Traffic in Madness

Montréal, Saint Patrick's Day, 2001 


In a kingdom by the sea, looking down from a balcony high above the streets of the kingdom’s busiest city, sat a very dejected young queen. On this day, as on most days in recent times, the flow of traffic in the city had come to a standstill and the citizens were visibly angry with each other and with the city’s administrators and everyone else deemed responsible for assuring smooth flow through the city’s arteries.

As the number of automobiles had risen and the number of bicycles had fallen, the traffic situation had grown progressively worse, and the cheerful harmony of the city and its citizens had begun to fade. The young queen had urged the city council to find a solution most expeditiously so that the city might once again run smoothly and harmoniously as it had in the past, allowing the natural lightheartedness of its citizens to blossom forth once more. While the council had proposed and implemented many well-intended ‘solutions’, nothing had worked and the tensions and frustration within and amongst the citizens and the administration had continued to mount.

This time, aware that the multi-generational legacy of cheerfulness and high spirits of her people was at risk, she was determined to find a solution, and the Lord Mayor, whom she had summoned to meet with her, was at that moment being escorted up to her balcony.

Queen: This time, I want you to bring together the most creative team in the land to work on a solution.

Lord Mayor: Your highness, with all respect, our past attempts tapped the brightest and most inventive professors from our best universities and they could not solve it, … in the wake of that disappointment we searched our communities of artists and musicians for the most creative and avant garde among them, bringing them together to reflect and dialogue in the most aesthetic and inspirational of surroundings, yet their thoughts and designs for a solution ended up in the same cul-de-sac as those of our academics. Even as this effort was underway, within our administration, our chief engineer, respected for his excellence by his peers in all of our neighbouring kingdoms suffered a nervous breakdown and has been hospitalized, and frankly, our struggling without respite to find a solution has been ‘driving us all mad'.

Queen: I am sorry indeed to hear of the chief engineer’s illness and the anxieties which your staff continue to endure, and this convinces me that we must remove all constraints from our thinking in our search for solutions. This time, I want you to recruit a problem solving team from amongst those whose creativity knows no normal bounds, that is to say, I want you to recruit from amongst the inmates of our mental institutions.

Lord Mayor: Your highness, I shall do as you bid, though I cannot myself see how the insane could succeed where the brilliant minds of our academic and artistic communities have failed.

I shall report back to you the moment we have recruited such a team and have heard from them on this question of relieving the debilitating congestion in our city’s arteries.

… one week later, …

Lord Mayor: Your majesty’, … while I am loathe to carry this word back to you from our new ‘problem solving team’, I do so in compliance with your instructions. The team has said that the problem is not a traffic problem, but instead, a problem with the shape of space through which the traffic flows. One was citing from Lao Tsu and saying that utility and opportunity comes from the holes one makes in things, as in the hole in his supper bowl which allows his soup to stay in place while he eats it. They say that the responsibility for this problem rests with those who shape the space through which the traffic flows. Of course, the architects of this great city are long dead and thus this counsel from the insane is of little use to us.

Queen: My Lord Mayor, … While the first advice of this new team has a bizarre ring to it, I feel we must persist to see what comes of it. Re-assemble your teams of artists and engineers and have them come up with some actions in support of this new team, then carry the results back to the asylum to hear their further counsel.

… one week later, …

Lord Mayor: Your highness, … our artistic and engineering teams, in complying with your wish, determined that our citizens should become more familiar with the shape of space constituted by our city’s arteries and thus we embarked on a training program for our bicyclists and vehicle drivers whereupon, in the middle of the night when the streets were empty, they could learn the shape of space so thoroughly that the geometries of the network of streets and intersections and alternative routings would come spontaneously to mind, and in the course of this training, our engineers captured, in the form of rules and equations, the dynamics of those who moved most skillfully and fluidly through the city streets.

Queen: … And what results came of this new ‘shape of space’ training program?

