Can the careless actions of a single person leave behind2) no physical trace, aside from a troublesome traffic jam?
The story is all too familiar. You’re on your way somewhere, when suddenly you find yourself stuck in traffic. It’s not a typical “rush hour” time of day and normally traffic does not get backed up3) like this. You figure there must be an accident or some type of serious incident up ahead just out of sight.
You slowly creep your way forward, bumper to bumper4), continually looking for the flashing lights of ambulances5) and police cars; the telltale6) signs of a roadway incident. Then, all of a sudden, traffic begins to move normally again. There is no sign of an accident, incident, or any other cause of the slowdown in traffic. What happened?
People all over the world encounter situations very much like this one everyday. Usually, these situations result in a string of various profanities7) and harsh accusations aimed at fellow drivers’ mothers and driving capabilities.
What causes these mysterious traffic jams that continually appear throughout the day for no reason whatsoever8)? Is it simply the fact that most people just do not have a clue9) how to drive? That’s very possible, and in reality there are so many variables involved in something like a traffic jam. But is it possible that the entire traffic jam could be both the continuing and end result of a chain reaction set in motion by a single driver who was in too much of a hurry?
Let’s examine one possible scenario:
It is a clear, sunny day and the roads contain no obvious hazards that would cause problems with traffic. Traffic on this particular highway is pretty thick, but it is flowing smoothly and steadily. One of the drivers, let’s say a man in a red car, decides that people in his lane are moving much too slowly for his taste. He quickly changes lanes in an attempt to get to a quicker moving lane. He fails to properly check his mirrors and cuts off another driver in the lane beside him. This forces that driver to apply his brakes to avoid getting clipped by the red car.
这是一个阳光明媚、晴朗无云的日子, 道路上没有任何明显会导致交通堵塞的危险物。在这条特定的公路上,车流非常密集, 但交通运行平稳顺畅。其中的一个司机——我们假定他是一名开着红色轿车的男子——认为与他同车道的司机开得太慢了,不合他的嗜好。于是他迅速变换车道,试图插到另一条更快的车道上去。但他没有仔细观察后视镜, 因而阻断了旁边车道上另一名司机前进的道路。这迫使那名司机急踩刹车,以免被红色轿车撞上。
There is no collision10), and the man in the red car continues on. The driver who was forced to use their brakes has now slowed a bit, causing the driver behind them to apply their brakes as well. In turn, the person behind them must hit their brakes as well. Human reaction time being what it is, each subsequent time that someone has to hit their brakes, it becomes increasingly more sudden; eventually leading drivers farther down the road having to slam11) on their brakes and come to a complete stop to avoid rear ending the person in front of them.
As a result of this standstill12) in that lane, drivers begin to change lanes to move to one of the other lanes that are moving properly. As this occurs, the other parallel13) lanes begin to slow as people are merging over. The same process repeats itself in the other lanes until the entire highway has slowed to a crawl and eventually a complete stop.
If the traffic on the highway remains dense and constant, this chain reaction could continue to travel back for miles and could last for an indefinite amount of time. The man in the red car who was in such a rush may already be home now. He may have sat down on his chair, opened a cold can of beer, and began watching television; while hundreds of drivers are caught in the traffic jam that his actions created.
This scenario was once referred to as the “ghost of a traffic jam” by Hannah Holmes, a columnist for Discovery Online, in a lighthearted article on the subject. An occurrence such as this is considered by many to be a plausible theory and a probable cause of many of the traffic jams we experience everyday.
The scenario is seated in a theory of Chaos and Non Linear Dynamics. It is similar to the principles of the “domino effect” and the “butterfly effect”. The “butterfly effect” leads to a conclusion that if a butterfly flaps its wings, that small disturbance14) in the chaotic motion of the atmosphere could create a chain reaction, amplifying the effect to that of a large atmospheric motion capable of altering the weather in another part of the world. The “butterfly effect” illustrates the impossibility of making predictions for complex systems.
This sensitive dependence on initial conditions is the essence of the Chaos Theory. Our scenario could also be loosely described in terms of a “domino effect”, but the “domino effect” relies on a linear series of identical events. The “butterfly effect”, however, seems to fit our scenario better as it insists that the effect amplifies the condition upon each iteration15). In our example of the traffic jam, the effect was amplified each time as drivers were forced into an increasingly stronger, more abrupt action, resulting in a slowdown and eventual standstill.
All of this could also lead to additional amplified variables. Car accidents could have been caused by all of this action and reaction, leading to more traffic and events as emergency vehicles are rerouted to the scene of the accident. Some drivers may have taken a different exit than normal to avoid the traffic, leading to increased traffic and incidents on side streets; spreading the condition beyond the confines of the original highway. This would begin impacting traffic and people’s lives all over the city as more actions and reactions result from the original traffic jam. Each reaction led to another reaction creating an end result that was impossible to predict.
It’s possible that both theories have some place in describing a situation such as ours. It’s also entirely possible that neither can accurately describe the sequence of events. Many of the events may have occurred without the presence of our “man in the red car”. It’s also possible that if traffic hadn’t been following so closely behind the people forced to brake suddenly, the resulting traffic jam would never have happened. As much as we try to calculate and theorize “chaos”, it is still “chaos”. The long term effects and resulting behavior will become impossible to forecast.
So the next time you find yourself stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, it’s very possible that the jackass that caused it is already at home watching the latest episode of American Idol; while you sit in traffic with nothing to do but ponder the finer points of non linear dynamics.
1. Chaos:这里指混沌理论(Chaos Theory)。混沌理论认为,在混沌系统中,初始条件十分微小的变化,经过不断放大,会对系统的未来状态造成极大的影响。
2. leave behind:留下,遗留 3. back up:(使)淤塞,(使)停滞
4. bumper to bumper:车辆首尾相接;bumper [5bQmpE] n. 保险杠
5. ambulance [5AmbjulEns] n. 救护车 6. telltale [5telteIl] adj. 泄密的,警告的
7. profanity [prEu5fAnItI] n. 亵渎的语言,滥用的、粗俗的或不敬的语言
9. not have a clue:什么都不知道,毫无头绪 10. collision [kE5lIVEn] n. 碰撞,冲突
11. slam [slAm] vi. 猛力撞击 12. standstill [5stAndstIl] n. 停滞,停顿
13. parallel [5pArElel] adj. 平行的,类似的 14. disturbance [dIs5tV:bEns] n. 骚动,骚乱
15. iteration [7ItE5reIFEn] n. 反复,重复