychology community.

I have a couple of old friends down there. I hope they see it. If so, "Hi Brigit! Hi Libby!"

All the Aussies I know are "Awessome," So I am very proud to have my work make it into the Sidney newspaper.

Monday, November 3, 2008

San Antonio and Sam's Successes

The Emotional Architecture media train just keeps on chugging along as a result of Penelope Green's article in the New York Times about Truehome.

The San Antonio Express News included our firm's approach to architecture in a story about remodeling recently.

We are also pleased to see that Sam Gosling, Ph.D., an important member of our Advisory Board has recently been featured in articles in Smithsonian Magazine and Slate Magazine.

Sam's brilliant work continue to get a lot of attention in the media. Congratulations Sam!

Go Magazine Goes Truehome

Go Magazine, the in-flight magazine for Airtran Airways just released its November issue, which includes an article on our firm's "emotional architecture" approach to design and

Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Emotional design sounds like a meaningless buzz word. Are architects and designers really supposed to care about their clients’ mental health and well-being when building or decorating their homes?

The answer: a resounding 'yes.'"

When Christopher K. Travis, managing partner of Texas-based Sentient Architecture, begins to design a client’s home, the first thing he considers is their “emotional architecture”—the internal system of feelings built by past experiences that make them react to their surroundings in a certain way.

'How you feel in [childhood homes] during formative events—good and bad—returns in later homes when features within them remind us of those early experiences,” Travis says.

The notion that the human brain is made up associated memories—what Travis calls “building blocks”—has only recently been put to use in the fields of architecture and design. The goal of Travis’ website,, is to help people create homes that take their sense of well-being into consideration.

'A home is a suite of emotional experiences,” he says. “Most people think of the sticks and bricks of a space without thinking of how we react to our space.”

The article was written by Francesca Di Meglio and can also be viewed on the Internet here. Viggo Mortensen, the actor who played Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy graces the cover of this issue.

Hey, me and Viggo...on the Go!

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Emotional architecture" In Greece

A while back I was approached by the Lifestyle editor of a stylish men's magazine from Greece called Homme, a charming lady by the name of Mickaela Theofilou.

She had seen the article about me and my architecture firm in the New York Times.

She was interested in our approach and the website we are building at that uses psychological testing and lifestyle analysis to help people and professionals create homes that fit individuals and families.

Mickaela explained that they were planning a special issue to be published on September 26th that would focus on the home, architecture and interior design.

I accepted the interview of course but since I didn't know anything about her magazine, I googled it and came to the website of Vogue Hommes International and blogged about it. As it turns out, Hommes is not the same magazine as Homme.

Whoops! I was wondering what a magazine that showed bare chested male models in studs and leather wanted with me. The magazine that published my interview is associated with a large weekly newspaper called Imerisia in Athens and is distributed primarily in Greece.

The article was very flattering, listing me with other "trendmakers" in architecture. But here is the other funny part. When asking for the interview she referred to me as the "new king of architecture." I am not sure how Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Jean Nouvel would feel about that characterization. I doubt many of the "star" moderist architects would appreciate the coronation of a designer who puts the feelings of people before the "concepts" in the head of the architect.

But happily, there are voices out there like Christopher Alexander, Nikos Saligoros and others - who though I doubt would consider me the king of design - would at least support buildings that make you feel good when you inhabit them.

Now all I have to do is learn how to read in Greek! Google's translation was a bit difficult to understand.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Past Creates the Future

There are a lot of theorists - and I am among them - that trace their ideas about how the unconscious impacts human behavior all the way back to Freud and his predecessors. They are feeling pretty cocky today.

An article in the New York Times, called "For the Brain, Remembering Is Like Reliving" was published on September 4th, 2008.

That day was my birthday, and for me and the legitimacy of the ideas that inform my Truehome project, it was a heck of a birthday present.

The initial insight I had almost sixteen years ago; that how people react to features in their homes comes from subconscious memories of past environments in which they lived, and therefore those associations must be physiological aspects of their brains, has just been proven in large part.

According to the Times, "...spontaneous memories reside in some of the same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event had been experienced. Researchers had long theorized as much but until now had only indirect evidence. Experts said the study had all but closed the case: For the brain, remembering is a lot like doing."

My Truehome project was also discussed in a New York Times article in mid July of this year in a story called "Home Is Where the Head Is" by Penelope Green. It was subtitled, Emotional Architecture: Using Psychological Profiles to Design a Home.

As a result of that article, the method we have been developing in our architecture firm over the last decade - a method for designing homes that truly fit who people are - is attracting global media. That sudden shift in attention has changed everything for the little Internet start-up my son and I are building that is turning the Truehome Workshop into web-based software.

