The author of the book I’d been reading challenged folks to try to determine when they decide to get out of bed. He didn’t ask what your alarm was set for, but when you decided to make the move. Try it. Every time you think you are deciding you realize there is a previous decision point underlying it.
In my case I had been reading the book lying abed on a summer morning with one of my cats, Pomonella, asleep on my chest. It is more than wrong. So as the scene played out I was reading the book, and pausing to contemplate the concept of decision making and getting out of bed, and whether I could determine when I made a decision.
Abruptly the necessity of writing a weekly opinion column with a looming deadline leapt into my head and without a moment’s hesitation I set Pomonella aside and headed for the coffee maker. Sorry Po.
A cardinal rule of we who keep companionable company with cats is that we do not unnecessarily rouse a comfortably sleeping cat
I tried to discern the get out of bed decision point many times after that without success. If you try it I think you’ll find the same sort of infinite regression. When you decide that you have decided to get up you realize that there was a preceding decision to decide, and on and on until you arrive here listening to me suggest that you try the experiment. But did you decide just now? Or a couple of paragraphs ago when I first mentioned it? Or somewhere in between?
But speaking of cats, one of the best butterfly wing stories I’ve gathered in my butterfly collecting career, is the fact that when superstition swept Europe in the years we now call the Dark Ages, a fear of witchcraft was paramount. Cats, long rumored to be the familiars of witches, were exterminated in large numbers. Absent cats, rodent populations blossomed. Rodent fleas carried the Bubonic Plague and half the human population expired. Vikings were smarter and always had shipboard cats to control vermin, with the result that domestic cats were very likely the first permanent European settlers on this continent, left behind when the Vikings abandoned their villages.
It is approximately impossible
That’s an excellent reason to keep cats around the house, but also a stellar example of the unintended consequence of our decisions. The choice to eliminate cats, made for what was then an arguably believable reason, given the paucity of scientific knowledge at the time, created or exacerbated a very real effect on human life.
Why Time Flies is a recently released book by Alan Burdick, which, by the way, I have decided to read, though I haven’t decided whether to buy it or wait for it to land in the library. Time will tell, I suppose. But I learned a fascinating nugget when I heard Burdick interviewed last week.
When you type on a computer keypad there is a tiny delay between the moment your finger touches a key and the letter’s appearance on the screen. That make’s sense because the software and hardware are processing your action. We tend to experience the appearance of the letter as simultaneous with the keystroke.
A researcher meddled with software and so that the time lag between action and appearance gradually increased by several milliseconds. Typists’ brains continued to interpret the appearance as instantaneous. I suppose there is some limit to how long the lag can be. As I said, I’ve yet to read the book. But here’s pawn shop Minnesota the really amazing bit. After typists became accustomed to the new, longer delay, and again I don’t know if it took an hour or a few days, but after their brains accepted the new normal, when the software was suddenly switched back, all of the people tested had the very unsettling but very real sensation that the letters were appearing on the screen before their fingers hit the keys.