Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To See A Universe in the Changing Of The Clock

I was walking in to work this morning with a colleague, and she commented that the sunny weather had put her in a good mood.

“It’s nice.” I agreed. “It’s one of the things I enjoy about the end of daylight savings time. It’s going to be nice and bright and easier to get up in the morning for a few weeks.”

She looked at me in surprise. “A few weeks?” she asked.

So I explained that it is nice and light now when we are getting up and driving in to work but that as we get closer to the winter solstice it will be darker and darker in the morning. Then as we move towards spring it will slowly become lighter in the morning, but only for a little while until daylight savings time comes along. Then we move forward an hour and it’s dark again in the morning until we get closer to the summer solstice.

My colleague listened to this politely and with an appearance of interest until we reached the turnoff for our respective hallways. We wished each other a good day and moved on into the flow of work.

I walked off down the hall puzzling. This changing of the patterns of light at different hours of the day matters a lot to me. I’m not a morning person in any sense of the word and waking up in the dark is really challenging. If I had the choice I’d always sleep until past sunrise, but my job is not so flexible and so I often have to wake up before I’m ready. So I pay attention, roughly, to the seasonal patterns of light and how our cultural pattern of clock changes interacts with that. I can’t tell you when sunrise will be tomorrow, but usually by sometime in January I’m desperate enough for morning sunshine to have looked up a sunrise table in order to figure out when I’ll have the light back. (Yes, I’ve tried a sunrise alarm clock, and no, it didn’t work for me at all.)

Yet this pattern, which means so much to me, was apparently news to my colleague. At least it seemed that way to me. Maybe she knows all about it and was just being extra polite in listening to my pedantic chatter. I read an article recently that talked about how bad we humans are at interpreting what other people are thinking and feeling (We are very bad at it but we think we are good at it. This is bad news for me as a psychiatrist, although I think it’s true and it explains a lot). So I could be completely wrong. Still, she seemed surprised to me.

Conversations like this make me realize that we really do live in our own universes. The things that matter to me, the details I notice, the patterns of my thought and experience, the way I interpret events, is completely unique to me. Other people don’t care about how much light there is in the morning because it doesn’t affect them. It’s not even part of their world. They don’t even know about it unless I happen to mention it in passing.

No wonder we all have so much trouble understanding each other.