It also proves the ideas of many other theorists who are not focused on how the brain relates to our immediate environment - and to at least one other thinker - environmental psychologist, Toby Israel, whose book Some Place Like Home promotes exactly the same insight.

Toby coined the phrase "Design Psychology" and was the first voice I know who presented to the public nationally, systematic practical methods for the application of psychology to design.

I ran into Toby's book right after it was published in 2003 and saw that she was after exactly the same architectural "Holy Grail" I had been chasing. I imagine she is happy today too, as a major premise of the theory behind the ideas we share has been proven.

The study noted in the N. Y Times did not deal with long term memories in depth, nor did it define specifically how memories of past environments are associated with our current choices about our homes, but the finding is so global it is hard to imagine any other mechanism is involved besides what is proven by the study.

As noted in the article, "Though it did not address this longer-term process, the new study suggests that at least some of the neurons that fire when a distant memory comes to mind are those that were most active back when it happened, however long ago that was."

The bottom line is that evidence continues to mount that your home IS in your head...and that the choices you make today are a largely the result of choices you made, and experiences you had in your past. To people who help people create homes - architects, interior designers, Realtors and builders - this means that trying to create a home without understanding the psychology, values and history of the individuals who will live a fools errand.

It undermines the premise of "architecture should be informed by art and function alone" that dominates our architecture schools and fills our skylines with heartless glass and concrete boxes that fail to consider the sensibilities, physiology and culture of human beings.

It underlines the critical nature of "human factors" in design, because as natural beings who evolved in a natural world long before cities and complex societies evolved, it shows that we experience memories in the same exact way in which we originally experienced the events that created them. That includes memories embedded in our genetic and epigenetic lineage, as well as those built during our development.

And since each human being has a unique experience of life, this finding speaks for an individualized approach to architecture; not one that is standardized, pre-packaged, concept driven. Not an approach to design that forces us to fit into buildings...but an architecture that designs buildings that fit what people really are.

It also identifies a key neuropsychological mechanism in the brain that illuminates the "fuzzy boundaries" between humans and their environment - including their social environment - putting simplistic notions like "deconstruction" to shame for failing to acknowledge the interdependent complex adaptive systems in which we exist.

It vindicates an earlier trailblazer, scientist and architect, Christopher Alexander whose ideas were remarkably prescient, and Claire Cooper Marcus, whose 1995 book House as a Mirror of Self helped open the door for practitioners like me.

The full implications of this finding should turn architecture and design on its head. Sadly, such change is always slow as old methods die slowly. But no longer can anyone who understands what a human being really is, and how the brain works in regard to its environment, deny the nature of a true home!

Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Tel Aviv was the chief author of this research. His co-authors were Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, Michal Harel and Rafael Malach of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and Roy Mukamel, of U.C.L.A. Gentlemen, you have my profound respect and deep appreciation.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Sad Story in Sueddeutsche Zeitung Magazine

Michael Cornelius writes a sad and sensitive tale of lost love that results from pursuing a perfect home, rather than a better relationship, for the largest subscription daily in Germany. It is called Too Nice to Be Close To: A great love broken.

Here is an excerpt translated crudely from the orginal German:

"...Houses talk to us," believes the philosopher Alain de Botton. "Why do not we hear them?" People think too much about style, he writes in the book happiness and architecture, "rather than the question of who we want to be."

"Still, there are no statistics on how many people the beautiful houses have broken heart. In the 1990s researched at Berkeley architecture professor Clare Cooper Marcus of the phenomenon. Whether we are at home or not, they concluded a decision on our childhood memories. Her book House as a Mirror of Self in the U.S. inspired the movement of the so-called emotional architecture.

Since Freud's grandfather triumphed over Gropius' Bauhaus manifesto. Form follows psychology.

"Christopher K. Travis from Austin, Texas, sees itself with its Firm Sentient Architecture primarily as a therapist. Sentient, was so much like "sensitive" means, is the supreme principle. Not "bricks and beams" were crucial for the construction of a house, he says, "but the spaces of our emotional world."

"Before Travis builds a new house, he sends his clients, therefore to the couch. Only when he personally in many meetings has clarified what the client relationship to her mother and whether the builder probably has an Oedipus complex, the architect begins with the design of the kitchen.

"Even the legendary architect Richard Neutra explored the secret yearnings of its customers with a sophisticated questionnaire. Then, he still clouds floating homes with glass fronts. In his biography, Life and Shape, he told of the eccentric idea of the director Josef von Sternberg, 1935 for which his house in the San Fernando Valley a special moat desired. Cannons and spiders should chase uninvited guests away.

"If this mistake occurs, follow my advice: Never make where you live too perfect!”

The rest of this sad story is in German. You can use Google Translate to read it if like me, you are a provincial and do not read the German language.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Truehome Soon on the "Go" with Airtran

Truehome will soon be flying high with a story in Go Magazine, Airtran Airways in-flight magazine.

