Last night while discussing bike policies with some associates, the topic of cyclists rolling through stop signs came up. Our city sits on the edge of a transitional zone between the density of the Chicago suburbs and the agricultural fields and open roads to the west. Quite a few cyclists and entire cycling clubs many times make a practice of cutting through our town to reach those deliciously open roads.
Thus groups of 10 -30 cyclists will cut through Fermilab, the giant campus that was once home to the worlds largest particle accelerator. Now that honor, and all the science that goes with it are centered in Cern, near Geneva, Switzerland.
Back in 1988 or so, Fermi sought to build a much bigger accelerator beneath the surface of the ground. It was called the Superconducting Supercollider, a ring that would have been 50 miles around. The goal was to shoot tiny particles around the ring and smash apart the atoms to look for quarks and other traces of energy, the materials it affects and vice versa.
But local opposition and funding problems forced the SS project to grind to a halt. At that time, George H.W. Bush was President and the project was shipped off to Texas where it was run into the ground. Now it serves mostly as a tunnel for fire ants.
These days Fermilab is enjoying a resurrection of sorts. The new experiment driving science on the campus 30 miles west of Chicago involves shooting neutrinos through the earth to another facility built in South Dakota. Neutrinos are sort of like the Deadpool movie character in that they in the universe of dark matter:
“A neutrino (denoted by the Greek letter ν) is a lepton, an elementary particle with half-integer spin, that interacts only via the weak subatomic force and gravity. The mass of the neutrino is tiny compared to other subatomic particles. Neutrinos are the only identified candidate for dark matter, specifically hot dark matter.”
One can almost hear Ryan Reynolds reading that description in Deadpool character. But seriously, the website http://www.ps.uci.edu/~superk/neutrino.html gives a bit more detail about neutrinos, which we need to know in order to complete the giant metaphor we’re about to construct about some tiny matters in this world:
Neutrinos are one of the fundamental particles which make up the universe. They are also one of the least understood. Neutrinos are similar to the more familiar electron, with one crucial difference: neutrinos do not carry electric charge. Because neutrinos are electrically neutral, they are not affected by the electromagnetic forces which act on electrons. Neutrinos are affected only by a “weak” sub-atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it. If neutrinos have mass, they also interact gravitationally with other massive particles, but gravity is by far the weakest of the four known forces.
The substance of denial
So Fermilab is sending neutrinos through to earth to see how many they can see when they come out the other end. Of course, I greatly simplify the nature of this science. These experiments are being run by people much smarter than I.
But rather than be insulted by the fact of their intelligence and commitment to deep science, it is thrilling to know there are human beings capable of deciphering the fabric of the universe. Science is a miracle of human curiosity.
Granted, some people find it hard to accept that this type of science (or any science for that matter) has value. Some folks are prone to deny science because it is too complex to comprehend or because it conflicts with the constructs of their political or religious worldview.
But it seems that lately, there are an increasing number of people who deny science on grounds that they simply refuse to change a single thing about the way they think. It’s either too much work or they don’t have the attention span to manage it. To compensate, they replace otherwise functional brain matter with a substance commonly known as denial.
There is a scientific explanation for this brand of patent denial. People who refuse to entertain a single competing thought due to the dogmatic composition of their brains suffer from a medical condition called Denial Syndrome. That’s when the human brain is entirely clogged with matter constituted entirely of pure, undiluted dogma, which are the building blocks of denial.
A brain in this state is capable of blocking all other forms of energy. The unfortunate side effect is that the mind in this reduced state is forced to operate in a single dimension.
The ramifications of Denial Syndrome are profound. Anyone that has ridden a cycling road bike on a public road has likely experienced the angry denial in the voices of in drivers who yell out the window. “Get off the road! There are bike paths you know!”
One dimensional thinking
This is Exhibit A in terms of one-dimensional thinking. The idea that bikes can only be ridden on bike paths is the single thought that can be squeezed out of the mind of a person whose brained is clogged by denial and dogma.