Lord Mayor: While this training seemed to bear some promise, and while the flow patterns changed more creatively as the busy hour approached, when the arteries became sufficiently congested, the opportunity for alternative routes, now emblazoned in the memories of the drivers, was unrealizable and both bicyclists and drivers began to argue over who was in compliance and who not, of the new rules of dynamics established by our academic team. It is thus with regret that I must inform you that we have failed once again.

Queen: Let’s not be hasty in this judgment, Lord Mayor. Take these results to the asylum so that we might hear further from our new ‘councillors’.

… the next day, …

Lord Mayor: Your highness, the mad ones mocked our implementation team as being ‘crazy’ when I presented the results to them and told me that ‘everybody knows’ that the shape of space changes when you put things in it. They reaffirmed that our problem is not ‘traffic’ but the shape of space, but by their inference, it seems they mean the dynamic shape of space, … the form of the interconnecting Lao Tsuian ‘holes’ which inflate and shrink thus affording or not affording opportunity for the vehicles to move forward into these holes, … holes which the vehicles create by their movement.

My own mind is spinning with this madness of shifting our focus from the traffic seen in terms of vehicles to the holes reciprocally implied by the interfering configuration of vehicles, or rather, by the unbounded enveloping ‘hole’ which has us seeing vehicles as ‘inclusions’ within arterial space-flow composed of swirling ‘hole’ which carries the vehicles through the city. My recommendation is that we cease this course of exploration lest we end up joining the inmates in their institutional confinement.

Queen: This being our last chance for a solution, in spite of how it makes the mind giddy and seems to have no visible path of outlet into good sense, we must persist. Take their message to our academic team and let them describe how best to exercise the responsibility of each driver in creating a ‘shape of space’ which will smooth and harmonize our traffic flow.

… later, …

Lord Mayor: Your highness, I have done as you bade, and have some surprising news to report to you. Our academics have examined this problem of dealing with the dynamic shape of space so as to come up with a set of rules that can be followed by each driver so as to produce the most harmonious flow, and they find that it is impossible to develop such rules. They say that the dynamic shape of space, the continuously transforming flow-hole which envelopes the vehicles, is an unbounded shape which cannot be mathematically specified because it never stops. In fact, it is, in essence, a local estuary of the space-time in which we are all contained as ‘inclusions’ as there is no bound between the enveloping ‘hole’ separating vehicles in our streets and the hole which is right now enveloping us as we speak.

Queen: Indeed, Lord Mayor, as Lao Tsu has said, we tend to take the space within which we live for granted, … an unbounded cosmic flow-space within which we are carried as ‘inclusions’, … a space to which we owe our very existence and which we depend upon to give us opportunity to move. The skilled architect of buildings understands how the aesthetics of this flow-space influence and serve the movements and diverse purpose of their occupants, … but it seems that we lack skilled architects of the dynamic flow-space of our city’s arteries, … architects who understand the aesthetics of holes as they dynamically inflate and shrink in response to the movements of the inclusions which reciprocally give them form.

Lord Mayor: Yes indeed, your majesty. While I had trusted in a swift and accurate response from the academics in response to this question on the Lao Tsuian utility of the dynamical shape of space which our team of inmates suggested was at the bottom of our problem, … the academics have instead informed me that their mathematical tools stop short of being able to describe an unbounded dynamical shape of space. They tell me that their mathematical tools require an initial ‘static form’ for the shape of space to give their equations a ‘starting reference’ from which they can then describe the continuing transformation of the shape in terms of the displacement of the geometric coordinates commensurate with the sequential advancement of time. But after reflecting on the matter of describing the dynamic shape of space, they say that the transformation involved is not a function of the sequential advancing of time, but one wherein both space and time change together, as in the game of billiards where the movement of a ball simultaneously and reciprocally transforms the shape of space enveloping the balls.

Queen: ‘This is a queer turn of events indeed when the inmates of a mental institution can stymie the best minds of academia on a simple question which we come up against, or rather are immersed in, in our everyday living. If the academics cannot describe this dynamic shape of space with their mathematics, can they nevertheless rule out the possibility, as suggested by the inmates, that there is incremental utility in working with this reciprocal geometry, … utility which transcends that which has been available to us by working with the shapes and motions of vehicular traffic?