The reporter was not sure when the article would be published, but since her deadline was in August, I am assuming it will be within the next quarter. I'll keep you posted when I know more about the publication date.

The saga continues.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Vogue Gets Down With Emotional Architecture!

A couple of days ago I responded to an interview from very nice reporter in Greece who was very interested in the Truehome Workshop and our website. Her name is Michaela Theofilou.

She had read the New York Times article about how we approach architecture and told me her publication - Hommes Magazine - was planning a September issue with a focus on homes.

(Not Hommes, which means "men" in French but the garden variety homes that I design.)

Since I am not up on fashion magazines, I had to google Hommes to find out what type of content this European magazine typically printed.

Omigod! Her publication turned out to be Vogue's men's fashion magazine for Europe! It is filled with scantily clad hot young men and women sporting the edgiest new fashions. I am all for woman in scanty clothes, but Hommes is not exactly the type of publication I thought would be interested in an aging - and to be frank, a bit portly - design/builder from rural Texas.

After all, every woman I know has made it clear I have no fashion sense at all. To me, "dressing up" means means avoiding pants that are 3" too short in the inseam and replacing my Hawaiian shirt with a button down. I have one suit - which I squeeze into for only the most serious of business meetings and the occasional, sad funeral.

My concerns were eased when her interview included many intelligent and intriguing questions about how I practice and even the science behind what we are doing at I have been hoping someone in the media would ask me those questions. I certainly hope a few of my answers show up in the story.

My clients seem to have no issue with my informal outfits, though my attire is far from Haute couture. Perhaps they are too kind to comment. But I had to ask myself, "what does a reporter for a high fashion magazine want with me?"

After dwelling on the question for a while, I rationalized my relevance to a fashion magazine as follows: "Haute couture" means "high sewing" or "high dressmaking" and refers to the creation of exclusive custom-fitted fashions.

I often refer to myself as a "psychological/environmental tailor." I design homes that fit people - in mind and body - in exact ways.

Still, it appears I am once again moving into circles in which a small town guy like me is - as they say - out of my depth. Some days running this little Internet start-up from a town with a population of 77 takes me for a fun - but really weird - ride!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Home Is Where the Head Is!

Today, the New York Times Home section published Penelope Green's article about my architecture practice and our Truehome website.

It's called Home Is Where the Head Is.

Here is the link to the article - New York Times.

Here is a quote from the story.

"Architects complain that they are asked to behave more like mental health professionals than designers, clients complain that their architects and their mates do not understand them, and the stories of couples coming asunder, or of clients suing their architects, are legion.

"There are no hard numbers on exactly how many unions, either professional or marital, come to grief or end up in litigation as a result of bungled attempts at homemaking, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest a lot of broken hearts...

"...Cases like this have encouraged Christopher K. Travis, 57, an architectural designer here, to ramp up the promotion of his method, an exhaustive psychological and aesthetic compatibility exercise for would-be home builders that is part New Age self-help manual, part personality test. Mr. Travis calls it the Truehome Workshop (Truehome is a registered trademark), and he hopes it will do for the design and building profession what eHarmony has done for matchmaking."

I am more than proud of the article Penelope Green has produced and honored she and the Times would consider my project worth covering. I think it is not only well written, but tells my story and the story of my Truehome project fairly.

My phone has been ringing off the wall all day and people are signing up at our beta website like crazy, so right now, this article is a gift from heaven for me, my team and my family.

But there are a few small inaccuracies in the story. I have determined this blog is the right place to set them right. Some are factual errors and in other cases, merely misunderstandings of our process or circumstances.

Penelope, please forgive me. I take all the responsibility for not catching these minor issues.

A Few Small Corrections

1. The story reports that I created the first version of the Truehome Workshop four years ago. Actually it was over nine years ago. I have been working with clients using this process for just short of a decade. I created the first version of the "Homework" noted in the article in 1999.

2. The story reports that Truehome " contained in a huge binder with over 100 pages of questions, visualization exercises and directives..." In that case, Penelope is talking about the Truehome Workshop, which is the manual version of Truehome. That document is what we use in our architecture firm with our clients and also sell at

However, Truehome is also a very complex bit of software that is patent-pending. It is a psychological/environmental platform for delivering psychological tests related to changing your living space that has been completed since August of 2007.

What we are working on now are the products that software offers - basically the testing tools that help people save money and time when changing their living spaces.

3. In the article, Cecil Reynolds Ph.D., who is on our Advisory Board and one of the leading experts on psychological testing in the nation, is quoted as saying "’s going to take a couple of years to collect enough data to see if it really works.”

