This is important stuff. Along the lines of whether or not Bigfoot is real. So let’s talk about it for a moment.
The crosswalk buttons in my neighborhood work. At least some of them. Last summer and the summer before, Huxley and I would walk around quite a bit, crossing through intersections that at other times I would drive through, and from the latter vantage (driving) I’d observe people at intersections trying to get a walk light. Between our pressing of the buttons, and my observations of others, I’m pretty sure that the lights change to “walk” during the traffic signal cycle far more often, possibly in some cases only, when someone has pressed the button.
Or at least I think that’s what they do. But now that I think about it, maybe not.
But I do know this: there is a secret code that you can punch into a crosswalk button that can force the signal system to give you the Walk light. No, really. It goes like this:
3 Fast Clicks, 2 clicks, holding on the each of the two for at least 5 seconds, 1 fast, 2 held ones again, and then 3 fast clicks
The first time I tried that it worked like a charm. So I’m sure it works. I’ve not had a chance to try that since then, though, because all but one of the buttons in my neighborhood are of a new type that isn’t really a button, it’s more of a touch screen. Damn them.
People who are easily convinced of the veracity of new information know that crosswalks can be manipulated if you know the code. Because somebody told you the code (which is just complex enough to never remember when you need it). Hyper-Skeptics, often, know that crosswalks are all fake, and that they do nothing. Various studies have been done, all that I know of using invalid or questionable techniques (I mean, after all, none of them use a placebo crosswalk) that show that crosswalk buttons either work a little or don’t work at all. References here.
But what about elevator buttons, including the ones that tell the door to open or close? And, what about that special code to make an elevator go to a specific floor, like in a hospital where nurses have a patient who is bleeding out and they have to get to the Trauma Surgery Floor right away? I’m told that in a hospital, you can just hold your finger on the button of the floor you are going to, and the elevator will not stop at any intervening floors. I’ve tried that, and it didn’t work, so I was probably doing it wrong.
Here’s a funny story Terry Deacon used to tell (probably still does) about an elevator, illustrating how humans gain and use “knowledge.” There is an elevator in Harvard’s psychology building, William James Hall. There is a set of glass doors in the front of the building, and a fairly large lobby, with the elevators on the opposite side of the lobby. Also, the approach to the front doors is across a large plaza. So, you can be easily 50 feet or more from the building and see the elevators, and see that at least one of them is open. Then you have to cross the plaza, which will often mean walking against a 50 mph wind coming at you at a 45 degree angle due to the permanent tornadic vortex that the building creates owing to it’s carefully placed position on the landscape. Then you go through the doors, then across the huge lobby.
The theory is (though this is conjecture, it’s good conjecture) that the designers of the building set the elevator doors to stay open for a long time because people would get very frustrated by having the doors always close in their faces after having seen them open during the Long Trek into the building. This means that if you enter the elevator soon after the doors are open, they take forever to close.
This, in turn, has led people to take measures. Sometimes desperate measures. It starts with pressing your floor’s button. The doors don’t close. You press that button again. The doors don’t close. You press it a series of times, quickly, or hold your finger on it. The doors don’t close. You press the door-close button. The doors don’t close. Finally, you stand there and jump up and down a little to give the elevator a shake. And that works!
Or, more exactly, whatever the last thing you did before the door finally closes on its own time seems to work, and so now, that is the thing you know works. From now on that is the thing you do. It may never work again, but you keep trying it, believing, perhaps, that you are simply doing it wrong or that the elevator is temporarily broken, rather than changing your mind about what works.
So now, all the Psychology faculty and students working or taking classes in William James Hall, the Psychology building, each have their own fetish about getting the elevator going. So if you stand there in the lobby and watch during a busy period, you can see five or six adults get into the elevator, and each starts a different series of rituals…pushing the buttons in a certain order, hopping up and down, rubbing their lucky talisman…until finally the door closes, they each feel like they caused it, and they go on their merry operant-conditioned ways.
There is a third similar arena in which we humans fully control…or do not control at all…the reality we exist in, and I think you’ve already guessed what I’m talking about: manipulating the sensors that are buried beneath the pavement at various traffic lights, especially in little used left turn lanes. Maybe if you move the car forward a bit, the “light” will “know” you are there and turn green for you. Or maybe you jump up and down vigorously in your seat to rock the car and give the buried sensor a little what-for. Any of those techniques will work, and eventually the light will change, right?
The Teen Skeptics have let lose another podcast, this one on pseudoscience, which is a large topic, with many facets, many of which they touch on. The discussion of cross walk buttons is at about 39 minutes.
They also cover the Universe’s oldest star that was not in silent films, cloning a Neanderhal, Curiosity Rover, Anti-Vax, and 3D printed meat, which technically would allow for a vegan steak. Skeptical? Go check out the podcast. TSBS Episode 4: Kill it While it’s Still Helpless
(I hasten to point out that the story about the Neanderthal cloning isn’t real; that’s George Church, he isn’t doing that, but he was badly misquoted by a journalist. If you want to hear more about George Church, check this out.)