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I've been thinking a lot about risk recently. Partly because of the new scar on my face,
and partly because I'm sitting on Pulpit Rock, in the south of Norway, with nothing between
me and a 600 meter drop. It is a very very long way down and it is very windy.
But how risky is this, really? I mean, millions of people have visited Pulpit Rock. It's not
a difficult hike. Families with kids come up here all the time. And yet, in living memory,
only one person has ever fallen off it. Walking up here is probably more dangerous. Driving
to the base of it certainly is. And yet this has been called one of the world's scariest
tourist attractions. And it is.
Humans are bad at assessing risks. That's not news, you know that. But would I still
be here, would he still be sitting on the edge, if the consequences were different?
Let's say, theoretically, that at some future point humanity has cured all disease, including
ageing. No one gets old, no one gets ill. Technically, you are immortal, but you can
still get hit by a car, or fall off a very high rock.
I did some maths. An average, modern, healthy, western person has about a 1 in 2500 chance
of dying from an accident every year. It's a rough estimate. But those odds mean that
one in five of those immortals won't live to see 500 years. One in three don't see 1,000.
Sure, that's a long life, but it's not immortality. You still die.
Transhumanists would say, well, they're able to back up their minds, that all they need
to do is "live long enough to live forever" – that's Ray Kurzweil. But if that turns
out not to be an option, then the only way to survive would be to avoid all risks.
Now, in English, we use the word "live" not just to mean our bodies working, but to represent
experiences like this. It implies that hiding away in a bunker, avoiding risk, is somehow
being less alive. But if you really had literal immortality, if you thought you'd survive
into eternity, would you live like this, take those actually quite scary 1 in 2500 odds
every year, knowing that, at some point, your number will come up? Or do you hide yourself
away, never leave a safe bunker, knowing you won't interact with the world, but know you'll
grow old with it, you will find out what the future holds?
Ultimately: which is more human: the desire to experience, or the desire to survive?
I don't know the answer, and I suspect it's somewhere in the middle, because some old
part of my brain, with millions of years of evolution guiding it, has already made the
decision for me. Because I am sitting on this bit of the rock, and not out there.
That is absolutely terrifying.
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OFF SCREEN: Did you enjoy that?
Did I enjoy that? No. No.