We know Truehome works as a process delivered in person in a professional setting. We have been doing it for ten years with clients. What Cecil is referring to - and will be responsible for in our next phase - is the scientific validation of the online testing we are creating.

Like - which has been awarded a patent for a process similar to ours - we work with complex analytic algorithms to do trend analysis that is part of what we offer users and professionals.

Validation is the process that scientifically proves the viability of such a test. It also helps you determine which questions are useful to collect what data...and the minimum number that will collect that information reliably. To validate such tests, you need a lot of users taking them.

We are still in beta, and until this story came out in the New York Times, we did not have a lot of users as we have not "gone to market."

4. In the Times story, the phrase "emotional architecture" is used in a different way than we use it in the Truehome Workshop and website. In the story, Penelope was interested in how we design homes that are emotionally compatible with the feelings of our clients. That is accurate. We do that.

What is not accurate is that we use the phrase "emotional architecture" to describe how you feel in a fitting living space. In the Truehome Workshop, we define emotional architecture as the architecture of your psychological self - you emotional an cognitive architecture.

We describe it as follows:

"Your Emotional Architecture contains deep unconscious values from your genetic and developmental heritage. These reactive behaviors are largely automatic. They appear in relationships, in our needs for intimacy and privacy, between parent and child, in our personalities, temperament and our actions in social and work situations.

"We often fail to recognize them because they are deep-seated aspects of our individual and group psychology. There are ancient motivators embedded in the physiology of our brains. When we perceive threats or opportunities in the world around us, hormones and neurotransmitters are released that incite behaviors. Those powerful motivators impact our view of the world and our actions in it, and are physical in nature. They are difficult - sometimes impossible - to alter consciously.

"Fear, anxiety, anger, rage, hate, suspicion, revulsion, romantic love, parental love, loyalty, protectiveness, sense of fairness, lust, jealousy, envy, and xenophobia (fear of strangers) are all examples of these innate motivators. Many scientists believe these traits are expressed because through the eons they have proven adaptive in the environments where humans lived.

"The world we live in is not a hunter-gatherer society. As a result, many of the ways we automatically respond to perceived threats and opportunities are not useful today. However, they are hard-wired into our brains and we must deal with them.

"Many of these behaviors are familiar as they are common in other animals. Some examples are: the drive for territory and personal space, mating and sexual strategies, dominance, submission and other expressions of the need in all social animals to find a place in the social pecking order. Other examples are our deep attachment to our mothers, kin and immediate social clan and our environmental/emotional responses to the world around us."

5. The story also reports as it nears its end that the steps of the Grace Garden at the little library my wife and I founded - the Round Top Family Library - are engraved with the words..."Why Dream Ordinary."

This is true. But in the spirit of full disclosure, we translated words that appear in a similar fashion - except in Latin - from a place at the International Festival-Institute at Round Top - an amazing facility here on the edge of our little home town.

So we stole our inspiration from James Dick, the founder of Festival Hill, or perhaps from Richard Royal, his long time friend and director. Those visionary men inspired with their great deeds and unique architectural creations our early work at the Library.

6. I am not an "architectural designer." I am not an architect though I have been designing homes for over twenty-five years. One must be registered to use the words "architect, architecture, or architectural" when soliciting design work. I am a designer and builder.

However I am the Managing Partner of an architecture firm. I do not "have architects on my staff." My Partner is a registered architect. He does not work for me. Our poor intern works for both of us.

7. I have not hired someone to run the Round Top Register. A friend I have known since 1970, a writer and columnist, has bought into my goofy little newspaper with real money and is now its Editor. He made it very clear to me today that he is not working for me, either.

8. I did not create the alone. My partner in that business is my youngest son, Benjamin William B Travis. He is a very talented programmer and systems engineer. He owns a nice big piece of that Internet start-up. He does not work for me and he made that known to his mother and I when he was fourteen. He is now twenty-six.

So when it comes down to it, all three of my partners do not work for me. They all requested I make that clear to the rest of the world.

9. Penelope asked me to name people who were sources for my process. The three she named were certainly influential, but I spent years reading in a variety of disciplines and talking to experts in a variety of academic areas to develop my theory.

If you want to have a more exhaustive list of sources, you can find it on the Experts and Sources page of the website.

(Note: This is a two page list, so note the link to the second page at the bottom of the first one. Also, this list is over 15 months old. I have since learned from many others. There is a lot of brilliant research and speculation going on out there.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Spaced Out!

Truth in Humor: Some folks think one shouldn't use humor to make serious points about humanity or the state of the world. I cannot agree less. There is something inherently hypocritical about the self-importance of human beings and I think poking fun at it is good medicine. And besides, I take my own medicine.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Reprinted - Winter 2005 Round Top Register

Everyone I know says I am spaced out.

