Lies, Damn lies and Statistics
I’m sure you remember that old statistic about the likelihood of getting bitten by a shark. I just googled it again and apparently it’s 1 in 3.75million. Being the overthinking being that I am, I wonder how on earth they calculated that, and how absurd the notion is that the risk of being eaten by Jaws is the same if you lived in a suburban house in Reading, or if you were an Australian surfer on Bondi beach.
Of course the risk isn’t the same at all. Our own brains are as equally useless as averaged statistics in assessing the objective level of danger that you are in. The mind is unable to calculate the true risk of what lies before us and it actually takes an experience based approach to whether something is harmful to us or whether we are more unfortunate than other people in whatever event occurs.
Do you Feel Lucky?
One person’s assessment of whether a situation is risky or dangerous can be entirely different to someone else’s. Similarly it’s also impossible to objectively determine if someone has been lucky or unlucky. It’s just something we say… If our Australian surfer spends every day in the water in the known habitat and feeding grounds of a Great White, there is a good chance he’s eventually going to have a rather unwanted encounter. If he does, we might opine that he was ‘unlucky’ to get bitten, but given all the circumstances, it was bound to happen. We might also say he was ‘lucky’ to survive, which is surely the daftest statement ever if we are saying there was a 1 in 3.75million chance of being bitten in the first place. Our tiny brains aren’t very clever at objective assessment. We just say what we see, or say what we think we know from our own experience, or the experience of others that we are aware of.
Rock Stars Die Young
When I was a teenager I spent more than a few hours wondering why so many big rock stars that I dreamed of becoming, seemed to die before their time, often in some sort of hideous misadventure. Drugs, alcohol, helicopter, plane and car crashes, and various other unusual deaths seemed to be very common and certainly well above the statistical averages.
What was the reason for this? Are the music and creative industries really so inherently dangerous? We all know the 27 Club thing, right? It’s fuel for conspiracy theorists but also fun to try and take a more scientific approach, using things like reasoning and probability to analyse what’s going on.
I guess if we look at the activities that surround the art of making music in a bit more detail we start to get a more realistic picture. Logistics pay a big part, and back in the 70s and 80s, getting a rock star from A to B involved a great deal of fast moving and dangerous transportation in an era where we hadn’t even legislated on the safety benefits of the seatbelt, let alone the airbag.
Drugs and alcohol have always gone hand in hand with the music industry and in many cases were salves to the crushing boredom of life on the road or a way of coping with the pressures of fame, or an intangible artistic struggle.
I don’t think luck has much to do with any of this at all but yet the brain persists to draw its own erroneous conclusions. In my own life I regularly curse my own ‘luck’ and question ‘why me?’ on a whole variety of daily issues. The one parcel of CDs that our label sends without insurance will always get lost in the post and I then wonder why I’m almost on first name terms with the Royal Mail help team on Twitter. It’s because, just like those 70s rock stars, I’m ‘Swimming With Sharks’. I send a lot of post, therefore probability dictates that I will lose some stuff at some point.
This all sounds very trivial until you realise that our mental health is really inextricably linked to the view we take of ourselves and that of the world around us. If we go through life thinking that we are cursed, or unlucky or that good things will never happen to us then the probability that life will get worse will increase for sure.
I wrote a song on my album Mind Over Depth, literally called ‘Sharks’. As with so many of my concepts, I’d taken a story and made it into an analogy or allegory for some other deeper meaning. The story in this was case was the fate of the crew USS Indianapolis that delivered components for the atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in August 1945. The ship was holed by a Japanese submarine and all the surviving crew went into the shark infested waters of the Pacific, leading to the largest shark attack in history. In my song, the sharks represented the negative thoughts that attack us every day, and the thrashing movements of the stricken sailors, our futile attempts to defeat them. And furthermore, the very thrashing about and shouting in resistance, made things worse attracting even more ‘sharks’.
We are all ‘Swimming with Sharks’ to some extent but more positively I think we can possibly reverse this mindset. If we consider we are ‘Dancing with Angels’, we might consider that ‘being lucky’ is surrounding ourselves in an environment where our productivity yields the most fertile results. Some would dismiss this as ‘being in the right place at the right time’, yet another fortune based idiom.
But how can we use this insight? Well, when something bad happens to me now, I try this trick:
Instead of saying “Why is this happening to me?”, I say to myself. “Why SHOULDN’T this happen to me?” This simple act of reversing the perspective defeats my brain into taking a more realistic view of the situation. I think a lot of really resilient people that I know do this automatically without even thinking about it. They accept that there is no immunity against life dealing them a bad hand, but they equally know the storm will pass, and they laugh in the face of the wind…
Lies, Damn lies and Statistics