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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Blockin' Out The Scenery/Breakin' My Mind

Generally, I'm not subject to epiphanies or other similar revalatory insights, but every once in a blue moon a thought pops into my head that makes the old 100-watt above my noggin switch on.

Had one of those last night at exactly 3:01 a.m. (I know, because that's what time the clock read when I woke up out of a sound sleep). I'd been dreaming about being at an Annex Company meeting. John Galt (not his real name, but that's what we call him in the blogosphere) was diagramming something on an overhead projector. BenLau and SGNP were singing some sort of religious hymn, while I was trying to shush them up. Somewhere, the last strains of a live version of The 5 Man Electric Band's "Signs" was just winding down.

At some point I sat down on an extremely cushy white sofa, the kind that you sort of half sit, half recline in and big enough that your feet extend outward, but not really down toward the floor. Also sitting on the sofa was a young woman whom I didn't recognize. We sat there side-by-side for a while while John Galt continued talking, and then suddenly I reached out and put my arm around her, not in that stereotypical "I'll pretend I'm yawning and surreptitiously sneak my arm around my date's shoulder" way, but with quite innocent deliberation. Evidentally, this was okay by her, because she actually raised her head to allow my arm to slip in underneath it.

You know those kind of dreams where the physical sensation is so specific, so real that you can actually feel or smell something? It was definitely one of those I could feel the weight of her head as it pressed into the crook of my elbow, the boniness of her shoulder where my hand cupped around it, the tug of her fingers as she reached up to grasp my fingertips; it was as solid and specific as anything I've ever felt in my life.

And of course, that's when I woke up.

But, even that was unusual. Normally, if I'm awakened from a deep dream-state, I'll feel groggy, dazed and semi-coherent while my brain tries to cope with the sudden transition from sleep to consciousness. But, this was completely different. I was wide awake, totally alert and aware of my suroundings, all the tens of billions of neurons and synapses shifting effortlessly from one state of being to the next with nary a hint of disorientation.

And almost instantly I had THE IDEA: I know why people in this country are so fat! It's because we don't hug each other enough!

I should point out, that this "epiphany" such as it is, isn't actually a completely original thought. In fact, I can pin-point exactly where the germ of the idea originated. On Tuesday evening I attended a benefit performance of a short play called How To Be Cool done as a fundraiser for Union Garage. Near the end of the piece, the narrator describes an exhibit from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair that reproduced experiments done by Dr. Harry Harlow, a University of Wisconsin behavioral scientist, which demonstrated that the need for physical contact was so great in primate species that it could override even the desire for food.

In the experiment infant monkeys were removed from their mothers shortly after birth and placed in an environment with two "surrogate mothers", one made of wire mesh, but having the capacity to dispense nourishment, while the other was covered in soft cloth and kept warm, but without being able to provide food. Almost exclusively, the infants would cling to the soft, warm "mom" going only to the other when their hunger became so great that it overcame their need for contact. As soon as they were full, however, back to soft mom they went.

So, while that was obviously the source for my idea, what really hit me was the notion that: What if there isn't a soft/warm mom around, but ONLY one made of wire mesh dispensing food? If that's all you've got, then of course you're going to try to get as much comfort from it as possible!

Now, this probably won't strike most people as being a particularly profound idea, but at the time it sure seemed like one.

I guess what I'm saying is: do your pudgy friends a favor and give 'em a big hug today. It'll be better than a hot fudge sundae, and they'll probably apreciate it a whole lot more!

Posted byCOMTE on 12:06 PM

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