My wife tells me I’m distracted and self-absorbed. She says I have no sense of time, lose things constantly and cannot be trusted with small appliances. She says these things are evidence of my dysfunction.

According to her I fade in and out of reality all the time… but she doesn’t know the half of it.

My friends think I’m a pie-in-the-sky dreamer too, a guy who spends most of his time in La La Land. They’re too nice to say it, but sometimes they think I act like I’m from another planet.

That's because sometimes when they see me I have just come back from another planet! I've been hiding this for a long time, but the truth is...I'm a REAL space ranger and I have traveled all over the galaxy!

I've tried to tell my buddies what I have discovered about the inner workings of the universe, but their eyes roll back in their heads like the reels in a slot machine. I have taken to cupping my hands under their mouths on the hopes I will hit the jackpot. So far the only payoff is a spray of spittle when they burst into laughter.

I know I am hoist on my own petard. It’s my own fault that people question my credibility. Part of my problem comes from publishing a magazine in which fact is indistinguishable from fiction. In the past, I must admit I have written a few things that stretch the truth. Many people doubt my in-depth interviews with Santa Claus and Bigfoot.

I understand that reasonable persons might question whether the Round Top Register is really locked in a vicious print war with the New York Times; that our columnist is really over two hundred years old; or that Round Top’s Town Marshall is really 6’9” tall and rides tornadoes.

These are reasonable doubts, and I cannot deny that I might have played loose with the facts a time or two for the sake of art.

But in all fairness, That doesn't mean my claim is not true. Anyone who studies physics will find what most of us think of as “the real world” doesn’t exist. One of the founders of quantum physics, Erwin Schrödinger, points out that at the atomic level, all matter performs in a “completely disorderly heat motion, which opposes itself to their orderly behavior and does not allow the events that happen between a small number of atoms to enroll themselves according to any recognizable physical laws.”

That means if you look closely at the building blocks of the universe from which everything is made – your car, your kids, your dinner, your new pair of shoes – you won’t find anything that looks like facts or reality.

Reality is just a story humans tell one another so we won’t be utterly overwhelmed by the incredible complexity of the world in which we live. The universe is incomprehensibly vast. Life is unfathomably complex. Few of us have the slightest idea what is going on around us, and for the most part, we don’t want to know.

Accepting the truth about our insignificance in the grand scheme of things is a real blow to the ego, so who wants to do it.

The fact that everyone makes up their own reality is just one of the basic truths that even the most backward of the galaxy’s species takes for granted, but here on the old home planet we are still having a hard time getting the message.

People on our planet often think there is some “real and objective” world that is the same for everyone. This kind of provincialism is very embarrassing for a space ranger like myself.

Put yourself in my shoes. You are at a cocktail party at a penthouse in an upscale tourist colony orbiting a gas giant in the Betelgeuse system, and your host, who looks a lot like a six foot tall oyster with chrome hood ornaments suddenly shouts “Humans believe what?” and the whole party breaks up in riotous laughter.

This kind of thing makes it very hard to act cool. Belonging to what many interstellar beings consider “one of the goofiest-looking species in the universe” is hard enough, but being an intellectual laughing stock just adds insult to injury.

That is one of the reasons I have decided to come clean about my secret life and try to explain what is really going on in the universe to the rest of humanity.

Salt Crystals on a String

My strange situation began a long time ago when I first became a space cadet. It began innocently enough. I had a big imagination as a child and was fascinated with the workings of the world – why salt crystals appeared on a string suspended in salt water; why the program in your hand shivers and quakes in a concert hall when the strings crescendo at certain notes; why snowflakes are all unique and other amazing mysteries of science.

When I was a kid, the world was a source of wonder for me, and that wondering set me to wandering in my mind…and the next thing you know I was a space cadet.

It all started when I met Tom Corbette and the Space Rangers.

Tom was as all-American boy, tried and true, and a fellow cadet at the Interplanetary Space Academy. He and I teamed up with two other young cadets. Roger, who was real wise guy but a crack navigator was the first, and Astro, our massive but good-natured engineer was the other. The four of us rocketed all over the solar system before I was out of the sixth grade.

In the summer after I graduated from elementary school, I discovered a book called Glory Road, and found myself hopping from one dimension to the next.

That was where all the trouble started. It was fun, flitting from one alternate universe to another battling impossible odds, but there are serious consequences when you defy the laws of physics, and before long I was paying the piper.

I first began to notice strange things happening when I was in the seventh grade. That school year I lost three watches and four coats. My mother assumed I was simply careless, but as far as I could tell those personal items just disappeared. Right away I knew they had slipped into another time/space continuum but it was hard to prove to my mom.

Sadly, a little known effect of such quantum phenomena is that there is a corresponding perturbation in the electro-chemical energies passing through the synapses of the brain when they occur…which means you can’t actually remember the alternate universe events when they happen to you.

