The speed of thought

Ford sold its first Model A on this date in 1903, a topless red two-seater that soared to the dizzying speed of 28 mph. (WA) It’s been life in the fast lane for humanity ever since, but as Rebecca Solnit says, faster’s not always better. “The indeterminacy of a ramble, on which much may be discovered, is being replaced by the determinate shortest distance to be traversed with all possible speed, as well as by the electronic transmissions that make real travel less necessary.” Less necessary, maybe, but no less rewarding.

Moving from Point A to Point B with rapidity is one thing, internal movement another. What is the optimal speed across a landscape, if you want to go far within? All motion is relative to its frame of reference, of course. Just remember that we’re standing on a planet that’s revolving at 900 mph, give or take. That should be dizzying, but we never notice.

Likewise, internal motion’s optimal locomotive frame is the one that falls away from notice. There was a time when the passenger train, indeed, was a great engine for thought – occasional catastrophic train-wrecks excepted. Running on smooth and sturdy rails, creating its own interior space, I would gladly trade my Corolla for a daily commute on a commercial steam locomotive.

That’s not a present option, nor (at forty miles out) is the bicycle. But since re-committing to a daily fitness ride earlier this summer, I’ve found two wheels increasingly conducive to the flow of ideas. When I want to file one for future reference I pull from my pocket the voice recorder that doubles as a phone (etc.) and spit it out. One hand on the rudder’s not optimal, though, so it keeps those memos short.

Walking to work would be best, if only the workplace were always within range. That’s why summer’s such a good season for me, when I walk to work every single day like Henry. And bike. If he’d come along just a little later, I’ll bet he would’ve too. Bear on a bicycle, why not?

One reason, perhaps. Solnit again: “I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”

6:15/5:48, 74/84.
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