Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bicycle Philosophy: Mind Map



"When you drive a car your peri-personal space expands to include it, from fender to fender ... As you drive you can feel the road's texture as intimately as you would through sandals. As you enter a parking garage with a low ceiling you can "feel" the nearness of your car's roof to the height barrier as if it were your own scalp. ... When someone hits your car you get upset--not just because of the bills and the hassle ahead, but because that person has violated your peri-personal space, no less than a careless elbow in your rib." Sandra & Matthew Blakeslee, "The Body Has a Mind of Its Own."

This is mind-blowing. We grew up thinking that when, for instance, you cut your finger, the finger sends an alarm signal to the brain, and the brain reacts (OW), and tells you to feel pain and react. This happens within nanoseconds, if all goes well. But, we're learning, the brain is more astounding than that. It doesn't just connect linearly (one brain part to one body part), it makes maps of your body parts, which interact with each other. Same scenario: finger cut. The visual map interacts with the finger map, and the brain chooses whether to send a pain signal, or maybe something else like that finger is toast, send opiates. Interestingly, the brain extends these maps to include the space around you and the tools you use. When you handle a fork, for instance, you can "feel" the texture of food, even though you are only touching an inert utensil. Apparently that space extends to our cars. Put another way: according to your brain, your car is part of you.

Yowza. Does this mean that when we don't drive, part of us feels left behind? If we stop driving, does the mind map of the car deteriorate? Does less driving lead to a kind of brain drain? Switching to bicycling literally messes with our minds?

That would explain why showing up on a bicycle is greeted as an act of heroism, or an oddity (like nudity). It would also explain why a person who has driven cars for say, 35 years, feels exposed on a bicycle. We insulate ourselves with clothes and homes, extend that bubble of privacy to travel, and our minds take it all in.

But of course, there is the other side of the coin: without a bubble of car, how far might a mind map extend? To the bike, surely. To the edges of the bike path?

Maybe as far as the cherry trees that hung over the sidewalk this week, heavy and fragrant with rain.

Maybe even farther.







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