I recently learned that, under certain circumstances, poor directional hearing can be a bit of a blessing. It works kind of like “ignorance is bliss”. Case in point:

There is a strange character in my building. I’ll call him “Troubled“. Statistically there always had to be one, so that is not the point of this story. The point is that the person in question has fits of rage, during which a sort of tourrette’s syndrome descends upon his speaking abilities (at giga decibels), and also during which (recently) much furniture is slung about…

Game Theory

I had a fairly simple planned response:  if I heard a second voice in the midst of that tumult, I would call 911. If the cops paid attention and came running, my payoff would be 1 utils for helping someone (as opposed to zero utils – for going out of my way for no outcome whatsoever).

If there was no second voice, I would leave him to it, at a comfortable win of 2 utils – it has cost me no effort AND no-one is getting hurt. Troubled also gets no hassles because I’ve kept quiet. (So, knowledgeable people out there – ┬áis this strategy THE Nash equilibrium of my dwelling situation? Pray tell).

I’ve digressed. Point is, whatever I was in the middle of, when I detected Troubled was having a new fit I would freeze like a bunny caught in headlights, straining to hear that second voice. It was the information I needed to choose my gaming strategy. I’ve listened to Tracy Chapman’s

Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
‘Nother sleepless night for me
won’t do no good to call
the police…
always come late, if they come at all

Last night I heard the screaming
Then a silence that chilled my soul
Prayed that I was dreaming, when I saw the ambulance in the road…
… and the policeman said
… we don’t like to interfere in domestic affairs
between a man and his wife…

enough times to decide that I was not gonna become one of those standby, ‘someone ELSE is going to help them’ types who backpedal their way out of the unfolding of someone else’s unfortunate events. (Although, truth be told, I would happily backpedal if my own physical survival was at stake. Thankfully this is a game where the only required response is a phone-call).

It’s bizarre… he’s always yelling at someone, and I keep listening for that someone, but they are never there. So I would go back to whatever I was doing, shaking my head and thinking God… they must be driving their immediate neighbours UP THE WALL if I can hear it from up here.

Truth be told, I imagined a 3D model of our apartment complex: I was way over here… and Troubled was way over there… and the apartments in-between were a comfy sort of safety buffer.


Yesterday was a different matter. I was determined to get back into my guitar-playing, and whenever I was just getting settled into a tune Troubled would go off on one. For once I was *really* irritated… ‘Asturias’ is barely accessible to a beginner and how am I supposed to get the EFFING FINGERING RIGHT IF YOU WON’T SHUT UP!!!! I could have clouted him with my guitar. Still. No second voice again, so i figured 911 would be overkill (again). ‘My apologies, beleaguered superintendent’, I thought. This one is yours. Deal. For Today I am PISSED OFF.

I called the Super and brought him up to speed.

“So is this the apartment above or below you?”
I thought about this.
“Below me. I’m pretty sure it’s below me.”
“OK… well, I guess I’ll go check it out.”

Wouldn’t you know Troubled stopped right then. Dagnammit! MAKE SOME NOISE!! I thought. Needless to say, after wandering round the floor below, the super came to knock on my door to pseudo-question my imaginings of things that were, he suggested helpfully, prolly based on someone’s loud telly. Or something. He shrugged his shoulders, which is what he does when his Russian-esque English threatens to fail him.

“It’s been going on for weeks!” I insisted. “You didn’t hear ANYTHING when walking– OMG. There it is again. Did you hear that?!”

Troubled had set himself off again, rescuing me.
Super cocked his head to one side and said,

“uh… think that is from NEXT DOOR.”

“I think this is coming from here,” he reiterated, pointing at the next door down.

Oh my f***** Lord, as an old friend used to say, in a Midlands accent.
No wonder it had sounded so loud.

All that separates me from Troubled is… a wall.


I always thought that directional hearing was wasted on men (who, it seems, are a bit better with this skill). Now I have a different angle on things… maybe my female biological antecendents just traded knowing exactly where a predator was with a different, faked piece of intelligence: one that presumes “the predator is far away”. What good is that? Well for one thing you can presume that you are safe, and not waste energy on premature physiological responses which, in the final analysis, are worthless if the telemetry turns out to be wrong AND you don’t have the resources to take down the predator after all.

The operative words in that last sentence are ‘premature’ and ‘AND’.


Poor Troubled, though. I can’t imagine what demons have a hold of him.
He apologized after getting the telling off. And if (if!) my hearing can be trusted, he wandered off for a long walk that night. No doubt he will re-offend.

Having said all that, he’d better not make any of this *my* problem. I’m really not in the mood for a ‘whose angrier?’ match… I just might spectacularly —  if improbably — win.

I hope I have the continued sense to not try and find out.


– image cred:  a play on ‘jackolantern‘ by sillyhat on stockXchange.

– apology to true game theorists: yes, I have defiled your beautiful science. This is almost entirely your fault though – your field barely makes sense as it is, and you have not made this most interesting of things accessible. Take this as an opportunity to enlighten me.

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