Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bikes, Cars, and the Human Psyche

Last week, there was a tragic accident in the Bay Area.

[Bikers] were struck and killed last Sunday morning by a sheriff's deputy who crossed the center line in his patrol car... Witnesses at the scene said there were no skid marks and that the officer said he had fallen asleep at the wheel [source SFGate].

This is a very sad tragedy for the bikers and their families. Yesterday, there was a short memorial ride to the location of the accident. Sadly, I wasn't caught up on my emails and only found out in the evening. As I was reading articles, comments, and blogs about the accident I was puzzled by two things related to the human phyche:

1) This online test shows how easy it is to not see cyclists on the road. I recommend taking it. I failed it like most people.

2) I am appalled by the comments that people wrote about a memorial bike ride. They show no respect to the families. I think it's fine for some people to be unhappy that cars need to share the road with bikers and that bikers have the right to take up an entire lane (just like a horse, tractor, or other vehicle that may move slower than cars). Debates are good. But the place for such discussion is not in the comments about a memorial ride.

Why is it so easy for humans to hate each other (bikers vs drivers, drivers vs pedestrians, religion X vs religion Y, country X vs country Y, ethnicity X vs ethnicity Y, people on different sides of a river, etc)? What wiring in our neocortex promotes this?

I saw a documentary that showed that some types of monkeys have a similar trait. In the experiment, they found that neighboring communities of monkeys had different ways of breaking hard-shell fruits like coconuts. One group used rocks, while the other group used sharp objects. They did a study where they took a monkey from one community and put it in the other community. The results were amazing. The displaced monkey would get mocked! It was just like a kindergarten where a kid with a different habit or race showed up in school.

I enjoyed reading these couple of pages of a Book on this topic called 'Why we hate?'. Here is a related article on Psychology Today.