I fail to see the evolutionary advantage of procrastination.

The bulk of human behaviour can be traced to an evolutionary advantage at some point in the past, even if it's one that no longer applies. Wanting to gorge oneself on carbohydrate and sugar rich food? Yes, an advantage in times of scarcity. Xenophobia? Repugnant these days but undeniably an advantage in days when you and the tribe in the next valley were competing for the same food source. Love? But of course, love leads to sex and sex leads to children; miniature copies of yourself to act as vessels which will carry your DNA down the road of time into the future.

There's no intent here, it's all cold mathematics. Those people who were greedy / xenophobic / loving simply survived marginally better than those that weren't, with the result that the world now consists of us, their descendants. And rather annoyingly we now have to unpick all that instinct because some of it is quite clearly a supernormal stimulus and other parts of it are morally wrong.

Strictly speaking the bulk of our behaviour should be explicable in these terms, automatic responses reinforced by survival. And looking at it a lot of it is and even things that aren't are revealed under analysis to be the mutant descendants of once advantageous anthropological functions.

But procrastination? How on Earth did that evolve?
It turned out that Thugg the Caveman didn't die after all; he was lucky. Just as the leopard was poised to sink its teeth and claws into the soft flesh of his belly a meteorite struck it clear between the eyes and it collapsed to the ground, dead with a smoking hole in its skull.

Thugg stood up shakily and regarded the carcass of his erstwhile enemy. Up on top of the ridge his colleagues whooped and shrieked with chimpanic glee. None of them yet believed in god; the mental disorder that would one day become religion not yet being that widespread in the population, and yet Thugg's miraculous escape seemed almost uncanny.

Thugg grabbed the leopard by the tail and begun towing it back to the caves. Strictly speaking it was his "kill" and so it was up to him to skin and gut it, distributing the meat to those of the tribe that he saw fit and thereafter wearing the pelt as a badge of honour that he would one day pass on to his descendants should any of the women ever want to do the wriggly lying down dance with him often enough for them to have children.

Still, with a leopard-pelt his standing in the tribe might well increase. He dragged the carcass up the rocky slope to his batchelor cave and dumped it at the back behind the rock shaped like an elephant's knee. He'd skin it in the morning. He was too tired now. He lay down on the pile of dried plants and squirrel tails and almost instantly fell into a dreamless sleep.

Early the next morning he awoke with a start to the sight of an unusual shape silhouetted in the cave mouth. Shrieking, he jumped up and grabbed his club although as it turned out the noise of his terror had already done the trick. The hyaena was running for its life and was already disappearing into the pre-dawn gloom. Thugg stretched, walked to the entrance and peed over the lip of the cave. The trickle of urine ran down a well-carved channel in the rock face and eventually dripped over the lintel of Old Bugga's cave and into a puddle. Old Bugga had never been able to work out where the puddle came from and why it was there even during the dry season, but never one to look a gift eohippus in the mouth he tended to use it to wash his feet when he came home in the evening.
Thugg wandered back to his makeshift nest. The hyaena had obviously been attracted by the smell of the dead leopard; the sooner he got it skinned and distributed the better. First thing in the morning, he told himself before losing consciousness again.

The tribe didn't give names to the days of the week, but when Thugg woke again it felt like a Saturday. The sun was already high, its light streaming throughout the cave mouth and he knew that he had a busy day ahead of him dealing with the leopard. And he would be doing it very shortly.

But first he needed to stretch his legs. He strolled down to the news cave and spent half an hour reading the wall paintings depicting the activities of the tribe over the past week. OK, so he already knew most of it, but it was comforting and reassuring to see it depicted there in ochre and grey. And look, there was a picture of him dragging the leopard back to his cave. The leopard. He'd really have to get back and get started on it soon; it felt like it was going to be another hot one and they all knew how quickly meat could spoil in this heat. But maybe he'd do the Sudughku first.

An hour later Thugg was standing by the spring chatting with Yugg about his plans for the leopard carcass. Or at least that's what he was trying to do, but Yugg kept steering the conversation back to the problems he was having with his aunt Grukka, which Thugg found very frustrating. Eventually he managed to extract himself from the firing line of Yugg's monologue with the excuse that he really had to get on with slicing up that leopard.

