Fear and Risk

Hypothesis: fear saturates. You can only get so scared. Your level of fear in a high-stakes situation will be very close to what you felt on an earlier lower-stakes day.

(I think it’s pretty obvious that, having been in a high-stakes situation, your idea of fear tends to re-calibrate so subsequent lower-stakes moments will be a lot less scary.)

Key implication: if you’re scared pantsless you may falsely assume there’s more at risk. I would add the opposite is also true, if you aren’t scared you may falsely assume there isn’t much at risk.

In other words, you should judge risk by rational metrics, not by instinct.

Case in point: people tends to view skydiving as absurdly dangerous and scuba diving as pretty safe. Having been skydiving and done a fair bit of scuba diving, this is only true at the most elementary level of either. Skydiving gear is pretty simple and reliable, whereas underwater you can easily kill yourself by forgetting to breathe out. (and then there are rebreathers, the diver’s answer to wingsuits…)

Also, I said yesterday that “Operation Trust” was worth studying without providing any references, oops. As well as what’s on the Web, I would highly recommend getting a copy of Mitrokhin & Andrews’ “The Sword and the Shield: the Mitrokhin Archive.”

I’ve recommended this book several times before. While it’s deeply flawed in certain respects, it is to my knowledge the most comprehensive catalog of advanced social engineering attacks ever sold to the public.

Yes, it’s a dense read. One idea: actively try to come up with defenses or responses for each tactic as you read about them.


“The screaming fear in your stomach before you give a speech to 12 kids in the fifth grade is precisely the same fear a presidential candidate feels before the final debate. The fight-or-flight reflex that speeds up your heart when you’re about to get a speeding ticket you don’t deserve isn’t very different than the chemical reaction in the brain of an accused (but innocent) murder suspect when the jury walks in.

Bigger stakes can’t lead to more fear.

And, in an interesting glitch, more fear often tricks us into thinking we’re dealing with bigger stakes.”


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