Wingsuit Philosophy: 400 Million Years Strong

 

If Life is Quantum, why do Quantum assemblies jump off cliffs and peaks in wingsuits, with a high probability to be blown to bits? (See flying off the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, Mont Blanc Range.)

Is it the love of danger? What else? Indeed, most of these ladies and gentlemen, when interviewed, insist that they love life. And most of them, indeed, seem to enjoy life, and are extremely lively.

Flier Jumped Off Peuterey (Peak on the Right)

Flier Jumped Off Peuterey (Peak on the Right)

Wingsuit flying is an extreme form of extreme sport. It entangles extreme neurological control, extreme speed, and extreme terror. Plus extreme contempt for probabilities. In other words, all what makes man tick where it counts most, in what counts most, in battle.

The film concludes with a list of more than two dozen wingsuit fliers known to have died in 2013, while practicing their passion.

The first attempted wingsuit flight, more than a century ago, was off the Eiffel Tower (then the world’s tallest structure). The gentleman long hesitated before jumping. He received a significant hole in his head. However, an autopsy revealed that he had died of a heart attack during the flight (so great was his fright?). Frenchmen invented the modern suits in the 1990s. Tubes inflated by air pressure rigidify them. The explicit aim was to land with them (to do this, I believe a 6 meter wing span is needed, thus further, hard, but imaginable, progress in material science).

Wingsuited Corliss Popping Balloons Before Zooming Into A Gorge

Wingsuited Corliss Popping Balloons Before Zooming Into A Gorge

So why is danger lovable? Danger is not just lovable, it is adaptative, in the evolutionary sense of the term. That means that, for human beings, to love danger present greater advantage that the alternative. Can I prove it? Well, wingsuit flying and all sorts of behaviors potentially lethal to those who indulge in them, are only explainable by the thrill of danger. If this thrill is perceived as more valuable than life, it’s that life cannot do without it.

As Sherlock Holmes noticed, when one has eliminated all other explanations, what’s left is what is going on.

The usual suspects, the loud vegetarians, mosquito lovers, peaceniks, Dalai Lama worshippers, partisans of the intrinsic goodness of man in general, and of the extreme placidity and sanctity of themselves in particular, will meekly bleat that from such violence comes the undoing of man. Assuredly, they will reckon, loving danger leads to war, mayhem, and horror of horror, violence, to put it in one hated word.

Yet, what is man if not the creature of ultimate force? Violence is how man was built, one mutation at a time.

After these vigorous considerations, I went running more than twenty miles in the mountains, some of it above 8,000 feet. Never mind a little snow and ice: the greenhouse presents advantages in late November. At some point I met some mountain bikers: ”What are you doing, so far from anywhere?” I did not tell them I was philosophying, as I already looked crazy enough with my skimpy outfit (running is higher metabolism than biking).

Back in the land of computers, I stumbled on an interview of Jeb Corliss, an expert of “proximity flying” (see above). He reached pretty much the same conclusions as yours truly, in an interesting article with a stupid title:

“Courting popularity has never been a priority for Corliss. “Listen,” he tells me, “I talk about the deaths. I talk about the disasters.”

“And if you die?”

“If I die, I want that footage on TV the next day.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because this is not chess. This is not backgammon. This is not . . . ” (Corliss racks his brain for a yet-more-contemptible pastime, and finds one) “golf. This is dangerous. I believe that footage of fatalities is way more important than film of some guy flying across a beautiful meadow. What we are doing here is very important. I believe that flying is what evolution is about. Think of the squirrels.”

“OK.”

“At the beginning, there were probably only a very few squirrels that even contemplated flying from tree to tree. The other squirrels thought they were crazy. I imagine hundreds of them died in the attempt. But then, in the end, one of them managed it. Now that, to me, is evolution. And now we are evolving, through technology and through skill. I liken what we’re doing in proximity flying to the first animals that left the water. We are evolving and growing. And becoming stronger. What else,” he asks, “is the purpose of life?”

