I went to my Philosophy class at eleven o’clock in the morning. I did the same thing on Tuesday, and the same thing those two days last week, and the same the week before that. I’ve done it six times so far now.
Is that enough for it to be a “routine”?
It does seem like I’m already in the habit of getting up, eating breakfast, walking over to the building the class is in, spending an hour reading or whatever, and then going to class. But I’ve only done it six times so far – actually less, because on some of those days I haven’t done exactly that, instead, I’ve slept in, or went to Mass, or whatever.
How many times must you do something before it becomes routine?
It’s an interesting general question. I think our instinct is to say it’s a rather high number. In the book Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds, an alien artificial intelligence is set to destroy any life form that acts in a routine, unvarying manner. It takes the same guy taking the exact same route hundreds of times before the alien reacts and instantly kills him. (It then takes them the death of another minor character and several more pages to figure out what the heck happened, but that’s a different story.)
This idea that it takes hundreds of repetitions seems flawed to me. Think of the game of chess. There’s an unofficial rule that if you get in the exact same situation three times, the game is a draw. The reasoning is that if the same thing happens three times, it’s going to keep happening, again, and again, and again, and the game will never progress. That sounds about right to me. After the first three Thursdays of waking up and going to the same class, it was almost instinctive to do so.
I’m not sure what to make of the fact that we only have to do something a couple of times for it to become habit. At one level, it’s kind of disturbing that after only three Thursdays I know what my Thursday routine is for the rest of the semester. But, there are only around 15 Thursdays in the semester. I’m sure some of them will be out of the ordinary with one thing or another, and so really, it took over 1/5th of the available average Thursdays to find out what the average Thursday is like. That seems like a long time.
It’s because, I think, we don’t think of days in terms of how many there are, but of how frequent there are. There’s a Thursday every week – but we don’t consider that the semester is only 15 weeks long, and after that, everything changes again. We’re already 5/52nds of the way through 2008. Etc. Really, our lives aren’t as long as we think they are. A year is 52 weeks long, and we live on average 80 of them; I will only experience around 4,000 total Thursdays in my life.
When said like that, it sounds like I should know exactly what I do with each of them. But again, routines come into play. I can’t remember many of my Thursdays at all. A few, perhaps, the most recent ones. I’m sure some of my memories take place on Thursdays, but I’m not sure which ones. Should that disturb me?
I think perhaps it should. By similar calculations, I’m only going to live around 30,000 days. It really doesn’t seem excessive for me to expect to remember more of them than I do – surely I can hold many more than 30,000 facts in my head, would it be too much to remember at least one thing that happened each day? In fact, it seems like most of my life I do not remember. Day-to-day living is just not interesting enough to make an impression in our minds – it’s too routine, too mundane. Nothing really interesting happened today, nothing I’m likely to remember. Perhaps I’ll remember that at one point in the vague past, I wrote about this subject on my blog, and I could then go back and look at it and see that I did so on Thursday, February 7th, 2008. But in a few weeks the particulars of this day will be gone forever.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I doubt I would enjoy the ability to remember the minutiae of every day of my life – why will I care, in the distant future, what I did today? And it really does seem to me that there is something fundamentally flawed with the practice of keeping a diary, of writing down every day something about the day itself (as opposed to just writing down interesting thoughts and doing so on a regular basis, e.g. this blog, which consciously is not personal in nature). Still – I do wonder what has happened on the 900 Thursdays I have already experienced, and what will happen on the several thousand that still await me. And it kind of scares me that in the end, all of that will be forgotten – my life will be summed up in a few defining events and the fact that the majority of my life did not have to do with those events will be forgotten.