Lord Mayor: Unfortunately, they cannot rule this out, your majesty, … or perhaps it is fortunate since it holds out some small spark of promise that we may garner some deeper understanding of our problem which has previously eluded us. Since our team of professors has been both embarrassed and annoyed by their failure to stay abreast of the train of thought of our inmates, I shall give them time to reflect and recover and return again to the inmates to see what further thoughts they might add towards an understanding of this paradox, a paradox wherein the solution to harmonious flow is said to come from the management of a shape which science cannot describe.

Queen: I fully support your proceeding in this direction, and am eager to hear what word comes back from our team of madmen in this regard.

… the next day, …

Lord Mayor: Your majesty, a lady mathematician amongst the inmates, whose breakdown was said to have been precipitated by her expulsion from a scientific discipline due to her unorthodox thinking, has made some very interesting comments which the other inmates all seemed to follow, indicating their accord by a vigorous nodding of their heads and by punctuating her remarks with cries of ‘go for it!’, … and ‘well said!’. She explained the embarrassment of the professors in terms that they had been keeping something ‘in the closet’ for a long time, that they cannot avoid exposing when one tries to describe the dynamic shape of space. She said that ‘everybody knows’, in an intuitive sense, that the dynamic shape of space is simultaneously reciprocal to the shape of the vehicles as they move through and co-create the shape of their enveloping space,…. but what most ‘lay people’ who are not ‘expert’ in the mathematical sciences do NOT know is that science has been ‘taking a shortcut’ in describing the vehicles and their form and the geometry of the kinetics of these forms. The shortcut that science has been taking is to specify the kinetic motion of material things in terms of ‘trajectories’, the locus of the motion of the centers of their 'atomic' constituents which reduces their motion from volumetric shape to a curved linear geometry, discarding the volumetric geometry of space and its inclusions as characterizes the real world of our experience. Thus the study of the dynamics of multiple objects and their interactions is not the study of ‘volumetric dynamics’ or ‘dynamic shape of space’ which the inmates have been talking about, but instead, it is a study of a ‘substitute space’ based on an abstract approximation of the volumetric forms in terms of trajectories and transactions of point masses moving along curved paths. According to this mad lady mathematician, science has avoided the volumetric version of such studies for the very reason that preserving the volumetric aspect of space is beyond the capability of the mathematical tools of science. And this, she says, is the source of the academic team’s embarrassment and annoyance, which she says is typically whitewashed over by an insistence on their part that an understanding of the dynamics of ‘things’ without considering the interference between the volumetric form of things with the volumetric form of their containing space, is all one needs to fully understand the traffic problem.’

Queen: ‘Did she or any of the team of inmates give any hints of how an understanding of the dynamic volumetric shape of space might lead to different and more successful approaches in harmonizing the flow of traffic through our civic arteries?

Lord Mayor: Yes indeed, your majesty. In her elaboration of why science could not mathematically describe the shape of flow-space, she said that it was the habit of science as established by mathematical physicists, to describe phenomena in terms of rules and equations applied to the motion of ‘things’ or, as they are called in the language of physics, ‘independent material causal agents’. But as the skilled billiards player knows, and the inmates seem to have a great affinity for eightball and snooker, dynamical phenomena cannot be fully described by the motion of ‘things’ since ‘things’ are not truly ‘independent’ but their movements, particularly in crowded spaces, reciprocally influence their opportunity for movement. In fact, the same inmate who had cited Lao Tsu at our first meeting cited Einstein in saying that ‘space is a participant in physical phenomena’, and they all laughed, seemingly because of the obviousness of how the constraints of the asylum and its strait-jackets and restraining belts affected the phenomena of their institutionalized lives. In other words, the game of pool cannot be fully described in terms of the motions and transactions of the balls, since when a ball moves, the shape of space simultaneously reciprocally transforms, and the shape of space is what constitutes the opportunity for the balls to move. Thus an understanding of the motion of billiard balls in a game of pool or the motion of vehicles in the flow of traffic, falls short of giving an understanding of how ‘inclusions’ in an enveloping space co-create their own opportunity to move. Each inclusion, it seems, simply by occupying or not occupying space in the manner of the ball on a billiard table, influences the evolving patterns of motion by co-determining in their moving, the geometry of space which constitutes their opportunity for movement.

