Sunday, December 26, 2010

Law of Negligible Distances

The weather outside has been quite cold lately, but my body has already adjusted to winter temperatures. My added level of cold resistance gives me the courage to commute long distances on a bicycle in frigid sub-twenty weather. Naturally I must bundle up in a heavy coat and a cotton cap before attempting my mile and a half morning ride. Any long ride in this kind of weather can be incredibly painful especially if one's hands and ears are exposed to the wind. However, for very short commutes, I frequently brave the winter air with nothing more than a flimsy jacket. Even in the dead of winter, one might notice me not wearing a coat while taking a one or two block walk. To explain why I think it may sometimes be perfectly normal to walk in sub-zero weather without proper winter attire, I have developed the law of negligible distances.

The law of negligible distances stems from the common assumption that pain is a function of time. Anyone can endure one tenth of a second of the most excruciating pain. However, even a light headache can become a real annoyance after being subjected to its inflictions for more than a few hours. Parents who love their young children will gladly bring them to the doctor for their necessary vaccines, but they would be deeply disturbed if one of them would have a light fever for more than one day. It is clear that pain is directly correlated with the quantity of time subjected to discomforts. Similarly, the level of cold chills is directly correlated with the amount of time spent in cold conditions. During a long bicycle ride, the cold is overbearing, and proper insulation is necessary to mitigate the painful experience. However, if one is merely taking an ice cream from the freezer, a large overcoat would seem a little superfluous. It makes logical sense, therefore, that the amount of clothing necessary for a walk in the cold should vary directly with the travel distance. The law of negligible distances states that walking a few blocks in the cold should not require a coat. The body can retain enough heat to allow for a comfortable 2-3 block walk, and the pain felt during those last few feet is negligible enough given the small amount of time.

Once my behaviors conform with accepted laws, I need less time explaining to people why I act the way I do. My parents always ask me to put on a coat if our thermometer reads anywhere below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But sometimes wearing a coat is plainly inconvenient, and the short walk can easily be done without the extra layers. Instead of looking like a fool, and trying to explain why I don't think it is cold enough to require such provisions, I simply explain that I am following the law of negligible distances. My parents always listen to logical reasoning, and such a law is not easily refuted. Similarly, earlier this morning I was leaving my house for a short walk when my next door neighbor was leaving his house as well. He noticed that I wasn't wearing a coat, and he himself had been dressed very appropriately for winter weather. He thought it was a little weird that I was not even wearing a coat when he was all bundled up. I explained to him that it was not very weird at all. It was perfectly consistent with the law of negligible distances. He was about to walk about nine blocks and I was heading around the corner. Having clarified my behavior in a very concise and logical manner, he accepted my point, and we both went on our merry ways.

Some of us wear a coat religiously whenever the temperature drops below 40 degrees. Such a practice is commendable, and well within the norm of socially accepted behavior. However, those of us who feel that it's not completely necessary to sport a ski mask while taking out the garbage can find comfort in the law of negligible distances. One practice should not be considered any crazier than the other. Both are fairly reasonable and logical practices, and the choice should be based on the preferences of each individual. Although we may disagree on which distances are negligible, we agree that negligible distances do exist.

1 comment:

  1. The story with your neighbor needs a part 2. You totally implied that there is a part 2 so spit it out. Something like... 5 years later I received a wedding invitation in the mail and I had no idea who it was from. But I decided, hey, why not go to the wedding and see what's up. So I go to the wedding and the chosson immediately runs over to me and says "do you remember me?" I said no because I had no idea who he was... So he says "remember that time you walked out of your house without a coat while I was bundled up? well, when you explained to me the law of negligible distances, that changed my life!"...
    then he goes on to explain to you how that changed his life, but even I can't come up with a way at the moment....