Sunday, May 23, 2010

I Knew It: An Essay on Predictability

I was playing some new tunes on my banjitar on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Rose Street, within listening distance of four outdoor patios: the upscale Atlantis Coffee, the picturesque Crave Kitchen & Wine Bar, the ever busy Ramada, and the newly renovated Rooftop Bar & Grill. It was a perfect evening for busking. The sky was big and still a bright blue, and the pedestrians were plentiful and all decked out in their going-for-coffee fashions. Some smiled and nodded as they strolled past, and a few even stopped to listen, one of them being a thirtyish clean cut male wearing a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey.

Go Habs! I said to him just as I intentionally finished my instrumental to acknowledge him.

He replied while giving me the thumbs up.

This particular busking moment was taking place during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Habs (the English nickname for the Montreal Canadiens hockey club) were among the last four remaining teams. The Habs had eliminated the Washington Capitals in the first round, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second, and they had just finally won a game against the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round.

This conversation must be put into perspective. In the United States of America hockey is regarded as entertainment; here in Canada hockey is a religion.

This particular fan was ecstatic, and rightly so. No one in the world of sports had predicted that the Canadiens would get to the third round, except of course for their most loyal fans. As in any sport, no one knows for sure the eventual outcome of any particular game.

It is this element of surprise that is one of the riches of sport.
And it could be this same element, surprise, is one of the topmost elements in life.

Speaking in a general way, there are certain outcomes both in sport and in life that are quite predictable. Take the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins for example. Everyone kind of knew that both these teams would make the Stanley Cup playoffs, for both had respectable finishes in their regular season play. In fact, the Washington Capitals came in first overall! It is their unimagined ouster in the first and second rounds that is the surprise.

Usually, day-to-day life routines do not provide many surprises. If they did, the very notion of surprise would simply not exist. Saying this, without surprise and with some familiarity, we can predict with competence some rather ordinary human behaviors.

For example, after I've taught just one or two lessons in my Psychology class, I can predict where most of the students are going to sit from then on. Students coming into class tend to retreat to the same seat day after day until the semester has ended.

And my colleagues and I similar in this respect. We tend to sit in the same seats at coffee time each day. Catherine always seats to my left, Judy right across from me, Jimmy D to my right, and Marcel at the other end of the table. This particular seating ritual has gone on for years.
I can predict that the next time we have coffee together we'll be seated in the same arrangement.

I know a fellow who keeps moving from apartment to apartment because of his noisy neighbors. He insists he cannot sleep at night because of their noise. In the last four years he's moved four times. I can predict with ease that he'll be moving again before the end of this year.

I have a friend who loves Europe so much that he's been on vacation there over thirty times. I can certainly predict that he is currently making arrangements to return to Europe at his earliest opportunity.

Once we are aware of people's past behaviors their future behaviors are easy to predict. For instance, I have a friend who has been wearing the same half dozen outfits for the last couple decades. He once bragged to a group of us that he absolutely refused to spend more that twenty dollars on a new shirt. I can predict that he'll never squander his money on his wardrobe, and that he'll continue to be a walking and talking anachronism for the rest of his days.

I know people that are continually late. Whenever I've made plans to meet them somewhere at such and such a time, these people always manage to be late and with plausible excuses.

I can predict that people who are noticeably thrifty during their working lives are going to continue to be noticeably thrifty in their retirement years.

I can predict that people who do not travel in their working lives are going to stay close to home in their retirement years.

Without diversification, people with an adhesion to certain behaviors will always find themselves in the same situations throughout their existence. Doing the same 'ol same 'ol will always produce the same 'ol same 'ol results.

People who are content to be copacetic are simply living in a bastion of comfort controls, attempting to maintain a rather conservative and anxious free lifestyle. As boring as this presents, ironically, a life as this can be ever stressful.

A sustained shift in one's status quo lifestyle is very necessary for people hoping to effect meaningful changes in their life. Only by doing things differently will flavors be added to their existence. This could mean visiting new places, meeting new people, acquiring new hobbies. This is especially true for those who believe that our entire existence is but transitory and therefore all that we do then, too, is transitory.

Just as our daily associations are predictable, so are some of our personal circumstances. Once each semester in my Psychology class I present my Crystal Ball Fortune Telling Lesson. To the class members I state with authority that I know specific things about some of them, and I provide these samples aloud:
One of you slammed the door when you left your home this morning.
One of you has just broken up with your boyfriend.
One of you cheated on your girlfriend last weekend.
One of you is seriously considering your relationship right now as I speak.
One of you is extremely worried about a loved one.
And one of you has a close relative that is deathly ill.

How did you know? Some have asked after class.
How could I not know, especially when there are approximately sixty Psychology students in my class! What are the odds.

Every time I set up for busking the outcomes are predictable. I'll always set up where I have the potential to see lots of people, or more importantly, where they can see me. Once I am playing my banjitar or guitar most people will smile and simply walk on by. Some will toss coins into my case; some will stop and chat; some will ignore me; some will scowl at me.

Sports flash:

The Philadelphia Flyers have just flogged the Montreal Canadiens in game four of their series.

By simply recognizing the permutations and combinations of the three previous encounters, anyone with a brain could have easily calculated the outcome of this particular game. The final score was 3 to 0 and ...

I knew it (would/could be so)!

Go Habs.

1 comment:

  1. Past behavior/actions are the only true indicators of future behavior/actions. Someone told me that one day. I think it was a Hab Fan. Maybe that is why they have 24 Stanley Cups, with their nearest rival only having 11 or somewhere near there. great blog neil!