Re: [xmca] On a lighter notr: Railroad gauge (A very cultural-historical example)

From: Beth Ferholt (
Date: Tue Jul 18 2006 - 09:06:08 PDT

I think Victor Turner is saying something like this in From Ritual to
Theatre: The Human Seriousness of play -- the idea, from Dilthey,
that experience is not only 'living through', but also 'thinking
back', as well as 'wishing forward'. Bruner uses this from Turner
when he writes, in Acts of Meaning, about the Sakuntala of Sanskrit
literature as an example of a narrative that moves from disharmony to
resolution and then concludes with disharmony again. (I think this
is where he is saying that Kenneth Burke's rhetoric of narrative is
not universal, for those of you who followed last winter's
Mediational Theories of Mind class.)
I've been thinking about this because, in our Narnia Playworld
project, prolepsis was central: every time we looked back on the
past, from the future, all we saw was that the future had been
glimpsed from the past, and that if it hadn't been, then none of what
took place could have taken place.

On Jul 16, 2006, at 4:24 PM, Ana Marjanovic-Shane wrote:

> This is a very interesting way to find causes -- I did not know
> that it had a formal name, too. Sometimes, narratives are also set
> in a reverse time order -- at least partially. Many films start
> with the "end" and than they flash back to tell the story from the
> "beginning". IN that process they may go back and forth in time,
> "filling in" missing details in each pass. One of the first to do
> so was "Citizen Cane" with his famous last words: "rosebud".
> Many other modern narratives go back and forth in time, often
> searching for root causes in the similar manner as the Apollo
> method. And very often they actually play with this notion of a
> "root cause" creating strange loops ("After the Rain" a Macedonian
> film is a great example of a kind of *moebius* strip).
> I think that the railroad example is a little different kind of
> "cause" than the mostly physical causes you quoted in your example.
> I mean -- the reason for railroad gouge being 4 feet 8 1/2" -- is
> not the same as a cause of an explosion. This particular RR gouge
> was not an inevitable effect when that width was set for the first
> time (whenever it might have happened) in the same sense as when
> you have all the conditions for an explosion to take place. At any
> point of time, this gouge might have been changed and it wasn't
> because it was: costly, impractical, not considered, a coincidence,
> etc. It still might change in the future... So in a way -- it is
> "caused" by the Roman (or earlier) chariots/wagon makers and
> corresponding road fitting, but in a way -- there are many more
> branches of causes than in physical causality that it becomes
> difficult to call it a "cause". It was certainly "enabled" by all
> the different decisions along the historical path, and these
> decisions were made in many ways we don't know from the shorthand
> example.
> If we compare this with the "cause" for the QWERTY keyboard -- both
> were products of a certain kind of thinking and reasoning to solve
> a particular practical issue at hand. But they were not the ONLY
> possibilities at that time. So if Apollo reasoning defined
> branching going backwards in time, I think that this kind of
> "causality" has branches in both directions in time...
> Maybe I am wrong...
> Ana
> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>> This marvelous informal article Ana copied about how ancient
>> chariot wheel widths eventually became transformed into modern US,
>> British and Canadian railroad track widths is a perfect
>> illustration of a "root cause analysis," a process followed in
>> many industries to try to understand and find solutions for
>> accidents, waste, and other undesirable things. I recently took a
>> class series at work in this, which spurred me to stir up that
>> little discussion about causality the other week. It had got me
>> wondering how causality figures into CHAT analysis.
>> There are actually a number of different root cause analysis
>> methods. The one Boeing uses, the "Apollo" method, developed by
>> Texas engineer and accident investigator Dean Gano in the 1980's,
>> has an interesting philosophical premise: we live in an infinite
>> continuum of causes. There is no single "root" cause, just causes
>> that are more available to influence or eliminate. According to
>> Gano, effects always have at least two causes: some causal
>> condition, and some causal action. The effect combustion
>> typically has two causal conditions, oxygen and fuel, and an
>> action, ignition. The solution to preventing a fire might be to
>> remove the possibility of ignition. Removing the fuel and perhaps
>> the oxygen could also be solutions. A causal analysis of a fire
>> might include asking why the fuel was there (flammable liquid fell
>> from a truck) why did it fall (not secured properly) why wasn't it
>> secured properly (latch was broken) why was the latch broken
>> (maintenance didn't have the replacement part) - and so forth and
>> so on.
>> An especially notable aspect of this causal analysis approach is
>> the way it sharply distinguishes itself from storytelling. As
>> Gano explains it, storytelling begins at some point in the past
>> and works its way to the present. Causal analysis begins in the
>> present and works its way to the past. Stories or narratives are
>> linear. Causal analyses are branched, not linear. In a causal
