Loneliness

English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden i...
English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden is one of the few areas that I leave feeling full of sadness. This lonely tree at the sight says it all. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Robinson Crusoe was marooned for years on a tropical island. At first he succumbs to despair, but later he starts to make things easier for himself, at first rescuing goods from the shipwreck which is fortunately accessible at least for a while on a reef.

He has no one to talk to, until Friday, but he is kept busy just surviving. This business, wondering where the next meal was coming from, how to provide himself with shelter, all the minutiae of just living would have initially staved off all sense of loneliness.

Robinson crusoe rescues friday-1868
Robinson crusoe rescues friday-1868 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on though, when his immediate needs were catered for, he must have reflected on the fact that he was totally alone on the island. (I read the book years ago, and I’m speculating – I can’t recall if he ever got into a philosophical mood or not). It would have been a driver to explore the island and finding no other people would have been a blow.

People in general need other people. In the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ben Gunn is marooned on an island for years and become slightly unhinged by the loneliness. He spent a lot of the time on the island dreaming of one thing – cheese. However, he does not completely lose his senses and is able to take part in the events that follow.

The Black Spot. Illustration by N. C. Wyeth fo...
The Black Spot. Illustration by N. C. Wyeth for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people choose to isolate themselves from the rest of the human race, mainly, it seems for religious reasons. It is possible for such hermits to voluntarily return to the human race, something which is not possible for those who are marooned on an island, and this may make the separation more bearable.

The reason that hermits choose to isolate themselves from the human race is so that they can concentrate or religious or spiritual matters without being distracted by the minutiae of human life. Obviously they still need to eat and perform bodily functions, but those can be kept to a minimum and the hermits mind can be free to concentrate on one thing for much of their waking moments.

English: St.Martin in Memmingen. Choir stalls:...
English: St.Martin in Memmingen. Choir stalls: Portrait of a hermit Deutsch: St.Martin in Memmingen. Chorgestühl: Porträt eines Eremiten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While human companionship can help to keep one sane, the constant interruptions to one’s train of thought can be distracting or irritating. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was writing the poem “Kubla Khan” when he was distracted by a person from Porlock and the poem was not completed as originally Coleridge envisaged.

Computer programmers often find that when they are concentrating on their task they will “enter the zone or the flow“. This is an almost trance-like state where the programmer is totally immersed in the task at hand, and the interruptions of normal life are not welcomed. A programmer in the zone may regard time spent on sleep, food and other necessities as unimportant, and this is why programmers sometimes subsist on coffee or energy drinks, and eat pizza and other fast foods that can be ordered in.

The immersive effects of the zone are not only felt in programming, I believe. Programming is in many ways an art, and I can imagine that the same is true of the other arts, such as painting and writing, as the example of Coleridge suggests, though he was using opium at the time he was writing Kubla Khan.

The feeling of being in the zone is, for the most part, intensely solo. While two or more programmers can work simultaneously of the same piece of code, this is much more difficult to achieve. I’ve seen programmers team up and program, but the feeling of being in the zone is much more fragile when more than one person is involved.

English: Programmer
English: Programmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In contrast, debugging a malfunctioning piece of code can be easier for two or more, as the different insights broaden and direct the flow into areas that neither would have thought of by themselves but in general the immersion is not so deep.

Quite often an isolated person, say a shipwrecked person, or an elderly or sick person who is not mobile and therefore spends a lot of time alone, will have an animal as a companion. The little old lady has one or more cats. The shipwrecked or marooned person may have a dog. A companion animal eases the separation from the human race.


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A lonely person may pick an unusual animal as a companion. Some sources suggest that Michael Jackson made a pet of a rat and that his father killed it, but this story is muddled with the story behind his hit song “Ben”.

An isolated person may talk to the animal in default of being able to talk to other human, and may unwisely attribute human traits to the animal. If the person is alone with the animal for too long he or she may come to believe that the animal responds either verbally or by actions.

An albino pet rat eating a piece of bread.
An albino pet rat eating a piece of bread. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes an isolated person may imagine a fictitious companion, either totally invented or based on a real person. He or she may act out what he believes that the imaginary person would act out. In the film “Psycho” Norman Bates assumes and acts out the identity of his dead mother, who he killed 10 years earlier. Bates was isolated by his mental illness, and not by being physically isolated.

There are various causes of isolation – it may be unintentional, as in a shipwreck, or it may be intentional as when a sailor is marooned for mutiny, or a person may be isolated as a result of sickness, either mental or physical, or it may be a side-effect of old age. A person may be isolated by deafness or blindness, or physical inability to move.

Blind Girl
Blind Girl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, some people seek isolation in the form of “peace and quiet”. If a person is highly stressed in their day-to-day life, they may find themselves looking forward to immersing themselves in a book, or taking a bath, or in any of hundreds of ways of isolating themselves from the general hubbub of human society. Possibly with a reasonable supply of alcohol to hand, merely to aid the relaxation of course.

