It’s amazing what you can teach yourself when you have the time and motivation. If you had asked me 4 weeks ago to estimate 2 metres I would have struggled. I’m still a feet and inches type of guy. Now I’m pretty sure that in any situation I know exactly where the 2 metre boundary around me is… and lo and behold you’d better watch out if you cross that imaginary line!
During my daily exercise I’ve now taken to running on the beach when the tide is out rather than sticking to the prom. I had taken the added security measure of usually running bare-chested. To be honest in most cases the sight of a topless, mature man usually cleared a path, but I’ve found that the sand is better all round.
Firstly, the sand has more give than the tarmac, which is a godsend for my knees and hips and secondly, whilst people on the prom might be looking down at my half naked body in disgust, from that sort of distance I can’t see the horror in their eyes.
It got me thinking about numbers. Apparently as humans there are certain numbers that work well for us. 7 seems to be a magical number, well 7 plus or minus 2. Research has shown that our memory starts to cut off at about 7 give or take 2.
You can try this with a party game. Put a number of random objects on a tray and cover it with a tea towel. Show the objects to your subject for a split second and then ask them how many objects there were. You could also ask them to name the objects. Up to about 7 objects and most people do really well with the test. More than 7 and people start to struggle.
Sometimes it’s easier to remember things in clusters. When giving out my 11 digit mobile phone number I break it down into a 5 number and then a 6 digit number. If I try to read all the numbers out without taking a break it just sounds like gobbledygook to me, so heaven help the person trying to remember it.
As with most things in life there are exceptions to the rule. We have seen the ‘Savants’ who have an extraordinary ability for feats of memory or mathematical calculations as featured in the Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman film ‘Rain Man’.
Even people without this ‘gift’ can teach themselves to remember whole books or plays or even sets of numbers. In 2015 Rajveer Meena became a Guinness Record Holder by remembering the mathematical symbol Pi to 70,000 places.
How did he do it? Well, you can learn certain number sequences by using special techniques. One experiment involved teaching a long distance runner a way of remembering a set of numbers using his running times as a memory aid. He got to the point where he could recite back to you 80 digits in the correct order…but give him a tray full of 8 objects or more and he was as good or bad as anyone else.
7 is a magic number. So is 150. If you look at my Facebook page I have nearly 7,000 friends!! In reality it is said 150 is about the number of people who make up your life, they are your village. The research carried out by British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar started by looking at brain sizes and group sizes in primates. They found chimpanzees lived in groups of between 15 and 150. He then turned his attention to humans and found something very similar. From early hunter gathering tribes to modern Christmas Card lists 150 seems to be the maximum manageable size.
5 is another magic number. Dunbar showed we have layers of friends which are multipoles of 5. 15 good friends, 50 friends, 150 meaningful contacts (our village), 500 acquaintances and maybe 1500 people we can recognise. These groupings stay constant in numbers, but people drift in and out of the categories.
“What determines these layers in real life, in the face-to-face world… is the frequency at which you see people,” says Dunbar. “You’re having to make a decision every day about how you invest what time you have available for social interaction, and that’s limited.”
It seems that if you want to maintain these friends it costs in time and in our daily lives time is limited…until now!
These past few weeks lots of amazing people have been worked off their feet to keep the rest of us, who are in lockdown confined to our homes, safe. Those of us in lockdown have become bored, tired and irritable as we find that we miss human contact.
It might be the new norm to treat everyone you meet whilst out or at the shops as a potential Corona Virus carrier, but it goes against everything we’ve been as human beings up until now. We miss the touch, the hug, the kiss, the embrace of loved ones and friends. Maybe that’s why coming together, whilst socially distancing, to clap for carers on a Thursday is so emotional. We miss being part of our village.
Then there are other numbers which are hard to comprehend.
I think it was Stalin who said one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
As we hear daily, the numbers of people who have died from or have been recently diagnosed with the Covid-19 virus we can feel downhearted as the numbers rise and pleased when the number falls.
It’s almost like hearing a score from some sporting event or an election. Big numbers mean nothing; we have to remember each single number is a person. Every one of those numbers means a family in tears, a light going out, the loss of something special.
Numbers are important. We need to know how many people are ill, have passed away, are being tested and have recovered but I hope in all this we will remember every one of those numbers had hopes and dreams and loved ones.
In lock down today, whatever your beliefs or none, whether it’s a prayer or just good thoughts let’s remember every single 1.