Summary: Chapter 181
Christopher explains that he must memorize every physical detail of his environment. In places he has already visited he can simply note the changes that have occurred since his last time there. But if Christopher is in an entirely new place, processing his surroundings can cause his mind to freeze up, like a computer crash. Most people are not like this, and only glance at their surroundings before moving on. In a field in the countryside they might notice some cows. In the same field, Christopher would memorize the exact number of cows, their colors, and their placement. Christopher attributes the fact that he is good at math and logic to his attention to detail.
Summary: Chapter 191
Christopher waits in the entrance of the station, feeling sick from the crowded, smelly underpass tunnel before him. He goes through the tunnel and his head starts to hurt from the numerous signs offering goods and services. He sits down outside a café and does a problem called “Conway’s Soldiers” in his head to calm himself. The puzzle involves jumping colored tiles over each other on a chessboard that stretches infinitely in all directions.
A policeman interrupts Christopher, asking why he has been sitting in the café in a trance for two and a half hours. Christopher says he is going to visit his mother in London. The policeman asks if he has a ticket, or money for a ticket. Christopher explains that he has neither but that his father gave him his ATM card to pay for the trip. The policeman escorts him to a cash machine, where Christopher withdraws fifty pounds. After the policeman points him to the ticket window, Christopher purchases a one-way ticket to London. To get to the train platform he has to go through the underpass again. This time he imagines a big red line stretching across the floor to his destination. He follows the line by putting one foot in front of the other while saying out loud “left, right, left, right.” He pretends that the people he bumps into along the way are Guarding Demons in an imagined computer game called “Train to London” and pushes past them. He finally reaches the train and boards.
Summary: Chapter 193
Christopher used to make timetables for all his toy trains and for himself. Christopher explains that time is not like space. If you put down an object you can draw a map back to it, or remember its location. The object physically exists in space where you left it. But time is the relationship between events and is not a fixed relationship. If you travel near the speed of light in a spaceship you may come back to find that everyone you know is dead, while you remain young. If you get lost in a desert you are in a desert, but if you get lost in time you are nowhere at all. Christopher likes timetables because they make sure that he does not get lost in time.
Summary: Chapter 197
The claustrophobia he feels in the packed train reminds Christopher of when the school bus broke down, leaving Mother to drive Christopher and some other children home. The car was so full that Christopher jumped out while it was moving, hurting his head. The policeman from earlier appears. He says Father is looking for Christopher and that he has come to take Christopher back to the station. But the train starts to move, so the policeman has to wait until the next stop.
As they travel, Christopher looks out the train window. He begins to feel dizzy as he realizes the millions of miles of train track that must exist in the world, and the millions of people that must have laid them. Christopher, not knowing the train has a bathroom, wets his pants. The policeman orders Christopher to go clean up, and when Christopher enters the bathroom there is poop smeared on the toilet seat. The sight sickens him. When he is done, he notices that across from the bathroom are two shelves that remind Christopher of the cupboard back home where he often went to feel safe. He climbs into the middle shelf and pulls a suitcase in front of him. He does some quadratic equations to pass the time. The train beings to slow down and he hears the policeman knocking on the door of the bathroom, then leaving. Christopher stays perfectly still until the train starts moving again.
Summary: Chapter 199
Christopher thinks that people believe in God illogically, because they do not realize that unlikely things can happen by chance. He illustrates the three conditions needed to result in life: Replication, Mutation, and Heritability. He says humans are animals just like any other, only luckier evolutionarily. One day an animal will evolve that will be smarter than humans are, or humans will catch a disease and die out, leaving some other creature to be the best animal.
Analysis: Chapters 181-199
In this section, the majority of which watches Christopher navigating the train station as he tries to get to London, we see more of the difficulties Christopher has with everyday activities as a result of his condition. In a scene illustrating perhaps the greatest disadvantage of his condition, Christopher quickly feels overwhelmed as he moves through the station, to the point that he can barely function. He prefaces his journey by explaining in Chapter 181 the trouble that his mind has processing new surroundings. His extreme attention to detail—the quality that allows him to excel in math and science—helps him to create a photographic memory of a location, but it can also become a liability when he finds himself in a situation where he has to take in a huge amount of information in very little time. The train station, with its large crowds and multitude of signs and shops, overloads him with information, essentially causing him to shut down. In addition, for the first time in his life Christopher finds himself alone and without any caretaker to rely on. Without an adult or his daily routine, Christopher feels lost, both in terms of his location and in time, as he describes it, evident in that he ends up sitting outside a café for two and a half hours doing little more than staring.
Simultaneously, however, we see how resilient Christopher can be when necessary and how much progress he has made in dealing with the limitations of his condition when he recalls episodes from when he was younger. Notably, even though Christopher shuts down at times, we also see him repeatedly finding ways to cope with the difficult situations he encounters. For instance, Christopher imagines himself to be in a video game, allowing him to pay attention specifically to solving the problems he encounters as if they were puzzles. To get to the train, Christopher also envisions a red line traversing the floor, and then focuses on following that line to the exclusion of everything else around him. These coping strategies represent a great deal of progress for Christopher. In contrast, he describes a time when he was younger and the bus to school broke down, so Mother had to take Christopher and others to school. Christopher became so panicked that he literally jumped out of a moving car, hurting himself as a result. While Christopher clearly still has difficulties just getting through a loud and crowded environment as a result of his condition, he nonetheless has made great strides in learning to compensate for his limitations.
In his digressions, Christopher reveals more about his view of the world when he offhandedly dismisses the importance of beauty and belief in God, both of which he seems to think of as illogical. When Christopher discusses the way he processes a new environment, he contrasts his approach with that of the average person. He condescendingly calls what the average person does “glancing,” essentially meaning the person notices a few details about the scene, that some cows stand in a field for instance, and that’s all. They stop noticing details, Christopher says, because they think about other things, such as the beauty of the place. Christopher’s tone indicates that he places little value in beauty, particularly compared to hard facts like the number of cows and what colors they are. Beauty apparently doesn’t affect him emotionally, and it can’t be measured or mapped in a way that he understands. He sees it as illogical and unnecessary, so he disregards it. Similarly, Christopher thinks of God as an illogical and unnecessary idea. He speaks disdainfully of people who believe in God, suggesting they do so only because they need a simple explanation for complicated matters, such as the existence of life on Earth and the presence of complex features like eyes in living things. Christopher believes you can explain life and complex features without bringing God into the discussion, therefore no reason exists to believe in God (Christopher’s reasoning here recalls the concept of Occam’s razor, which says one shouldn’t presume a thing to exist unless it is necessary). In Christopher’s understanding of the world, both beauty and God are superfluous, so he dismisses them.