Motorcyles and Mystery

Now that summer weather is here I am still contemplating the purchase of a motorcycle, but before I do I am reading a book on motorcycle proficiency. I want to learn what causes accidents and how to avoid them.

Now one of the most intriguing things about motorcycle accidents is that the car driver who has just creamed some poor guy on a bike will invariably say, “Gee! I just didn’t see you.!” While this sounds like a lame excuse, it turns out that it is really true. Psychologists and students of perception tell us that the mind sees what it expects to see. This is how illusionists do their tricks. They show us something (or don’t show us something) according to what they know we expect to see, and thus we really don’t see something that is there.

This sounds freaky, but it is true. The car driver expects to see other cars. He doesn’t expect to see just cars, but he expects to see cars of a certain size, travelling at certain speeds under certain light conditions according to certain laws of the road. His expectations, in other words, are part of the matrix of his whole world, and he will only see the motorcycle when he has had what is termed a ‘paradigm shift’.

The paradigm is the grid through which we see the world and by which we interpret what we see. The paradigm is established by our upbringing, our basic presuppositions, the media, our education, the people who mentor us–a whole range of influences. Our paradigm influences, therefore what we see and how we interpret what we see.

This explains much of the problem in the discussion between scientific materialistic atheists and religious believers. Their presuppositions–their paradigm for viewing the world, is so utterly and radically different that, like the motorist who can’t see the motorcyclist–they really and truly can’t see it.

This is why an atheist can be presented with arguments that seem totally transparent and watertight to a theist and he shrugs and says, ‘Can’t see it.’

If this is the case then we shouldn’t be too harsh on atheists. They’re like tone deaf people at a classical music concert or color blind people at an art show. They really don’t see things the way everyone else does.

But if this is true and theists should be patient with atheists, then atheists ought to return the courtesy and scratch their heads and say, “Y’know, an awful lot of people seem to be able to sense or see something here that I’m missing. I wonder if I’m the one whose wrong?”

If there were a little bit more understanding on this we wouldn’t have so many collisions between theistic motorists and those risky outriders called atheists.

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  • John

    There’s also the fact that the motorcyclist is likely to be garbed for “cool,” not safety. My wife almost hit one who was dressed in black from head to toe, on a black motorcycle, on a dark rainy day. And how he swore at us, for the sin of not seeing him!You are right about the atheist. You can’t suggest an answer if there is no question being asked, or even imagined…

  • Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ

    I read 'motorcycle' & thought 'mid-life!' Cmon Fr Dwight!

  • carmelitemom

    I am soooo not letting my husband read this post. “If Father Dwight can get a motorcycle, why can’t I?”

  • Patricius

    The paradigm is true up to a point- in that what we see is largely (but not wholly)conditioned by our expectations. I think this is why, for instance the two disciples did not recognise our Lord on the road to Emmaus. On the other hand, here in the UK where we drive on the left, I was able to see a car driving TOWARDS me on the left hand carriageway of a motorway. Although we avoided colliding I found the experience very disturbing. The fact that such a sight was outside my expectations did not stop me seeing it but did result in my feeling profoundly shaken. You may be correct about some atheists but I suspect others might be better termed “theohobes”!

  • Patricius

    Sorry that was meant to be “theophobes”.

  • Ken

    These philosophical posts are when you’re at your best. Rod Dreher had a very similar (but much longer) post regarding epistemological differences between theists and non-theists, Culture and the knowability of truth.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    I don’t dig on risky behavior. I intend to preach to my children that they should avoid risky, potentiallyself-harming behavior even if it is fun. So while I hate to be a killjoy for anyone else, I wouldn’t get one. It’s not just cars changing lanes, its potholes, open car doors, what have you. They take up space in the garage, and you can only use them on nice days. They are often disturbingly loud, which their riders think is’cool’. They seem to affect the male ego (going fast with no steel bubble) as ‘cool’. And that in turn seems to convince males to wear little or no protection, dark clothing, or whatever they can to increase the ‘cool’ riskiness factor.But as my children need me I simply don’t really see what is smart or responsible about propelling oneself at combustion engine-speeds on two wheels with no car body for protection. And priests are in short supply. How about father weather balloon on his lawn chair getting lost at sea? As you have both children and a flock I think you have even more to risk than your typical Dad.Frankly I thought you had already bought one. Once a two-wheeled propulsion addict, always a two wheeled propulsion addict.But go ahead. Heck throw in a tatto, a bottle of ripple, a bunjee jump, and a barrel jump down niagra falls. I could probably think up a few more risky behaviors if you’re interested.

  • kkollwitz

    I gave up motorcycles before I got married. “For better or for worse,” my life is not my own.

  • homeschoolofthree

    Fr. Please don’t get a motorcycle!!! My brother was killed along with two other riders two years ago. David was on a Poker Run to raise money for charity. He was in a group of @ 200 motorcycles, an 18 year old driver was staring at all the bikes when he hit his brakes to avoid a rear end collision with another car and swerved across the center lane hitting tow bikes head on. Practically every bone in Davids body was broken, he most likely died before hitting the ground, the woman killed in the accident…her body was cut in 1/2. No amount of safety gear would of saved them. Pray for David, he left the church years before his death.

  • Father Schnippel

    An avid rider with many years of safety admitted: I always assume that everyone else is out to kill me when on my bike.Not sure how it fits the analogy, though.

  • Remy Rosenhoover

    Father your writing is fantastic. Stick to it.I rode motor-cycles for many years until I was married and prudently advised to stop. Since then I have driven by far to many accidents where the invisible motor cycle hit the very real and material vehicle. In each case the motor cycle driver died; the at fault driver was unharmed.When I did ride I assumed: 1) every driver does not see me2) It is my responsibility to avoid drivers when they do not see me.Pay attention to the motorcycles on the road over the next few months and you are bound to see some rather dangerous situations develop. I see them all the time.

  • shadowlands

    I would encourage a husband to get any piece of metal that keeps his mind off other things.In the Uk,most fellas with bikes seem to be stuck in the garage adding extra bits to them at the weekend. As long as they get regular cups of tea delivered,they seem happy enough.It’s quite romantic in a way.Oily rags,Overalls.Bless!If one wants to go fast,there are safe motor racing venues.I reckon a fella needs to express himself in these ways.Just my twopence worth of course.

  • Andy

    Go for it Father! You, may though wish to consult sister Mantilla for the proper two-wheeled ecclesiastical accoutrements lest you wind up looking like Monsignor Motorcross.

  • Susan L

    Father Longenecker, haven’t you said funerals for bikers yet? I’m an organist and I know I’ve played for at least a couple of them. My brother’s good friend died several years ago while riding his motorcycle. He considered himself a safe rider (and my brother thought so, too).Hate to rain on your parade but these posters are right. You have too much responsibility to take that risk. Think of your kids and think of your flock.

  • kkollwitz

    I can add that my father, years after I got off motorcycles, was in a mundane accident on his bike (slid on unexpected gravel)and broke his pelvis. It was a very unpleasant experience for him, his wife, and the family.

  • Arkanabar T’verrick Ilarsadin

    I enjoy cycling (that’s non-motorized), and I always did my best to make myself seen. So I had a flashing 3 LED taillight on my helmet, reflexite straps on my ankles, helmet, and rack trunk, and a headlight that I used at night.Making yourself visible is definitely a priority.

  • Obpoet

    In the medical profession, we call them donorcycles. Just try to preserve your kidneys if you can, so at least something good can come of it. I am sure your family would appreciate knowing at least some part of you lived on.

  • Michael

    Start small, get a scooter