Monday, 3 May 2010

Want to take a risk?.

That got you over here didn't it? I have been thinking about this because my friend Nicola Morgan has a new novel out called, Wasted". Here she is talking about part of it: and it got me thinking.

There is a floor covering in the entrance to our State Library which has words on it written in binary code rather than letters.
I suspect most people walk over it without even noticing. Those who do notice the floor covering probably do not realise that it has any significance. Those who do realise what it is probably cannot 'translate' it into letters. There may be a tiny, tiny minority of computer geeks who could actually 'read' it.
I am told it says, "State Library" but it could just as easily say, "Do not walk here" or "Danger, bomb underneath" or "Beware, sleeping dragon".
Despite not knowing what it says, indeed knowing it says anything at all, people walk on it. It could be said they take a risk. How big a risk? If there are other people around and they observe them walking apparently safely across the floor covering then the risk would not seem to be a large one. If there is nobody else around then experience says something like, "This is a public place. The floor covering is not cordoned off. I can move across it." The risk still does not seem at all great - if indeed it is seen as a risk at all.
Crossing the road outside the library presents a much greater risk. There are traffic lights. Experience tells us that, if these are working correctly and people obey them, then it should be possible for most people to cross the road without harm - note I say 'most people'. There is still the possibility that you could trip over a shoe lace or the dog's leash, wobble on your stiletto heels or be knocked over by another pedestrian or a skateboarder - or, like me, not get to the other side before the lights change. (It is a risk I do not take.)
Despite the risk it is likely that the vast majority of people cross the road without consciously thinking about the risk involved. They will also catch the bus or drive their car without any thought there might be an accident. They will turn on the light switch with no thought they might be electrocuted and light a match under the gas with no thought they might go up in flames. The list goes on.
Looked at like this we all take risks and we all take risks all of the time - but some risks are greater than others and some risks are greater for some people than others. There are also what we might call "calculated" risks or risks based on knowledge and experience - like crossing the library floor - and risks, like climbing Everest, taken on for the sheer thrill of the obvious danger involved and the sense of achievement which follows. I have no desire to climb Everest, sky dive, bungy jump, white-water raft or any number of other things...I am a physical coward.
It seems to me though that, for all this risk taking, there has to be some degree of certainty - a "more likely than not " that allows us to take risks without being too concerned with the possible consequences.
The interesting question surely has to be "what is more likely than not?"


Rachel Fenton said...

It is more likely than not that I shall eat two more chocolate hobnobs with my cup of hot milk!

Are you not a risk taker, then?

catdownunder said...

Is eating chocolate hobnobs risk taking? I don't think I have had one of those since I left the UK!

Mmmm - I think I tend to be a cautious cat.

Rachel Fenton said...

As Billy Caspar says (in Kes), "I know a nest"...I have to say, hobnobs aren't what they used to be...

..but you've got nine lives!!! - and a blog - risk, risk everything!!

catdownunder said...

There are times when I am scared of purring Rachel!

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi cat - oops, have only just seen this! thanks for the honourable mention.

Yes, taking risks is all about weighing up the likelihood of downside with the quality / quantity of the downside. But the science of risk theory is fascinating. When we remove risks (eg by using seat-belts / crash helmets) we increase our speed and risky behaviour. We all have in-built desired levels of risk and we seem to operate the levels wuthout thinking or knowing. I love the science and psychology and neuroscience behind it!

catdownunder said...

Oh yes, psychology is my field - and one of the many pieces of research I did in my distant youth was on precisely what you are talking about!