The usual suspects, if they have time to stop grazing their pastures, will call the preceding Nietzschean, or Hitlerian, and condemn it. But that would be wrong on both counts: Nietzsche hated evolution, and Hitler loved regression. Corliss’ philosophy wants progress. That philosophy, which has been mine, ever since I reflected in the wastes of Africa, is very close to Lamarck, and… Sade.

400 million years ago, during the Devonian Period, the earliest tetrapods derived from the lobe-finned fishes.

It is an important point that, although plants did not need brains to conquer the land, brainy animals, having brains, had to decide to conquer land.

Strict “Darwinists” speak as if they cannot understand this, and brains are just what genes do (see in particular Dawkins). Does that mean they never decide anything, except what class and genes gave them? (Lord Matt Ridley, one of the most strident advocates of total gene control, and of plundering the planet, is a major and most propagandizing plutocrat; believing “genes” control all means class controls all).

Yet, that’s obviously wrong: if all and any fish had been so terrified of land that they had not tried to crawl on it, all the mutations in the world would not have made the vertebrates conquer land.

For 400 million years, our brainy ancestors took great chances, and very few of those who took the greatest chances, that is, the most lethal chances, could reproduce. They died early, they died hard, but they tried something crazy, to give some mutation a chance… And, as we will see in a companion essay, a chance for this mutation to appear!

Without the will to progress, there would have been no progress. There would be only plants, bacteria, viruses.

Patrice Ayme’

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9 Responses to “Wingsuit Philosophy: 400 Million Years Strong”

  1. dominique deux Says:

    Rafting on lava is not bad either.

  2. Dean Mitchell Says:

    “If all fishes had been so terrified of land that they had not tried to crawl on it, all the mutations in the world would not have helped.”
    Dean Mitchell: They only crawled out to escape regular visits from the in-laws.

  3. Andrej Dekleva Says:

    Bicycling is not lower metabolism activity, it’s just when you’re actually getting somewhere there is more air resistance therefore more cooling of body through evaporation.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Andrej:
      This is a question that is being debated. One basic conventional wisdom is that, if the heart beat is the same, the metabolic activity is the same.

      However, that neglects what I would call the power of each heart contraction (my own observation/theory).

      Moreover, running allows to reach higher heart rates, for the simple reason that it is scarier to fall off a bike. I can bring my heart to 240 running uphill, but would never dare to approach that on a bike, lest I smash my face on the ground.

      There is absolutely no doubt, whatsoever, that mountain running is more demanding, especially neurologically, than mountain biking. Basically the later is about trajectory control, while the former also requires control of every single step, so computing in advance the landing zone, at every step, going 15 feet per second (a typical running descent speed). I just don’t know how the brain does it.

      I do know, though, that, when I am out of training, I have to reduce speed enormously during running descents, because my neurology can’t handle it.

      Then of course there are other aspects: running is basically freed of technology. One becomes one with nature. Mountain biking is more about becoming one with a machine.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Another point is that bikers don’t have to work on descents. Runners do. I have done the same trails both ways, there is no comparison. If I want to explore a new place, go a great distance, I use a bike. It’s simply unfeasible on foot. Best distance in one hour is basically 40 kilometers for runners, 100 kilometers for bikers. However, it gets way worse on rolling terrain (where bikes are at a colossal advantage for a reason often asked in Graduate Examinations in Physics).

      In the mountain, the runner is advantaged only when it gets so steep, or so dangerous that bikers have to carry their bikes. I have run through places with 3,000 foot drop from a misstep, where no one would even dare carry a bike. (On via ferrate in the Alps: a good runner can spurn the cables…)

  4. Hannah Mitchell Says:

    http://www.idsc.ethz.ch/people/former/robson-g

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, they die like flies. There is a high number of scholars, or, at least, very reflective people among wingsuit fliers… (It was the same in the Einstaz Gruppen of Nazi Germany, hahaha)

  5. Death By Police State: The Case Of Dean Potter | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] Wingsuit flying is even more dangerous: around 5% of wingsuit fliers die, every year.  However, the philosophy of wingsuit flying holds together. […]

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