programming

Hey Kids! I’ve been helping a friend out with programming (as in Java, Visual Basic) because he needs the basic concepts and I happen to have had a little training back in my college days ten years ago. All our discussions refreshed my knowledge and reopened old interests but also reminded me of the fact that I am really not into programming. I’d really rather design the interface than type codes that don't even work.

What’s fascinating is how the definition of the  word “programming” has evolved for me over the years. When I was in school I instantly associated “programming” with moody instructors, tedious classes, draining exams and dreaded group projects, which all came with anxiety. So from an IT student exerting 100% effort yet barely making it above the passing mark, programming is hell.

Ten years after I completely veered off the IT career path so when I hear the word “programming”, to me it now means setting my cable box to automatically record The Walking Dead while I slept so I can watch it later, or setting my phone app such that it only rings when I get notifications from certain contacts.

Yesterday though, some events gave “programming” a new definition for me. Story time!

I was brushing my teeth in front of the sink and happened to look at the fluorescent lamp above it. I suddenly remembered the time when I replaced the bulb after it burned out, noting how difficult it was to replace. After that I took a shower. As I rinsed shampoo off my hair I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, it was all dark. The fluorescent bulb burned out. Coincidence?

A few months ago I saw the trailer for Mindhunter, an Netflix crime series. When I realized it won’t be released and I’ll have to wait a few months for it, I completely forgot all about it. OneSaturday I suddenly remembered Mindhunter, and out of curiosity I searched for it, only to discover it was released the day before. Is this also just coincidence?

At first I thought these are some paranormal phenomena shit but I asked a few friends and they have a logical explanation for it: programming. The human brain works in mysterious ways, so mysterious that the brain itself doesn’t know how it works. Our brain stores information and we don’t even know we have it in the deeper levels of our memory. When I first saw the Mindhunter trailer, before dismissing the whole thing, my brain probably stored the release date (a Friday) for me, and then reminded me on the very day (a Saturday) which my brain knows is my most ideal day to binge shows.

The same thing with the light bulb. My brain probably calculated how much time is left in its life span when I first installed it, anticipated the date, and reminded me of it on that exact day. It’s a stretch but I want to believe this is how the brain truly works, and it’s amazing.

Come to think of it, the brain is a computer. So this amazing thing that it does, isn’t this programming? Isn’t this what programs are designed to do? Store data, calculate, send us notifications for our convenience?

More examples? I had a friend who wanted to diet, so every time he craves for food, he brushes his teeth. His reasoning? He always brushes his teeth after meals, so his brain associates brushing with feeling full. So even if he feels hungry, he brushes his teeth, and suddenly feels full. It works, because of years and years of conditioning.

But the brain is too smart. Yes it learns, but it doesn’t stop learning. Because he brushes his teeth when he is hungry, his brain eventually associated brushing with hunger. So after meals when he needs to brush his teeth, he feels hungry again. So he eats again. The brain is too smart you can’t make it cheat itself.

This is conditioning, which I still want to associate with programming.

I used to have a special song I use as an alarm clock ring. It’s upbeat, reminds me of a beach party. Every time I wake up to this song I force myself out of the bed and into the shower, but the song puts me in a good mood and makes the daily ordeal bearable, despite feeling sleepy. But eventually my brain got used to the song and turned it against itself. It reversed the effect so bad, so that whenever I hear the song randomly, even when I'm fully awake, I suddenly get sleepy and groggy.

We don’t know how the brain works, it just works. These conditioning, programming “hacks” make our brains work for us in ways we don’t often realize or appreciate. Conditioning, association, programming, whatever this is called, it's cool.

So to end this, here’s another story!

I use a different ringtone for urgent notifications I don’t want to miss. It’s a very unusual song, something you don’t hear on the local radio. I only hear it on Spotify. When I sleep I hook my phone up to external speakers and play nature music (rain, crickets, bonfire sounds), it’s really relaxing, but when I get an urgent notification, the ringtone plays in full blast through the speakers and instantly wakes me up. Sometimes I wake up from deep sleep to 100% wakefulness that I get a headache afterwards.

One time I was about to sleep, I played random music on Spotify, but put the volume really really low, and dozed off. After a few hours, for seemingly no reason, I suddenly woke up with a fucking headache. Why? The song I use as my urgent ringtone was playing on Spotify. Despite the volume being really really low, my brain recognized the song, woke me up, and gave me a headache to complete the experience.
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