>> analysis, every effect branches into multiple causes. In the
>> narrative, beginning at some point in the past, this happened, and
>> then that happened, and then the next thing happened, moving in a
>> linear direction toward the present. In causal analysis,
>> beginning in the present, this happened, which was caused by that
>> and that happening, which was caused by this, that and the other
>> thing happening, moving in an ever-branching pattern toward the
>> past. A large part of the "Apollo" method (this term was chosen
>> because it had both a space age and an ancient ring to it)
>> consists in teaching ways to facilitate a group to develop a
>> causal analysis chart that lines up the causes and effects
>> logically while also keeping track of the complex branching. The
>> point is to (1) identify the upstream causes that can change or
>> eliminate the undesirable downstream effects, and thereby (2)
>> choose/suggest solutions that management will like (cost, ease of
>> implementation, etc.). Other features of this method include an
>> emphasis on avoiding blaming, stopping asking why too soon,
>> getting evidence for all causal actions and causal conditions, and
>> thinking in terms of events, not categories. Gano calls this a
>> "new way of thinking" and it does break through numerous paradigms
>> that reinforce business as usual. Philosophically, it applies a
>> number of materialist ideas.
>> The analysis of the origins of the standard 4 foot 8-1/2 inch US
>> railroad gauge Ana copied for us (do visit the site as Ana and
>> Mike suggest) proceeds not as a story, but as a causal analysis.
>> It keeps asking "why" and "what caused that to happen?" and
>> proceeds farther and farther back into British and then Roman
>> past. The process used was from the present toward the past.
>> Perfect example of an "Apollo" causal analysis.
>> - Steve
>> PS On the site Ana provided, what did the Canadian National
>> Railroad system engineer Worth mean by "parallel evolution" when
>> he said:
>> "None of this is to suggest that messrs. Trevithick, Stephenson,
>> etc., used design manuals from the Sumerian and Akkadian empires
>> in deciding upon the 4'-8 1/2" gauge. It only illustrates the
>> principle of parallel evolution, i.e., that 'everything that rises
>> must converge'.
>> At 09:22 PM 7/15/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>>> This is very amusing, but after you have read and enjoyed this,
>>> try this site:?
>>> Jim
>>> Begin forwarded message:
>>>> *The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is
>>>> 4 feet, 8.5 inches.
>>>> That's an exceedingly odd number. ???Why was that gauge used?*
>>>> *Because that's the way they built them in England , and English
>>>> expatriates built the US Railroads.
>>>> *
>>>> **
>>>> *Why did the English build them like that?
>>>> Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who
>>>> built the
>>>> pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used.
>>>> Why did "they" use that gauge then?
>>>> Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and
>>>> tools
>>>> that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
>>>> *
>>>> *Okay! ??Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?
>>>> Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels
>>>> would
>>>> break on some of the old, long distance roads in England , because
>>>> that's the spacing of the wheel ruts.
>>>> So who built those old rutted roads?
>>>> *
>>>> *Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe
>>>> (and England )
>>>> for their legions. ??The roads have been used ever since.
>>>> And the ruts in the roads?
>>>> *
>>>> *Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else
>>>> had to match for fear of
>>>> destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for
>>>> Imperial Rome , they
>>>> were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
>>>> The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches
>>>> is derived from the
>>>> original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And
>>>> bureaucracies live forever.
>>>> So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what
>>>> horse's ass came up with it, you may
>>>> be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman army*
>>>> *chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back
>>>> ends of two war horses!*
>>>> Now, the twist to the story
>>>> *When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there
>>>> are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main
>>>> fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs.
>>>> The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah . The
>>>> engineers who designed the ?SRBs would have preferred to make
>>>> them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from
>>>> the factory to the launch site.
>>>> The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a
>>>> tunnel in the mountains.
>>>> The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.
>>>> *
>>>> *The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the
>>>> railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses'
>>>> behinds.
>>>> *
>>>> *So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably
>>>> the world's most advanced transportation system was determined
>>>> over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.** And
>>>> you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important!*
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