Narrator: This is Qualia — a thought experiment in sound. I’m Bishop Sand
Episode one: Risk.
In this episode, we’re going to explore why you take the risks you do and why you avoid them.
YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU YOU you (these are taken out of the text below and will underscore them)
YOU are the main character in this episode. For YOU to have the best experience, please listen with headphones on. Put away your phone. Remove your distractions. We’ll give you a moment to let you get settled.
For you to get the most out of this thought experiment and for YOU to experience the cognitive mechanisms and emotions, YOU have to be present… in this episode. This means YOU need to let go of the thoughts careening around inside your head right now (deep breath…)
We want you to be totally immersed in this episode, so we've saved a lot of details for the end of the episode and the show notes if you want to dig deeper.
We’re going to be using a technique called directed visualization. Where we help you to construct a world for you to experience. Think of it as virtual reality for your ears that you get to help create.
Don’t worry it’s not hard. All you have to do is relax. Feel creative and focus on my instructions. So, ready to begin?
Then let’s go to a completely different place….
[transition like Matrix into the “real world”]
Take a few deep breaths. In through the nose out through the mouth. Focus on your breath. Feel your body soften.
[Breaths and underwater sounds fade]
Let’s start, by thinking about the air around you. It’s crisp. Fresh. You can smell Real pine trees.
Imagine you’ve got ski boots strapped to your feet. And you’ve snapped into your skis.
You look up.
You’re in the middle of a staggering, pristine Canadian mountain range.
Ok, so now let’s create some people to join us. First, picture your guide. Use this voice to help construct her in your mind.
Cindy: It smells like christmas. haha!
Narration: Imaginer her to be… rugged. tan. with wind-hardened skin and hazel eyes.
Use her voice to help construct her in your mind…
She’s brought gear for all possible conditions and yet still… somehow… she’s packed light.
Cindy: Yes (laugh)
Narration: Now, let’s imagine other people joining you….
Ok, so now you have a group of people with a guide. [Again, it still feels a bit untethered, why are we here? We need a statement of purpose: “Together, you’re going to go into the backcountry – where there are no ski lifts, no safety patrol – in search of the best slopes and the freshest, untouched powder.” I think the “The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward” stuff comes a little bit later, but we can foreshadow with the “no safety patrol” bit.]
So let’s begin this ski trip.
First, we have to hike up 1,000 ft
Well, actually you’re skinning up 1000 ft, not hiking. it’s basically gluing fabric to the bottom of your skis so you can go up without sliding backward.
And it looks like cross country skiing up a mountain.
Scene: This better be good!
you’re in the Canadian backcountry. And you are backcountry skiing.
This is an activity where you ski outside the carefully monitored boundaries of a ski resort.
FIX THE HIKING
It’s an incredible, freeing experience, where you slice through fresh, unexplored snow. It puts you deeply in touch with nature, your fellow adventurers… and adrenaline. MOVE MUSIC TO START UNDER ADRENALINE! AND PUNCH IT!!!!!!! WOOOOOOOHOOOOOOO! [Narration is kind of drowned out by the music here. We really need to hear the word adrenaline.]
you have to deal with steep, unforgiving terrain: rocks, trees, cornices.
It’s strenuous, there’s not much air up here so even breathing is hard. And of course, there are avalanches... that will kill you. But this just adds to the thrill.
Lots of bindings sounds
Narration: You’re imagining this environment because it is the perfect setting to explore your feelings about risk.
Scene: This better be good!
Every detail that you hear, every tone that sneaks under your awareness, every fact of this scenario has been carefully orchestrated from experimental research.
For instance, in a few seconds you’re going to be hearing that you are close to going down the mountain. Now this seems like a small detail, but it’s included because there is a lot of evidence showing that proximity actually pushes you toward taking a risk. Here is just a small sample of this evidence:
You’ll hear brief explanations from professors along the way to learn about what’s going on inside you. Other times, the explanations will be hidden so you can stay immersed in the scene. So sit back, and try to let the science do its work.
Small space of just the creaking of the bindings and breath. And wind.
Narration: You finally make it to the top after a long climb.
Emily (from scene) Oh wow! Look at all these peaks!
Narrtation: There’s different scale out here—you’re small. This world isn’t under your control. it doesn’t care about you--whether you live or die. (re-record)
Tom (from scene): It is break-taking… I mean to be up here.
