Friday, June 29, 2018

Why Do Hot Days in Air-Conditioned Buildings Feel Different?

I'm pretty sure the the following observations are true, and related, but I can't connect them, much less explain them. There's no logic to any of this; at least I don't think so. In any case, this is seriously half-baked stuff, even by Slog standards, but here goes...

Lifting 150 pounds feels heavier for a strong person than lifting 50 pounds does for someone 1/3 as strong. It doesn't require more muscular or caloric exertion, of course. So the expected proportionality is indeed there, and the laws of physics work. Yet increasingly heavy weight does feel obviously heavier, independent of exertion. For example, someone who can bench press 400 lbs can lift 200 with ease, yet the load doesn't feel trivial, the way a 50 lb load might for someone who can press 100. More weight feels heavier, even though exertion is the same (you moan not from exertion but from burden; a different class of moan!). But if exertion's the same, relatively, why should the absolute weight make any difference? It should feel the same, as you adjust for strength.

Before making theories about things like skeletal loads and soft tissue strain, let's look at some other phenomena....

The same is true for smarter people doing trickier calculations, or more creative people solving harder problems. Ease scales proportionally, yet the absolute difficulty still fully registers - and even weighs, in an undefinable way - above/beyond relative levels of capacity/ability.

If you're in a lot of pain and taking a lot of painkillers, and the pain even slightly exceeds the medicine, that slight marginal pain seems somehow more burdensome - even if not more quantifiably severe - than moderate pain seems without painkillers. Similarly, if you have great equanimity, and something enormously irritating punctures it to just barely tick you off, the full magnitude registers despite the mild triggering.

The heat of a 95 degree day in a 70 degree air conditioned environment is more onerous than the heat of a 80 degree day without air conditioning. The 70 degree cooled air won't leave you sweaty or flushed, and you'll experience the expected subjective feeling of coolness, yet can you deny that an August day in a 70 degree office is an entirely different sensation (and leaves you in an entirely different condition) than an April day at the same indoor temperature? Even if you don't go outside all day?

These things make no sense. They're unexplainable, yet undeniable. I can't say how it works. In each case, the relative proportionality is there as expected - easier feels easier, cooler feels cooler, etc. - yet a deeper-baked faculty paradoxically detects - and is affected by - the absolute via means unknown.

I'm honestly unsure whether I've uncovered something interesting, or if I'm making a big deal about nothing. If the latter, it wouldn't be the first time! But my suspicion is that this may be akin to stuff like bird flock synchronization - mundane-seeming phenomena which, upon examination, present deep mysteries not easily solved.

Follow-up here.

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