Relative Sanity

a journal


"It's too bloody hot," she says.

This is the girl that, when we got married, wanted to go to Sharm el-Sheikh on honeymoon. In July.

"It'll be fine," she says: "the high average is only 35°C!"

Now it's 26°C in Scotland for less than a day, and we have all the windows in the flat open. What gives?

The living is easy

As we grow up, we start to rely on certain things, certain background truths about the world. We're pattern recognition machines, don't forget, and when we see the same patterns repeated over and over again, we start to rely on them.

One problem with our machines for pattern recognition is that they tend to focus on the short to medium term, and the majority experience tends to win over the minority experience, even when the minority experience is as regular as clockwork.

Without a conscious, directed effort to remember otherwise, the predictable outlier always seems unpredictable.

Fish: jumping; Cotton: high

Which all adds up to the fact that, when you live in a country that spends most of its year with fairly cold, miserable weather, it's dead easy to forget that, for a few days or weeks of the year, it has a tendency to get pretty warm.

The same is also true in winter, when it tends to snow and get icy around January, and yet we still seem unprepared to send out the snow ploughs and gritters. Of course, that could all just be incompetence, but still.

Hush little darling, don't you cry

When we pattern recognisers get older, we have a tendency to get "stuck in our ways", which is a fancy way of thinking we know everything. And I don't just mean in a "pfft, when I were a lad", condescending-down-the-pub way: I mean our brains start to become attached to certain truths we have learned about the world. The problem is, those "truths" are often far from immutable in the real world, despite our brains having subtly labelled them as such.

Thus, it's "true" that summers are always a bit crappy in Scotland. Except when they're not for a couple of days. When that happens (regularly), everyone collectively loses their shit. People complain about it being "too hot". When the same happens in winter, infrastructures shudder to a halt because of blocked roads. It's predictable, but we have a tendency to see this predictable exception as unpredictable because it's an exception.

Then you'll spread your wings, and you'll take to the sky

Here's the thing: our pattern recognisers aren't fast enough for the industrial world. I'm not going to fall into the trap of claiming that this is a recent phenomenon, but I am going to point out that our brains spent a huge amount of time evolving through a period when "truth" remained "truth" over multiple generations. If you were good at running away from sabre-toothed tigers and bringing down wooly mammoths, you probably remained good at that till you got eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger.

These days, our self-images are under continual, shifting scrutiny, both by a plethora of anonymous trolls and by our friends and colleagues. Most pressingly, we fall under the tyrannical scrutiny of our own selves. We judge our actions against some "truth" that we hold: some ideal of how we should live, who we should be, and we don't realise that we've subtly conflated "who we should be", "who we can be", and "who we actually are".

We end up judging ourselves by some arbitrary template that our brains have decided is our "potential", and we'll likely always come up short. And all because we're not aware of the fact that we can change the template any time we like, because we made it up in the first place.

If it's summer, enjoy the truth of it. Stop whinging that it's "too bloody hot". Chances are the summer knows far more about what's real than you do.