Monday, 11 January 2010

Thought/rant for the day: "Isn't that odd" or when your just not thinking

I have acquired a new pet peeve: the rhetorical question "isn't that odd?". My peeve is not with the question: things that are odd should be remarked upon and investigated. It is the latter part of this that causes me the annoyance: that thing's aren't investigated.

Things that people remark "isn't that odd" to will be of one of two catagories: either something of at least passing interest (eg sun dogs or ice formations) or that is out of place ("I'm sure I put my keys here"), the cause of my irritation is that situations of the former do not provoke investigation. Often they won't even illicit 5 seconds of thought as to the possible origin of the subtle strangeness that triggered the observation. Why is this?

Why are we so blasé and jaded that upon being presented with something we don't understand or is strange we are more likely to dismiss it that give it even a moments thought? While this point has any number of reasonable answers I think it highlights something that is deeply wrong about how we approach the world we live in: we apparently don't think.

In one of my favourite books (Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) there is a point where Ford Prefect hypothesises that humans talk to exercise their jaws, he then adjusts this to the theory that by talking we stop our brains working. This should not be something we find funny.

I am not advocating full scientific investigation just a little more thought when using the the expression, if only as a form of mental exercise. I find that I feel much better when I walk home from university than when I get the bus. The reason for this is that on the bus I will read whilst when I walk I will think (in fact this post was born on the walk home today). Letting my mind wander as I walk presents me with many little puzzles that I love to work out eg. why is that when I bus I people watch while on my walk I am not offered this luxury? Because on the bus I pass people but when I walk I don't. I could list many other realisations that I have experienced but most of them, like this one are utterly boring. Why then do I encourage it?

It may seem a daft point but firstly because its relaxing, the act of walking is relaxing but so is the act of finding small problems and solving them: teasing apart the situation based on what you know and what you've observed gives an amazing feeling of accomplishment (this is especially nice when the day has yielded few results). The second reason why I would encourage you all to pause after uttering or hearing uttered the phrase "isn't that odd?" that occasionally you will discover something profound.

NB. While writing this I had to work hard not to get distracted by sun dogs or ice formations, these are subjects that I have read about before and even then the lure of re-reading and investigating them was strong (yes there is also an ironic confirmation bias in my selection of topics that interest me as examples here).

Anyway I'm done with my thought for the day, to those of you who made it this far: well done! 


  1. I share this frustration. I research paranormal phenomena and it is annoying just what people will class as odd. It really is.

    Nice Ford Prefect reference btw, that bit of the book horrified me slightly because it was as though Ford had met some of the people I work with. Poor guy.

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