Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cognitive Signal Sequence

When they changed the traffic lights at Baggot Street Bridge, I wondered how many motorists and pedestrians noticed. The world goes on pretty much as normal - we obey the signs and go at the correct time in more or less the right direction. With some notable exceptions of course! But how much difference does it make? There are many professional drivers who know intimately the sequences of traffic lights on their route and this knowledge allows them to move swiftly through the city at night. Rescue vehicles and large transport vehicles are well aware of the sequence and time required to navigate their way through the road network of the city. Technically this is a kind of spatial practice that overlays the lived world of inhabitants. It is the world of transport engineers and planners who are in control of the overlay. They can change it at will, as we see here in the picture. Space is subject to a system of signs. Yet this signalled space lies largely in the realm of the imaginary. It is not real in the sense that we can touch this overlay of timed sequences. If it wasn't there there is the chance we could crash into each other. But have a look at traffic behaviour when the lights break down. Motorists and pedestrians work something out. It does not generally grind to a standstill. Cognitive psychology is a very useful overlay and it is integrated into much of psychotherapy. But it is a system of agreed signals that can at the imaginary level be changed by the individual. Like signal sequences, cognitive change is a difference induced rather than produced by the individual.