Artist Andrew Khosravani has animated a revelatory passage of speech by popular scientist Jared Diamond in a new video The Risks of the Everyday, released by The Royal Institution, August 13.
The speech is an extract from a talk that Diamond participated in at The Royal Institution, October 2013, to promote his then new book The World Until Yesterday, which explores what people living in the Western world can learn from traditional societies.
It focuses on an anecdote of Diamond’s about a dead tree in the Papua New Guinea jungle. Although the likelihood of the tree falling on their camp is low, the tribespeople refuse to camp under it. This gets Diamond thinking about risk and probability and concluding that we could all do with being more cautious about the risks we know exist:
“The New Guinea attitude is to be sensitive to the risks of events of things that you’re going to do regularly. Each time they carry a low risk but if you’re not cautious they will catch up with you… I’m careful about showers, I’m careful about sidewalks, I’m careful about stepladders. It drives many of my American friends crazy, but I will survive and they won’t!”
You can listen to the talk below in full and it is well worth it.
After the tree anecdote the interviewer asks Diamond why he thinks we, in the West, may have become distant from a natural understanding of risk, to which Diamond responds:
“People in the first world in general are obsessed about terrorists, plane crashes, GM crops, DNA. But those kill negligible amounts of people. The real risks to us are the things we do daily. And each time we do those things the risk is low, but it will catch up with us. And those risks are cars, alcohol, stepladders, stairs.
“If something bad happens to us, usually it can be fixed in hospitals… So for us danger is less acute and we have the attitude that danger can be fixed and therefore we think in a muddled way about danger.”