I knew those watches – including the one with Roy Rogers and Trigger on the dial - must lie half buried beneath the purple sands of a distant world. They were probably being crushed under the twelve armored feet of a methane-breathing three-headed desert beast rather than lost in my school locker. But no matter how articulate my argument, I couldn’t convince my unimaginative mother. When I came home from school without my coat for the third time, she grounded me.

That’s when I realized my life as starfarer was better kept a secret.

Now all these years later, I realize that I am not alone. There are other people like me out there in the world, lonely and lost, never seeming to fit in, observing a universe that their friends and neighbors can’t perceive. They seem like normal people except for a few unusual quirks.

They tend to lose anything not chained to their belts. They are constantly looking for their keys, their cell phones, their screw drivers and wallets. Important papers vaporize on their desks at work. They have no sense of time. They have a hard time remembering names and phone numbers and never read directions. They leave lights on all over the house and can’t be trusted with toaster ovens.

They spend a lot of time lost in thought, staring off into space with wistful expressions on their faces. Sometimes they become fixated watching a cloud, or a crawling bug, or the reflection of light on water, and you have to shake them to get their attention.

In other words, they have the attention span of a four-year-old.

If there is anyone in your life like this, I ask you to be patient and forgiving. They may be annoying and hard to live with, but they’re behavior is an unfortunate side effect of an important mission.

They’re secretly defending the earth against invasion by the forces of galactic evil, so give them a break. It easy to get a little distracted when you’re standing alone against the death rays of the machine-beings from the Crab Nebula.

Facing such responsibility, anyone could forget a birthday or two. These people deserve your respect because they are performing a valuable public service. Defending the planet earth from total annihilation is a thankless job, but someone’s got to do it.

To my clients, friends and neighbors, I am a regular guy who happens to be a little eccentric. They assume that I lose things and can’t remember people’s names because I simply don’t pay attention, or because my brain was damaged in the 1960’s by recreational drugs.

Actually, I am constantly cycling from one dimension of space to another. I’ll be in Round Top talking on the cell phone or sitting at the drafting board trying to design someone’s country house…and then all of a sudden I’m taking four G’s as my spacecraft leaves the atmosphere of the fifth planet out from Alpha Centauri in pursuit of insectoid aliens bent on galactic domination.

Needless to say, these circumstances make it difficult for me to maintain my professional composure at my architecture firm. It’s hard to explain what is really going on, so I find it necessary to preserve the charade that I am simply a garden variety ditz.

This guise has long worked to my advantage. You learn a few things about the behavior of sentient life forms when you hang out with aliens from all over the galaxy. I’ve seen it over and over in fifty different star systems. When some species find out you are different – and Homo Sapiens are among them – it makes them afraid, and organisms that are afraid have a tendency to get nasty.

It’s long been my opinion that it’s better to take a little lip, than to have your lip busted. As a result, I have lived a double life. But now I am throwing caution to the wind. I’m going to tell everybody what I have found out in my travels about what is really going on here on the planet earth.

I have to run to the house because I forgot to turn off the coffee percolator and the Queen is afraid I am going to burn the house down. I’ll clue you in as soon as I get back.

The Ultimate Truths of Life on Earth

Whew! That was close. The bottom of the coffee pot was starting to look like a black hole. Now back to the facts about life on earth. There are a many such truths of course, more than I can tell you now, so I am going to focus on the top seven.

1. The Aliens are getting restless.

For the last million years or so, most of galactic society has ignored human beings. I mean, there have been a few good sitcoms based on human beings, mostly comedies sort of like Bedtime for Bonzo, but for the most part no one really cared. Human beings were just funny monkeys scratching themselves. They felt safe from the various types of crazy violent madness we are so good at cooking up because we were stuck on our own planet.

But then Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and that changed everything. Those of us who were alive when that happened experienced a very rare event. Life on earth is roughly 3.8 billion years old. Each of us lives an average about 70 years. That means the odds that any individual organism would be alive when a representative of life on earth actually set foot on another world is 5,428,5714 to one.

It’s not just the Beatles that make us a unique generation and this fact is not lost on folks who live in neighboring star systems, especially because things are happening pretty fast. Our seed is spreading. Voyager I is now about 8.7 billion miles from earth and moving towards them at 46,000 miles an hour. They watch the History Channel. They know what maniacs we are and it is making them nervous.

Now what you need to understand is that most of our neighbors in the galaxy are pretty nice folks. They tend to be forgive and forget types. But there are races out there that view us the same way we view a venereal disease, and if they decide we need a dose of antibiotics, we are toast.

That’s the main reason I have decided to speak up. We need to get our act together in the next couple of generations, or our communal butts are going to be in a sling.

The second thing you need to know I already talked about above. It’s important truth number two.

