Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Semi-Conscious Thoughts and Free Parking

I don't know about you, but my brain has a category of thoughts that I describe as 'semi-conscious'. These are the cases where you see something that's slightly anomalous or unusual. The event is weird enough that you vaguely remember it, but not so weird that you immediately stop and wonder why it might be there (unlike, say, seeing  a clown on a unicycle riding down the road).  But it's only later on when you see something else that explains it do you remember that you sort-of noted how the underlying thing was unusual.

Today, for instance, I was looking for parking near a coffee shop, and was slightly distracted. The side of the road I was on looked pretty full, but I noticed that the opposite side of the street had a number of spots. I wheeled around, pulled up outside the coffee shop, and didn't think about it. I came back out 5 minutes later, and had gotten a ticket. I looked around - there was no requirement for paid parking, and I wasn't in a no-parking zone. The ticket revealed the answer, of course - I had been there for the two hours of the week where that particular side of the street had street cleaning.

And suddenly it all makes sense! Having one side of the street be totally full and the other side be mostly empty is unlikely if cars are all parking at random. In my case, if one side of the street were completely deserted, this might raise the thought to conscious questioning ('why is nobody parked here? is there something funny going on?) but semi-empty wasn't enough.

The other category of 'semi-conscious thoughts' I notice are cases where people are acting slightly oddly relative to what you'd expect. In other words, there's some small action they do that seems at odds with your general model of their personality. Girlfriend or husband acting slightly odd? Yeah, you may want to at least think about why that could be, with particular emphasis on models of behaviour that you don't normally contemplate. Maybe they had something crap happen at work that they didn't want to tell you about. Maybe they're cheating on you. Maybe it's a surprise party they're planning for you. In any case, it's probably worth at least thinking about, because the actions that would raise it to the level of conscious thought may be less pleasant than you'd like.

In my experience, these odd anomalies are often very good signs that your model of the world is somewhat wrong. Of course, if you chased every slightly odd-looking thing, you'd probably get a large majority of dead-ends and wasted time. Still, if there's a moral here (and there probably isn't), it would be to pay more attention to vaguely odd things.

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