Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Rules of the Road: Physics and Greed

Gimme fuel gimme mass gimme speed gimme space
Everything that happens on the road in traffic is all down to physics, or greed, true?

Physics: speed, mass, momentum, the largest, fastest-moving object is King of the Hill, yes? Newton's laws. One rock hurtling through the vastness of space, smashing into another rock randomly. The inexorable action of gravity, bending the fabric of space-time coalescing all that is, was, or ever will be. A planet gliding before the face of the sun every century or so. The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Heat death. A multi-billion year slide into ultimate silence and darkness. Horsepower, without the horse.

Greed: aggression, anger, base human motivations, the mindless hunger for more at any cost, deception, dishonor, deceit. All thoughts directed only three seconds or less ahead in the future, distracted by shiny, jangly baubles. Cut off the other guy, arrive first, tailgate, wail on horn, swerve violently, rev engine, flip off, get through the light, got places to go and things to do. Ascribe to other drivers only this: that they are operating according to base and common motivations related to greed.

Consider the bicycle commuter, riding in traffic, in Phoenix, at rush hour, in summer. Observed behavior: smiling, waving, following the rules, being courteous. Whistling. Tell me that there's more to it than physics and greed. Just tell me.

Photons. Property values. Oṃ śānti śānti śānti.


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you that it's a dystopia out there. I made very similar points in this recent blogpost - . But my feeling is that a lot of drivers don't think the laws of physics really apply to them (or no-one would ever ride without a seatbelt). Similarly, people aren't persuaded the other people on the road are really real (or at least not as intensely, sensitively real as they are).

    All the best,


    1. Invisible Man, I am convinced that if motorists really considered carefully and understood the true physical situation of skinbags of water propped inside of metal boxes moving at high speeds among other similar configurations, operated by largely distracted and irrational minds, everyone would be moving at about 5 mph with much more care and attention.

  2. Of COURSE there's more to it. Look at that top photo in your post and count the number of people in big and small vehicles all following laws laid out in the transportation code and principles they learned. If it was just physics and greed, the tank would rule the road and the chaos would be intolerable for everyone else.

    1. On the chaos/greed to order/altruism spectrum, we're a lot closer to the chaos/greed end, in my opinion. Although one can argue, quite within the logic of this post, that altruism is just another form of greed, if the geneticists who suggest that altruism provides evolutionary advantages, so doing a good turn is just our greedy DNA perpetuating itself. Which would lead straight into the order of chaos, probably seeking out fractal patterns in traffic jams. It may be more effective to send in the engineers to calm traffic rather than considering the hearts/minds/intentions of drivers. Also, I am all in favor of giving motorists the benefit of the doubt. But if we aren't pegging the needle on chaos/greed, wouldn't we all be driving smart cars or taking the trolley?

  3. If we had required driver education that would solve many issues. Simple things like teaching people to read signs - that they actually means something - is a start. The city started to put in 'roundabouts' but tells no one how to use them, so drivers make assumptions.

  4. Agreed, Artur, and for reference, in case anyone happens by here seeking such knowledge, both the Arizona Driver License Manual and the excellent Arizona Bicycling Street Smarts are available online for review and education.


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