Two hours later he was in the cave working hard on his iCork, the scrap of tree bark he kept with the icons scratched on it. He was sure that there was a better way of arranging the icons to make the whole thing more efficient. He glanced towards the back of the cave. The leopard's dead eyes regarded him accusingly. He really should get on with it. The sooner I start, the sooner I finish, he thought, inventing painfully obvious aphorisms.

Ten minutes later he was squatting next to the furry body regarding his flint knife. It really wasn't very sharp. If he was going to make the best job of it, he really needed to sharpen it. There was no point waiting around for the Iron Age.

Eventually the knife was sharp enough to satisfy his rather exacting standards. The problem now was that the sun had moved round and it was difficult to see. He could of course have taken the carcass outside and begun butchering it, but that might have attracted an audience and an audience always put him off. Best to leave it to the next morning. Besides, a group of them were planning on going down to the grove of apple trees later. According to Nugg a load of rotten old apples had apparently collected in a gully where they had turned into a noxious sludge which, if you squeezed it into a coconut shell, produced a potent liquid which made you go insane and fall over sideways when you drank it. Cider, Nugg called it.

Thugg woke the next morning with a pounding headache. He had a vague memory of waking in the night, running to the cave mouth and vomiting onto the heads of a couple of hyaenas that were trying to sneak in whist he was asleep.

The leopard's eyes stared glassily at him, a fly crawling over one of them. Thugg rolled over in his nest and frowned. There was no way he was going to start work on it today. Best to wait until he was feeling better...

A week later Thugg's cave stank to high heaven and and he was eventually forced to drag the rotting carcass out to the swamp and dump in in a sinkhole. The pelt was unusable. He'd failed to gain the respect he'd hoped for and furthermore people were now laughing at him. He seemed to have gained a bad reputation. None of the women would want to do the lying down wriggling dance with him now; the genes of Thugg would not be passed on...
None of this explains how procrastination arose; in fact this rather common sense tale implies it should tend to disappear from the population at large. It's all very puzzling, and even in modern psychological circles it's a poorly understood disorder. Incidentally, I am not passing judgment here. I am just as bad as, if not worse than, the next person when it comes to putting off until tomorrow what I should be doing today.

However I am pleased to say that I did recently discover one way of forcing myself to get on with it and furthermore actually finish what I started. Apparently it all comes down to tomatoes...

Well not exactly. The trick is called the Pomodoro Technique. I realise by blogging about this I run the risk of sounding like a gullible mark proselytizing a dodgy self-help procedure, but not only does it actually work, it does not require you to buy anything. I suspect the secret of its success lies in its simplicity.

Once you have decided on the procrastination-prone task you're going to tackle you should set an automatic timer to ring in twenty five minutes time (the kind of timer doesn't matter but the original one used was a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato, hence the name). Work on the task until the timer rings. Set the timer for five minutes and during that five minutes take a break. When the timer rings again, set it for another twenty five minute period (or "pomodoro") and so on and so forth. After four "pomodori" take a longer break of half an hour or so.

And it really works for me. Much as I get the urge to procrastinate during the twenty five minute segments I know that I can't because the clock is ticking. During my five minute breaks I can reward myself by going to the toilet or looking at Twitter, but during each pomodoro the task is sacrosanct.

Of course it really helps that there's an app for it...

Some two years ago or less when this blog was concerning itself with the nature of consciousness I wrote an entry about the so called "Cartesian Theatre" and the flaws inherent in this dualistic model of the self.

To reiterate: the theatre is based on the idea that all your senses - vision, hearing, touch, smell - are sending signals down your nerves and into the brain. Once in the brain these multiple media are combined by some mental home entertainment system into a presentation for the consumption of the actual Self.  Lord Consciousness sits in a large leather swivel chair at the controls of the brain, waving a cigar around in one hand, universal remote in the other. This feels right. It's how we imagine ourselves, a mini-me occupying the seat of sentience. It's what we feel we really are.

The problem is that what feels right is very often wrong. Flat earth? Wrong. Sun goes round the earth? Wrong.

