I understand that, in the film industry, a mistake resulting in an impossibility is known as a continuity error. The film Amadeus, for example, is an excellent rendition of Shaffer’s play until the very end when Mozart’s body is thrown into the pauper’s grave. As the camera pulls away, quicklime is being shovelled into the grave from an open-topped barrel, raising a cloud of quicklime dust. In the pouring rain.
I have always regarded those continuity errors in life as justification of a solipsist position. Sometimes one is driving along and looks in the mirror and sees a completely empty road behind. Glancing into the mirror again a couple of seconds later shews a car close behind. My assumption has always been that my brain, being overloaded, has managed to come up with a contradiction in its view of the external world. We then have to find a rational explanation and talk of fast-moving cars or more time having passed than previously imagined.
Yesterday I experienced a continuity error better than most. I’ve more-or-less given up listening to the CBC (Canada) on my way to and from work and instead listen, through my iPod, to podCasts primarily from the BBC (UK) and ABC (Australia). Each of these starts with an announcer saying something like “This is a download from the BBC. For more information visit our web site at www dot bbc dot co dot uk” (mutatis mutandis for the Australians).
Naturally enough the BBC announcer speaks with a British accent and is a recording—the same on all podCasts. And the ABC announcer sounds like an Australian. So, on my way to work yesterday morning I was waiting at a red traffic light and trying to find one of the ABC podCasts before things went green. I thought I had selected it and pressed play (what an infuriating interface the iPod has!). I turned my attention to the traffic and, as I drove off, I subconsciously heard an Australian voice say “This is a download from the BBC. For more information visit our web site at www dot bbc dot co dot uk”. It was a couple of seconds before my double take. By then Kate Adie was introducing last Thursday’s edition of From Our Own Correspondent.
This was a wonderful continuity error by my overworked brain, again emphasising the lack of causality in the “external” world. I immediately moved forward to the Saturday edition and he was still there. I then went back to the previous edition and found my familiar, British, voice.
In his The Problems of Philosophy, Russell talks about his cat walking across the room, moving from one observable position to another by means of a path behind his back. I wonder how often the cat wasn’t where he expected it and Russell had to rationalise it away. Or, more precisely, I wonder why I invented a book by an imaginary chap called Russell about the motion of his non-existent cat.