How scientists identify each other

I surprised myself last night by the way I picked up on a tiny conversational cue and identified a fellow scientist. Bill Callahan, when I asked, described himself as a social scientist. We met at Americano for the Cleveland Weblogger Meetup Group.

We were playing a round of Thinkrs & Drinkrs, with some profound questions and some less so, and this question came up: why to people in Cleveland drive so slow? On the face of it, the question seems frivolous, but on the other hand, there's got to be a reason, right? (My first thought was that it's the potholes.) Bill's response was that most people are probably depressed about layoffs at work, and depressed about their post-holiday finances at home, so they--and I forget the exact work he used--expand the time they spend in their cars between the two places.

One of the things that gets hammered into a scientist's mind during their technical training is the idea of incompressibility - certain things don't grow or shrink, they just move around or change form. The laws of conservation of energy, conservation of momentum, and thermodynamics embody this principle. I hadn't thought about it until now, but time, too, is incompressible. If you take time out of one activity, you have to put it into another one. The way Bill put it is exactly the way a physicist would.

To address Bill's meaning as well as his delivery, the theory is somewhat at odds with my idea of slowness as engagement. Depressed people should drive faster so they don't have time to think, right? But maybe just driving the car is enough. With the radio on.


By the way, next time you're at Americano, have Carla make you her French 75. It's gin, red vermouth, lemon syrup, and champagne, with a twist. Really nice.