Time and the evaluation of the value of life

Takehiro Ohya talks about the architecture implications for the jurisdictional field.

In cases of severe or fatal accidents, the victim's family would oftenlike to turn back time to prevent the happening. But what if instead of going back in time societies and their institutions could count on environments able to avoid mistakes?

This proposal already exists on the so-callied choice architecture, a concept presented by Professor Takehiro Ohya, from the Keio University, during the Humanities / Social Sciences Workshop of thesecond phase of the Intercontinental Academia (ICA), on March 10.

Ohya, who is a professor of jurisdictional law and an expert on philosophy of law, gave the lecture Time institutionalized and its transformation, showing some concepts of social control applied to the built environment. This is a kind of architecture theorized by Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Harvard University and creator of the creative commons licenses on the internet.

The choice architecture comes to how decisions are influenced by the way choices (things) are presented. This architecture can have a paternalistic bias or a libertarian paternalistic one, according to Ohya.

Bars that force people to walk in a particular place or direction, barriers in the subway or seats that do not allow people to lay down at airports are examples of the paternalistic bias because they give no choice to a person, cited Ohya.

On the other hand, he said, a diner could make healthy food more accessible and more visible at the expense of industrialized products. In this case, although the environment has an intervention by "positively influencing citizens in order to help them to take action for their own benefit," individuals are not prevented from eating whatever they want. The arrangement of food choices has the effect of reducing the consumption of "junk food" and increasing the consumption of healthy food.

According to the professor, there are four major forces that exert control in big societies: law, social conventions or traditions and religions, market and (most recently) architecture.

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The physical environment influences decisions because the arrangement of things or the built structures can cause reactions in the use of a certain place, Oyha explained.

The choice architecture is based on the fact that we act intuitively or heuristically and not always behave as rational agents, Ohya said. In economic theory, the rational agent can be an individual or a firm that makes decisions with a view to their preferences and the efficient use of information. The aim is to rationalize their decisions to maximize costs, production, materials or other actions.

Social control through laws and rules is a further action and there may be those who are not able to be controlled by laws and rules (mentally or physically disabled ones, for instance), Ohya said. "On the other hand, one could argue that architecture could even control dogs and cats. But it can also not be effective in very specific cases," said the professor.

In social control through architecture there is no asymmetry before or after the action. It works regardless of age since social conditions remain the same. In the case of serious injury or loss of human life, the legislation of most countries assesses the value of life according to age and the ability to produce wealth that the person would still have. Therefore, in this case, the law is limited and asymmetric.

"The younger and the more you earn, the more you are worth. Does this mean that the life of a housewife or a worker, an elderly or a disabled one has no value? In this new social control model the asymmetry of time can disappear," Ohya said.

Photo: IAR/Nagoya