I had a microrevelation this morning on the journey in to work. It came after I’d finished my daily 10 minutes of commuter train hell, now made worse by the presence of fat, sweaty Jag drivers complaining about the smelly, overcrowded train (here’s a clue for them: it’s probably the fault of the fat, sweaty passengers, isn’t it?).
Anyway, walking down the escalators to the underground, I was thinking something along the lines of “No need to be glum, I’ll buzz into work, make sure I smile at people, crack a joke maybe, it’ll make the day more pleasant for everybody. After all, work’s what you make of it”.
Then it struck me. I’d had the almost identical internal monologue yesterday. And possibly the day before. And certainly a few times in the weeks before. Moreover, each time it had been on the down escalator at London Bridge station.
Now, London Bridge is one of the better and architecturally more pleasant of the London mainline stations, but even the cavernous ceilings of its underground aren’t enough to explain my sudden daily upturn in mood.
So I’m left struggling to explain what’s going on.
One option is that I’m far more of a robot than I like to think. By about 8am, I’ve finally woken up and had a chance to get some air in my lungs. I’ve stared at someone’s still-wet hair on a cramped train for a few minutes, and by the time I’m at the top of the escalators my mind has had a chance to re-engage and chivvy itself along.
Another is that standing at the top of the huge downward sloping tunnel, with its barrel vault and gentle intimations of infinity, actually is good for the soul.
A third option is that I really really like walking down escalators. I’m being serious. I can’t bear to stand on the right. I must bustle down. The benefit comes from the feeling of going faster than everyone else, coupled with the speed at which the wall whips past.
I’m guessing that it’s a combination of all three (although I’m open to further suggestions). I could see all this as evidence that I am no more than an ant blindly responding to the stimuli of my environment, but for some reason it doesn’t seem that bad.
Perhaps, on some deep level, I like the idea that my thought processes aren’t completely random, that they bear some relationship to my external environment.
I don’t have the relevant work with me, but I remember reading the philosopher of mind Charles Sanders Peirce writing that surely the reason the human brain is capable of comprehending so much of the natural world is that the brain is patterned after nature. This would help to explain why our intuitions are so often right: they’re not intuitions, they’re hardwired brain patterns that reflect exactly the patterns out there in the external world.
Normally I’d consider that dangerous hogwash, but sometimes, sometimes I do wonder.