Narration: The tree-line is the only kind of order imposed up here. Otherwise it’s rugged and random, formed from tectonic force and weather. (re-record)
Johnny (from scene): I’ve never been this high in my entire life… (That’s a lot of pot!) (laughs)
Narration (interspersed with chatter above): Your back and neck tingle. Your friends prance about like a bunch of 5 year olds. You smile. This feels right.… (feels awkward… misses the mark)
Narration: You’re imagining this environment because it is the perfect setting to explore your feelings about risk.
Every detail that you hear, every tone that sneaks under your awareness, every fact of the scene has been carefully orchestrated from experimental research.
Right now, you’re very close to skiing down the mountain. You feel the powder under your skis. (SFX!) The wind pushes on your cheeks. (SFX!)
This may seem like a small detail, but let’s just peel back this scene to reveal why this likely pushes you to take a risk:
(need that angelic sound design from above) Phil: and when that drug is right in front of us, it’s like we value it so much.
Phil: When the drug is right there. You’re like I want that drug.
Narration: this feels like a drug.
[It kind of feels like you are swallowing the words on this narrative, and it’s a bit hard to hear the articulation. I’d suggest retracking if you can. Take more time to read these. Also, it’s quiet – I’d bring it up in the mix]
We’ll explain why you’re experiencing emotions and cognitive mechanisms along the way. Other times, the explanations will be hidden so you can stay immersed in the scene. So sit back, and try to let the science do its work. [I’m ambivalent about the “let the science to the work” line – it definitely made me go “wha?” ...but I don’t have a better suggestion, so let’s keep it.]
Dan (scene): it’s right there!
(chatter of friends getting pumped)
Johhny (to group): wooo! This is gonna be great! It’s just us against THIS. and we’re gonna tear it up no matter what we get thrown. We are invincible! (Yeah Buddy!)
Kristen (from scene): Yeah, but remember Jackson Hole? We had to dig you out of that tree well when you got too cocky:)… (laughs)
Johnny (scene): shit… Kristen, you know that was a fluke. That was a one time thing.
Kristen: I’ve heard stories about you and tree wells (laugh)
Narration: This is going to be GREAT! Like… dancing down clouds!
(again angelic sound) Van B: When you’re in a positive mood it’s not that you underestimate how dangerous something is… it’s that the danger doesn’t… doesn’t really resonate with you in any meaningful way because the positive mood is block that negative affect that might actually stop you from taking the risk.
Van B: you stop caring about how dangerous it is. [I’m now questioning whether we should intro the experts in these places where they have extended quotes? What do you think? Is it ok to just wait until the very end? I’m torn…]
Narration: You edge toward the chute in front of you…
You take a final look out across this grand view… and then…
Cindy (in scene): Woah! You can see it just went like that—it didn’t take the whole slope but it definitely took a whole layer.
Narration: That was an actual avalanche!
Cindy (in scene): and if we can see it from here it might’ve been 6 to 8 inches deep, right?
Johnny (friend from scene): Just… woah.
Narrtion: Several hundred feet of snowpack across the valley are just… gone.
Dan (scene): In your day to day life you just don’t see that much mass moving at that kind of a rate.
Cindy (scene): It brought up that fear of the experience of an avalanche. It still is there and it probably always will be. and I’m grateful for that cuz it’ s always gonna make me more aware. you know… so…
Dan (scene): What’s the? What is the experience you’re talking about? Can you give us a little bit more on that? The slide you’re in?
Narration: All of your attention goes to your guide…
Narration: she starts to tell a story…
Cindy this was in canada
Narration: Go along with her. Step into her story… Try to reconstruct the details. Imagine you were with her.
Cindy: And we’re going along. we’re into the trees.
And I turned around and I could see everybody was off the slope and as soon as I turned my head back, the snow was coming through the trees. [Like the gong sounds here]
And then that was it.
I felt like I was drowning and I started swimming, spinning my arms as hard as I could to try to get up.
I came up and I grabbed a gulp of air and went back down.
and i felt myself kinda fall like over a little bit of a…must've been a roll.
I could feel it slowing down um… and as it slowed down I came up again grabbed a gulp of air, and put my hands over my face. I just wanted an air pocket but other than that… I couldn’t move a single thing. like I tried to just wiggle my fingers, nothing.
and i just told myself “Cindy you’re going to be okay because the last thing you were looking at as you tumbled was the guides eyes. So I knew he was there. And I had to believe that. and I just said the guide’s gonna come get you… and that was it.
thankfully, i could hear a little bit of yelling.
Josh (imagined scene): I’m ok! Get Cindy!
