The Case of the Missing Broccoli

As part of an ongoing self-reward program, I decided to buy a head of fresh broccoli. This was an expensive treat, something I would not normally purchase due to its high cost.

The broccoli, along with other grocery items, was purchased on my next shopping trip. I arrived home. Put the groceries away. Did some work. Developed an appetite for fresh steamed broccoli. Was unable to locate the newly purchased head of broccoli. Confirmed it was shown on the grocery receipt. I was not dreaming; the expensive bauble of a vegetable definitely was purchased. Conducted a second search of the entire house in the off chance the broccoli was incorrectly stored in the linen closet. No broccoli was found, no matter how hard I looked.

I concluded that I did purchase the broccoli but, in exiting the self checkout lane, my expensive purchase was inexplicably left behind. This is a common form of error. I believe I have undertaken some action. On subsequent inspection the action is found to be incomplete, or unperformed. The mental concept of intention solidifies into a belief in actual performance but this is actually a phantom performance.

It may be useful to construct a catalog of common errors and then cluster these and identify a common cause. This catalog of error may lead to insight permitting a reduction in the error rate. This is a variation from my current practice which is to identify error and immediately forget about it. This approach was introduced as I had a strong tendency to “beat up on myself” when discovering an error. This self-recrimination was neither productive, nor healthy.

Categories of Error

Broccoli Error – Intent is mistaken for a completed action

This is a relatively common error. I form the intent to undertake some action. The “intent to action” then becomes frozen as if the action had in fact been performed. I believe I have done what I intended to do. It is difficult to acknowledge the missing, or incomplete, task; I am convinced the task has been performed. I retain a “memory” of task performance.

Thesis — Cross Talk Between Circuits
In computer terms this involves data in one register being popped off the operand stack and then being committed to memory without the performance of the required function. A series of intermediate steps are being omitted and this omission is not being detected.

In brain terms, it is possible there is cross talk between damaged fibres such that the input (the intent) crosses to the output line (the belief the action occurred) and is then being stored to memory as a completed function.

Decision Error – Decline in decision making ability

This was first observed in the context of the Work Experiment. A task is commenced with notional 100% competency but there is a decline in competency during task performance. This competency decline results in an increased error rate. The Work Experiment suggested two independent rates of decline. The first decline occurred over a single period of task performance. The second decline occurred over several days of repeated task performance. There was an intra-day, or intra-task, decline in performance and a second incidence of decline occurring over the period of multiple days.

Since the Work Experiment, I have noted similar decline in other activities (see paragraph RO-2 of this post. Most notable is a decline in decision making towards the end of a day of walking. This was first noticed after attending a meeting at which I received a rebuff. This had very negative effects: life was no longer felt to be worth living. On returning from the meeting, I experienced close encounters with automobile traffic and attributed this to a subconscious bias toward self-destruction.

At a later date, I experienced something similar. The error is not the result of a self-destructive bias but is due to an effort related performance degradation. As the duration of exertion increases it becomes increasingly difficult for me to perform the mental computational mechanics required to determine closure rates and establish an appropriate margin of safety for crossing ahead of an automobile. At the south entrance to the Champlain Bridge the pedestrian walkway traverses an unsignalled traffic merge lane. There is a marked crosswalk but vehicles coming off the expressway travel through it at high speed. It is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the closure rate on returning from a walk. I have not experienced this problem on the outbound leg when I am still fresh.

Thesis — Energy Depletion
When fresh, my mental circuits have sufficient energy to perform the required mental calculations. After a period of exertion this energy store is gradually depleted. The depleted energy store results in degraded mental performance.

Because I am competent to perform the necessary activity when fresh, the required neural connections are likely intact and functioning. However the energy feed system is in some way impaired. The impaired energy feed leads to performance degradation.

Unseen Error – Error is not identified until later

The best example is a recent one. In filing a reimbursement for service obtained in January 2016, I found a cheque dated January 2015. Clearly, I mixed items from 2015 and 2016 and needed to locate the correct 2016 cheque. An extended search failed to locate any such 2016 cheque.

I drew the conclusion that I had erred in dating the 2016 cheque and had stale dated it for January 2015. This stale dated cheque was accepted by my bank, and by the correspondent bank, rather than being rejected. I was unaware of the error when I made it, and remained unaware until forced to acknowledge it by the application of logical rigour.

This mistake sensitized me to my error rate and lead directly to the identification of a similar error. Reimbursement requires the use of a unique form which I have difficulty in filling out due to the number of entries required. To ease the task, I retain a completed prior form and employ it as a template in filling out subsequent reimbursement forms. Due to my mistake with the cheque, I engaged in a high level of task scrutiny and double checked each entry. In so doing, I discovered the template form contained omission errors. These omission errors had been transcribed into each subsequent iteration of the process. These errors explained why recent reimbursements have been delayed.

Focus Error – Error attributed to task focus

This hit home recently (see paragraph one). In order to complete the work required to research, draft, and submit, TAQ evidence I have greatly reduced the attention paid to other aspects of my life. When I completed the last submission, I turned my attention to these areas of neglect and was sharply reminded of the duration and degree of neglect.

Thesis — CCN Tunnel Vision
This appears to be a form of tunnel vision. In order to complete Task A, I find it necessary to devote all of my time and energy to Task A. This results in the neglect of Tasks B through Z.

In terms of the household, this neglect results in a mess. But there are safety aspects to this error. Yesterday, on my way home from a grocery shop, I crossed in front of a massive pickup truck. He revved his engine. When I looked up I realized the light had changed and I was blocking his green. My focus was on the ground as I needed to identify ice on the roadway. I started the cross with the light in my favour but, due to my ice focus, I failed to see the change in the light until the pickup truck forced it to my attention.

This is a mode of error which appears to have emerged with the injury. I suspect it is a form of compensatory mechanism. In order to complete any task, I must summon all of my energy and place the totality of my focus on task performance. The result is that any activity outside the frame of focus is subject to benign neglect.