Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Not What I Imagined
This week I actually met someone I'd been working with for about a year, and per usual, I wasn't even close.
Do you ever do that? Is there some sort of capital-R Reason for it, or is it just a quirk?
Sometimes it happens with writing, too, but it's usually less pronounced. If I read someone repeatedly, over time, I develop a mental picture. The weirdest case of that was during the depths of dissertating, when I actually had a dream in which one of the people I wrote about appeared. Years later, I still remember the dream, because it creeped me out so much.
Several years ago I discussed a project with a professor, and I mentioned an adjunct who was interested in the same thing. She stopped me and said that his name was so evocative that she could immediately picture him: she described a tall, lanky, foreign man. She got the 'man' part right, but completely whiffed on the rest. It stuck with me, though, because it was so random and so wildly off-base, yet she seemed so sure.
I don't think there's any meaningful correlation between voice and appearance, or writing style and appearance, but the habit persists.
(My occasional forays into clairvoyance are about equally successful. A few months ago I had a really vivid dream about receiving a wedding announcement from an old friend. I called her and left a voicemail saying that I had that dream, and I wanted to see if I had psychic abilities or if I just ate something bad. About an hour later the phone rang, and before I could even get "hello" out, I heard "YOU ATE SOMETHING BAD." Oops.)
Is there some kind of explanation for the mental-picture habit? It doesn't seem terribly functional, and it's hugely inaccurate, but it keeps happening.
For those who have the same weird habit I do, what was your most memorable mistake?
I was involved with a community of researchers in a hobby I used to do, and one particularly well-respected member lived 3,000 miles away. When I was first introduced to him, after five years of correspondence, I was quite startled to find out that he was 5' 2" and looked like the Little Dutch Boy with glasses. So help me, the first words that popped out of my mouth were "You're much taller in your letters". Dang, that was smooth. (He took it well.)
And I think the entire reason science is structured the way it is is that we're very ingenious about finding ways of filling in blanks to create compelling stories; but left to our own devices, most of us are pretty uninterested in doing any quality control on those filled-in bits beyond that.
...actually, I do get into the habit of seeing people like my professors or coworkers in particular places, and it's weird to see them somewhere else. Once I ran into my math professor at my local library and it took me a minute to recognize her. It was also funny when she popped up at my brother's piano recital (her daughter shared the same teacher, it turned out). I'm suspecting that my having a hard time recognize her outside of school (and other similar cases with other people) has to do with how I visualize people.
So, I would like to say thanks to every one for sharing this experience !