Curiosities of the Mind – Day 4

On the first day you might remember me describing “breezing along without the whiff of a breeze”. Breeze? That’s a joke! Throughout the night I’ve been disturbed by a howling gale: shutters crashing; trees creaking  under the strain; corridors moaning.
This morning, the wind is still pretty wild. Upon opening the shutters I discover …….. the sun shining. Bizarre! Whilst I’m waiting for the wind (which will, sure as day is day, be dead against me!) to settle, I’ll put some more thoughts into print.

How do our brains, minds really operate? How do they organise, store, collate and analyse information? I’m not talking here of neurons (perhaps later) but of processes on a macro scale. There are some basic concepts which humans have learned and developed over the millennia which are clearly essential:
Number. But does this exist separate to “a number of —- “? Has it always existed? There are, I believe, some primitive societies with a very undeveloped concept of “how many”
Shape . This helps us to recognize, as well as store and analyse.
Pattern. I can, for example, only recognize my own phone number as * *** *** ****. Any other configuration is completely (and surprisingly, considering the sequence of digits is identical) unintelligible
Contrast. Good/bad; rough/smooth etc.
Size. But, be careful: how big is the moon/sun? As big as your thumbnail held at arm’s length. Try it! Relativism and perspective complicate this “basic” concept.
Our understanding of this is, of course, modified and refined with experience.

More of this later. The wind has dropped a bit. Time to get back on the bike.

Arriving at breakfast I have to apologise to all present for setting off the fire alarm last night! What, didn’t I tell you? On the way back up to my 2nd storey bedroom after an excellent meal (and demi-pichet of red wine) I found the staircase shrouded in darkness. As you would expect a small red light indicated the switch, which I pushed – to no avail. Walking up to the next floor I spotted a second switch, which I also pushed. After a pause of about 5s all hell broke
You’ve guessed – it was the fire alarm. I might add that the wine had absolutely nothing to do with it. No really!

Anyway, after a hearty, if somewhat embarrassing breakfast I emerge with fully loaded bike at about 10, all set for the day ahead. The sun is shining; the sky is crystal clear; and a strong wind is blowing from the west. Which way do I have to go today? You’ve got it – to the west!
Having established that the Canal de Provence does indeed have a track running alongside, but not one that is suitable for a folding bike, I tackle the gentle climb on the main-road to the S before turning SW on a delightful country lane towards Pourrieres. This soon sweeps downhill in a sequence of sinuous curves, once again along the bottom of a gorge. I mentally thank Stuart for the recent servicing of my brakes!

Approaching the only bar in the village for my customary grande creme I’m beaten to it by a large group of ageing bikers; big bikes and even bigger bellies.
Leaving the village I notice a sudden change of scenery: an expansive and verdant plain, with extensive vineyards stretches in front of me. Ahead, and close by to the N lies a forbidding mountain block; a number of miles to the S, another mountain range extends through Paignol country towards Marseille. And the WIND – relentless, formidable ….. and directly in my face!

The road up through Puyloubier to the col is fantastic …. and a complete nightmare! The increasing proximity of the mountain block rising precipitously no more than 300m to my right, causes the wind to swirl unpredictably. Sudden gusts, I would estimate of up to 60 mph attack me from all directions threatening to blow me off the road. I have to exercise extreme caution. On a number of occasions I unashamedly dismount and walk. Even this, I find difficult.
Having eventually reached the top, the long descent to Aix is even more hazardous, the wind still unforgiving and unpredictable. But I make it!

Pushing my bike through the historic centre of Aix, I feel out of place: well-dressed, probably well-to-do tourists spill from their cars and throng the narrow streets. In another context this would be fine – but not for me now. I wonder- do I feel inferior or superior? I suspect you know the answer. I decide to get out.
Easier said than done. But I make it, and 45 minutes later book into an adequate, newly-built hotel a few miles to the west.
Another different, challenging but ultimately very satisfying day.

Distance travelled                          37.9 miles (It felt twice as far!)
Elevation gain                                        2,757 ft
Time taken                                              4:23:26
Average speed                                      8.6 mph
Wind factor                                   b****y awful!

Now, where was I?
Oh yes – how does the mind process information?
Well, for a start, we’re all different.
My daughter Anna, for example, has many times tried to explain the remarkable way she can memorise important dates. She visualizes the year as an asymmetric clock face, and places dates around this, not in the way you might expect, but in some order which makes perfect sense to her, but to me is completely unfathomable. She also registers days of the week as either odd or even.
There are situations also, when our brain is reluctant to accept the truth, possibly because it focuses on the wrong thing. Optical illusions might be a good example. Also, the well-known birthday statistical puzzle: why do we find it so hard to accept that we need only 23 people in a room for there to be more than a 50% probability that two will share the same birthday? Probably because the brain focuses on the number 23 people, rather than the 253 pairs, which is obviously the more relevant piece of information.
An even more extreme example is the “rope around the earth” puzzle.
I bet that not more than 1 in a100 people would intuitively get this right.
If you have a rope tight around the equator of the earth (about 23,000 miles) how much rope do you have to add to lift it 1ft above the surface all the way round?
Answer ……. about 6 feet!
The brain rebels against this because it focuses on th 23,000 mile circumference , rather than the minuscule extra radius of 1 ft added on to the original 4,000 miles.

Enough for today. Sleep well!

15th May 2015


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