80 MPH and Other Questions of the Mind

posted in: quirky, the human mind 0

Apparently this video has gone viral, depicting a man asking his wife the question, “If you’re traveling 80 miles per hour, how long would it take you to go 80 miles?” He poses the question while (apparently) driving down the highway, aiming a dashboard camera at himself and his wife, and frequently mugging his amusement for the camera as his wife flails hopelessly, trying to answer a ridiculously easy question. (Hint: It would take an hour.)

My first thought was, bullshit. He just happened to have a camera above the steering wheel, and he aimed it back and forth while posing for it and teasing his wife…while driving? Really? Jeez, I hope not. For one thing, I wouldn’t want to be on the same highway with him. For another, what kind of jerk would humiliate his wife on camera, then put it on Youtube for the world to see? (On the other hand, if I see it as faked, then I find it very funny. How weird is that?) 

But…the husband and wife appeared on Good Morning America, and said this is just what happened. She was mad, but they’ve made up.

Does the story pass the bullshitometer test now? I don’t know. But my brother tells me a colleague of his asked the same question (about MPH) of a couple of acquaintances, and neither of them could answer it, either. (Which reminded me of an unrelated video shot at a Harvard commencement, in which a bunch of newly minted Harvard grads were asked to explain what causes summer and winter—and none of them could.)

So let’s assume the story is true. I found myself wondering: Where does the understanding break down, when someone can’t answer a question that most find ridiculously obvious. I got to speculating: If the brain fails to parse the phrase “miles per hour” for its literal meaning and just hears [noise] that gets translated as [familiar-sounding sciencey jargon], does it just never think to examine the [noise] to see if there’s some hidden meaning? Or is there a linguistic deficit that gets in the way of parsing the phrase, sort of like dyslexia? And thus, left foundering, does the brain scramble to find something, anything to help answer the question?

I wonder what a psychologist would say about this? Maybe I should ask my brother.

0 Responses

  1. A.A. Leil
    | Reply

    This is quite possibly the most depressing thing I've read all day.

  2. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Depressing because she couldn't answer such an obvious question, you mean? I have since posed the question to a variety of friends and family members. Most people just look at me as if I've lost my marbles, because it's so obvious, but several got flustered–either because they thought it was a trick question, and were trying to figure out the trick–or because they had to rearrange the words in their head, to get it to where they could see the obvious.

    At first I thought it was depressing, too, but now I think it might have something interesting to teach us about how people process verbal information.

  3. RJK1981
    | Reply

    A little late in seeing this, but this whole thing reminds me of what my sister told me happened in her calculus class in high school. The teacher had one question on the test that almost everyone got wrong… what does 1+1 equal. I do believe that the question was only written, and not asked out loud, though I am not complete certain. My sister and a couple others got it right and everyone else got it wrong. They were so used to complicated math questions that they all over analyzed and over thought the question. Doubt that the woman in the video does calculus, but it seems to be a similar issue (assuming this wasn't faked).

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