Fear of Flying

by Deanna Kreisel (Doctor Waffle Blog)

It’s not about dying, really—it’s about knowing you’re about to die. Not in the abstract way that we haphazardly confront our own mortality as we reach middle age and contemplate getting old. And not even in the way (I imagine) that someone with a terminal diagnosis might think about death—sooner than expected and no longer theoretical. It’s much more immediate than that.

Whenever I teach logical reasoning to my students, I start with a classic syllogism to illustrate deduction: All humans are mortal; Socrates is a human; therefore Socrates is mortal. For an example of inductive reasoning I ask them to think about the major premise of the syllogism: All humans are mortal. How do we know this statement is true? The only reason we assume that anyone currently alive is mortal (including ourselves) is that a very large number of people have died before us. We have no proof.

But if you’re in an airplane hurtling toward the earth, my guess is that such airy sophistries fly right up to the ceiling along with the beverage carts. Suddenly an incurable cancer diagnosis might seem kind of warm and cozy in comparison: you would have some time to get more used to the idea, say your goodbyes, rewrite your will to indulge your current spites. People in a crashing airplane might just have time to clutch an arm or an armrest, gabble a hasty prayer, perhaps make a quick phone call to leave an unerasable message on a loved one’s voicemail.

And that’s what I’m really afraid of: those 60-to-600 seconds. Read more »