“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”
What if we could wrestle down life’s big questions using the scientific method? What if we could systematically improve human thoughts, actions, and environments in a way that shapes personal meaning and significance? Existential ergonomics is my attempt to explore just that.
The word “existential” is loaded, and “ergonomics” is not well understood, so I’ll offer some perspective.
Existential is defined as “relating to human existence” or, more broadly, “the analysis of existence and the ways humans find themselves existing in the world.” The philosophy of existentialism is concerned with finding one’s self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.
Ergonomics, on the other hand, is the application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes, and systems. Think: the intuitive Apple operating systems, health-promoting standing desks, and prosthetic limbs. The ultimate goal of ergonomics is to reduce human error, increase productivity, enhance safety, and boost comfort with a specific focus on the interaction between the human and product or system.
Humans, by nature, are continually searching to find out who and what they are. This process unfolds across one’s lifetime, as choices are made based on experiences, beliefs, and outlooks. This raises the question: What might happen if we applied the principles of ergonomics to the pursuit of significance and self? What if we, as humans being, could study and design “right-fit” processes to optimize well-being and performance? What if the abstract and esoteric—such as consciousness, dreams, and aspirations—could be improved upon through the blending of psychology, sociology, engineering, and design?