Coping: With Partial Holidays and Dcotors


That’s what we need more of, around here.

Yesterday, for example, I missed my usual half-octane blend of regular and decaf, going for the decaf-only because it was time for my once-every-six-months visit to the doctor for the blood pressure and cholesterol checks.  Hence, no coffee…because with me, a cup of  serious caffeine is good for 10-15 more points on the high number.  I tend to add 10 points as a “white coat” reaction, anyway.

If the reference in the Monday column to Columbus Day made no sense, this morning I’d have to agree with you.  Doesn’t to me, either.  At least today is doesn’t.

Which explains why Mr. Timewarp somehow got into his head that Veterans Day was Columbus Day.  “No, you idiot,” wrote one reader directly “Ask Panama what day it is.”    Monday? I shot back.

Seriously, I would have asked the retired ex-SF/Ranger brother-in-law, but Panama was busily cleaning his favorite little .380 pistol at the time and Pappy didn’t raise no fool.  Several readers hinted at the error and I was slowly catching on.  I don’t take chances….

Going forward, we’re just going to have to agree here:  Every-so-often I will display signs of aging.  Or, I am so helplessly addicted to coffee that I can’t function without it.  I should put a little flag in the heading of each column that says something like “  Coffee:  ON” or “ Coffee: OFF.”  We might even find a correlation with spelling errors.

Where were we now?  Oh yes….

So I’m there at the doc’s place. The blood pressure was fine… although the doc is still trying to sell me on preventative medicine.

You know, we need to talk again about you having a colonoscopy, since you’re almost 66 now….”

At this point I gave him my best upper-management Look of Death for Saying the Wrong Thing. I’m good at it. 

He looked worried, furrowing his brow as he weighed whether to press the point….and then brightened and said “Well, OK, we talked about THAT then….”  Smart man.

In a previous session I’d explained to him (in no expletives deleted terms) that I appreciate that there is a trade-off between a colonoscopy and risk of having some dreaded disease, or other.  But I also made it clear that when someone sticks various instruments and implements up in “No thank you” areas, and wants me to shoulder all the liability if anything goes wrong, no, that is not exactly “risk sharing.”  Show me some quid pro quo, bro.

Near as I could read the proposed 13-page waiver of liability fine print, if something goes wrong (like an intestinal wall is broken) that could lead (worst case) to death.  I suppose that at least would not be a tax event from my standpoint, but still….

Let me think about this:  My side of the equation is, let me see:  Money and death.

The doctor’s side of the equation?  If something we4nt wrong, they might have to do emergency surgery and that could delay the next appointment on the health care delivery conveyor belt, or in extreme cases, delay a tee time.

The good news is that there was an article in the October (yeah, the month when Columbus Day was) issue of MIT Technology Review that described how a spoonful of special yogurt and a urine sample might very quickly replace the colonoscopy.

I’m sending my doctor a copy of the article and mention that “when the test yogurt is available in strawberry flavor I’ll be taking that replacement test.  Provided the waiver of liability is less than two pages.  I might consider other flavors, too, like blueberry…”

Alternatively I should really ask if a self-inspection is out of the question since several readers have suggested that my head is already conveniently located in the required inspection position.

The “Offset of Reality” Problem

Since this is a pseudo-holiday, we can focus on the important items next.  Not that personal health isn’t, but to my way of thinking WoWW (World of Woo-Woo) reports are much more fun to study than, oh, say colonoscopies.  One is shit weird while the other is just weird shit, if that doesn’t ruin your PopTart.

Some readers think that the report from James in yesterday’s column gives away the real source of Woo-Woo reports (like jottles and such) as nothing more than perception breaks on the part of the people involved…  Reader Bobbi sent this….

Hi George,

   As much as I’d like to blame the Hadron collider, I think reader James is probably correct. It’s probably what makes the difference between an autistic person and a normal person. Maybe Woowoo is a glitch in that system.

  This morning I had a brief one. I had a rack of 40 test tubes, each with its own screw-cap lid securely fastened. One tube in the first row had its lid missing. I looked around a little bit, wondering how I was going to find a new lid. When I looked back at it 30 seconds later, the lid was NOT missing. Throughout all of this, the rack never left my hand.

  Stuff like this happens to me in that room, but I had chalked it up to senior moments. Not this time.

Well, if you really want to have some fun (I just did this and the results were impressive to say the least) go over here and follow the directions on how to look at the red and green dots…..

That might go a ways toward explaining how items “disappear” against a regularly noisy visual backdrop, but there’s this other problem:  If you look at a rack of test tubes a) your blind spot is not likely to see one top off and b) your holding something that is going trans-reality would not be perceived as a change because the weight difference (cap there versus not there) would be so slight.

Taking this one step further, check out this press release issued by the Salk Institute in 2000:

La Jolla, CA – If you think you?re living in the past, you’re right – and science can tell you just how far behind the times you are. According to a new Salk study, it’s at least 80 milliseconds, just slightly longer than the blink of an eye.

