Tag Archives: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Would You Go to the Gym, If It Would Save a Life?

That’s what Jen-Hsien Chiu thinks.

Chiu, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, developed Phabit – a “smart pot” that will nurture a plant, depending on whether or not you stick to your habit.

There’s actually some nuance to it. Users of the app complete a personality quiz that puts them into one of four buckets: obliger, questioner, rebel, and upholder. The idea being that the app will challenge each group of people differently.

On its face, it certainly seems like an innovative way to help us form better habits. However, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea of “holding something hostage,” especially another lifeform. I realize that to some, it’s just a plant, but there’s a growing body of evidence substantiating the sentience of plants.

Plant sentience aside (for the moment), let’s look at it purely from a habit forming perspective. Recall from Charles Duhigg’s excellent book, The Power of Habit:

Studies have shown that if you can diagnose your habits, you can change them in whichever way you want.

As I said previously:

That’s really important because this thinking wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, folks will tell you that you need to focus on the cue, while others will say you need to focus on the reward. As Duhigg suggests, you can focus on whichever aspect you want, so long as you’ve diagnosed the habit.

Now returning to Phabit – do you think seeing a wilted plant on your desk would raise your level of awareness, with regard to your shirking your goals? If I had to say, I’m probably going to guess the answer is yes. So, purely from a “science of habits”-perspective, Phabit certainly seems like it’s a great way to get people thinking about their habits.

Let’s revisit the plant sentience aspect.

If we presume that plants are sentient (and the evidence certainly points in that direction), then we must consider the ramifications of literally holding another life hostage to our actions. There are two possible outcomes I want to mention: empathy and PTSD.

Empathy. One might argue that by subjecting one’s self to this could foster a sense of empathy (i.e. I feel bad because *I’m* hurting the plant). One might also argue that the “continued killing of plants” (through not completing one’s daily goals) could potentially promote emotional numbing and maybe begin to strip someone of their empathy.

PTSD. Dovetailing with the point on empathy above, I suppose it’s possible that someone might begin to exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress from “killing” a plant (or multiple plants, depending on how things go). I realize that this might sound absurd in the abstract, but if we presume plant sentience, killing a plant would fall on the same continuum as killing another being. Granted, the ramifications to one’s psychological wellbeing might not be as severe as if one were to kill an animal or another human being, but when we invent things, it’s incumbent upon us to consider the possible ramifications from as many sides as possible.

Religious Pluralism: Isaac and Ishmael

I’ve recently started re-watching The West Wing. I don’t remember what prompted it, but I’m really glad that I have. I first watched the series a couple of years ago — before I was to start business school. The show was really engaging and that made it easy to watch multiple (3, 4, and 5!) episodes at a time. Now that I find myself nearing the end of my formal business education (graduate with an MBA in a couple of months), re-watching The West Wing has been quite different. I feel like I have a better handle and understanding of the nuances to the plot. That’s not because I’ve seen it before (I hardly remember the ‘minor’ plot lines of the series), but because I’ve learned so much in the last 2 years.

I’m into Season 3 and the first episode that airs in Season 3 is one that’s not part of the plot. That is, it’s a play — with the characters of The West Wing, but it’s not part of the timeline of the show. This episode airs about a month after 9/11. Well, the actors/actresses can do it better than I, so here’s the introduction to the episode that aired:

When I was watching the series the first time, I don’t remember watching this episode — I was too eager to carry on with the plot. Since I knew what was going to happen, I thought I’d take the time to watch this episode. I thought it was very well done. I tried to imagine how I might be feeling back in October of 2001. Would I be upset? Would I be typecasting? Would I have understood the nuances of different religious beliefs? Different sects?

I’ve had a hard time finding critical reception for this particular episode, but of those articles I was able to find, there’ve been mixed reviews. From what I can tell, that has more to do with what appears to be something against Aaron Sorkin (the creator of the show). While some found the “teacher-student” paradigm a bit hokey, I thought it was a great way to convey an important message. Anyway, if you get the chance, I highly suggest watching the episode. If you’ve got Amazon Prime, here’s the link to the episode on Amazon that you can watch for free: The West Wing – Isaac and Ishmael.


As an aside, there was another really great episode that I saw recently. This one was part of the plot of the show, but it dealt with a really important issue: post-traumatic stress disorder. I was surprised when I clicked over to the Wiki page for this episode to find that it had only won one award (and helped Bradley Whitford win an Emmy). If I’m keeping score, this has to be one of the top 5 episodes of the series. Here’s the Amazon Prime link: The West Wing – Noël.