Perhaps even though it feels that our real self is a pilot homunculus sitting in the cockpit of our head, this too is wrong. Thinking about it, the flaws in the concept become apparent. If it was actually true, then on some level then it would be the pilot, the homunculus,  that was conscious. So where is her or his consciousness located? If the input from our senses are being displayed on screen and played through speakers inside the cockpit then it must mean that the pilot is looking at them, is listening to them. With whatever passes for her or his eyes and ears.

This means that we have to then carry out the same investigation within the pilot's head. Who pilots the pilot? Eventually we end up with an infinite recursive sequence of pilots dwindling down into microscopic infinity like a psychological matryoshka doll.

Generally, whenever we come up against an infinity in science it usually means that something is wrong somewhere - that we're either missing something obvious or including something nonsensical. In this instance it's probably the latter - the Homunculus Argument is nonsense.

But if we're throwing out the infinite recursive pilots, it becomes clear that we don't even need one of them. Our consciousness isn't a being sitting in our head studying the input from our senses; it's far more likely to be a phenomenon emerging from those senses themselves, a self-awareness arising from the establishment of a small model of the universe in one location by the sense organs. The seat of consciousness isn't in the head (somewhere behind the eyes). It exists as a standing wave in the flow of data being collected by the sense organs and being compared with the memory records.

But on some level this also feels right. Our skin is our largest sensory organ and it's one that clearly divides the universe into "self" and "everything else". We are our bodies, our minds a meniscus existing in the boundary between the somatic system and the vast gulf of inter-selfish space.

This has interesting implications when you think of the myriad new channels of communication and sense that are becoming available to us at the dawn of of the information age. The boundary between our selves and everything else is becoming blurred.

This has already been happening for a while. Whilst I am not a driver myself,  I am given to understand that when driving cars some people do experience some kind of an extension to the boundaries of self; it moves from their skin to the paintwork of their car. Enrapt in the process of driving, their hands on the controls and feet on the pedals become the equivalent of nerves and muscles. The only thing missing is the face and a way of communicating. Blowing the horn is about all that's open to them which is why it is heard so often even though the highway code expressly forbids it in all but a very few situations. Perhaps in the future some cars might have holograms of their drivers' heads hovering above the roof, reproducing the expressions and words of the human within. And at such a time the boundary will have slipped; not inwards to another fake homunculus but outwards to a new definition of self, a new boundary.

Spend enough time in your car and you might come to believe that you are a car.

But this evolution need not be confined to the drivers of cars. The tentacles of our communication and subsequently our sensory organs are increasingly becoming remote. Even in a fumbling primitive manner, like the first fish to climb up onto the land and lie gasping on the beach, many of us already have a very distinct online presence if we add up all the services we use; the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Tumblrs, our blogs, instant messaging, email, comments left on forums and feedback left on eBay, the webcams, the Soundcloud, the Audioboos. We are leaving more and more of a trace of ourselves on what is increasingly these days called The Cloud (which when it comes down to it is just a more nebulous and cool way of talking about the internet).

And just as the seat of our consciousness is demonstrably not a homunculus sitting in our head checking all the data flowing in from our sense organs then there is no real reason for it to be our physical bodies sitting at the computer or engrossed in our iPhones whilst on public transport.

Our consciousness doesn't have a seat. If it could be said to exist anywhere it's in our sphere of influence, the arena from which we are gathering information and with which we are interacting. Up until recently that has been coincidental with our physical bodies, bodies which over the past hundred years have occasionally been enhanced with shells of metal and plastic known as automobiles.

But now we have something much more empowering than the car. Our bodies have new insubstantial but nevertheless real extensions into information space. We don't need direct brain implants to experience cyberspace; get engrossed enough in what you are doing and you will no doubt start to believe that you're there. When they subtly change the layout of a familiar web page it's just as disconcerting as when they change the shape of the landscape; our internal model of the universe fails the cyclic redundancy check when compared with the world as observed and has to be corrected.

When you type on a keyboard you're no more aware of the exact sequence of muscle movements being sent to your fingers than you are of the chemicals within those muscles metabolising; eventually perhaps even the use of the keyboard will become as transparent to us as our muscles and it will be the intent, the meaning that matters.