Queen: ‘Lord Mayor, it sounds as if these inmates are not as crazy as they seem, and that by ignoring the rules of our materialist, scientific culture, and particularly by ignoring our notion of ‘independence’ from our containing space, they have pursued common sense to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of community-and-constituent than have their counterparts versed in traditional science.’

Lord Mayor: ‘Quite so, your majesty. After listening to them for less than an hour, laughing and nodding as they mocked the mechanical pronouncements of our mainstream scientific disciplines, I came away having to agree with their ‘truths’, that we do indeed co-create our own opportunity, and that everybody does indeed know that by occupying space, as rocks might occupy space in a flowing stream, we set up interference patterns in the reciprocal shape of space which constrain and influence in a very real way, the flow patterns within which we are participating inclusions. Whether we move or do not move is not a question since the dynamic of a single constituent within a constituency equates, in a relativistic sense, to the co-dynamic of all constituents. What struck me most about the conversation amongst our team of madmen was their contention that there could be no solutions to harmonizing traffic flow in the form of rules and equations based on the actions of the individual constituents, …. their contention that what determined the harmony of flow was the dynamic shape of opportunity space which was CO-CREATED by the codynamics of the inclusions in the flow, … a contention giving the imagery that a shared awareness of the reciprocity between the ‘dynamical shape of opportunity space’ and the ‘codynamics of the ‘inclusions’’ which together constitute the flow, had to be the basis for achieving harmonious flow. Their contention is, in effect, that harmonious flow is when there is a ‘coresonance’ between the ‘dynamical shape of opportunity space’ and the ‘codynamics of the inclusions’, and that this ‘coresonance’ cannot be determined on the sole basis of the dynamics of the material objects in the flow since such dynamics do not account for the simultaneous opportunizing role of their enveloping space co-created by the included material objects. According to the mad lady mathematician, coresonance between the accommodating shape of opportunity space and the codynamics of the inclusions involves a space-time transformational geometry which defies description in the split-apart terms of empty space, time, matter and kinetics. She said that Einstein had made this clear and had also said that we needed to start thinking in terms of a curved space-time continuum, which he said was ‘not difficult’, and indeed it does not appear to be difficult for these inmates who have broken through the bounds of ‘normal’ creativity.

Queen: But all of science as we know it, and all of the biological and medical technologies we are continuing to develop have built upon the notion of the ‘independent material object’ and its kinetic movement and transactions, without addressing the ‘participation of space’, … the interferential patterns of opportunity set up in space by the mere 'inclusion' of the material object.  So what these madmen are saying runs directly counter to the assertion by science that the understanding of the behaviour of matter without having to consider the participation of space, is sufficient. Can these madmen be right? Do we co-create our opportunity for acting in our acting? For if it is so, this art of co-creation should be the object of our learning, over and above our following the ‘rules of the road’ and our attaining of driving expertise in an ‘independent agent’ context. What is implied is that our skills and actions as independent agents must be in the service of co-creating opportunity to support the harmonious flow of our continuing evolutionary ontogeny.