English: Peace and quiet This part of the trac...
English: Peace and quiet This part of the track is very quiet apart from birdsong, the gateway on the left is about four feet wide, small enough for animals to pass through when the farmers and lead miners had horses and carts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Olympic Spectacle

English: The Olympic Flag flying in Victoria, ...
English: The Olympic Flag flying in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, outside the provincial legislature of British Columbia, in recognition of Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Olympics of course roll around every four years. I’m not particularly a sports fan, and in fact I don’t think that I’ve watched any of it this time, except for the excerpts on the evening news show. That doesn’t stop me feeling pleased whenever one of my countrymen wins a medal.

But much of the Olympics is not about the sport. Much of it is to do with how the host nation is coping with the huge sporting event, and this time the host nation, Brazil, has come under fire for a number of reasons. Obviously big spending on sport in a poor country is not a good look, and if things go wrong with the accommodation or the actual venues, then it looks even worse.


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Unfortunately it’s the nature of the beast for things to go wrong. There is a high need for accommodation, for athletes and officials and this pretty much has to be flung up in a hurry given the short time frames. Hence athletes arrive to find unfinished quarters and other such issues.

The same is true of the venues. In a country like Brazil where there isn’t a lot of money to spare, things like water pollution are a fact of life, and a rushed clean up is not going to fix that. Even in this country harbours and marinas can sometimes be less that perfectly clean. Such is life, in spite of strenuous efforts to clean things up.


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I believe it to be true that many of these sports venues may become white elephants after the games, especially those for the minor sports. It is unlikely that there will be the level of usage from local athletes after the Games that would permit them to be kept open. The accommodation areas may fare better in this respect as there is always a demand for accommodation. I believe that this is true for all past Olympic host nations, at least to some extent.

The Olympic Games do draw people to the host country, to spend money on tickets and accommodation, not to mention the myriad of trinkets and souvenirs that they will no doubt purchase. It’s questionable however whether or not the host country is going to profit in either the short term or the longer term from the Games. Of course they hope that people will enjoy themselves and maybe return to spend more money.


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News crews having been going out in Rio and asking the locals their opinions on the Games, and naturally, they are not very positive about them. If you are living in sub-standard accommodation and you see millions being spent on short term accommodation for visitors who will only occupy them for a few weeks, you would likely not be positive either. The locals’ opinions on the news crews who ask silly questions is not, however, recorded.

Most nations have one or two representatives. When a really small nation gets a medal of any colour, the world’s press tend to descend on the winner and breathlessly ask the same old questions. “How does it feel to win a medal?” and “How will the folks back home be feeling right now?”. Of course the athletes are ecstatic and the folks back home will be proud too. Such cookie cutter question and answer session are so predictable that they become amusing.

Medal presentation at the 1936 Berlin Olympic ...
Medal presentation at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, Sivano Abba-Italy (3rd place) Gotthard Handrick-Germany (1st place) Charles Leonard-USA (2nd place) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, that not a comment on the amazing achievements of the athletes from small nations who win medals, some of whom will have scrimped and saved to attend the games and may not have had the opportunity to be coached by the best coaches, but it’s a comment on the predictability of the media’s responses.

Nations always have high hopes for their athletes, and are unreasonably disappointed when they come up against the best in the world and don’t do too well. Of course the athletes from a small nation don’t have the resources and coaches that the larger nations do, and so when an athlete from a small nation claims a medal, it is a significant event, not that this diminishes in any way the achievements of the athletes from the larger nations.


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There are many unique features of the Rio Olympic Games. One of them is the presence of athletes who are competing as refugees. They have (so far) obtained two medals, a gold and a bronze in shooting. These athletes (there are 10 of them) have undergone great hardships, often travelling long distances through multiple countries, and to nevertheless be able to take part in the Olympic Games and even win some medals shows a great deal of fortitude.

Another is the perceived risk from the Zika virus. It’s commendable that so many athletes have ignored the risk and come to Rio anyway. The only group that stayed away purportedly for this reason were some of the golfers. As the linked articles suggest there may have been other reasons for their absence.


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Brazil is not known as a particularly safe country to be in, though it isn’t thought to be as dangerous as many countries can be. However, there does not seem to have been much in the way of trouble between the local population and the athletes, support staff and spectators who have come to Rio.

One notable exception was the case of four American competitors who were supposedly robbed at gunpoint while celebrating a medal win. As it turned out, what really happened was that the four were drunk and trashed a service station. The station’s security guard pulled a gun to prevent them driving off and made them pay US$50 to cover the damage that they had done.


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Scandals are part of the Olympics, and the drugs scandal has been the worst so far. At one stage it looked as if the whole Russian team was going to be banned, as it was alleged that there was a government led doping programme in place.

