Thursday, September 14, 2017

"The Unstoppable 'Sorting Machine'"

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times; but it was proportionally more the worst of times.”

Leslie Dickens, Charles’s less sensational though more journalistically accurate writer-brother.  (I almost wrote “younger brother”, thereby unconsciously giving away the store.)

Note:  This post is not about baseball.  Explanation:  To Come.  But first – the part about baseball.

At one point in this season, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ won-loss record was 91-36, meaning they had won 91 games and lost 36. 

That is a really, really good record.  The Dodgers held a twenty-game lead in their division, they had won fifteen more games than anyone else in baseball, they were projected to at least have a chance at winning more games in one season than any team in the history of the game, Sports Illustrated did a cover story on them, entitled, “Best Team Ever?”

Then, beginning in late August, the arguable “Best Team Ever” proceeded to lose 16 out of their next 17 games.  (They almost lost again last night (Note: This was written yesterday.) which would have made them 1-17, struggling to the “Finish Line” against a terrible Giants team who are 37 games behind them in the National League West standings.

Hence, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” 

The difference is that in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities, it was both of them at the same time.  (Although agreeing with brother Leslie, I reject the false equivalency – one guy’s “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done” versus the French Revolution, where heads were rolling all over the place.  I mean, talk about chutzpah!)  (Insolent self-centeredness)

In one season, consecutively, rather than in the “See: Above” example, the Dodgers were the best team in baseball and also the worst team in baseball.  That has never happened before.  If the Dodgers were looking for a record, they set one.  “Best record for four months worst record for two-and-a-half weeks in the same season” an achievement likely to stand the statistical test of time.

Inevitably, baseball experts – as well as interested observers – pored over the ashes of this debacle, looking for reasons for this torturous tailspin. 

“The Dodgers keep shuffling their line-up.” 

“The recently procured players have upset the team’s delicate chemistry.”
“The opposition has discovered the Dodgers preferred, previously successful, batting approach and are ordering pitches higher in the strike zone to defuse it.

(Like a startling number of others before them) “The Dodgers have succumbed to the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.”

Okay, that’s it for baseball.  Which I used as an example for the following:

Like the mystified baseball pundits, searching for an answer – “we”, meaning the human species – are generically incapable of having things happen without definitively determining the reason they did.  An experience takes place, and we get right down to business, searching for an acceptable explanation, refusing to quit until the troubling phenomenon is adequately explained – “Magic”, “Science”, “God’s mysterious ways” – something – putting the vexing confusion satisfyingly to rest.  Or else, we can’t.  Rest, that is.

“How do you handle that with your patients?” I asked a psychologist who happens to live in the house.  “Aren’t therapy patients always flailing to find reasons and explanations for their condition?”

It was related to me – by someone related to me – that sometimes patients are required to come to terms with the fact that some terrible occurrences “just happen.  “Emotionally distant parents”?  Luck of the draw.  To be accepted, and successfully lived with as best as you can.

An appended tidbit suggested the patient, at some point, might spark to the realization that they are perpetuating the same behavior, discovering that, like their parents, they too behave emotionally distant.

An hour or so later, it occurred to me that what began an as “acceptance” story had evolved into a “discovering the answer” story.  Meaning, as I originally believed,

It is always about the answers.

(In fact, should the effort be made, the answer for the hypothetical patient’s parents’ emotionally distance could also be discovered.  And so on, back through family history.)

It was later confirmed to me that, when it comes to searching for answers, the brain is a natural “Sorting Machine”, constantly testing out reasonable connections, never stopping till “That’s it!  Which I immediately interpreted as an essential “Survival Mechanism.”  (My answer to why the brain does that.  And possibly Darwin’s, as well.)

Thog ate the mushroom and he died.  The question is, did he die from eating the mushroom?  Or was he simply eating a mushroom when he died?”

“You know who that makes no difference to whatsoever?”



“Yes, but we need to find out which it was.  Was it a poison mushroom, or wasn’t it?”

“I steer clear of all mushrooms, for specifically that reason.”

“But then you miss out on wonderful mushrooms, including the delicate and delicious enoki.  Besides, do you not have an insatiable urge to find out what happened?”

“I do sense an unquieting curiosity.  What do we have to do?”

“We have to eat the mushroom that Thog was eating when he died.”

“I see.  And by “we”, do you happen to mean you?”

“I was thinking about you.”


“Because you’re not as curious as I am.  I eat the mushroom and die, there goes our people’s best chance at 'The Relentless Pursuit of the Answer.'  I must live, so that countless others won’t die."

“First of all, bullpoop.  Second of all, what’s wrong with, ‘We are just never going to know’?”

“We have to know.  For our basic survival, we must always struggle to understand.”

“Well then understand this.  I am not eating the mushroom.  Wow, you’re right.  I feel a lot better clearing that up.  Plus, I may live longer than today.”

Let’s leave it at that.  Historically, sooner or later, somebody, accidentally, eats the mushroom and somebody standing beside him says, “He seemed healthy before he ate it and was stone cold dead after the fact.  I think we have our explanation.”

Though “having the answer” is not everything – the troubling consequences do not miraculously disappear – the difficult burden is helpfully lightened by “a mystery resolved.”

As for the Dodgers?

I see their stunned faces in the dugout,

And know they still haven’t got a clue.

1 comment:

Ron said...

The Dodgers are in post-season form.