Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, December 7, 2015

What is Car Culture?

Eli Price (12) Installment 3

                                                        On the Philosophy of Car Culture

          Many philosophers have speculated on the concept of the conscious mind being separate from the physical body. Descartes called it dualism and described the mind as a nonphysical phenomenon. Something is intrinsically fascinating about the relation between the body and the mind. Are we really just, physically speaking, a mass of organs, blood vessels, and sensory perceptive functions? If so, our minds are effectively just the programming to our body's hardware. But that seems strangely wrong to think of our bodies as just machines controlled by a mysterious consciousness that converts the physical world into the nonphysical. I would equate this relationship to perhaps one of the most perplexing concepts philosophy has ever tackled.
          The idea of dualism is particularly interesting to me because it serves me better than any other belief in explaining car culture. What is a car? A mass of complex mechanical systems? An inanimate object that means nothing? A cumbersome expense and a pain to take care of? In and of itself, a car is meaningless. Be it a humble economy car or a million dollar museum piece, an automobile is truly just a big piece of metal full of little pieces of metal and petroleum products. So why is my third installment the antithesis of my first two? Dualism makes sense to me because I choose to understand it in the context of the car and the driver.
          Without us, the devoted and loyal enthusiasts, cars are the answer to a question which was never asked. When Gilbert Ryle mocked dualism, he chose language that I happen to find very romantic. "The ghost in the machine." I couldn't have said it better myself. The way in which a precisely engineered machine operates communicates something to our senses that is difficult to put into words. The sound of an engine, the mechanical feel of a well-executed gearshift, the gravitational forces felt under acceleration or turns; The way that a machine can make us feel is mysterious and hypnotizing to me. I find it fascinating in the same way I find the relationship described by Descartes. One cannot exist without the other.

          Engineers and scientists have created self-driving performance cars today that can out-drive any human. But why? Numbers on paper and broken records may be impressive, but fast cars exist to satisfy that sixth sense for those of us with 10W-40 running through our veins. Allegorically, we are the ghost in the machine. As long as humans exist, some of them will never grow tired of using a combustion engine and metal parts to produce a happiness that is not quantifiable and certainly not easy to put into words. In that way, cars and their emphatic owners behave in the same way that our minds perceive the physical world through the machines that are our bodies.


The way former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson satirically describes this particular enthusiast's car may help shed light on what I like to think of as the driver-car dualism.

CoPhilosophy: CoPhilosophy - previous post

1 comment:

  1. Nice. Descartes said he inhabited his body like the captain his ship, but I like your analogy of the driver in his car better. The thing is, we know that drivers and cars are both physical entities. What else might they be? Well, as you suggest, some kind of combustible synergy happens when the driver takes his position and begins to drive. The car-plus-driver complex is somehow larger than the sum of its parts, it takes on spiritual significance for those like yourself who can feel it. Does this support dualism? Or does it suggest that there are richer ways of conceiving monism? A worthy open question, as you proceed down the highway of life!