Thursday, 16 January 2014

Alice puts her foot down

From Wikipedia

Alice is driving along the main road through the Derbyshire village of Wessington. It is a quiet time of day and she notices that she is well above the speed limit. Alice slows down and luckily there are no unwelcome consequences such as a speeding ticket.

Fragmented reality is the reality we live in, a world where most common events are left unexplained because life moves on and we have no time to work out the explanation. Even so, is it possible for Alice to explain why she broke the speed limit in a pleasant little place like Wessington?

Where should she begin? Should she begin with a sociological, psychological, political, legal, modern or old-fashioned view about motorists who break speed limits?

Presumably she will not favour all these points of view – but is there a leading candidate? To make Alice’s problem a little more difficult, let us concoct a list of ideas she might consider if she decides to look at this question from every possible point of view she can think of.

  • Alice may get an emotional buzz from driving fast.
  • Her psychological state – she may be anxious to get home.
  • Her knowledge of Wessington – it may be a place she doesn’t know.
  • Road layout and road sign visibility. Alice may not see the speed limit signs.
  • Body maps and memories located in specific areas of her brain and specific neurological events may explain her behaviour in broad neurological terms.
  • Complex biochemical processes in Alice’s brain may explain her speeding in terms of the molecular structure of her central nervous system.
  • Alice's actions may involve trillions of electrons in the relevant areas of her brain.

Obviously as we go down this list, we soon leave behind the real world of Wessington, motorists and common sense.

There are some broadly usable ideas at the top of the list and scientific theory lurks at the bottom, but we do not have a way to knit them together and it seems unlikely that we ever could. Real life is left behind well before we reach ludicrous notions of electrons in Alice’s brain.

So which is best – top down or bottom up? Rigid determinism seems to suggest that everything from electrons in Alice's brain to her foot on the accelerator are all part of a coherent whole.

Rigid determinism is impossible to prove in real life situations though. So does anyone actually believe it?


Sackerson said...

It is fun. Aldous Huxley commented (1920s? 1930s?) that travelling at speed was the first genuinely new sensation.

Demetrius said...

She is in a car that is built to go fast and isolates her from outside sensation. She is thinking of something else, missed the sign and there is nothing to remind her.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - I wonder why it is fun though. Dogs like it too.

Demetrius - so among other things it's the car manufacturer.