The Mind Bending Pirate

28 Feb

When you woke up this morning, the world was largely the same as you left it. You were still you; the room in which you awoke was the same one you went to sleep in. The outside world had not been rearranged. History was unchanged and the future remained unknowable. In other words, you woke up to reality.

But what is reality?

And is your reality even remotely the same as mine?

I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Issues like subjective reality, the transient and morphable nature of memory, meditative neuralnetworks, temporal training, and other mind-bender concepts are what keep me company when my cycling coach gives me a “flat easy ride” assignment, like yesterday’s.

(when I’m bored on the bike, my mind starts to wander … far …)

So there I am, cruising along the bike path, merrily spinning my wheels, lost in my own little happy world when a guy wearing a pirate patch passes me from the other direction. My first thought:

Huh. I wonder if he was eating a crusty french bread sandwich, too?

99% of my blog readers are now scratching their heads and wondering WHAT THE F*CK KIND OF DRUGS IS THIS GIRL ON?!? My mom and readers who were members of the vol. 38 W&M Law Review editorial staff may be slightly less perplexed.

Let me explain…

Encountering a pirate patch-wearing cyclist was definitely an unexpected bit of sensory input. As loyal readers know, I’m susceptible to sensory integration disorders as a result of my brain bashing. One of the adaptive/compensation techniques I learned to help reduce the impact of unanticipated events is to (a) infer the cause of an input from my most readily accessible memory and (b) from there predict possible outcomes and sequelae.

Unanticipated event: Encountering a pirate-patch cyclist.

Inferred cause [from readily accessible memory]: He must have a scratched cornea (because I had to wear a pirate patch when I scratched my cornea!).

Predicted sequelae: Poor guy, I hope he sues the sandwich maker! (my scratched cornea resulted from a piece of crusty french bread flying into my eye after I chomped into a turkey-and-havarti-with-house Cheese Shop sandwich — and even though this happened shortly after the infamous McDonald’s “hot coffee” lawsuit and I was in law school, it never dawned on me to sue the sandwich makers for their obviously dangerous bread!)

I thought about the pirate patch cyclist and his unfortunate french bread incident for many miles before it dawned on me that his reality probably was not at all aligned with my perception of “reality” — even though my perception was TOTALLY valid based on what I was seeing and the information I had at hand.

Classic case of “Don’t judge a book by its cover!”

Our brains (damaged or not) interpolate events based on our own, individual past experiences and expectations. We retrospectively assemble stories to inform us about what’s happening in the “present.” A pop-sci magazine from our northern neighbors offers an interesting series of articles on this topic (but act quickly because the link will expire in 8 days).

How do we know what today’s reality is?

We only know it by understanding our past.

In your past the smell of fresh baked apple pie likely evokes memories of holidays and happiness. In my past the smell of baked apples conjures stomach-churning memories associated with an unfortunately timed episode of the flu.

If we walked by a bakery together, our realities would be highly divergent from one another. Our memories would inform our moods and affect our behaviors (e.g., you would like to linger and chat, I would like to flee and dump bleach into my brain).

Same bakery. Same walk. Same objective experience. Totally different realities.

Our present reality is malleable and susceptible to distortion and it gets even more interesting when you have a defective memory consolidation unit.

Hmmmm, I sense a weekend armchair research binge coming on…

Parting Thought: A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. ~Edward de Bono

5 Responses to “The Mind Bending Pirate”

  1. Cynthia Greene Ragona February 28, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    All I can think is Cheese Shop turkey and havarti w/ house on crusty bread–my exact regular order. I am a bit thrown off by our similar orders, yet salivating as my memory of that delicious sandwich kicks in. I hope your injury didn’t make you pass on the sandwich forevermore.

    • justadventures February 28, 2013 at 10:44 am #

      Has an injury EVER kept me from returning to something I love?

      • Cynthia Greene Ragona February 28, 2013 at 11:01 am #

        Fair point. If a TBI hasn’t kept you off a bike, then it would be silly for a little cornea scratch to keep you away from the much less dangerous Cheese Shop sandwich. It’s like I forgot whom I was talking to.

  2. Julia R. Wilson February 28, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

    Love this. And it applies to so much – I think about this all the time in terms of managing people – we tell ourselves what we *think* is “their story” to interpret other folks’ behavior. In reality, the only story we really know is our own. And the only thing we can reference in talking with others is what we think is their observable behavior. “You did X 5 times. I don’t like it when you do X.” But what we CAN’T ever really know is what “X” behavior means to the other person. [This happens a LOT with teenaged daughters . . . whose minds are mysterious.] Who know that telling me I have droopy skin meant that she loves me????? Only she knew that.

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