What is the framerate for life?

by phil on Wednesday May 26, 2010 1:01 AM

Chris Rock has a skit where he mentions something along the lines of, "You know that moment, when your girlfriend or wife is just looking at you, not saying anything? Do you know what she's thinking? She's thinking, 'Damn, you're my second choice.'"

The scene he paints is poignant, because we all know that moment, when a loved one just looks at you with silence. You fill in the blanks somehow, and Chris Rock fills it with cynical-humorous thoughts. I, on the other hand, imagine the other person thinking to themselves, "I just love this person." I sense that they are recognizing that their love is an a priori fact. When I read their face, I often perceive an expression of awe directed toward the irrational power of that love. Even rational people, who know that their experience is some short-term dopamine rush or serotonin high, let themselves for once bask in a non-debatable truth. For example, consider the parent who looks on at their child and thinks, "Why this person? Why not anybody else? Exactly, my love just is." Or consider the love bird who thinks, "I know its a spur-of-the-moment thing, but what can I say, I love this person."

I know it might be bad style to use italics for emphasis, but it's a habit I picked up while reading essays on philosophy. Philosophers will say something like, "there's no free will just as there is no unfree will," and the italics usually correspond to the epiphany that a freshman philosophy major is supposed to get. The effect, for me, is that the emphasized words come from another voice or from another frame of agency. So when people in love say, "I just love this person," they are obscuring a pivot in parenthetical agency. That sentence, without the italics, is equivalent to "I (choose to) love this person." While as with italics, it's more along the lines of "I (have this powerful force in me that compels me to) love this person."

These thoughts percolated into my mind while I was in an empty gym, staring at a poster showing an illustration of human anatomy, with all the muscles labeled. It struck me just how encased we are in muscle, almost like we're swimming in a giant bag of muscles. And I started to wonder how could this bag of muscle possibly love.

Why do I think about these things? I'm not sure. Uncharitably, you could call it mental masturbation, but I find them meaningful.

In a way, digressions like that were the intentional byproduct of taking a vacation today, in the middle of the week. And in typical meta-brainstorming, I also daydreamed about how important vacations are to the creative process. Within the root of the word "vacation" we can understand its broader purpose in vacating the mind. Similarly, words related to play, like "recreation," have a similar coding ("recreate"). Or, you know the Spanish word, "divirtir" means "to have fun," but its related to "diversion" so that we "divert" or distract our minds.

When we're not vacating our minds, what are we doing with them? We're working our minds. We're furiously chopping down trees in the woods, often without questioning whether we're in the right forest to begin with. The most reliable way to get the right perspective is to clear whatever your mind is filled with.

Vacations are a way of playing with your framerate. Do humans have a framerate? I actually read somewhere that humans have something like 80 frames per second. Or rather, the human fps goes in and out from 10 to 120 depending on your energy level or how engaging the material is. But this is not the framerate I'm interested in. I think there's actually a hierarchy of framerates with different average frame lengths. For example, right above that perceptual 80fps, we could look at the framerate of Korean Starcraft players, who are reportedly capable of executing 200 decisions per minute.

But what if we considered the framerate for life. I think for most people, their life framerate is once a week, where it takes a full Saturday of revelry and a full Sunday of rest to feel like a new person. You know you're entering a new frame when you look back at a recent event and it feels far away, where it makes you think to yourself, "Wow, I was there?" Our language embeds the notion of frames advancing. We use expressions like "Tomorrow is another day" or "Let me sleep on it" to show how we are liable, through the passage of time, to wake up in a new place with a new reality.

When it comes to the evolution of your thinking, this is the measure of time that matters most, not days, not weeks nor years. If someone says, "I'm going to noodle on it," we're not interested in how many hours between now and when they return, but rather, how many frames between now and then transpired.

But can you increase your framerate? I've taken naps for the purposes of resetting my mindset, which gave me two frames in one day. Or I've had lunch breaks that felt like a total escape, where I was daydreaming in such a way that the person who returned back to work was different than the one who left for lunch.

I deliberately took a vacation today to separate myself from this project I was obsessing about. By throwing a lot of frames at the project, I got appropriate distance. To do this, I changed my daily routine. Instead of taking my usual route to the gym, I jogged another way. Instead of starting my morning with surfing the web, I started it with some karaoke. In the middle-of-the-day, I watched a new TV show, to send me to another world. And then I took a nap. And then I went for a walk. By the time the afternoon rolled around, I had gone through seven frames, which were worth seven instances of "I'll sleep on it."

But what happens in between frames? I think that's when you come up for air and conduct activity switching. It's also an opportunity for reflection. Those frame-breaks are precisely when your loved one stare at you, and realize, that all of their frames up to that point have been about loving you.

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