Lord Mayor: Your majesty, there can be no doubt that this is, indeed, the assertion of the madmen, and neither can there be any doubt of the excellent accord between their assertion and our own common everyday experience. When we drive according to the rules of the road and according to the best standards of driving skills as applied to the individual, yet out of the context of how we are reciprocally transforming our enveloping space, all is fine when the streets are empty. But as the streets become filled, much contention develops for opportunity to move, and when we ignore how our relative movements aggravate or smooth out this contention and simply ‘follow the rules’ of how each of us as ‘independent agents’ should move, harmonious flow is not a possibility. But if we anticipate how our own movements simultaneously transform the unbounded shape of space which reciprocally gates and governs our movement, we can then arrange our movements so that as they serve our purpose, they open up opportunity for our fellows to move as their purpose entreats them to, and when they do likewise and when we all collaborate in this manner, the harmony of flow which we jointly co-create is something which goes far beyond that which can be achieved by ‘driving correctly’ and ‘according to the rules’ on an ‘individual’, 'independent causal agent' basis.

Queen: If I am understanding you and the madmen correctly, the claim is that science has reduced our volumetric understanding of the world to an approximative, lower dimensional understanding where we ignore the spatial interference patterns amongst things which, like the configuration of balls on a billiard table, determines our opportunity to move and thus the patterns of our flow through this ‘shape of space’. What science has been constraining our understanding to, is to an understanding based on the motions and transactions of material objects ‘in their own independent right’, as if the enveloping and reciprocally transforming shape of space has no influence on the evolving flow patterns of the constituents. But yet, we know that the biosphere in which we are dynamical inclusions is a commons and that this kingdom and this city are inclusions nesting within that commons and that the unbounded, enveloping common space we live in, is a finite, shared resource, a resource which has become more contentious as the population has grown. Thus it is insanity to continue to reason on the sole basis of material structures and their dynamics, as if space were infinite and not a participating influence when ‘everybody knows’ that the shape of space in which we are immersed can either opportunize or disopportunize us, a shape which depends on how we use it.

Lord Mayor: Insanity indeed! The notion that ‘the wrong people have been locked up’ was oft expressed by our team of inmates, though they spoke of this with much good humour, one laughing loudly in a ‘yuk, yuk, yuk’ cadence and slapping the back of his neighbour, while others twittered and giggled. I must say that I have learned much from this intermediating role you have given me and I am very thankful for your persistence in this bizarre course of research, and for the deeper understanding which has emerged with its portent for restoring harmony in the continuing ontogeny of our community.

Queen: My Lord Mayor, I too am well pleased with this unexpectedly rich result in the hour of our greatest need and urge you to make these findings known posthaste to our administrative councils and our citizens. Insofar as our traditional rules, oriented to individual citizens, are constraining their ability to co-create opportunity for harmonious action, let the enforcement of these rules be relaxed and seen from now on only in a supportive sense. It seems that our attempts to ‘manage harmony’ have been focused on the individual and seen in terms of the need to suppress dissonance 'caused by' ‘rogue’ behaviours rather than being focused on the cultivating of coresonance between our actions and our opportunities.  And while dissonance has a co-creative rather than a 'causal' source, we persist in seeking out 'phantom rogues' or formulating intricate 'conspiracy theories' so that we might punish 'explicit others' while holding our community codynamic above reproach, a 'holier than thou' geometry of justice built upon the notion of container-constituent 'independence'.   In the light of this recent wisdom from our team of inmates, however, our rule-based suppression of dissonance is exposed as a degenerate form of ‘harmony’which fails to deliver the needed shape of opportunity and falls well short of being able to cultivate harmonious flow. As the inmates have said and, if we admit to it, everybody knows that true harmony is a simultaneous codynamic ‘co-created’ in the moment, coming as it does from the aesthetic shape of space reciprocally and resonantly forming and re-forming with the codynamics of its inclusions, in the manner of the unbounded aesthetic forms which emerge out of bare canvas, silence or stasis, … from the superimposed interferential patterns of the artist’s brushstrokes, the musician’s notes or the dancer’s steps, space-matter codynamical aesthetics from a plurality of material assertions in resonant coniunctio oppositorum with the reciprocal envelope of their containing space.

Let those who have been falsely institutionalized be freed and let those whose voices were suppressed be ungagged, and arrange that aid be given to those whose struggle to make known the truth of the origins of harmony has rendered them poor and ill, so that they might recover and contribute with all of us in the rebirth of harmony in our community.

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