2. You live in your own little world.

Each of us makes up our individual reality. I mean really. I’m not saying the material world doesn’t exist. There is a world out there, but each of us perceives it differently in significant ways.

Throughout the galaxy, every different organism has its own “real world.” Highly social species like us can coordinate our behavior by talking and mimicking each other, and by building a common living space to channel our actions, but those are just tricks our brains have evolved so we can get more food and make more babies than the other animals we compete with for survival.

Bottom line, you have to guess about what the other guy is thinking. After millions of years of evolution, our brains have gotten very good at guessing. But really…you don’t have the slightest idea what is going on in the minds of your wife, your husband, or your kids….let alone behind the fevered brows of Osama Bin Laden or Tom Delay.

There is no point in worrying about what other people think. There is no point in talking to other people about what they think other people think. There is no point to watching television shows or reading books about what other people think. You’ll never really know.

So just relax and pay attention, because the only way you are ever going to get any idea what a person thinks is by listening to them and watching their behavior.

On advanced worlds, listening and observing are competitive sports. You can get a Ph.D. in them. In many societies, talking is seen as an unpleasant but necessary metabolic process, something like urination or defecation. The smartest people never say a darn thing!

2. You are never alone. You just think you are.

You are really just a cell in a bigger organism. Every advanced society understands this. I know you think paying your own bills and having your own body makes you all grown up and independent, but the truth is that you and every other living thing is just a piece of the living earth.

All the incredibly diverse species that cover our planet are just specialized cells like those in your body. Some are liver cells. Some are stomach lining. Some are neurons.

I know this is a blow to your ego, but it is time to grown up and face the music. You aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things. Even humanity as a whole is not all that big a deal. Our living planet was growing and evolving just fine for billions of years before anyone invented a BMW. It may seem like the American Idol results show is the center of the universe, but it really isn’t.

The reason you think you are an individual is because all living systems are built of small pieces that must be distinct from one another if they are to work. Identity is necessary for their functioning, just as an individual cell is important to the functioning of your pancreas. What a liver cell thinks about the liver makes no difference. All that matters is whether it oozes bile.

The same is true for you. I know this is hard to swallow, but time is running out so I can’t afford to break it to you gently.

3. Everything in the universe is always running down.

Human scientists call this fact the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or entropy. Most physicists consider it the most general law of nature.

When the energy in any system – a star or a living organism – runs down to the point that it becomes a dead, inert lump of matter, it reaches a state that a physicist calls thermodynamic equilibrium, or maximum entropy. It can also be described as “greater order” as significant change in its form stops for all practical purposes.

Most substances degrade relatively rapidly from the relative disorder caused by heat to a more “stable order” as they cool to absolute zero, but the march towards maximum entropy exhibits itself in many other ways. When two solutions are mixed - for instance a jar of sugar water and a jar of plain water - the sugar has a “goal” of becoming equally distributed throughout the liquid water. When it reaches that state, maximum entropy is achieved.

Such effects occur throughout nature. For instance, Americans degrade the complex organisms we refer to as cattle at a mind-boggling rate. In the year 2000, somewhere around thirty-eight million of those highly organized and brilliantly functional organic systems, each capable of independently maintaining its energy level for a considerable number of years, were “degraded” to the more stable state we refer to as sewage by the process of our consumption.

That sewage is then consumed and degraded by specialized microorganisms even closer to thermodynamic equilibrium.

In that same year, each American converted an average of 195 pounds of red meat, poultry and fish into simpler forms. Every year of our lives, we convert more than our weight of other “higher life forms” into energy and protein which we use to battle the relentless march of entropy.

Each individual organism on earth is an efficient processing plant that is remarkably effective at making other organisms in the world around them - and even inorganic compounds - more “stable.”

Eating and finding food are so basic to the function of living things that in almost all organisms the brain is located near the entrance to the gut. There are several families of genes that govern both brain and gut development, which reflects the ancient relationship between the gut and the brain.

It is humbling to consider while pushing our carts through the grocery store that we may be utilizing the first and foremost purpose of our minds, but those are the facts. Like every other animal, our primary business in life is to find food that can be converted to energy to support the functioning of our bodies. What we do not use, we excrete as feces, urine, and perspiration.

Combined, the amount of waste generated by living things, both in life and in death, has altered a significant portion of the earth’s crust. Soil and limestone deposits, both results of millions of years of processing by living things, cover our planet.

All life is knee deep in birth and death, two extremes of a powerful entropic process. This universal contest is present not only in the grand scheme of nature, but also in the daily existence of everything in creation.

Our sun is a powerful generator of energy, but like all sources of energy, that energy is slowly suffering the attrition of entropy. The powerful heat and pressures within the core of our planet create complex mineral deposits, which emerge through volcanic activity and other geological phenomena to create mountains and other grand features, which are in turn worn down by wind, rain, glaciers and other natural forces, and turned into sand and soil.

