bird poops on plum branch


Buster Benson

No advice column.

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our lame imaginations
bird poops on plum branch
When I dyed my hair "gray" I became ultra conscious of the speed at which my hair grows. Even after a couple hours I could see a tiny bit of dark brown hair at the roots. Is that gross? A little? Anyway, it made me start thinking about what the SLOWEST thing I could imagine was. Hair grows pretty slow. Can I actually imagine how slow it grows? Not in the way that a clock moves... tick by tick. Hair is constantly growing, moving so slowly. Grass grows notoriously slow. How quickly do tectonic plates move? The Mid-Atlantic Ridge moves about 2.5 centimeters a year... which I think is slower than grass or hair grows. Can I imagine something that's constantly moving and yet only moving 2.5 centimeters a year? It's an odd brain exercise.

Then I started thinking about other similar imagination exercises. What's the biggest thing I can imagine? I tested this by trying to imagine myself as the biggest thing. I could imagine myself the size of a dinosaur (strange to realize how your brain constantly keeps track of the space you're occupying... if you were bigger, maybe your brain would have to work harder?). What about the size of a sky scraper? That's more difficult. Imagine knowing about that entire space. It's tempting to immediately jump to the size of a planet, but I think that it's almost impossible to IMAGINE that much space at once. I don't think humans can intuitively know how big a planet is... other than as a number that's bigger than some things and smaller than others. Bigger than a house, smaller than the sun.

What's the smallest thing you can imagine? What's the fastest thing you can imagine? What's the longest period of time you can imagine? Can you imagine what it would be like to live 1000 years? 10,000? 100,000,000? It's fun to try... it reveals the tricks our brain uses to store unimaginable things in ways that don't require us to fully understand them.

These shortcuts our brain uses, however, I think get us in a lot of trouble. Because we think we understand what 3,000 people are, when all we really understand is that 3,000 is larger than 1,000 and 2,000, we respond to 3,000 deaths the same way we'd respond to 5,000, or 30,000. We value $1,000 when we're considering a sofa that we want to buy, but when buying a $200,000 house your agent might ask if you want to consider spending $2,000 more and you will not really even bat an eye. Our brain can't really stretch very far when thinking about absolute amounts... everything is relative... and comparing two things that are vastly different (the size of an orange and the size of a photo) breaks our ability to think relatively and therefore our ability to think at all.

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I asked my science teacher once how come there wasn't a nuclear explosion every time you sliced a piece of bread, because presumably you were splitting atoms, but he said they are so small you can't cut them with a knife and are really just pushing them around into different shapes. I like to imagine that whenever I slice bread now. That's small.

yeah it's sort of like trying to cut a golf ball in half with the moon.

Have you noticed that whenever you drive a car your brain automatically accounts for the size of the car when manuevering around? The first time I drove an SUV I thought I'd have a hard time backing up in a crowded parking lot, but it wasn't any harder than driving a regular car.

Yeah, that's weird. I felt that most recently when I was swerving through the streets of Tijuana a couple weeks ago.

Personally, I get into a very strange (and almost scary) state of mind when I think about the fact that I am thinking. It's like the Centipede's Dilemma in a way.

I like the idea of the centipede's dilemma, but I don't think I've ever really experienced it except when people tell me to "breathe regularly".

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