And perhaps with enough of a physical disconnect we will start envisioning a different self image, an attenuated ghostlike databody striding through the information landscape un-noticed until it wants to be, as unaware of the flesh it leaves behind as you are now unaware of the existence of your liver.

You become your avatar.

References

One of the best things about being a child is that time lasts so long and that there is so much to do that one soon forgets about things. As described in the last entry, my parents entered a competition on my behalf, the first prize of which was a flight to America to see the launch of the next Apollo mission. Whilst it was true it was always at the back of my mind that I might win, in the meantime I just got on with other things. We didn't win of course but I don't recall not winning. The possibility just faded from sight.

This didn't affect my obsession with space flight in the least. I was still hooked and for someone with such interests it was an exciting time to be alive.

The odd thing is that I don't remember whether my interest in space travel was sparked off by my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch Apollo 11 land on the moon or whether the only reason they bothered to wake me up in the middle of the night in the first place was that I was already obsessed by this point. Whichever way around it was, my memory of the event is still very clear. I remember my mother being almost overexcited by the entire concept (which in itself was an unusual experience for me). At one point the picture from the Moon came through inverted and she suggested we turn the TV upside down...

These nocturnal interludes became a regular thing over the next couple of years - I wanted to be woken up for the launches, landings and splashdowns (I was unable to sleep properly and had nightmares during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission's journey back to Earth).

I also clearly recall looking up at the moon visible in the blue sky the next day after school and thinking to myself "There are people up there".

When we got a dog I wanted to call it Buzz after Buzz Aldrin. I drew endless pictures of the Saturn V stack and knew all the details of the mission. I even knew what a trans lunar injection burn was.

The world had Moon fever. Adverts at the time would use wafer-thin tenuous links to the moon missions to sell tights. The toy shop down the road had a telescope in the window with a hand written notice "SEE IT!" sellotaped to the tripod. Even as a quite young child I was sceptical about this. Surely a telescope that small couldn't be that powerful and subsequently would be completely incapable of spotting the small craft heading across the abyss to our closest planetary neighbour?

The TV coverage itself was exciting and comforting at the same time; the familiar avuncular figures of Patrick Moore, Cliff Michelmore, Reg Turnill and James Burke presided over the kind of sets normally dedicated to rolling coverage of sports or politics. Apollo got blanket coverage which made the Radio Times listings exciting. All the missions had their own logos and would take over the available channels in a manner of which Big Brother or X Factor could only dream - there were only three channels and Apollo dominated all of them.


These days it's hard to imagine anything other than international sport or lowest common denominator talent shows being given this much coverage. Have we lost interest in matters more exciting and cerebral? I would hope not. The problem is that the human race has stopped making planet-sized gestures such as Apollo. Despite the Cold War element of the moon shots when it came down to it and Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon people forgot their differences and perhaps for the first time thought of themselves as members of a species rather than of a nation state.

We can only hope that it wasn't the last time such an enlightened outlook will become widespread. Humanity needs to do something astonishing to recapture the perspective. Sometimes a photograph of a pale blue dot just isn't enough.

That was the thing though. Back in 1969 people were rightfully astonished by this momentous achievement but for me the moon seemed around the corner. Whilst I was consumed with interest in the missions, to me it seemed like popping down the streets to the chemist rather than the longest journey ever undertaken by man. The Manned Flight to Mars, that was what excited me. The Race Into Space (Man's First Fifty Steps Into The Universe) picture cards that came free with PG Tips had this exciting undertaking as number 50; the pinnacle of the space race and one that I had no doubt would be undertaken well before I was old enough to have a chance of being included on the crew.

My early ambition was Space Correspondent and I was hopeful that not only would I get a job with the BBC but that I would be posted to the moon or no doubt to the the 100 Man Space Base in Orbit which Reg Turnill's book had promised would be reality by my early twenties.

Was this a pipe dream, the hopeless ramblings of an adolescent USA or was it all possible and all that happened was a failure of imagination and finance?

It felt like the whole human race simply lost our nerve. Let's get it back before it's too late.