Our bodies face entropy each day. Millions of years of evolution have built a grand engine in the human physique. Each human body has incredible abilities to persist in the face of entropy’s relentless march - but in the end - every individual living organism, every mountain, every energy source…wears down.

So the bottom line is that your decline is inevitable. No matter how much you work out and how well you eat, you are still on the way out. All you are ever going to do is eat, poop and die. I know that sounds like bad news, but every cloud has a silver lining.

Entropy means that there will always be plenty of work for doctors, remodeling contractors, cosmetics sales people and washing machine repairmen.

4. You only exist as a relationship.

Now this might be hard to understand, so I will use a metaphor that makes it easier. First, I have to tell you that you are what is called a “dissipative structure.” Such a structure accelerates the pace of entropy by taking energy from the world around it and hastening it towards thermodynamic equilibrium.

Dissipative structures are easily observable in nature. Whirlpools and tornadoes are two common examples, but galaxies and eco-systems also qualify.

When barometric pressure rises in a storm front, a regular form with a recognizable structure emerges. We call it a tornado. A tornado allows the high barometric pressure to dissipate more effectively in exchange for maintaining its structure. It has to have a thermodynamic imbalance to exist. When the build up of pressure is equalized, the tornado disappears.

In the early 1990’s, earth scientists performed a thermal analysis while flying over several varied ecosystems and discovered that the more developed the eco-system, the colder its surface temperature. They discovered what the rest of the galaxy already knows, that complex living systems dissipate the sun’s energy more effectively than those that are less diverse. The more complex the living system, the more effective dissipater it is.

Your body is a complex living system too, just like a jungle. The city you live in is also complex living system. Both you and the city are dissipative structures. You take energy out of the world around you like a tornado, and use that energy to avoid the impact of entropy. As pointed out above, you are very effective at turning cows into poop. You do this so you can continue being yourself. The cow is sacrificed to maintain your structure.

A tornado’s identity is a relationship between a high pressure storm system and a low pressure layer of air. A tornado is an identifiable thing, but though it has a structure you can see and it can blow a piece of straw through a fence post, all its parts are parts of other things. It has no distinct content. Its behavior is the only thing unique about it, and that behavior is completely determined by its environment.

So is yours. You are merely a relationship between your physical and cultural environment, and the genes you inherited from your family. The only thing that is “you” is how you act, and how you act is almost entirely determined by your instincts and your environment.

Sorry. I know it’s hard to feel like the most important thing in the universe when someone is trying to say you make decisions like a termite, but…well…you do.

5. Your brain is not designed to make you happy.

Have you ever noticed that it is incredibly difficult to get happy and stay that way?

We have been evolving for several million years. The amazingly brilliant brains in our skulls make us smart enough to get to the moon. Since almost all of us want to be happy, you would think natural selection would have done a better job of getting us that way.

The problem is that natural selection doesn’t care if you are happy unless your happiness makes your genes more likely to make it to the next generation. Genes are very selfish. They have their own agenda, and don’t care a whit about your happiness.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker makes this point as follows: “People don’t selfishly spread their genes; genes selfishly spread themselves. They do it by the way they build our brains. By making us enjoy life, health, sex, friends, and children, the genes buy a lottery ticket for representation in the next generation.”

So you see, your brain isn’t designed to make you happy. It is designed to give you grandchildren, and if they make you happy, that is because your genes want you to throw yourself in front of a lion so they can have grandchildren.

After they are born, you see, you are expendable. The reason for this is perhaps the most important truth of all for human beings.

6. All that really matters is sex.

There are plenty of galactic races that don’t have sex. They reproduce with spores, or through binary fission like a paramecium, or are manufactured in a factory. I met an alien one time that reproduced using a Xerox machine. There are many different ways to do it.

But in the long run for human beings, sex is all that matters. Ultimately, every man is a sperm, wiggling his little tail while racing all the other little men up the birth canal for a one-in-a-million chance of getting laid. Every woman is an egg, waiting for first few suitors to arrive, and then being picky about which one she lets penetrate her cell membrane.

That’s about it. Sex is the point of all human existence. Money, power, beauty, kindness, love, morality, success, and all our other cherished ideals are merely various strategies for making babies and helping them survive so they can make more babies.

There are currently about 6,451,058,790 human beings on earth. One year ago there were 6,376,863,118. That’s 74,195,672 more in a year. In 1950, the global population was 2,556,517,137. That’s more than a 250% increase in only 55 years. At that rate, in 110 years there will be about forty billion of us.

You can see why our galactic neighbors are so worried about what will happen if we move into their neighborhoods.