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A Little Bit of Pain Never Hurt Anyone

8 March 2007. Just before lunch today I ordered a ‘hot water’ from the drinks machine. Upon trying to extract the cup with, as it turns out, distressingly scolding contents, the water gushed over the side, leaving me paralysed in the right hand for the remainder of the day. Some idiot had evidently decided that the drinks dispenser should output water which felt at least 100 degrees Celsius in temperature, while ensuring also that the cups are literally filled to the brim, thus guaranteeing the poor unsuspecting sap ordering a drink is dealt a violent surprise when innocently reaching in to retrieve it.

Left: Nothing says "good morning" like a proper scolding.

For the rest of the day my thumb was holed-up in a cup of cold water (ironically from that very same machine). At lunchtime, however, I decided to take a walk to the park, for which I bought a bottle of water to store my intransigent digits as a short-term stopgap. Holding the bottle with the top pointing downwards, the neck full of thumb, it served the purpose or regulating the temperature of my scolded hand back down to bearable levels. It made me look a bit unhinged to fellow park dwellers I’m sure, but that is not the issue.

Here’s the thing. As I held the bottle upside down, leaning on my thumb, my brain was telling me “this is an accident waiting to happen”. This was a sure recipe for disaster; it was surely only a matter of time before the valve-like effect of my thumb, preventing the water from taking nature’s gravitational course all over my trousers, became unstuck. What do you think happened next? I’m not actually going to say it, as it’s pretty obvious what transpired, right?

So why didn’t the voice of reason and logic which is buried somewhere in my head over-rule the other voice who (fairly reasonably) wanted my thumb to remain cool to prevent pain? The logical action was outranked by benefits I affixed to the “gamble” of continuing the balancing act. ‘Just a little longer’ I thought, enjoying the nullifying effect of the water in the bottle. Then water went all over my trousers. Which caused a major policy rethink within the political institutions of my cerebral cortex.

There are numerous examples of this all around us: I’m not an idiot. Or, if I am, then I am far from being the only one. People in general always push the boundaries of what is possible to beyond breaking point as part of our nature.

My guitar has a dodgy E string. When you tune it upwards too far it twists round and resets itself at a lower tone. When I tune my guitar, I always edge it closer and closer to this breaking point. ‘Just a little further’, I think. You get a better sound if it is tuned higher. Or at least you would do, if it were not physically possible to get it beyond a certain point. What happens every time? I get proverbial water all over my metaphorical pants, of course!

I suspect that this simple observation on human behaviour is true on a global scale. We’ll all be going on polluting the planet and not worrying too much about global warming, continuing to push the boundaries for that ‘just a little longer’ which is so much more comfortable. Combine this with other factors: monumental cognitive dissonance of global citizens, rich companies and politicians who don’t care, cows on a baked bean diet.

Then that will be that. Massive earthquakes, even bigger Godzilla’s, and irreversible global damage will no doubt follow. And then we’ll all have looked like we’ve just pissed ourselves.