Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The other lane is usually faster 

half a honeydew

Here's something to think about next time you're stuck in traffic. At any given time there will be a certain number of cars in the "faster" lane and a certain number in the "slower" lane. You will be in one of those cars each time it occurs to you to wonder if the "other" lane is faster.

In the "faster" lane, drivers leave more space between them and the car in front of them, next time you observe that the other lane is faster, look at the space between the cars. On the other hand, drivers in a slower lane will leave much less space between their cars. The result is fewer cars in the faster lane and more cars in the slower lane,

the other lane tends to have fewer cars and goes faster

Leaving highways aside for the moment, imagine yourself being randomly placed in one of two groups of people: one group having eight members and the other group having four members. You are twice as likely to find yourself placed in the larger group: it has twice as many members.

Back to our highway, the "faster" and "slower" lanes are two groups of drivers, with the slower lane having more members because of the smaller space left between the cars. Therefore, on average, even if you are no more likely to wonder if the other lane is faster when you're stuck in traffic than when you're sailing through in the fast lane, you are more likely to find yourself in the slower lane when it occurs to you to wonder if the other lane is faster.

Click the illustration of the lanes above for an interactive demonstration which will randomly place you in a car on a highway with a fast and slow lane. Repeatedly click the "observe lanes" button to randomly place yourself in a car, which will turn blue. You will find after several observations that the other lane usually does go faster.

Because you are part of the system you're observing, rules of the system make it so.

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