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Medical Feeling like a car is moving even when it is still?

  1. Mar 15, 2014 #1
    Currently I'm researching consciousness in relation to the physical universe. This thread is to ask if any physicists here know about this phenomena and can possibly describe why it happens and how it works. I'm not sure it is a phenomenon, but I do recall it happening to me more than once as a child.

    When I was a child, I can recall times where I felt like the vehicle that I was in was moving. My mother would be driving the vehicle. Afterward, she would park somewhere. The vehicle would be at rest. However, I would look outside and come to the sudden belief that we were still moving.

    If I recall correctly, there was also a time where the vehicle I was sitting in would be at rest (I would be in the passenger seat), and a vehicle would come next to the vehicle I was in that was at rest. Afterward, I would come to the sudden belief that the vehicle I was in was moving.

    So, in gist, even though the vehicle I was in would be parked, there was this subjective belief that the vehicle that I was in that was parked was still moving when at rest.

    For what I recall, I would tend to panic and freak, exclaiming that the vehicle I was in would need to be put in park. However, it was alleged that the vehicle I was already in was in park.

    However, according to the physical laws of nature, the vehicle I was in was at rest. Yet somehow I perceived the vehicle was still moving. Does anyone know the name of this phenomena?
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014
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  3. Mar 15, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    According to the "physical laws of nature" there is no way to establish that you are at rest or moving at a constant velocity, without some outside reference. Even then, you can only establish your motion relative to something else: there is no absolute motion.

    Therefore we use external clues to determine our motion wrt our surroundings. Usually we perceive the ground as stationary and everything else moving wrt that. When we see our surroundings moving we conclude that we are moving.

    We obtain much of our impression of movement from our surroundings - flight simulators, for eg., exploit this.

    When it happen "in the wild", as opposed to a simulator, the sensation is fleeting and somewhat disorientating.
    Usually it is an idle glance at something that is moving that gives the impression. I've experienced this pulling into an intersection that is uphill where I stop moving but the vehicle next to me drifts slightly backwards... giving an impression I'm still going forwards.

    Another effect comes into play after a very long journey at high speed - you become acclimated to the motion so stopping gives the impression of "still moving". It can be quite dramatic after a long sea journey - people stepping on to land can get the impression the land is pitching and rolling. It is similar to the sound you don't notice until it stops.

    Your body can crudely detect accelerations though - when you come to rest, just after a deceleration, your internal "accelerometer" may get stuck in the "on" state for a while - making you feel as if you are still moving.
    You usually tell acceleration by the orientation of the effective gravity force ... so motion simulators will tilt the box to give the impression of horizontal acceleration.

    The effect is usually transient:
    You subconsciously realize that there is a discrepancy and quickly obtain the extra information needed to establish the true situation. The feeling fades.
  4. Mar 15, 2014 #3


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    This is easy to reproduce by spinning on a chair and then suddenly stopping. Not sure if this is a mechanical effect of the "internal accelerometers" in the ear, or a processing artefact in the brain, which still tries to compensate for a previously constant signal.
  5. Mar 15, 2014 #4
    It is related to schemas our brains apply to assist with balance. Sometimes they don't switch on or off quickly enough. Sometimes they switch on too early. (I get a bit disorientated even before I step into an elevator, I just have to look at the thing).
  6. Mar 15, 2014 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    Yeah - you can sometimes stop the dizzyness by closing your eyes and just accepting that you are spinning - you still feel spinning but its not so sickening: no conflict between inner and outer cues. For some people the effect is very strong - you get vertigo etc. It's usually a combination of effects.

    I think I missed one out: Repeated experience can lead to anticipation - you get the sensation before the fact.
    The anticipated sensation is a remembered experience being sort-of replayed to you.
    A nice example is how you anticipate the texture or weight of something that you are about to handle ... a popular gag is rigging something to look like it's heavy but is actually very light then invite people to pick it up.

    iirc. A lot of this stuff has been investigated by neuroscientists.
  7. Mar 15, 2014 #6
    Well, one of the things that concerns me is whether or not the past research has been biased and writing off consciousness and cognition of temporal events as some kind of artifact. These days, I don't really see the same physical phenomena that I saw as a child. Furthermore, the idea of reproducing the effect in a laboratory would be impractical: As a child, I did not know nor understand the cause of what I was perceiving while I was a passenger in the vehicle. Thus, even though some neuroscientists may have operationally defined the perceived event as "vertigo," it may have actually been some other phenomenon. As such, what I'm saying is that neuroscientists were wrong at were back to square 1.

    I wouldn't say that what I experienced as a child was the same as spinning around in a stool. My father often had stools around the house. Sometimes I would spin around them. I can recall spinning around as a child. The feeling that I had in the vehicle vs. being on a stool is completely different. Because in the vehicle, it would appear that there was some kind of "shift," or translation of space in three dimensions, in my visual field when one would think that there should not have been because I was pretty much close to 0 velocity and 0 acceleration. It as though I consciously experienced some shift in reality but the shift was not really there (or that a video recorder would not have recorded such, despite me having the experience).

    I know it sounds batty, but I've been researching other phenomena attempting to link evolution of the human brain to the interpretation of the physical universe. Synesthesia may be some other phenomena where people are interpreting reality on another level of existence: However, this thread is not about synesthesia, and I hope to restrict the subject of this thread to the original post of this thread that I first made.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2014
  8. Mar 15, 2014 #7
    It does sound a bit batty. Have you never got off a boat and felt the ground moving?
  9. Mar 15, 2014 #8

    Simon Bridge

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    That is a valid concern - and one which has occurred to the researchers involved. This is a field of active research with a large body of literature.
    Have you reviewed the literature, during the research you have done, to see how these concerns are addressed?

    If you have specific questions to raise about particular experiments, we can probably help you.
    Vague "concerns" about a whole field - not so much.

    How far have you got in your research so far?
    Have you, for example, met the "Pandemonium" model for the evolution of consciousness?
  10. Mar 16, 2014 #9
    I haven't seen any research specifically on the sensation you're moving when in a parked car, but there is ongoing research into illusory perceptions of body position. The famous rubber hand demonstration is a good place to start:


    I am sure that if you google long enough you'll find someone has done a lot of research into the sense of motion when there is no motion, and it's probably an extension of research into "Multisensory Integration."

  11. Sep 5, 2015 #10
    I often go through this experience even as an adult. When am driving say on a triple lane, and I am driving on the middle lane, then the traffic on my lane stalls. I firmly step on the brake pedal but then I get this sensation that the car is still in motion. I panic that am gonna knock the car ahead of me but it never happens.
    I try to control it by looking to the ground or at one of the vehicles on the side.
  12. Sep 5, 2015 #11


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