Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Learning to act right (49)… learning, unlearning, relearning cycle
Torrey Orton
Feb. 10, 2015

Is that a signal you’re making, or just a wandering wiper?

There’s an empty place feeding my feeling of disorientation, of not being in the world which I am in at that moment, when I shift from left hand drive to right hand drive and back again. This has been a relatively regular occurrence over the last five months as I’ve adjusted to a new car while occasionally revisiting the old one. It’s interest for me here, apart from the fact of repeatedly being seen to turn on and off headlights then on and off windscreen wipers and cleaning cycles totally inappropriately – e.g. wipers when turning left at a T junction; lights when the rains came down! – is that I am exposing myself to a very sharply focused example of learning, unlearning and relearning. This is the stuff of neuro-scientific phantasy – the plastic brain and all that.

Driving for 55 years

But there’s more. It’s the left right, right left confusion. My new car has its steering column mounted tools on the wrong side. That is, for a right hand drive car the turn indicators and lights are operated from the right hand side in Australia, regardless of manufacturing origin, but the new car has retained its European positioning, trading its firm market position for an excuse not to do the engineering required to shift them to the right along with everything and everyone else??


I’ve been 95% driving the new car for five months with very occasional forays in the old one. Each time I have the experience of revisiting the old car I have the following challenge: approaching a turn of choice my left hand goes for the turn indicator (new car position) before I notice it. This is a classic automatic, habitual function which sets off before we know it, as a good habit should do (that’s how you know a habit is ‘good’ – if it ‘works’ by pre-empting the need to consciously choose an action). But I’m driving the wrong car and I ping the windscreen cleaning system instead with the above mentioned “wandering wiper” effect, if there’s anyone to notice it apart from me.

Just describing this is difficult because everything has to be turned around and around to give the proper impression – a video would do better but who wants to see a video of the wandering wiper syndrome?? And, how could it be made except by a dash cam cued to the lights / wipers complex??

I’m noticing as a write this that a background factor may be that this manufacturer’s (Audi) arrogance triggers a deeper level of driving learning – those first 14 years I spent driving in Massachusetts, never interrupted by functional wrong-sidedness!! On some standard neuro-scientific understandings, specific types of learning are produced in specific brain compartments. My driving compartment, so to speak, may have a residue of these original learnings clagging up my system, given the small chance to do so which a dysfunctional trigger might provoke. No wonder I feel so disoriented by these small moments. They may be taking me back to my teendom. Perhaps I’m doing the learning/ unlearning/ relearning cycle on historically discrete competences held together in the package that is me, which has to produce a recognizable action sequence out of the range available and match it with a real world in the now. Maybe? If so, a good opportunity for a performance clag-up.





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