Driving on Icy Roads

Posted on December 8, 2014

On Saturday I had an obligation that could not be rescheduled in a city two hours away under normal travel conditions. Although the roads seemed wet, temperatures hovered around 33 F, threatening to conceal icy patches. I tried to keep my speed moderated as a concession to the unknown, and I was duly rewarded by cars passing me at seemingly every opportunity.

The worst scare I had was coming up on a turn as I imagined how my car would slide off if it were icy. The dread I conjured up made me lightheaded for a moment. It was only a moment, but then I pondered how physically I had reacted to something that hadn’t happened and wasn’t in the process of happening. The ability of the human mind to take its own imaginings seriously is astounding when you think about it.

I had a little inspiration, since last year on “wet” roads I found a patch of ice and lost control of my car, demolishing a mailbox, tearing off my bumper, and coming to rest up to my axles in a snow bank. But notwithstanding the plausibility of losing control of a car on wintry roads, all of the factual feedback in the present moment was normal and secure; the fear of losing control came from no immediate sensory input. Under different inspiration I might have had a deliriously happy thought and lost control of my car in a rhapsody of joy.

In this scenario I would say my conscious thought constructed an idea an passed it back to my unconscious for commentary. The unconscious, being less verbal, responded with a sensation of horror. The conscious, apparently not good at remembering needing a reminder, duly took note: “Ah yes; we don’t like to slide off the road.”

I have seen a shorter version of this same process. Watching my grandfather in his affliction with Alzheimer’s, it was at times evident that he was afflicted with a strong and inarticulate sense that something was wrong. To the best of his diminished analytical capacity he would go about searching for a reason, and usually the answers he found were to some measure absurd. One night it was the little green indicator lights on the electronic equipment that needing to be redressed; somehow. A mind incapable of synthesizing everything it once could knew for certain that something was wrong, and noticed the lights.

I don’t know whether such processes of the mind should be considered altogether dysfunctional. I expect someone could make the case that intuition and learning require this willingness to connect the tangible and the intangible. But I am increasingly convince this is how my mind deals with emotions, often if not always.

First: Something is wrong.

Second: Find out what.

If there is something to this, then I question how helpful it is to advise people not to think negative thoughts, or to inform them that people who generally think positive thoughts live longer. If your subconscious brain is more or less spontaneously producing a sensation of discontent and your rational mind is constantly scurrying around trying to determine what is wrong (if anything actually is), then it stands to reason that over the course of a few decades it would wear the poor scientist out.

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