Not too long ago, a buddy mentioned in passing that William Gibson had a theory of jet lag postulating that your soul can’t go as fast as a jet and takes some time to catch up with you, causing much discombobulation. I traced this to Gibson’s 2002 novel, Pattern Recognition, which I bought and and recently read, you guessed it, in an airport and on a flight. The theory shows up on the very first page as the protagonist wakes up in England at an ungodly jet lagged hour after flying from New York.
She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
The soul delay theory comes up a couple more times but certainly isn’t central to the plot. Later on (the story takes us from London to Tokyo and back and then to someplace else that would be a bit of a spoiler to name) somebody asks her if she’s still on some other place’s time. The reply, “I think I’m all on my own time now, but I don’t know what time that is.”
While the novel was a good read, I wasn’t particularly moved or impressed by it, but I had to give some credit to Gibson for throwing jet lag into the mix. Such things don’t usually concern globe-trotting fictional heroes. It adds some humanity.
I’m pretty agnostic on the soul thing, but I can definitely relate to the “on my own time” sentiment. I wear a two-dial watch (the quest for which is worthy of its own post) but sometimes get pretty mixed up about which dial is where, and just where it is that I am.
Referring to Wikipedia, I found some interesting bits about jet lag. For one, it’s also called desynchronosis, dysrhythmia, and dyschrony. Also, it seems that low doses of Viagra can help with Eastbound jet lag but not Westbound. In tests on hamsters. WebMD provided the usual tips around good sleep practice and the “one day per timezone” rule of thumb for recovery time.
So, if it takes your soul one day per timezone to catch up with you, can we calculate the speed of soul? Timezones are much bigger at the equator than elsewhere, but let’s use the book’s example of New York to London, a trip of about 3,451 miles. Divide by five days for 690 miles/day or 28.76 MPH. Assuming the soul follows the air route and can’t just pass through the earth in a straight line. That’s pretty slow. A train or bus trip from Boston to NYC – about 200 miles in three and a half hours – would leave you without a soul for over an hour. Which goes a long way to explaining some of the characters around Port Authority in NYC.
But enough picking at Gibson’s poetry. Here’s my formula for minimizing jet lag impact: 11:00 PM. That’s the magic point in time for me. When going West, you’re going to get tired early – try as hard as possible to stay up till 11, but no later. When going East, you’re going to want to stay up all night – go to sleep an 11, no earlier. Medicate if you need to. Spend as much time in the sun as possible. But if you stay up to 11 and go to sleep at 11, you stand a fighting chance the next day. Repeat as needed.
Obviously, this is simplistic (ignoring for example the timing and duration of flight) and not for everybody. It’s my first full day back after 10 days in Europe and I’ve got about another hour to go to 11 and it’s going to be a close one, but I think I hear the rubber band connected to my soul starting to slacken.