While it was evident that some athletes do take performance enhancing drugs, the fact that in Russia this was actively encouraged by the state was a shock. In the end Russian athletes who could prove that they were clean were allowed to compete. While this is good for the athletes themselves, it was a let off for the Russian state doping scheme. This is not a good look for sport and unfair to other athletes.


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Phone amnesia and other things

English: Phone Box
English: Phone Box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Unfortunately I wrote this but forgot to publish it. Which is ironic given the title of this post. I will publish this week’s post shortly]

I suffer from phone amnesia. At least, that’s what I call it. Here’s how it works, or rather, doesn’t work. I answer the phone and talk for any amount of time. I put the phone down and my wife asks me who was on the phone. Often I cannot recall. I literally cannot recall who I was just talking to.

If I mentioned the persons name in my conversation, my wife will ask what “person X” wanted. Very often I will not remember at all what the point of the call was. The effort I make to remember is almost painful.

English: Village Pond and phone box
English: Village Pond and phone box (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve noticed that it is often the case people don’t recall what the point of the conversation was, and on the contrary if the person who takes the call wants to tell someone about the call immediately they will have no problems.

So it seems that when we hang up the phone we also hang up our recall at the same time, sort of like filing a letter away. A few minutes later we may remember the call and what it was about. If we’ve trying to remember what it was about, it comes as a great relief!


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I appear to have a more extreme version of phone amnesia, but it seems to me that many people have this issue to some limited extent.

This all started me thinking about quizzes and recall. I like quizzes and do them all the time. What constantly surprises me is the answers that I know, in subjects which I have no interest in. I recently knew the answer to a question about women’s fashion, a topic which doesn’t interest me in the least.

Shell Quiz
Shell Quiz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another example was the question about the date of some historical event. I’ve never been good at history. I can’t remember dates, you see. But I knew the correct answer to a history question, the answer to which was a date! Of course I can’t now recall the question or even the quiz. All I can recall is that I was astounded that I knew the answer.

Yet if another history question were put to me, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to answer it. But I could be wrong about that just as easily.

Horn of plenty (4239161486)
Horn of plenty (4239161486) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that my brain is storing information about things that I have no interest in and I don’t recall even hearing, but for some reason a part of my mind decides to remember stuff.

If I try to memorise something, it means reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the information until it sort of sink in. It’s like parading the information in front of my mind until it can’t help but remember it. We sort of bore the mind into remembering the information.

English: Memories of Friday Wood I am sure the...
English: Memories of Friday Wood I am sure the pool to the right of the photo is where I drank from a spring as a child. The landscape has changed so much with the growth of secondary woodland that one can’t be sure. I remember the water bubbling up through the sand and running down the slope (behind the photographer) into a boggy bit that is still there hidden now among young trees. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And all the while the mind is remembering fleeting facts that we barely notice as they flit by. Facts that are of little real interest to us.

Of course memories are not reliable. I “remember” something that happened to one of my sisters when she was small. Her push chair rolled down a small slope and crashed into the barrier round a small flower bed in the park. Over the other side of the barrier was a pond, I was worried that she would fall into the pond.

English: Burton Agnes Ornamental Pond
English: Burton Agnes Ornamental Pond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I visited the spot many years later I was astounded. The flower bed was there and so was the pond. The distance between the barrier and the pond was such that she could never have fallen into the pond after hitting the barrier unless she was moving at a huge speed. Also there were no paths sloping down to the flowers and pond. The paths were all definitely up the hill.

It’s likely that there were some real events which led to me having this “false memory”. It may be that my sister’s push chair did roll away some time, or maybe my parents suggested that the push chair might roll away if I didn’t hold it tight. My mind could have turned the memory of the suggested event into a memory of the event as if it really had happened.


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My mind obviously built a worst case scenario around the event and associated it with somewhere that I knew. It altered a few details, the long hill down to the barrier and the pond, the narrow distance between the barrier and the water. It’s much more exciting that way, and “exciting” seems to be more memorable.

Back to the phone amnesia. When I do remember what the phone call was about (may be hours later), I can recall most if not all of the conversation, not word for word, but in general gist. It seems that the information was stored in memory, but the links to it were missing.


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This is similar to old feeling that something is “on the tip of your tongue”. You know (or believe) that the information is there, but you can’t access it. I expect that much of the time the memory is not there, and we only remember the times when it is recalled at a later time. That “tip of your tongue feeling can be very strong though.

It appears that our minds have memories of events (or pseudo-memories of events) and also memories of memories of events. The links between the two can fade out or maybe not be created properly in the first place, so that we can remember that we have a memory of something but we can’t access that memory, and the memories of memories of events are more easily accessible. It’s like a sort of unreliable index to the rest of the book that comprises our memories.


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The rest of the memory book, the actual memories, can be fact or fiction or both (like any biography or history book), which makes life interesting in so many ways. Every couple have had conversations about events that have happened to both, and in some cases the two people might be talking about different events, so different are their memories of it.

The Phone
The Phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)