At the biennale of Architecture this year I encountered a quote from the famous Roman Architect Vitruvius, and the quote really made me rethink some things about myself.
But first, let’s review a few things I Believe about myself. In 2012 I had something of an epistemic crisis, and I recodified myself as being a stupid person who needed to learn more than he had at this point learned. I have become a person who prides himself on the fact that I tend to approach things with a certain amount of skepticism – namely, I don’t accept things as true or false until that time at which such a thing has been proven thus. I would like to think that I am living by these principles. I am at least trying my best. By consequence of this, I don’t necessarily value confidence. From what I can tell from observing other people, most confidence is false. It is a lot of people make declarative statements with little actual information to back it up. Most actually experts I have encountered tend to exercise a lot more caution in their opinions, always offering up the caveats, qualifications, circumstances and tentative nature of their hard won opinions. For me, those are the real boundaries of expertise.
So I saw a Vitruvius quote (Well, it may have been a paraphrasing of a Vitruvius quote. Whatever) at the Biennale. Roughly speaking, it went something like this. “Vitruvius teaches us that one cannot understand how to build a ceiling until one understands astronomy.”
I read that and laughed at the sheer stupidity of it. To me, it made absolutely no sense. The relationship between ceilings and astronomy seems to me to be completely unfounded. I was happy to write it off.
And then I thought about a few things. 18 years ago when I was a student of architecture and a much, much dumber person, I still had no confidence. But there was a difference between the lack of confidence I had then, and the type I presume myself to have now. It dawned on me that if I had encountered that Vitruvius quote back then, I likely would not have been so quick to dismiss it. I likely would have stopped and written a pages long journal entry where I tried to reconcile the to disparate concepts of astronomy and roofing.
Hm. So now I am left with the question: at which point was I being justifiably skeptical. Was my 2021 action my being skeptical at all? Should I now give Vitruvius’ idea proper consideration?
I think I am better off now. The circumstances are not easily comparable. Twenty years ago, I was a young man who wanted to be an architect. I would have found the time to give the idea some consideration, meritorious or not. Now, as an almost forty year old who suffers from finding EVERYTHING interesting, it becomes increasingly harder to give anything this much time. The construction of ceilings is something I recognize I cannot dig into the weeds of. Life is just to fucking short.
So, my refutation of the quote is something of a rational-skeptic heuristic. It tastes like a woo-y quote to me. If someone wanted to sit me down and go over Vitruvius’ argument, I think I would listen to it with an open mind. But they would have a lot of work to do to convince me. Frankly, I think physics may be more important to understanding ceilings than astronomy. But I would be willing to listen.
But what I am surprised to find that I did do this act of denial with rapid confidence. It’s the kind of confidence I do not necessarily value in life.
But sometimes I guess you just need to cut corners.