The Jeff Wise Blog

The Hipsterology Debate Ended, Once and For All

The conundrum that has puzzled the greatest minds from Silverlake to Williamsburg: if even hipsters hate hipsters, how could anyone choose to become one? At last, this remarkable video provides the answer.

Filed under: video

Has BASE Jumping Gotten Boring For You?

I’m talking with Red Bulletin magazine about doing an interview next week with Travis Pastrana, the man who embodies the joyful abandonment of fear. It’s got me thinking about the mindset of people who reach the absolute outer limits of thrillseeking. And that line of thought leads inevitably to this:

How do you get the point where this is your form of recreation? I imagine you try skydiving, that gets boring, so you try BASE jumping, and that gets boring; you fly a wingsuit away from the mountain, that gets boring; so you try flying the wingsuit as close to the mountain as you can get. Where do you go from here? Well, one ideas is the project that daredevil wingsuiter Jeb Corliss is working on, trying to figure out how to land a wingsuit without using a parachute. He’s been at it for a few years yet and hasn’t cracked that nut yet, but that’s just as well, because I really can’t imagine what he’d do for an encore.

Filed under: sports, Thrills, video

How Breathing Can Lead to Panic

This footage was taken from inside the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet piloted by Air National Guard Captain Chris H. Rose. In June, 1996, he was flying back to his base from a training mission when his engine failed with a loud bang. Here’s what happened next:

At the time of the accident, Rose was at an altitude of 13,000 feet, and above a layer of thick clouds. Immediately he turned in the direction of the nearest airstrip, at the Elizabeth City Coast Guard base. But where was it? With the help of his fellow pilots in the squadron he found his way through the clouds and broke out into clear air at 7,000 feet. From there, it was just a question of keeping his wits while nursing his damaged aircraft onto the runway.

What’s particularly interesting to me is the sound of Rose’s breathing, clearly audible on the tape’s audio track.  While it sounds heavy — clearly the breathing of a man under stress — it’s not excessively fast. He was not on the verge of hyperventilation. If he had been, he might well have lost control and panicked.

The connection between breathing and self-control has been recognized for centuries, but only recently has a scientific connection between the two been identified. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Anxiety, Aviation, Mastering Fear, Research, video, , , , ,

Everything’s Normal, pt 2

Another perspective on getting swept away unexpectedly.

The incident took place last April in Haines, Alaska. The helmet-cam belongs to Chris Cardello. According to Freeskier magazine, Cardello was wearing a device called an Avalung that allowed up to breathe while trapped in the concrete-like snowpack:

Chris described it like this: “When the slide propagated, I tried to remain as composed as possible and make sure my AvaLung was in. As I was getting buried and the slide slowed, I threw one hand up and with my other hand I grasped the AvaLung, which had been ripped out of my mouth during the turbulent ride. While I was buried, I tried to be as calm as possible—I knew my hand was exposed so my crew would be digging me out shortly. I was able to breathe through the AvaLung, but it was difficult due to the snow jammed down my throat.”

To me the most interesting thing about this quote is Cardello’s statement that “I tried to be as calm as possible.” How does one do that? Famously, survival experts say that in a life-or-death situation, the most important thing to do is not to panic. This has always struck me as a rather absurd idea, since surely no one chooses to panic. But I think I understand what Cardello meant. Trapped under the snow, his heart racing, the possibility of death very close at hand, he must have felt himself on the edge of losing control. And yet he willed himself to keep it together. He fought back the creeping panic. In neurological terms, his prefrontal cortex maintained dominance over his amygdala. Sounds simple — but it’s a lot easier said than done.

Filed under: Survival, video, , , ,

Sullenberger Redux

I was in the thick of writing Extreme Fear when Chesley Sullenberger ditched his Airbus A320 in New York City’s East River. I was instantly struck by how perfectly his feat embodied the central paradox of the book: how is that certain people can respond creatively to intense, life-threatening crisis? I wound up exploring his story in Chapter 12, “Mastery,” in which I  recreated the incident in some detail. This recently released computer simulation, however, gives a far more vivid sense of what Sullenberger was going through.

Kudos to Kas Osterbuhr, the engineer at K3 Resources who created the video, and to Jason Paur at Wired.com for his posting it.

Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger

Filed under: Mastering Fear, video, , , ,

Everything’s Normal, Then It’s Not

We don’t expect to have our lives upended suddenly and unexpectedly, but that’s how fear often intrudes in our daily lives.

This footage shows a rockslide in Polk County, TN, that was captured by a local news crew filming the cleanup of a previous rockslide. Watching the torrent of boulders and trees reminds me of the avalanche that struck Dave Boon when he was driving with his wife on a highway near Denver. One minute he was chatting with his wife, the next he was hurtling end-over-end down the side of a mountain. Time and again, survivors of disasters report thinking to themselves: “This can’t be real.” Looking at this footage, it’s easy to relate to that sense of disbelief.

Filed under: Survival, video, ,

Subwaytrackophobia

That’s the scientific term for the irrational fear of winding up on a viral video about pitching over the edge of the platform into the path of an oncoming train, and it’s becoming increasingly common lately, or so I imagine. Here’s the latest evidence:

For those keeping score at home, that’s two since I started this blog; one more makes an official trend. Perhaps we need another hero?

Filed under: video, , , ,

Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Video Introduction

Also by Jeff Wise