A tragic death gives rise to some curious comments which should make us all think.
In February 2013, David Hall was killed at this corner near Moulton in Lincolnshire:
Joseph Strong would have been on the left side of the road, approaching the bend from this direction on the fateful day. Hall would have been facing him on the oncoming side of the road, a little ahead of the first van you can see, waiting for Strong to pass him before turning into the side road just past the trees on the left of the picture.
However, Strong did not pass him.
According to the conclusion of the investigators, “Mr Hall was stationary … Strong was cutting the corner on the bend and his wheels were over the centre broken white line“.
Hall stood little chance; he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two comments from the news report stand out. The first is this:
Strong admitted he was “near” to the centre of the road as he took the bend but said “He came out of nowhere. I didn’t see him.”
Strong’s comment is rather odd in the circumstances. Hall was stationary. He was riding a bike fitted with working lights and was wearing a high-visibility jacket. What’s more, if the photo above is representative of the road on the day of the collision, it’s not exactly an environment that’s short on sight lines. How does a stationary, illuminated, reflective man on an open stretch of road “come out of nowhere”?
The second comment that stands out is this:
Judge Sean Morris, passing sentence, told Strong: “From the minute it happened you have never sought to blame anyone else. You never set out that day to take a life. You have never tried to wriggle out of this.”
Strong is deemed not to have “tried to wriggle out of” his responsibility for Hall’s death. Yet the comment he made – that Hall “came out of nowhere” – actually does precisely this.
The verb is active – “he came” – which ascribes the action to Hall. He did this. He came “out of nowhere“, which is a place which none of us can expect anything to be, because by its very definition it doesn’t exist.
Things which exist do not come from places which don’t.
Yet – leaving aside the fact that he was not moving at the time of the impact – Hall clearly came from somewhere.
Where is nowhere?
The answer is, it would seem, perfectly clear: he came from further up the road.
But that isn’t quite the full story in the context of this. It doesn’t explain the idiomatic ease with which the concept of “nowhere” can be at the forefront of anyone’s mind in trying to rationalise the events after the fact, and even less that with which it can be presented in a court of law and accepted.
The Nowhere is this: Hall came from somewhere that Strong hadn’t looked at, nor even thought about.
Hall came from beyond an event horizon that Strong had constructed through a function of his speed, positioning, aptitude for anticipation and level of attention, and so on.
Hall came from outside of Strong’s envelope of thought.
Now, I realise this reads as if I am seeking to judge the character of Strong in some way, but I am not. That is neither my intention nor my point (in any case, character is not competence, remember?). But the comments made by both Strong and Judge Morris, the idioms which slide by unchallenged even in law, serve to highlight something of which most – perhaps all – of us are guilty:
There are places we don’t think about.
We all have our Nowheres.
We build our event horizons through a function of speed, positioning, anticipation, attention and more. We choose to build those horizons far away from or close to ourselves. We choose whether to imagine people who may be on the road and events that may befall them. And just as we may choose to ignore them we may equally to choose to always – always – anticipate them.
Beyond those horizons of perception lie all of our Nowheres. The rider in front of the van, the wobble of a panicked rider, the junction unrecognised by the satnav, the rider you thought you’d passed, the classic child running out from between parked cars, countless others – always coming as a surprise to the drivers but always being somewhere. Somewhere the driver hadn’t anticipated.
But the crucial thing is this: Our Nowheres exist purely in our mind. They are all, each and every one, Somewheres That We Don’t Consider.
Nowhere doesn’t exist
We all need to realise that there is no such place as Nowhere. We all need to realise that objects and people come from somewhere.
Not somewhere a million miles away, but somewhere near where we are, somewhere near where we are looking, somewhere near where we are driving.
From just round the corner.
If we can realise that, if we can reduce and eliminate our Nowheres, if we can see that they are all Somewheres that we simply need to consider, then from out of Nowhere will come safety.
It’s not that people are lying. It's worse than that. It's internalized. You really believe the falsehoods you're producing.
— Noam Chomsky (@daily_chomsky) January 21, 2014