I don't really believe in sychronicity or the universe has a message for me, but in the past 24 hours three pieces of information have combined to produce a feeling of, well, synchronous messaging going on.
Last night I was reading TIME's summer olympics special issue. Lolo Jones, the American hurdler, describes what happened during her disastrous run for a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. In the midst of the race...
And then there was a point after that where I was like, Wow, these hurdles are coming up really, really fast. You have to make sure you don't get sloppy in your technique. I was telling myself to make sure my legs were snapping out. So I overtried. I tightened up a bit too much. That's when I hit the hurdle. Honestly, I should have relaxed a little bit and just run. Instead, I was just so paranoid because they were coming up so fast, I snapped it down too fast.
A few paragraphs on, there's a discussion of what "choking" is all about in athletic endeavors.
Beilock and other scientists who study choking -- there are more of them than you might think -- suspect that athletes under stress choke when too many thoughts flood the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses informational memory. Worry, and the brain becomes too busy. It's a misallocation of resources. The motor cortex, which controls the planning and execution of movements, should be doing most of the work for experienced athletes.
...Jocks should be dumb and not think too much. Jones' recall of her Beijing race suggests that her working memory, rather than her muscle memory, was too engaged. She talks about technique. Notice that she was "telling myself to make sure my legs were snapping out" rather than just letting her motor cortex do it.
Then, this morning I got an email from Nick, who sent me a link to a post on a discussion forum that has something to do with self-realization and all that stuff. (I didn't think about the web site; I just read the post in a dumb way.)
The cat is looking at you, but he can't hold your gaze because that's not his game. He has no interest in what you think. What goes on in your mind means nothing to the cat. Even when you fail to feed him and he's reminding you of your failure, it isn't your mind he's appealing to - it's your behavior.
Behavior is all the cat knows, and he's a master of behavior because he does what he can't imagine, reflect upon, or second-guess. Behavior is all the cat knows, which means he can't know this. What the cat knows, he can't think about, and what the cat thinks, he can't know. This works well for the cat, and it works well for what enjoys the cat's behavior. The cat reminds the self-conscious mind of what it is, and why.
Finally, as I was starting to write this post my wife asked me if I remembered the part in David Eagleman's "Incognito" book where he talks about Japanese chicken sexers. She's listening to an audio version of the book; I read a dead-tree version.
Yes, I did remember. Here's a description of what the chicken sexers can do, in an Eagleman article titled "Your Brain Knows a Lot More Than You Realize."
When chicken hatchlings are born, large commercial hatcheries usually set about dividing them into males and females, and the practice of distinguishing gender is known as chick sexing. Sexing is necessary because the two genders receive different feeding programs: one for the females, which will eventually produce eggs, and another for the males, which are typically destined to be disposed of because of their uselessness in the commerce of producing eggs; only a few males are kept and fattened for meat.
So the job of the chick sexer is to pick up each hatchling and quickly determine its sex in order to choose the correct bin to put it in. The problem is that the task is famously difficult: male and female chicks look exactly alike.
Well, almost exactly. The Japanese invented a method of sexing chicks known as vent sexing, by which experts could rapidly ascertain the sex of one-day-old hatchlings. Beginning in the 1930s, poultry breeders from around the world traveled to the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School in Japan to learn the technique.
The mystery was that no one could explain exactly how it was done. It was somehow based on very subtle visual cues, but the professional sexers could not say what those cues were. They would look at the chick’s rear (where the vent is) and simply seem to know the correct bin to throw it in.
And this is how the professionals taught the student sexers. The master would stand over the apprentice and watch. The student would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into one bin or the other. The master would give feedback: yes or no. After weeks on end of this activity, the student’s brain was trained to a masterful—albeit unconscious—level.
So there we have it. Three bits of information. Which add up to... I don't know.
Ah! That could mean I do know. I just don't know that I know it, often the best sort of knowing. If you want to win a gold medal. Or be a cat. Or a chicken sexer.