Why Do Clocks Stop When People Die?

Timepieces are amazing things. They cease to function at the exact moment when their owners expire. Yesteryear’s thriller stories depended on a stopped watch or a clock to determine the time of a victim’s death. It became a standard part of many police investigations. There is one problem with that premise: Clocks don’t quit when someone dies. They’ll stop if the mechanism is broken or out of energy but not because a person passes away. How on earth did writers get away with this for so long?

The answer is simple: Wishful thinking on the reader’s part (combined with a bit of neuroplasticity). We like the idea that clocks and watches will stop working when someone connected to them passes, especially if their death is an untimely one. A writer uses this strange human expectation as a tool to make their stories take large leaps. The reader accepts this unrealistic phenomenon and the tale progresses without question.

Wishful thinking starts our intrigue-motor but neuroplasticity is what keeps the engine running.

Neuroplasticity means that our minds are bendable. It’s possible to know the facts about one thing but believe in something else entirely. The best way to explain neuroplasticity can be seen in the short but playful video below.

Experiments like these prove our mind’s ability to lose one reality to follow another. Trainee pilots, for example, have to deal with this kind of thing regularly, especially when flying through clouds. With no reference point outside their windows, their spatial awareness falters. Their brains lie to them about what’s really happening to their aircraft. They’ll imagine their plane climbing or descending when it’s actually flying straight and level. No matter how much theoretical training they receive about the syndrome before taking to the air, they’ll ignore logic to follow their gut instinct. Their gut fails them. The number of times skilled pilots have had to take over a craft’s controls to avoid disaster is too many.

And it all comes down to our ever-bending human mind and its wish to abandon sensibility to go with what’s not knowable. Sometimes, it gets it wrong.

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There are many other things we’ll believe in for no particular reason but to believe in something. I’m not just talking about Faith or God (although these are part of it too), I’m specifically talking about the ones authors write into their stories; like a wristwatch that stops when its owner dies. Although this circumstance can happen in real life, it’s far more likely to occur in fiction because the premise appeals to us. We’re not bending our minds that much to accept it as fact. Besides, it’s a type of happy-ever-after narrative for those who want to believe in something.

Times Change. So Does Our Beliefs.

Authors writing contemporary pieces today have a new challenge. Wristwatches and clocks are being replaced with electronic devices. They don’t have mechanical bits to break down — and the audience isn’t naive anymore. Few people would accept a digital device stopping its inbuilt clock at the time of someone’s death. A writer would have to look elsewhere to set up a time-of-death scenario for their victim… and their reader.

Well, it’s time for me to go. My wisdom is required elsewhere (Haha!). After that, I’m gonna write some mind-bending writing for my next novel. In the meantime, here’s my last novel (below) for you to enjoy.

Michael

Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer who specializes in taking pictures of lightning may be the only witness.

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