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An afterword on fear of flying

I’ve definitely never written this before, and it’s likely of zero interest to anyone but myself. Still, that doesn’t usually stop me.

What I am suffering from when flying on an airplane, it seems, is an attack of subjective probability: the credence I give to the likelihood of any plane that I am on suffering some sort of catastrophe. Apparently, my credence should really take into account statistics on flying, which means that the whole business is more safe than houses. But, being awkward, or maybe simply more attuned to, and wary of, the hidden variables, I don’t. I take a very simple gambling perspective on flying: the plane will either get there, or it won’t. That’s a 50/50 chance.

It seems then, that in my fear of flying I start to take a Bayesian approach to probability, rather than a frequentist one; well at least until the hidden variables become too much for my brain to compute and I boil it all down to a binary sum game of survival: fly or crash, live or die, do or don’t. If everyone took this approach there’d probably be far fewer people in the air, but, amazingly there are still people willing to take far shorter NASA quantified odds on their survival.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield is a case in point. The first Canadian in space, he accepted odds of 9/1 surviving to go up in the space shuttle, and he did this more than once.

Marbles, specifically the Blue One

Sometimes, I really feel am losing mine. Today I wrote an actual letter, with a pen and paper and everything. In my head, I am sitting at a desk with a view out over an unflooded meadow – perhaps it’s a summerhouse with a wood-burner in the corner. I guide my fountain pen over that thick creamy paper that costs a fortune and form elegant words that cohere and serve my purpose. In practice, I am sitting in the car, leaning on a student’s workbook, using a pen I picked up in the workroom and writing on a scratty piece of supermarket own A4. The pen turns out to be too good for the paper, and bleeds through heavily onto the reverse. This affects my formatting as my rambling text spreads over the page. I end up with my address written in capitals along the very top edge of the paper, my signature drifting out almost into the right hand margin.

I teach letter composition. It is in not my finest hour. Still, I enjoyed the pen.

Then I queued in the Post Office to post my missive. Old habits die hard. When I came upon the snake of people ahead of me, and the third cashier slammed the blind down on her position, I might have wept, fallen to the floor and gnashed my teeth. And then, I remembered that I don’t do that sort of thing any more. I am mindful now, and a queue gives me a quiet minute, or ten, to be in the moment, to meditate, and to connect with the interconnectedness of everything – even in Post Offices. A queue offers me the chance to connect with the inner bliss of everything. As I did this, I was reminded of the film – The Overview – about the experience of astronauts spending much time in space earth-gazing; literally gazing back at what is also known as the Blue Marble, our own planet. And as they do this, they experience a profound shift in perspective, that never leaves them. They will be able to explain it better than I can, so I am posting the link to the film here, but I will say that as I thought of the Blue Marble, in the Post Office queue, I was nearly brought to tears at the miracle I was ever born at all, to experience the wondrousness of it all.

For those of you who know me – don’t worry – I’ve counted the marbles and the few I have, remain.