Elevation Rumination

The layout of my building1 forces me to spend a lot of time in the basement every morning, waiting for the lift (elevator). Once the lift arrives there is little chance of thinking anything much other than “oh please let it not get stuck this time”, but the long wait gives me time to ponder.

First of all, why do both the British and North American words focus just on the upward motion of the apparatus? Instead of elevator and lift, why not depressor, and, um, drop?
Actually, that is not a happy thought before braving our notoriously unreliable (and only 4 years old!) system. My next thought this morning was quite a brain twister though, and kept me nicely distracted as the lift eventually arrived in the basement, started promisingly, then rested for a while between the 2nd and 3rd floors before safely delivering me to my destination.
When a lift starts moving, and then again when it stops, your body is obviously aware of those sensations. But do you actually picture yourself as being in motion during the trip? I think that before this morning’s revelation I tended not to, and that my mental image was something approaching a miraculous theatre set change while the doors were closed – from the bare wall facing the lifts in the basement, to the desks and nice view of the park that I see as I arrive on my floor. It is impossible to remember properly now though.
So, this morning, I pictured myself as being in motion. I imagined the building, lift and shaft as being see-through, and myself as both in the lift and as an observer on the street. It was extremely odd to picture myself hurtling (intermittently) upwards in that little box. In fact it reminded me of those problems we used to get during the Mechanics section of my A Level maths course.

Taking the stairs and dodging the trucks in the back alley this evening suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad option.

1 My office is on the 4th floor, which is only the 3rd floor by UK reckoning. But I arrive, store my bike, and shower in the basement, which has no staircase leading directly to the 4th floor. I can take the stairs up to the back alley, dodge the delivery trucks, walk around the whole building, come in the main front entrance, and then take the stairs to my floor, but that would take almost as long as waiting for the lift.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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25 Responses to Elevation Rumination

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    You haven’t been paying attention, Anna.
    Lifts are evil.

  2. Cath Ennis says:

    You haven’t been paying attention, Richard.
    I am Cath, not Anna.

  3. Richard P. Grant says:

    Oh dear. Sorry about that.

  4. Anna Kushnir says:

    I am always paying attention. I see all and hear all. But now I have to go back and read Richard’s posts about lifts.
    The thought of my body moving upward in a see-through elevator is absolutely terrifying. I have a very potent fear of heights, you see. As long as I am encased in a perfectly opaque little box moving on upward, I am a happy camper.
    Sometimes I want to jump up right as the elevator stops, for no real reason. Was there a Myth Busters episode on this? What do your equations say about jumping up right as an elevator is about to crash into the ground? Will it save you/me?

  5. Eva Amsen says:

    I am always aware of the elevator going up and down. I used to be really scared of elevators, as a kid, after having been stuck in an elevator three times in a Moroccan hotel. I got over it only when I was about 20 or so. Before that time I would avoid elevators whenever possible/reasonable (I’d go down 10 floors, but not up that many. Pff. Laziness trumps phobia.)

  6. Bob O'Hara says:

    If you managed to get all of that cogitation in, it must be a slow lift.
    When I was in Denmark, we had a lift from the ground floor to the basement that was used for trolleys of stuff. The door proudly announced “Gods fart”.

  7. Mike Fowler says:

    We all do from time to time. Gods is only ‘uman, after all.
    I remember hearing somewhere (maybe even geek’s favourite “Mythbusters”) that lifts can’t drop terrifyingly towards the ground if cables snap/get cut by a moustachioed villain.
    They have good brakes which will jam into the shaft walls as soon as a certain velocity is exceeded, busting the myth before it’s even mythological.
    Cos busting makes me feel good.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    bq. Cos busting makes me feel good.
    What’s your sine, baby?

  9. Mike Fowler says:

    Don’t go off on a tangent here.
    chat-up line

  10. steffi suhr says:

    Bob – better than the title of the person in charge of scientific expeditions on the German Polar Research Ship Polarstern (must read out loud): Fahrtleiter.
    Sorry Cath, had to. Back to lifts/elevators.

  11. Matt Brown says:

    Here’s a fascinating history of the lift, from the BBC.
    Are elevators all opaque over in the States/Canada? The see-through glass version is very common over here, and in mainland Europe the old paternoster-style lifts are still to be found.

  12. Mike Fowler says:

    Neither heights, nor lifts hold much fear for me, but those paternosters always gave me the willies. The thought of tripping up as you walked in, then being sliced in half as it continued nonchalantly on its eternal, chomping loop…

  13. Richard P. Grant says:

    oh, paternosters are fun. The one in Biochemistry in Oxford was a lark—we’d ride it down into the basement and come up standing on our heads to freak out the sprogs.