“What you think you’re seeing at any given moment is actually influenced by the future,” said David Eagleman, lead author of a study in the current issue of Science. “This doesn’t mean the brain is clairvoyant, however.”

He compared the timing of conscious perception to the broadcasting of a live television show, “which is actually not live. The show is delayed by about three seconds, so it can be edited if something happens. The brain does the same thing.”

Using a visual illusion known as the flash-lag phenomenon, Eagleman and Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski showed that the human brain appears to construct conscious awareness in an after-the-fact fashion, which they term postdiction. Their findings counter a leading hypothesis that visual awareness is predictive, extrapolating ahead of perceived events.

“In fact,” said Sejnowski,” it looks like the conscious mind is just catching up on past information.”

The flash-lag phenomenon was initially noted in 1958 and, more recently, recognized as a potential tool to probe puzzles of visual perception. Imagine you?re watching a moving ring or hoop, and a light flashes in the center of the ring.

“Although the flash is physically in the center of the ring” said Eagleman, “it is perceived to lag behind the ring. You can sometimes see this if you look at an airplane at night – the blinking lights may appear to be lagging behind the plane.”

One popular hypothesis held that this was because our brains assume the ring will continue in its path of motion and extrapolate its position forward.

That was a reasonable theory, according to Eagleman. “Let’s suppose there’s a moving object in the world, and by the time the light from that object hits my retina and gets processed in my brain, the object has already moved on. So if you want to see things where they really are, maybe the visual system needs to extrapolate and guess where things will be in the future. It was intuitively very appealing. But I had reasons to doubt it was true.”

To test this theory, Eagleman and Sejnowski devised a set of simple experiments. Instead of continuing the ring?s movement through space, at the instant of the flash they stopped or reversed its motion.

“If the predictive hypothesis is correct,” said Eagleman, “one would expect the same result in each case – that is, the flash should appear to trail behind because your brain is assuming the ring will continue in its path.”

Instead, they found that perception of the flash was dependent on where the ring moved after the flash. If the ring stopped, subjects reported the flash to be dead center. If it reversed, the flash lagged in the other direction.

“That’s a wacky result,” said Eagleman. “It means that your brain collects information into the future of an event before it commits to what it thinks it saw at the time of the event.”

The researchers followed these experiments with a set in which the ring was at a complete standstill at the time of the flash; immediately afterward it moved in one direction or another. They obtained the same results – the illusory displacement depended on where the ring moved after the flash occurred.

“The flash always appears to trail the movement, when in reality it occupies the center of the ring,” said Eagleman.

And how long does the brain have to polish the past?

“If I were to show a subject a flash and move the ring two weeks later, there would be no effect on perception,” said Eagleman. “So I asked: how long could I delay movement after the flash and still get the flash-lag effect?”

That window turned out to be 80 milliseconds – a trice by our conscious clocks – but long enough to be clearly measured in the laboratory. Eagleman pointed out that this is an averaged number: “I don?t know, perhaps fighter pilots live less in the past than the rest of us.”

Sejnowski added: “Now that we know our brain is stealing time from our visual awareness, we can begin to ask why. More surprises may be in store as we look for this missing time gap in the brain itself.”

The work was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Sejnowski is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Is it possible that Bobbi’s reported experience is somehow related to “flash and ring” theory?  Perhaps.

But something else comes into focus here:  The “perpetual now” experienced in martial arts is likely definable as entering a state of “no mind.”  In other words, being able to move closer to the actual event’s occurrence in time.

Which explains in scientific terms why the martial artists are invincible:  They don’t have to go “off line” to process.  Mere (untrained) mortals, on the other hand, don’t live in this 80 MS zone between reality and action.  Instead, they go offline for 150 MS or longer.

With enough coffee onboard, my personal reaction times are around  268 milliseconds, and you can check your own reaction speed over at so if Bobbi would do a series of 5-10 tries there are let us know if she is faster or slower than the norm, that might be interesting to know.

In 20 trials this morning (with coffee) I’m at an average of 268 milliseconds, which just makes me fast enough to attend Clemson University, apparently.  My best was down at 241 and my worst (attention distracted by passing school bus) was 340 ms.

You can also use this site ( as a tool to test various mental states.  When I am in “thinking mode” my reaction times were in the 340 MS area.  When I went into my “don’t think, just do” (Yoda-space) my times dropped into the low 240’s.

So it would be interesting, if you every experience one of these events (jottles) to jump on the web and notice if your personal reaction times are wonky.

One other application of the benchmark:  You might be able to test which vitamins and supplements actually speed you up, rather than slow you down.

Whew!  Got off onto serious there…thinking is dangerously addictive stuff…

Peoplenomics tomorrow and more here on the free side of things Thursday…tell all your friends and bring them along or it’s a sign your reaction time is slower than it should be.,..