Monday, January 26, 2009

Speed and Perception

Byron Fergusson is an archer of great skill. He shoots something like 40000 arrows a year, and is able to pick an aspirin out of the air with an arrow fired from a 75 pound pull recurve bow.

The target he's sighting at is thrown by someone, against a backdrop (so there is contrast helping him). However, it's still smaller than the end of the thing he's launching. It is truly uncanny.

I've read that the way he describes the shot is a BIG mindgame. He sees the shot from the arrow's point of view, in his head. He tries to become the arrow, as it is fired. It's pretty zen for someone that was not raised in that tradition. He described looking at the aspirin and seeing it as more volley ball sized, and thus easier to hit.

Think about that for a sec: This guy is forcing his mind into a hallucination in order to allow his body to make a near-impossible shot.

I wonder if we do the same with the sensation of speed in a car?

I've described before the slowness of speed. When you have plenty of time to do anything you need to, as if a half second lasts many times longer. It's just a matter of fooling your mind and body into doing what needs to get done in a very short time.

Mostly, we are not used to speed. Back in the old days, folks thought that going 60 mph would rip the skin off your face. A 30 mph train was FAST. As we've advanced, we have grown used to 60 mph, and most folks feel comfortable enough to talk on the phone or even eat, put on makeup, and so forth. Now, 120 mph feels fast to most folks, and in the future I'm sure that bar will move ever onwards.

Race drivers are a step beyond that. I believe that they are slowing down their perception of time in order to cope with the events around them.

I can also say it's pretty cool.

So Byron Fergusson sees an aspirin the size of a volley ball, and we see a 100 mph turn evolve in slow motion. I rest when I hit the straightaway, and I enter that straight at over 100. At the end, I'm 150 or so, and finishing checking the instruments, tightening my harness, flexing my hands, and settling in my seat for the next turn. It's leisurely, at least now.

It's amazing what your mind is capable of, when you train it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tyranny of Fear

It's shocking how much we are afraid.
I feel as if for the last eight years, I've been told that the Bad Things were at every door. Terrorists. Chinese. Mexicans (we're building a border fence ferchrissakes!). And so on, and on. Every news broadcast reveals that there are predators behind every bush, waiting to steal our children away. Well, perhaps not every broadcast, but I started counting the number of fear provoking references I found in the news, and it's at least one per night or morning broadcast.

Fear is one of the big motivators for us to give up our freedom, I think. After all, if you are afraid, and someone shows up with the answer and makes the Bad Things go away, you'd be grateful, right? No matter what they asked you to do.

Ben Franklin is often misquoted, so I looked this one up. The line I'm thinking of most often shows up as "Those that would trade liberty for security achieve neither." That's not what he said, as far as we can tell. There are variations, but most agree it actually was:
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."
Note the contempt. I share it. We've been idiots. We didn't deserve them civil liberties, because we were willing to sac them in the name of fear.

I started to drive track events because of fear. I drove a 400 hp car and just about wrecked it three days after I bought it. I became afraid. I took a class at a racetrack and learned to not be afraid of the car, or more properly of myself in the car. I was no longer willing to give up the liberty of driving that amazing fun thing for the sake of safety and security. I ceased to be afraid of the potential. It's liberating, in fact. Fear becomes just another factor. It doesn't go away, it just becomes something you take into account. It becomes a choice, not a reflex.

Most folks are in the same boat. They are at the controls of their life. They are bombarded by fear all the time, and it shows. They make bad choices because of it, and thus never really live.

We elected a president based on fear, and then re-elected him based on fear of attack by terrorists. We made the vice president more powerful than he's ever been, and allowed him to profit as no individual has ever done from a war that was launched on bad information and falsehood. We detained and tortured people in ways not seen perpetrated by a major world power in a very long time, all because we were afraid.

We are become the viscious dog of the world scene. We back ourselves into a corner, biting at the hands of everyone who comes near, because we never know if they hold food or a firecracker.

I listened to the inauguration speech today from President Obama. He didn't talk about fear, but rather about hard work. About leading the world. About everyone pitching in. About how to do less was to disgrace the memory of those that went before. He did not, in short, pedal fear. He talked about work, and hard work, but not anything to be afraid of.

It was a good speech. If you are afraid, you never feel the wind on your eyes at a buck fifty. You never feel the tires break free then catch back on as you slide sideways over a puddle of water. You never have the reflex to hammer the throttle when you feel the back end break away.

This is a great country, still. It can be a world leader once again, if we can only conquer the fear.