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The Complexity of Driving

If you think of a driver as a black box, taking raw sensory data, mostly visual, as input and producing a few analog and digital signals as output, it immediately becomes clear that there's something very complex going on under the hood. Heck, even vision is complicated—see, for example, On Flies' Eyes.

But, there's more going on than even the black-box image suggests, as Hofstadter explains in a chapter of Le Ton beau de Marot.

… [O]ver three decades of driving in many terrains, countries, and situations, I had arrived at the strong conviction that driving a car potentially involves nearly all of one's knowledge about the world and occasionally puts one's entire intellect to a severe test. …

… What do you do if your car starts to skid? How many car lengths to stay behind the car ahead of you, at various speeds? When do you flash your brights at an oncoming car? Can you make a left turn on a red light? Of course, this type of information, crucial though it is, is still just the tip of the driving iceberg. If a car is swerving ahead of me as I drive down a highway, I have to pay close attention to its motions, and quickly try to gauge the driver's degree of inebriation or aggressiveness. …


Suppose that on a crowded and curvy two-lane road, I come up behind a heavily loaded pickup truck lurching along with its tailgate down, and it looks as if things on the flatbed are threatening to spill out at any moment onto the road right in front of me; I naturally want to pass this road hazard as quickly as possible. But as I inch out into the left lane to see if I can pass, how far out dare I go, given the density and speed of oncoming traffic? And if and when I do decide to pass, just how fast is safe for me and my passengers? And how do I weigh into the equation the fact that I recently got a speeding ticket and don't want my insurance rates to go up?


Suppose I'm doing 75 miles an hour on a freeway and I spot someone walking back and forth on an overpass up ahead, and I notice they seem to be holding what might be a heavy stone—how do I adjust my driving in order to avoid having a rock come smashing through my windshield as it's dropped just for kicks by a bored juvenile delinquent? This is a life-and-death decision that I as driver must make in only a couple of seconds!


  See Also

  Another Example
  Memes for Good Driving
  On Cursing

@ October (2001)