designing spaces for serendipity of learning

After about 6 months building and designing in Berlin, I returned to the Embassy SF.

What I’d become accustomed to while living there before, I’d stop noticing as something uncommonly interesting:

My first weekend back, the serendipity of learning struck me. On the Friday, I found Dan working in the Carriage House. He stopped what he was doing to tell me about the real-world applications of quantum computing: how the field is developing, the challenges of evolving public perception of the subject, what excites him about it. I told him about my readings on existential therapy and poetic naturalism — the intersection of physics and poetry, Carl Sagan and Mary Oliver — to help expand perspectives and lift people out of the ephemeral sufferings of daily life. He told me he and Lou, had been thinking about something similar; they called it ‘physics therapy’.

The following morning, I was working in the breakfast nook by the bay windows where Creon was also sitting, headphones on, focused on his laptop. After an hour or so, when I got up to make a cup of tea, he asked if he could interrupt to show me what he’s learning. Me: of course. And he gave me an off-the-cuff, engaging presentation on new medical applications of laser technologies.

I continued with my work, then our extended-community member, Bert arrived. He and I went to Shannon’s room to say hello. The three of us sat on her bed sharing some ordered-in brunch. Bert’s a friend we made through our Second Life project — opening up space in the house for formerly incarcerated people to play Dungeons and Dragons, and to build community. He’d spent 20+ years in prison and we got deep in conversation about guilt, shame and the effects of these destructive emotions on being able to live with authenticity and compassion. The conversation was rich in wisdom hard-earned through his time alone with his thoughts.

That evening, in the kitchen, Allison was talking with energy about finding paths to existential hope in a future facing threats of malevolent AGI. She catalogues resources here. Later, while a big group of us cook together, with others enjoying the hubbub, chiming in over some cab sauv, I’m chatting with Jessy Kate on ideas around building new societies on worlds contained on spaceships, the challenges of true democracy in an environment of over-abundance of information and finite attention, poking around thoughts on benevolent dictatorships and do-ocracy governance systems.

In a Lyft at some point that weekend, Will tells me a bit about geopolitical tensions around satellite ownership — that countries’ governments blow up their own satellites to be clear to other nations that they can, throwing masses of asteroid-like debris into orbit. At Sunday dinner, Zarinah tells us about the development of the work that they (singular), together with other members of our extended network, are doing to set new precedents for the formerly-incarcerated community to be free of the threat of their often volatile parole officers controlling whether they return to serve life sentences for minor offences.

Later in the week, a bunch of us were around the table laughing hard — masterminding the little pranks our neighbouring community houses were playing on each other. Point being, we’ve cultivated this nourishing balance of abundant intellectual exchange, while still having fun together, connecting over our challenges, being friends and housemates.

There are deliberate design choices — aesthetic, spacial, and in the social make-up of the home — that lead to these sorts of interactions and dynamics. More on this to come…