Part 1: The Science of Sidewalks

I came across this tidbit I had conceptualized back in 2008. Thought it was worth resurrecting, a throwback to my smarter days and more thoughtful times. Sans references.


The bifurcations of human existence have largely been vain measures to divorce humanity from the ecosystem at large. The implicit Cartesian assumptions of man over beast, of the rationalized mind pinned against the animal body, and higher cognitive functions as superior to lower corporeal impulses, suggests a Freudian paranoia with natural origins and nature itself. Man spends a propensity of mental strength and social practices rejecting the natural; he is ashamed of defecation, excretions, sexual performances, childbirth, carnality, and even death. He hides these away behind bathroom doors and bedroom walls, behind curtains and hushed whispers. They are hardly exposed to the public and thus shape an indictment of man’s worship of civility–a civility that pretends that he is not prone to the same natural behavior as animals, a civility that projects a separation from and negation of nature. In doing so, an undertone of negation obsession has arisen throughout the ages; cities have been geometrically ordered, gridded, plotted and planned for rational circulation; bodies have been devalued, regulated an militarized in diet, action and thought. It has been a laborious and often interrupted process of realization that human existence cannot diverge very far from nature.

New York City is a classic example of this attempt to order and to disassociate. Whereas natural landscape randomly distributes hills, valleys, water beds and other terrains, Manhattan protects its urbanity from being classified as the rivaling rural by developing a concrete jungle replete with gridded streets, traffic lights, and artificially-produced, geometrical landscapes. The city calls for planned order and rational civility, and yet, is so saturated with free moving bodies that the expected organization of humanity seems hardly predominant. The traffic–pedestrian and vehicular alike–in New York constitute an infamous lack of civil order and disregard of the rules. Man seems to lose himself in New York City to a sense of premature savageness, of pushing and shoving through the streets, of running through red lights, of certain blindness to proper street formations. A conditional shift from simple dualism is necessary to reconcile this paradox where two apparently irreconcilable visions of rational order and disorderly chaos in the city obviously coexist. This paper will attempt to explain that nature, materialized in the form of physics, is not lost in urban behavior; in fact, an analysis of pedestrian traffic can provide instances of scientific performance in the human domain of sidewalks.

An Overview of Somatophobia

Since its inception into Greek philosophical discourse, the body has been distinguished as a source of interference, lack of reason, and even danger to the mind. Envisioning “irrational or appetitive functions of the soul,” Plato conceived of the body as something to be ruled over by reason. Its composition as fleshy matter is no match for the non-corporeal consciousness and its intangible operations of reason, and thus it has been thought that the body should be subjected to a ruler-ruled relation in order to make possible harmony within public and private society. When Descartes later instituted a philosophy of dualism and Cartesianism, not only was the denigration of the body perpetuated, but mind, body, and nature became increasingly forced apart.

Greek philosophy long anticipated a separation of mind from body. What Descartes rendered into being was a separation of the soul from nature. Distinguishing two kinds of substances: a thinking substance (res cogitans, mind) and an extended substance (res extensa, body), Descartes believed that only the extended substance could be considered part of nature; “the mind, the thinking substance, the soul, or consciousness, has no place in the natural world”. While dualism is responsible for claiming an incompatibility between two presumed distinct and mutually exclusive substances of existence, Cartesianism indicated three negative perspectives of the corporeal form: 1) the body is primarily regarded as an object for the natural sciences where it can be understood in terms of its basic organic and instrumental functioning, 2) the body is construed as a passive instrument, tool or machine that lies at the disposal of a more animated vessel of consciousness, and must be disciplines or trained by higher reason as proclaimed by Plato, 3) the body is commonly considered as a medium of expression, transmitting to the public what originates privately.

Cartesian tradition of soma-oppression posits the normalized abhorrence of the human body’s animal needs and beastly relations. As Georges Bataille determined, “Man is the animal that negates nature.” Man cannot banish his own personal receptacle of being, and thus instead limits the shameful animal activities that become of the body–sexual function and excretion–to dark or secret places. Ergo, “we have fashioned this humanized world in our image by obliterating the very traces of nature…It is clear that we are sorry we came from life, from meat, from a whole bloody mess.” To prohibit natural bodily projections from being performed publicly, matter is unduly squeezed into particular boundaries and spaces of what constitutes civil humanity and what constitutes embarrassing resemblances of animals and nature.



It’s no surprise that McDonald’s has been slowly but surely dominated by better burgers and better fries from Burger King, tastier nuggets from Wendy’s, and more satisfying milk shakes from Johnny Rockets. How has this chain, so entangled in law suits, bad publicity and fat children with angry mothers, stay standing and still coveted?

Pavlov may be thanked for giving us some scientific footing in solving this fast food mystery—unless we should be considering any possibility of the corporation slipping cocaine into our greasy, fatty, thin-sliced patties.  In fact, such a thought isn’t far off from what the latest news has introduced. McDonald’s, without a doubt, has found a way to stick a super-fried IV into our veins and we’re eager to suck on the fat. Ivan Pavlov, Russian psychologist, determined through experimental research the basic laws of conditional reflexes. His famous trials of training dogs to salivate when they hear a bell is precisely what we’re looking at two centuries later.

A new study conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital has confirmed what we’ve always known: that children subjected to the golden arches overwhelmingly rate McDonald’s frozen and then fried potato shavings as better than real wedges, McDonald’s tiny bites of burgers as more delicious than a real, grilled-to-perfection 8 ouncer, its sausage patties more orgasmic than any Bob Evans links, and its nuggets beyond compare.  This new study claims that kids 3 to 5 favor branded foods over unbranded—despite the fact that they are identical. Significantly more children are said to have rated the McDonald’s-labeled products as more tasty.

Taken from Advertising Age:Researchers tested 63 children aged 3 to 5 who were also enrolled in Northern California Head Start programs. The children had an average of 2.4 TVs per household, and more than half had sets in their rooms. About 30% ate at McDonald’s more than once a week and more than 75% had McDonald’s toys at home.Each child was given chicken nuggets, a hamburger and french fries from McDonald’s and baby carrots and milk from the grocery store. The children were given identical portions of food, some carrying the McDonald’s logo, and others wrapped in plain paper. With one exception, significantly more children said the McDonald’s-labeled product tasted better. Oddly enough, the product they did not rate as better is McDonald’s signature item: the burger.”

The golden arches stationed on that easily recognizable red pavilion are more than enough to make a child salivate on cue. Is it truly attributable to a fantastic branding gimmick that allows us to recognize unique tastes with that flashy logo, or is it more due in fact to old fashioned psychology? What this study finds is a hard fact merging of the effects of branding and the corruption of the mind. Don’t get me wrong—this is by far a success for the corporation and for advertisers, and I highly applaud their accomplishments and abilities to so deeply ingrain. Hey, they did their job, right?  Barring all other measures of successes, however, it has gotten to a sore point when we have to offer carrots, apples and salads with a brand name to make children eat the good stuff. For all that it matters, advertising and consumerism is supposed to be a never-ending duel. For all that advertising persuades you to do, the individual must battle it out with a challenge. This is how the symbiotic relationship can be sustained. In other words, if your child wants those apples from McDonalds and not your shiny Whole Foods one, it’s time to regulate. We play devil’s advocate. You play parent.

    • Leif Klockner
    • April 9th, 2011

    holy fuck did you write all of that i couldnt even read it allll, ooo where in md is your new condo?

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