Never mind the fact that “road bikes” are designed specifically to ride on the roads. Every country in the world has laws allowing the use of bicycles on public roads with the exception perhaps of interstate highways.
None of that matters to the person exhibiting Denial Syndrome. In their one-dimensional thought mode, you are “in the way” because they are driving a car, on the road, and you (in keeping with their denial of your humanity) are not a car.
The material presence of a cyclist in their sphere of vision produces a ruminative cycle of electron panic better known as disgust. In brains of those with block neutrino passages, the phenomenon of disgust multiplies like the Richter Scale used to measure the severity and impact of earthquakes. Anger ensues. Then rage.
Energy + time multiplied by action = change
But true science is patient, because it cares only about outcomes. Thus this giant scientific experiment we call society takes time to change. Thus the anger shown by motorists in Denial Mode toward cyclists who roll through stop signs will take time to change.
Sooner or later, when enough people are cycling, society will comprehend that it takes far longer for a typical cyclist to stop, unclip, restart, clip in again and proceed than it does for a cyclist approaching a stop sign to slow to a rolling stop, look around at all the cars and then pass through the intersection much quicker. That means everyone has to wait a lot less for the cyclist to engage in the process of stopping, unclipping, starting and clipping in again.
But be forewarned: A single cyclist is the just the CONTROL in this social experiment. The real test of cycling vs. societal norms comes when an entire group of cyclists approaches a stop sign. Then the process is multiplied ten or twentyfold. The stopping/unclipping/starting/clipping-in process must now be replicated many times over, and in close succession. When that doesn’t work, or cyclists get left behind. The entire process has to start all over again after the next car goes through. And that doesn’t save anyone time.
Recognizing advantages and realities
You can see how the efficiency factor is enhanced when motorists actually recognize the advantage of allowing cyclists in a group to proceed through a stop sign outside the range of normal traffic etiquette. Cars will have to wait a lot less if the cyclists are allowed to roll through than if they are required to wait.
The laws of change do not, of course, apply at an actual stop light. That is where cyclists must recognize that the energy = time multipled by action = change formula does not apply. As any Fermilab physicist or CERN researcher can tell you, there are certain kinds of matter that cannot be forced through other forms of matter no matter how you intend to try. Sending a group of 20 cyclists across a busy street when other traffic has the green light is a recipe for a whole bunch of bloody quarks and greasy-stained corpses spread all over the road.
Perfect and imperfect timing
So that’s not what the Laws of Two-or-Three Dimensional thinking require. Cyclists are not out to break every law in the books, or breach the rules of science. They merely want to proceed in the most efficient, energy-and-time saving ways possible. This is sometimes misconstrued as arrogance by cyclists who roll up to a stop sign, do not stop completely and roll on through.
Granted, there are cyclists who stretch the bounds of energy = time multiplied by action = change efficiency factor. These are the groups of cyclists who don’t slow or stop at all.
That is unfortunately arrogant, impolite and a bit stupid. It does prove certain types of cyclists are prone to Denial Syndrome just like the regular population. Cyclists in Denial deny the risks they are creating by assuming they are a form of human neutrino or Dark Matter that gets a free pass to the universe as they apply their energy on the roads. Those single-minded cyclists have brains blocked by dogma as well.
The science of accommodation
Yet it still makes sense for motorists, even those with brains clogged by one-dimensional thinking, to take cyclists into account. It truly can save time for everyone to give cyclists the right-of-way. All it takes is a slight reduction in dogmatic thinking about who “owns the roads” to accept the fact that people in cars have a lot easier time starting and stopping than do cyclists.
It doesn’t take a physicist to figure this stuff out, folks. But it may require some people to unclog their brains and take into account the fact that we’re all just chunks of carbon and oxygen passing through this world.
*Neutrinos are affected only by a “weak” sub-atomic force of much shorter range than electromagnetism, and are therefore able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it.