Up here in the northern hemisphere, the evenings are drawing in. Nothing strange in that, it happens every year, in fact our summers seem to follow the same pattern, and yet we are surprised when they do.
In May we are wondering why winter is still here. June and July show promise and we are always hoping that summer will arrive “tomorrow”. In August we have a few decent days and are sure that summer is just around the corner. September lands, bringing with it the equinox, and we talk about how warm it is considering it is nearly October, and how the evenings are drawing in.
The length of the summer days, even here in England, equates to an absence of riding my motorcycle in the dark, and this is why it never occurred to me that darkness was looming, when asked if I could deliver an urgent package. When I say I was asked, the truth is that I had my jacket half on before the question had even formed in their minds. Sun was out, roads were dry and the opportunity to ride my motorcycle rather than work, was mine for the taking. So, I faked up a little reticence, took one for the team, thought of the greater good, and saved the smirking until my helmet was on.
Package delivered, I found myself on the wrong side of town and at the height of the evening rush hour, which incidentally now seems to be at least two hours long.
Circumstances such as these call for some expert time-wasting, which I could achieved through taking the longest back road diversion I could think of, to get myself home. With time on my side, and never being one to miss the opportunity to annoy a trendy barista, I wandered in to the coffee bar I was parked outside, and set to planning my long route home over a mug of plain, ordinary, boring, hot, in a mug, refreshing, tea. (soya milk, double shot, latte twist that!)
Forty minutes or so in to my ride I was pondering the effectiveness of my headlight. The light was on, there is no way of turning it off, yet it wasn’t exactly spearing in to the oncoming night. More like a candle in a window than a beacon to light my way. A further twenty minutes in to the ride and my thoughts on the effectiveness of my headlight have now gone. The last vestiges of day light have departed, the headlight is bright, and we are closing in on proper dark.
With the dark, and the oncoming headlights, the impressive collection of dead flies I had amassed over the past few weeks became obvious. So thick was the covering that even peering through the clear visor – well clear except for the dead insects – into the light cast by my headlight wasn’t really getting the job done. Half of my brain wanted to process this problem, while the other half was strongly suggesting that all of my brain applied itself to the task at hand. Luckily before a full-scale argument developed, a garage came in to view, and the opportunity to fix the problem resolved the ongoing debate, for now anyway.
Washing my visor under the tap at the garage, accompanied by some elbow grease, a large quantity of paper towels and some petrol (in the tank!) and I’m ready to continue home. I haven’t removed all of the little buggers, but the difference is substantial. I could describe the difference as night and day, but that would be cheesy.
Back home and my cranial dispute kicks off once more. How could a visor covered in dead flies be little or no problem during the day, yet such a problem at night? For once the internet let me down and it was only when talking to an optician, that I got an answer.
It seems our eyes are not nearly as good as we think they are. The example I was given was to remember how the 8bit block graphics from a 1980s video game looked. This is close to the actual quality of the image our eyes record. The 8bit image is then processed by our brains, the edges get smoothed out, the dots joined up and turned the right way up, all resulting in the images we think our eyes see. On the back of your eyeball, all of this is upside down. Your brain flips it upright.
Incidentally, this is one of the reasons people don’t see motorcycles. When people look to see if the road is clear, they take in the basic situational information and their brain fills in the details. Typically, their brain knows what things look like and so they think they have seen what is there. Their brain doesn’t always add the extra detail of the motorcycle, especially if you are blended out by a van or large truck behind you.
When I asked the optician how to overcome this, the suggestion was to change road position a little. Just a gentle weave is all it should take. There is no guarantee with this, but the theory goes that their brain will register the movement and they’ll paint you in to the picture. This is the same process that causes you to see the spider sneaking across the floor when you are looking at the TV, not at the floor. You brain registers the movement – the 8bit image no longer matches the stored one – and the alert in your grey matter goes off.
The reason the flies were a problem at night is that my brain was searching for information from which to build the image of the road ahead. Without any other clues to work with, all my brain was getting was 8bit images of squashed flies. Switch to daylight mode and there is enough information for my brain to assemble the image of the road ahead. The scary thing I’m trying not to think about is what I might have missed.
Boil all of this down and really I should have just cleaned my visor much earlier. I might think I could see what was going on, but my brain was doing the majority of the work, not my eyeballs. Fair enough. Hands up. Lesson learnt.