  14. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I always fantasized that if a lift cable suddenly snapped while I was inside, I could cheat death by leaping as high as I could one or two seconds before impact. Providing the car wasn’t crushed, I don’t understand why this wouldn’t work. But several physicists have given me pitying looks and told me it would make no difference.
    (That’s probably why I’m a biologist.)

  15. Cath Ennis says:

    Must… not… tell… squaw on the hippopotamus joke…
    Bob, it’s not so much being in the lift as waiting for it that gives me all that time. With most people arriving on the ground floor and going up, it takes forever to summon one to the basement.
    Matt, I’ve seen a couple of glass lifts, but usually only on tourist attractions. Either the Space Needle in Seattle or the CN Tower in Toronto, I forget which.
    I’m tempted to try the jumping up as the lift arrives thing now, just for fun…

  16. Cath Ennis says:

    Ha! Waiting for me in my inbox this morning:
    “Sent on behalf of Facilities Services,
    We are currently experiencing problems with Elevators 1 and 2. The elevator technicians have been notified and hope to have them in working order soon.
    Thank you for your patience”

  17. Craig Rowell says:

    I am not a “fan” of elevators (lifts), except the super-fast ones on really big high-rises. However, I love watching the expression on my young sons face (18 months) whenever we ride one. It is a great look of surprise for each floor is a new world to him, it is priceless.

  18. steffi suhr says:

    Must… not… tell… squaw on the hippopotamus joke…
    Please do..?

  19. Cath Ennis says:

    It is an old and not very PC joke, so at the risk of incurring someone’s wrath, here’s a link!
    Scroll down a bit, it’s the first one in blue.

  20. steffi suhr says:

    thanks for sharing! 🙂

  21. Mike Fowler says:

    Cath, are you using NN as a medium for sharing blue jokes? Tsk tsk.
    Good joke though!

  22. Åsa Karlström says:

    Cath> I thoughth it was extra funny watching “Connections” (old TV show with James Burke) when he started that particular episode with “isn’t it interesting that we humans trust in these boxes so much and never give any thought on how vunerable we are inside of them. What happens when the electricity goes out for example? then all of a sudden it might be interesting to know how it works”.
    that led me to walk up the stairs at work for another couple of days. All through the 8th floor… 😉

  23. Stephen Curry says:

    @Jenny – Providing the car wasn’t crushed, I don’t understand why this wouldn’t work.
    Let me try. Imagine you have jumped off a tall building standing on a wooden pallet. You are plummeting to earth with the pallet beneath your feet. You see the ground fast approaching. Do you still think that trying to jump up from the pallet is going to save you?
    I think the mis-apprehension relates to Cath’s original remark that it is difficult to imagine your motion if you cannot see how you are moving. I’ve just flown half-way around the world to Japan. I got into a big metal tube in London, it was very noisy for about 12 hours and when I got out, I was surrounded by Tokyo. I know what happened but I had no real sense of a journey having taken place – probably because it was dark and I didn’t have a window seat. It struck me that Cath’s rumination applies equally to air travel…

  24. Brian Clegg says:

    Cath – Actually, that is not a happy thought – you have explained in that phrase why it’s an elevator not a dropper…
    We had a paternoster at British Airways, and for some reason it was considered very daring to stay in one of the coffins compartments as it went over the top or under the bottom, probably because there was a sign telling you not to. Unfortunately, a friend of mine (not noticing the strange markings on the wood) decided to try going under the bottom on a day we’d had flooding and ended up having an enforced paddle in the darkness (there was no lighting in the compartments).
    Of course, your observations Cath are similar to those by which Einstein allegedly came up with the principle of equivalence (i.e. that you couldn’t distinguish being in an accelerating lift with no windows from gravitational pull) which led him to come up with general relativity. The funny thing is, technically the principle of equivalence is wrong for a lift, as you can tell the difference with suitable equipment.

  25. Cath Ennis says:

    Steffi: you’re welcome!
    Mike: when it comes to lowering the tone at NN, I am a mere amateur in comparison to Drs. Gee and Grant.
    Åsa: blind faith can be a good thing. But so can exercise!
    Stephen, see, there is still a part of me that thinks “hell yeah, that WOULD work!” I know it’s not logical, but… did I mention that I hated those “calculate the support force F on the person in the lift” maths problems?
    I am always aware of moving when flying, probably because I usually try to get a window seat, and because I am acutely aware of any turbulence!
    Brian, how deep was the water??!! Being in a pitch black lift and feeling the water rising… nightmare!
    Is your last paragraph the source of Einstein’s famous “when will Oxford be arriving at this train?” quote? Or rather “when will the 4th floor be arriving at this lift?”

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