It's just an illusion...
03 August 2022 | or 'Fings ain't the way they seem'
Psychologists call it The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Well, the more Puckish of them do. Those of a more prosaic bent tend to call it The Frequency Illusion. This latter term, despite its relative mundanity, gives a better idea of what it's all about, and is far less likely to dredge up suppressed traumatic memories of 1970s urban guerrilla warfare and so-called fashion sense - you know; Loons, Che Guevara T-shirt, Afghan goatskin waistcoat you could smell coming four blocks away, platform soles, Zapata moustache, tight perm, beret, Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun, rucksack stuffed with Semtex, pocketful of assorted detonators - the usual suspects. (10 point bonus to the first person to tell me in what film that phrase first appeared.)
Yup. We all do it.
Suffer from the frequency illusion, that is, not wage a bloody campaign of murders, abductions, assassinations, pipe bombings and cold-blooded executions. We leave all that to the Government.
Usually the Russian one.
I, however, call it The Audi Syndrome. Let me explain.
Other than as a means of getting from A to B without getting too wet, my interest in motor cars is diddley-squat divided by N where N is a really really really big number. You know, infinity or Jeff Bezo's bank balance. (Same thing, really, on reflection). Consequent upon this, cars pass by on the periphery of my awareness and impact not a jot on my mental model of the world. (Or 'Bobbieworld' as Liz only slightly disparagingly puts it.) As a result, and much to the dismay of my few male mates, I am unable to engage in any form of conversation that starts with the words 'What are you driving these days?"
Until, that is, we suddenly, and inexplicably, found ourselves with a not inconsiderable disposable income .(For reasons that are too tedious to detail here. Don't worry - it didn't last.) Not major league, of course - we weren't in the Forbes "How to Spend It" magazine bracket, but nevertheless we had more available readies than we could reasonably spend on cocaine, bespoke suits, flash holidays and poncy restaurants.
"What we gonna do with all this wodge?" we wailed ungratefully, "It's cluttering up the furniture and blocking the fire exits."
Luckily, I had a flash of inspiration. "I know!", I ejaculated , (As in the sense of 'Shouted/blurted out', not the way your grubby little minds are going.)"Let's buy a car!"
"Don't be silly, dear", counselled Liz, tolerantly, "We've already got a car."
"No, Dear Heart, I mean a proper car - not one of the rusting mobile death-traps we usually drive."
"You mean with brakes and a reverse gear and everything?"
Yes, Sweet Muse, everything - indicators, second gear, - even a driver's door that stays attached to the car when you open it."
Liz was open to persuasion, but still had her doubts. Could this really be happening? Could she really be facing a future free of the ignominy of having to ask a bunch of passing schoolboys to give her a push so she could execute a three point turn on a steep slope? Her trusting eyes stared deep into my soul.
"What about suspension?", she asked pointedly, her voice tinged with an uneasy conflation of suspicion and hope.
"Of course, Light of My Life, Wife of a Thousand Peacocks. You shall have independent multilink Macpherson strut individually pocket sprung suspension systems at your beck and call."
So it came to pass that we tootled down to the nearest car sale room, pointed at the first car we liked the look of, took it for a 20-minute test drive and said "Yup. We'll have that. What is it?"
And so we became the proud, if ignorant, owners of a gleaming white Audi 80 Quattro.
And that's where the Frequency Illusion kicked in.
If, in our days of beat-up moggie 1000s, you had asked me how many Audis there were in Jersey, I'd have hazarded in the region of a hundred or so. I only knew their badge was four interlocking rings because it amused me that Gerhard Schröder had earned the sobriquet 'Audi Man' on his fourth marriage.
Once we had one, however, they all came crawling out of the woodwork; the bloody things were everywhere. Every other car was an Audi. They hadn't, of course, and they weren't. This was the Frequency Illusion in full spate. The number of Audis hadn't changed - my perception of them had. I now took notice of them because they were of some relevance to me. Before we owned one, my brain filtered out Audis and consigned them to the category of 'unimportant background noise'.
This filtration process is not idleness, it is self-preservation. The human brain operates under constant threat of information overload. It receives terabytes of information every second, most of which it promptly throws away. Even the 10 14 synapses in the human neocortex would have trouble processing that amount of data. (Sorry about using powers of ten, but the numbers are just too big otherwise. Anyway, compare this with 10 11 stars in the milky way.) All of us are under constant threat of information overload and have to constantly empty our spam folder. This enables us to concentrate on important things such as 'What's for dinner?' and 'What do you mean, I am?'
Thus it was when I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. From being an intellectually interesting, but rare, condition hovering around the fringes of my consciousness, it leapt centre-stage and took pole position. It was bloody everywhere - Muhammad Ali, George Bush Senior, Billy Connolly, Jeremy Paxman, Ozzy Osborne, that bloke who sang 'Sweet Caroline'. Even the bloody Pope got it. It's common as muck now - the world and his sodding dog seem to be shuffling and shaking their way down to the bookie's, frightening the horses. (Developing a gambling habit is a not unusual side effect of some Park's medication. It is a manifestation of a condition called Impulse Control Disorder, which is slated for the blog after next.) At least it gives the frazzled parents of stroppy recalcitrant brats an effective threat they can use on the little bastards: "See there? You'll end up like that if you don't stop playing with yourself!"
I smiled to myself, knowingly. "That'll be the Audi Syndrome playing its little mind games with me. I've got your number, Boyo. You don't fool me - I know the number of Park's cases hasn't suddenly exploded. It just seems like that to me."
This stance, however, became increasingly difficult to maintain as Park's started to mow its relentless way through friends, acquaintances, fellow yotties and those blokes down the saloon bar of The Frog & Parrot. Few cognitive biases survive first-hand experience unscathed, and the Frequency Illusion is no exception. I decided to do some investigating.
"Why you?", I hear you ask. "What makes you such an authority on it? Well, I'll tell you. It's because of Newbury's First Law of Medical Research, which states:
"If you want to know about a disease or medical condition, don't ask a doctor, ask someone who's got the bloody thing."
A doctor's involved; a patient is committed .
(Best explained by reference to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed.)
What I found as a result of my painstaking and rigorous trawling through Wikipedia was that the incidence of Park's had, indeed, gone through the roof. We Parkys have lost the compensatory cachet of rarity and exclusivity. From 1990 to 2015, the number of people with Parkinson's disease doubled to over 6 million. Since then, it's really started to take off. How in the name of All That's Holy did that happen? Well, I'll tell you that as well, since you ask.
Apparently, the meteoric rise in incidence of Park's correlates with three factors: increasing longevity, increasing industrialisation and, ironically, the decline in smoking rates. Smoking may the biggest public health catastrophe since the Black Death, but it does appear to convey considerable protection against Park's. Forty percent, since you persist in interrupting with your endless sodding questions. Anyway, now I'm not feeling quite so smug and self-righteous about giving up 31 years ago.
Anyone got a fag?