Risk, Immortality, and the Terrifying Pulpit Rock


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. [Translating these subtitles? Add your name here!] OFF SCREEN: Did you enjoy that? Did I enjoy that? No. No.

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