Watched Pot

Do not listen to the tick of the clock or watch the hands rotate. Ignore the temptation to focus on the digital numbers that measure time. This is not a long night, this is days. How much longer does it take a watched pot to boil, perhaps, seem to take would be more accurate; although I am not sure there is a difference. Life does not start at a future date, it happens now. So don’t look now, leave for future thought those things that can only be known and experienced in the future.

These thoughts are where I found myself after much needless consternation. I went through all my chemo and radiation treatments knowing it would be  three months before I would be told anything remotely concrete about their effectiveness. My time was almost up, only two days before I headed out for more tests and the all important PET scan which would be the key indicator if I was ok, at least for now.  My phone rang, my tests had been move back almost two weeks. I knew that the delay would have no bearing on my health or the tests results, but I did not want to wait even one day longer. I explained I was from out of town and had everything worked out for the original date. They were sorry, but there was nothing that could be done. After a couple of anxious and rather unpleasant days I had a vivid memory.

I was back in elementary school watching the hands on the clock. It was a school clock, In my school they were big at least to a little kid, round and the minute hand would move in a herky-jerky motion. This fact could only be verified by careful observation. I am sure many of my classmates had never seen the minute hand move. I knew because I always wanted it to move much faster, I was not a fan of school at that time. I always pictured myself as more of a Huck Finn kind of guy. Anyway, in this memory slash daydream I was watching the clock when I heard my Mom’s voice say, “a watched pot never boils”. Since I had time for deeper reflection because what are the chances I was actually listening to the teacher; I began to explore the topic. I was under no illusion that this saying was objectively true, but could there be some underlying wisdom, dare I say truth to the saying. Was it a ‘walking under a ladder is bad luck’ old wive’s tale or more along the lines of the black cat deal. All of my mothers saying I divided up into either the ladder column or the black cat column. Avoiding walking under a ladder sounded like good advice; something might fall on you or you could knock over the ladder. In this case it would be bad luck for the person on the ladder and possibly you, especially if they were big. While the black deal struck me has irrational superstition without merit. So the sayings that made sense I put into the ladder column and the ones that didn’t went into the black cat column. The question now in front of me was in what category does ‘watched pot’ go in.

I decided that to answer the question you must examine the situation from two points of view, the person watching the pot and the clock. I had already decided that the pot and the water were constants for my purposes. The variable if there was one lies in the perception of the event or to be more accurate the length of time before the event. In the case of the person watching the pot it is perfectly reasonable to say time slows down. There are many everyday cases that show this phenomenon; for example when you start getting good at a sport time slows down and you have more time to react. Another instance that shows this principle is  if your not use to driving seventy it seems really fast, but after a while it seems normal. On the other hand, does the clock have to see this way for it to be true? It seems to me there are two possible ways of answering this question. One way would be to ask what is time? You can only see it through its effects on objects or people not by looking at a clock. You can’t hold it or smell it, although young people often talk about the old person smell or conversely that new car smell. Since time is a man made invention devised to improve our interaction with fellow humans and make accurate predictions when certain processes will happen or be completed; the saying is true. Whether you judge five minutes to be long or short depends on the context in which you use it.

In the second case, we know that clock will give you the same answer watched or not, but is it possible that there is an observer effect. While the clock says the same time either way, maybe the hands actually move slower when you are watching the pot. I don’t have an informed opinion on the subject. Anyway mindless rambling is a good way to divert your mind and help pass the time. I could feel bad for wasting your time, but all this run up to the Oscars assures me that I am not the biggest culprit. Then again that is my perspective and may not be true for you. Oh yea, I put it in the ladder column.

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