Phantom Hats

One of my favourite christmas traditions is the pulling of the crackers, because it leads to the wonderfully British forced jollity of the wearing of the paper hats.

The best thing about wearing a paper hat isn’t the fact that it’s hilarious ( it is ) it’s the bit later in the day when you take the hat off and it still feels like you’re wearing a hat and you spend ages touching your head thinking you’ve got a hat on. “Phantom Hat”, scientists would call it, if they named it, which they haven’t.
Phantom Hat is a nice demonstration of what the neuro-linguistic programming types call the idea that “the map is not the territory”. That what you see, feel, smell and hear isn’t reality but a picture that your brain has assembled from all the bits and pieces of random data being flung at it. Nostrils sucking up gas, eyeballs sucking in light, ears tuning out children or partners.

The important point is that your brain has a lot of work to do assembling this huge pile of flotsam and jetsam, noise and light, gas and tickles, into something concrete that you understand, and that that process can go wrong. It can be affected by mood, subconscious weirdness or Baileys or whatever. Reality is something your brain has invented and it’s within its power to invent it differently.

Sometimes it helps to remember that even though it definitely, definitely feels like you’re wearing a hat, maybe you aren’t.