Cindy (narrating): That’s all I heard. SO I was like ok, they’re gonna be here soon.
somebody was there and had my face unburied within 30 40 seconds maybe, maybe i don’t even know. Um
Cindy (narrating): so (push Cindy back into scene)
Narration: You look down the slope that could avalanche. Everybody’s quiet.
Narration: Someone backs away.
Jake (from scene): I dunno. I’m just getting a weird vibe. I dunno. My intuition is telling me something’s off.
Jess (from scene): That’s probably the breakfast burrito.
Emily (from scene): No worries man. We got you. Just follow behind us and you’ll be A-OK.
Tom (scene): Maybe we should listen to his vibe a little bit here.
Emily (scene): Come on Jake! What are you afraid of? (come on!)
Kristen (scene): You guys are being so mean!
Emily (scene): Let’s do it!
Group in scene - more mocking…
Emily (scene)“Look you guys… i checked the website and an app. the old grizzly dude at the cabin... old man winter... said it's going to be fine so let’s rip it up!"
Jake (scene): if he did say that, I'm sure it's fine!"
Emily (scene): come on, jake.
Jake (scene): Well
Jake: if you think this, and you're normally cautious, I know it's safe” You’re normally pretty cautious so if you think it’s safe then…
(angels) PHil: We call it contagious understanding. It’s like all of a sudden everybody knows that it’s safe.
Tom(scene): uh… question! why is one type of snow better than another for avalanching?
Josh (scene):i think it looks pretty good. I mean, I guess, it just snowed so it’s probably pretty fresh, right?
Tom (scene): but i mean, how do you know? you’re just guessing? where’s your microscope? Does it change later or how does that work?
Josh (scene): I’ve been up this mountain a million times.
Phil: we tend to focus on what we do know and that can lead to dramatic overconfidence
Tom (scene): yeah, but… why would it all of a sudden break off the side of the mountain and start an avalanche? I mean this is really cause for concern, isn’t it?
PHIL: There’s just so much that we don’t know…
From below… Phil: it’s really about not noticing complexity.
Not noticing complexity
Jess (scene): We have a few… I mean it’s like a hundred feet before we hit the trees. and the trees are always solid so…
Cindy: I am recommending this, but if you are uncomfortable, now is the time to speak up.
Johnny (scene): Look you’re just scaring yourself. We just need to go for it. and uh we’ve got great conditions. you don’t need to worry about it.
Tom (scene): yeah sorry I don’t mean to… I don’t want to hold back the group or anything but you know, I just I’m new at this so um…
(Keep wind going)
Emily: are we gonna keep talking about this or are we actually gonna do it?
Cindy: does everybody feel like we should ski this today? everybody feel comfortable skiing it? Does any body have any concerns about skiing this? You’re comfortable skiing this?
Narration: Well, are you?
Will you take the risk and ski down this chute??? You could decide it’s not worth it and just gently slide back down the mountain… the way you hiked up. If we’ve done our job, you should feel a little conflicted. [I feel like we never set up the options earlier on. Up above, could we hint at the fact that there are two options?]
You can decide at qualiapod.com , and then you’ll find out if you made it down safely with an algorithm created from reported backcountry statistics. AND you can see what other people choose… alongside the literature and conversations we used to create this episode.
Take a few deep breaths. Let your mind do whatever it wants to do. You’ve been focused on this mountain scenario long enough.
Narration: In this episode, you heard from…
Prof. Fernbach has also written an excellent book called the Knowledge Illusion, why we never think alone.
Now just to be clear here. Even though Cindy was helping us with acting, her avalanche story is real and she suffered ptsd from experiencing it. You can hear her full story and her reflections on it at our website.
Special thanks to our voice actors in this episode:
Also thanks to Rae Ellen Bichell and Leigh Paterson
And thanks to these fine people who helped us understand risk. Their full interviews are also on our website.
This show is an experiment and has been years in the making. We’ve used new interviewing technqiues, snow-shoed in the rockies with our guide to witness a real an avalanche, And we’ve spent countless hours researching and restructuring to immerse you in the science. You can hear about this process in one of our [upcoming mini-episodes]. And we’d really love to hear your feedback to guide the evolution of the show. We promise to read every email and every tweet you send our way.
If you like this immersive, sound-rich approach be the first cool person to tell your audio-loving friends about this new indie podcast. You can tell them it’s well worth the risk.
Qualia is a production of Jordan Wirfs-Brock, Dan Boyce, Josh Vertucci, and me, Bishop Sand.
Songscape continues for 4 minutes.