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Friday, July 13, 2007

How to Survive (Almost) Anything

I've been waiting for this August issue of National Geographic Adventure to be posted online. The magazine itself arrived in my mailbox two or three weeks ago. I have to say--this is one of only two magazine subscriptions I keep current--it is absolutely a fascinating and relevant publication--and very well done.

Anyway--here is an excellent series of articles on survival aspects and experiences that you are not likely to come across anywhere else (at least in such an easy to digest form). Wander around the site and read them all--better yet, get the magazine--it's a keeper.

Here's one small excerpt of one article:

The Darwin of Dumb

by Laurence Gonzales

Accidents of all types used to be analyzed in terms of their physical or mechanical causes. When the cause was clearly human error, they were often written off as the result of foolishness or lack of training. But among those who investigate accidents, there is an increasing awareness that this type of analysis does not fully explain why otherwise rational people do what may seem irrational.

For example, in May 1989, Lynn Hill, the winner of more than 30 international rock-climbing titles, was preparing to climb what she called a "relatively easy" route in Buoux, France. She threaded her rope through her harness, but then, instead of tying her knot, she stopped to put on her shoes. While she was tying them, she talked with another climber, then returned to climb the rock face. "The thought occurred to me that there was something I needed to do before climbing," she later recalled, but, "I dismissed this thought." She climbed the wall, and when she leaned back to rappel to the ground, she fell 72 feet (22 meters), her life narrowly saved by tree branches. In her case, more training would not have helped. In fact, experience contributed to her accident. She had created a very efficient model for tying her rope to her harness. She could do it without thinking. So the act of tying her shoes may have been similar enough to tying her rope that it allowed her to reach the unconscious conclusion that her rope was tied, even while leaving a slight residue of doubt.

I've been studying accidents of various kinds for more than 30 years, and I have tried to go beyond conventional analysis to explain why seemingly stupid actions can actually make a type of biological and evolutionary sense at the time and under the circumstances. We can laugh at the Darwin Awards and write off our mistakes as stupidity or bad luck.
But at some level, most of us are like Lynn Hill, with a knot half-tied somewhere in our lives, just waiting for us to put our weight on it. And one of the most frequently ignored factors in many accidents is the way we form models of the world and refer to them—not the world itself—in most of what we do. Understanding this system will help explain why smart people do irrational things. And some of the dumbest things I've done have been in the wilderness.

Get Ready, Seriously ...

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