Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Long Arm of the Law

I’ve already mused about my love of two great things: words and jargon. Today I’ll give you a little lesson in law.

My crafty nature leads me to appreciate the laws imposed upon society (and the twists, turns, and loopholes found within) but the topic of this dissertation is the laws of nature, specifically human nature.

Yesterday I woke up early, intending to get to work before my coworkers so I could cherry-pick my duties (which rotate and are determined largely under the ordinance of “first come, first served”). I fed the dogs, administered the insulin to my diabetic dog, grabbed something to eat, and leapt into the shower.

A slight digression: I actually stepped into the shower rather gingerly. A couple of months ago I prepared my shower entry with more of a leaping motion and it had frightening results. I overcommitted with my “in tub” foot and it skidded on the slick surface. Unable to shift my weight to my non-committed foot, I fell square onto the outer edge of the tub. Luckily, the law of centrifugal force saved my family jewels from being squished under my considerable weight. Even more fortuitous was the fact that I have a shower curtain rather than a set of shower doors. Falling onto a set of metal rails would have surely caused me great injury. As it was, I had a very sore ‘taint’ for a week or so and I called it a lesson learned.

Back to yesterday morning. I thought I had allowed at least fifteen extra minutes to complete my tasks and get to work early enough to get my favored spot. When I left the house I discovered that I had only a measly three or four minutes to spare. Where had the time gone? What happened?

The book I was listening to while doing my morning chores, “The Burglar in the Closet” by Lawrence Block, gave me the answer: Parkinson’s Law.

Coined by Professor Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the law states: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” It’s a comment on bureaucracy, but it works quite well to explain personal duties as well.

I had extra time so my duties expanded to fill this time. It was unconscious and, I’d like to think, unavoidable. I love this idea. It’s darn near perfect.

Another digression: My youngest brother has a degree in Nuclear Engineering and absolutely HATES it when I use scientific laws to explain non-scientific situations.

Take Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle. I love this idea as well. The principle states (greatly simplified) that one cannot simultaneously observe both the position of a particle and the momentum of the particle because the observance of one changes the other. More simply still: The act of observation changes the observed.

I believe that people generally hate looking at photographs of themselves (particularly candid photos) because these photos do not resemble the face they see in the mirror. Well of course they don’t. When one looks in a mirror, one immediately changes one’s expression or manner to make it more appealing to oneself. I cock my head or squint my eyebrows so they look straighter or do a hundred other subtle movements to present the face I want to see. I cannot relax enough to see what I really look like. When I know a picture is being taken I can mimic my “mirror face.” The knowledge of being observed changes my behavior as the observed.

My brother finds this maddening. He points out that Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle is a measurable phenomenon and that understanding that it exists and applying the appropriate formulae can remove the uncertainty.

I’ll admit that this is way over my head. Understanding quantum physics is not required in my current career and I am unlikely to apply for any job which requires it.

Nonetheless, I love the Uncertainty Principle just the same - even if I use it totally (and maddeningly for my brother) wrong.

Back on point: The next time you think you have extra time but end up running late as per usual, don’t get all upset – don’t blame yourself – blame Parkinson’s. Not the disease, God forbid ptooey ptooey, but the law.

You just can’t break the law.

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