Thursday, 4 May 2017

The dress

I've been taken by the return of the 2015 internet meme that was 'The Dress' thanks to research by NYU's Pascal Wallisch.  What Wallisch posits is that how we see the dress comes down to your circadian rhythms, with owls seeing the dark colours and larks the light.  I haven't read enough to know whether one causes the other, they share a common cause, or it's just some inexplicable correlation.

Whilst a sample size of four is about as far from statistically significant as I am from the Moon, I found it curious that the theory works perfectly within our family.  We have two owls and two larks and, on this, we conform to type perfectly.  I'm an uber-lark, often up before 6am, whilst the good lady wife is 100% owl.  I don't even get brought a cup of tea on my birthday.  To me I cannot comprehend how the dress could ever be blue and black, which is as she sees it.  Likewise, she finds my view baffling.

Letting my mind wander around and over the issue, it struck me that the whole thing is akin to handedness.  Curiously, we're also split down the middle with left-handed owls and right-handed larks in our family, but with an even gender and generational mix in each camp. Handedness is, itself, a mystery well worth exploring in its own right, the fact that only a small but stable proportion of people in general are southpaws being especially resistant to explanation.  Those for whom the dress - or is it The Dress - is black and blue are also in the minority, even if the proportions differ.

So, what, I wondered, could account for people being larks or owls?  What could the evolutionary benefit be?  I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject, which is not, lest we forget, the same as doing science.  And the conclusion I've drawn is that it all comes down to hunting.

Think about it.  You want mastodon and chips for dinner.  They're big sods, not easily taken down.  You want everything on your side.  What are you going to use?

Low sun.

Yep, you want to be coming out of the sun at that shaggy behemoth with your sharpened stick, animal pelt and big smile.  You want to maximise your odds, maximise the chances of eating tonight.  Because those that eat get to live, and those that live get to reproduce.

Which leads to populations of larks and owls, with the mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun getting trampled due to their lack of tactical advantage.

I offer this baseless supposition up in the hope that I'll be able to refer to it in future years when some researcher, having put in decades of donkey work, comes up with this self-same idea, albeit founded on an evidence base of admirable solidity and detail.  Unlike his or hers, my approach isn't science, but it is prescience, and it's that that'll get my name, not theirs, on the theory.

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