The Unknown Survivor

The Eternal Complexities of Time Travel

If you could travel back in time, what would you do? The answer given to the point of banality is to kill Hitler as an infant. Yet, surely this would be a thankless job. Without any knowledge of the atrocities he would beget, you would certainly not enter the canons of history as the savior who prevented the deaths of millions from war and genocide. You would receive no recognition from the men, women, and children who would have come to be murdered by his regime, for no one would have ever known that they were to be in danger. Rather, you would be known only to the locals of a small Austrian town as the scumbag who killed a defenseless child.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand the impulse. Who wouldn’t want to save the lives of countless innocents, recognition be damned? No doubt, you are a selfless individual who would gladly take one for the team. What I have a harder time understanding though is how a great many of us would enthusiastically defy the laws of physics only to be sent to the gallows shortly thereafter, while paying so little attention to actions we can take in the present which will assuredly prevent deaths of the more quotidian variety in our own future. Continue reading

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Traveling Between New York and Montréal

Though New York is certainly a popular destination for Montrealers, not many New Yorkers realize how easy it is to get to Montréal. The drive is comparable in duration to Boston or Washington, especially when factoring in the heavy traffic along the Northeast Corridor.

Over the past seven years I have traveled between my hometown in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley and my university in Montréal countless times. Considering that you can get from one to the other by just about every conceivable mode of transportation, I thought I would outline the pros and cons of each one. I have been asked from time to time to recommend the best way, however the answer is highly dependent on your circumstances. Continue reading

Facelift

As much as I liked ‘Articles in Transit,’ I felt it was time for a little bit of rebranding. I bit the bullet, bought the domain name, and plan to update more regularly with more transportation oriented themes. Also, to anyone interested, I created a Twitter account, @transpophile, to share these posts along with other interesting transportation related news from around the world. Until next time, take care!

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

The Sublimity of Science

The pursuit of natural truth has allowed humanity to manipulate and utilize our surrounding universe to levels unfathomable to even our recent ancestors. By carefully observing natural phenomena, we are able to abstract the theoretical principles and model what we suppose to be the underlying laws that govern these phenomena. We can be confident in these models and theories insofar as they predict future observations. This predictive power is mostly easily demonstrated by the technology we ultimately produce with our greater understanding of the natural phenomena. It is not by sheer chance that when I power on my laptop the physical mechanics all interact so that it functions as expected. And while we may marvel at the utter complexity of cutting edge technology, it is only possible because of our strong understanding of the underlying properties.

Yet, this understanding would not be possible but for the rigorous scientific method, which allows us to be increasingly certain of what is true and what is false. And though science may be at best an asymptotic approach of omniscience, it is the closest humanity may come with our fundamentally limited physical senses and mental comprehension. Science will always be at some level an approximation of truth, but it is a constantly refined approximation, and certainly the best one we can hope to have.

The reason for this verbose introduction is to express my frustration with so much of society’s lack of understanding of science and the process by which sciences comes to be understood. I certainly do not purport to be any sort of scientific expert; I am not a theoretical physicist, geneticist, or climatologist, but I ultimately defer to the experts in each discipline because I understand that the scientific process itself ensures that every claim of settled science has undergone immeasurable scrutiny and verification. Does this mean that every single claim, even those in the realm of active research is absolutely correct? Of course not, and the idea that this undermines the credibility of science would be laughable if it were not so prevalent. As I said, science is the pursuit of identifying the underlying laws that govern our universe, and they will always be our best approximation of any sort of absolute truth.

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Think Adding Roads Reduces Congestion? Math Says No.

People like being stuck in traffic the way they like hearing nails against a chalk board; with the exception of a few masochistic individuals, it is universally loathed. If only the <Feds, State, County, City> would add another road no one would have to sit in this parking lot. Now of course one could imagine a number of logistical reasons to refute this fallacious line of reasoning: bottlenecking, merging delays, turning delays, signal delays, start-up delays and even further demand induced by the new connection, to name a few. While those are all certainly valid criticisms, what I intend to discuss here has nothing to do with with these more intuitive problems; there is a more fundamental problem rooted simply in mathematics and basic economic theory.

Conventional economic philosophy dictates that individuals rationally acting in their own self-interest would ultimately also benefit society as a whole– a sentiment well-captured by this panel from yesterday’s SMBC comic.

Don't hate the player hate the game

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal #2891. 2013-Feb-18.

That is, it was conventional until famed economist, mathematician, paranoid schizophrenic, Nobel laureate, and protagonist of the book and film, A Beautiful MindJohn Forbes Nash, forever changed the field with his concept of equilibrium in non-cooperative games. His concept became known as Nash equilibrium and went on to become a cornerstone of contemporary game theory. Continue reading

The Elasticity Between Work and Success

Much has been said about work and success over the past several months of campaigning, and I believe it is the relation between the two that lies at the root of disagreements between the economic right and left. In my view, the theoretical poles of this spectrum can defined as libertarianism on the right and socialism on the left. To take the extreme positions for a moment, the pure libertarian would consider the relation between one’s work, and success to be perfectly inelastic. That is to say that every unit of work generates a unit of success, or more simply, they are perfectly correlated. At the other end of the spectrum lies the socialist, for whom work and success are perfectly elastic. Success is simply a function of birth, or some other immutable attributes. There is no correlation between work and success. I am fortunate enough to have never met anyone who subscribes to either one of those extremes, however anyone who has an opinion on the matter either implicitly or explicitly falls somewhere along this continuum. As a general principal of political thought, I believe it is essential to acknowledge that all political ideologies are inherently continuous, rather than discrete. Continue reading

The Perfect Crime: Kill Cyclist, Blame Victim

It is a hobby of mine to follow my hometown newspaper in order to stay in touch with those local affairs. However, to my great repugnance, I have read about one cyclist fatality after another. In the past month alone, there have been three human beings struck and killed by vehicles, the most recent of whom was killed by a woman with a suspended license. Yet no sooner does the ink dry on the reports of these tragedies than do apologists begin to hurl blame around to everyone but the one behind the wheel. And while it is true that tragic accidents do occasionally happen, what we see most often are not freak occurrences but deaths that were entirely preventable by the driver. But until we begin to hold drivers accountable for their manslaughter, I expect that we will continue to see article after article trying to make sense of why our neighbors’ lives have been cut tragically short. Here are some of the excuses that perpetuate the mindset that the driver can do no wrong.

“Cyclists are reckless, and therefore at fault for their own deaths”

The ‘victim blaming’ card is one that will require a little bit of nuance in order to understand it the way that I do. Every action that we take has consequences: some of which we can reasonably anticipate and others that we can not. All actions, however seemingly insignificant, carry risk. Although some risk may be negligible, everything we do undergoes some sort of internal cost-benefit analysis. However, even though some choices we make can lead us in greater or lesser danger, if an incident was to occur, it is never the fault of the passive party. For example, if I have two possible routes to walk home, and one is longer, but on a well-lit thoroughfare while another is shorter, but through a dark alley, the latter may carry a higher risk than the former. Yet however irresponsible my decision may have been and however much I could have potentially done to prevent it, if I were to get mugged, the fault would lie solely with the mugger. For it is he who perpetrated the crime even if there was conceivably something I could have done to lessen my risk. It is he who actualized my risk into consequence, and without him, my action, however risky, would have passed without incident.

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