Dynamics Challenged

Yesterday as I was driving from Greater Metropolitan Arab to Huntsville to do some weekly shopping, mostly groceries other than the vast array of fast food and poisons that MalWart has to offer, I had opportunity to observe a singular behavior.

For about half of the drive I observed a Sea Green Nissan Altima that was trying desperately to drive about twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. The tag was out of state, and one could not tell whether the purpose of the individual was to get somewhere or to just get out of Alibam given the predatory behavior of our local constabulary on out of state drivers.

The singular behavior was that this automobile would whoosh past, bouncing from lane to lane through traffic until it became boxed by traffic and those just passed would pass this vehicle. Then the traffic clutter would clear, the Altima would be off, and thing would repeat. And repeat they did, at least six times that I got to watch.

I could comment that this Altima evidently had nonfunctional or nonexistent blinker lamps as there was never any indication of any intent to change lanes. This behavior however has become all too common these days of nonexistent or nonfunctional driving manners and nonexistent or nonfunctional enforcement of lane change laws by the local constabulary. Rather observe this as a parameter of life in the modern environment.

But what was interesting was the ineptitude of the driver. For whatever reason, the intent of the driver to travel at a high rate of speed, higher than that permitted by law and by the dynamics of traffic, was repeatedly stymied. Why was this? Three hypotheses emerged.

The first is that humans are terrible at dynamics. The basic problem is accelerations. We do not handle the intellectual knowledge that distance increases with the square of the time traveled well and integrate it with our senses. Over most of the visual field of the human eye – there are some edge effects – we are pretty good at estimating the future position of moving things when their motion is at constant velocity but fail dismally when they are accelerating or decelerating. One even speculates that this is why we invented tools so we could get food, so poor are we as hunting animals of the chase.

This inability is magnified when we start dealing with a complex environment. Traffic is such an environment when the time between considering vehicles becomes less than every 3-5 seconds. Our capacity to handle the probably interactions among the vehicles is severely limited. This may, like the motion of an individual vehicle be nothing more than basic calculus writ large, but given the inability of Ivory Soap of the human race, at least the population of the Yankee republic, to do calculus mentally while driving, the combination transcends the ability of almost all drivers to drive proactively.

I could, of course, bemoan the fact that the vast majority of the Yankee republic has no education nor comprehension of basic calculus, dynamics, or even dynamic combinatorics, but by gosh they do seem to be able to drive daily and live – at least most of them. But then I read somewhere that peasants always did do better at avoiding stepping in cow flops than the learned. Was it Andy Griffith who said that?

The third hypothesis thus develops that the driver of the Altima was either totally inept – dynamics challenged – on an extreme level and we could only hope that this person would shortly be involved in a one (hopefully only one!) car accident that removed them from the gene pool or were apprehended by some anomalously attentive and active member of the local constabulary, not that the latter is likely to be more than temporarily palliative. One may hypothesize that such behavior as this arises from either a singular concentration on the near field, or a concentration only on the near and far fields. That is, either concern only for the vehicle immediately in front to the exclusion of all others, or concern only for the vehicle immediately in front and the final destination. Both are characterized by absence of consideration of the middle field, that of vehicles beyond the one immediately in front.

We should like to hypothesize that this individual has some distant emergency they are attempting to speed towards with the high probability of themselves compounding that emergency, but such is likely pollyannish projection. Simple human incompetence seems more likely. Bit at least we have the satisfaction of noting that evolution may still be relevant even in our modern society of prosthetics and humanistic legalisms.

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