In the face of catastrophe, and beyond luck, survival is as much a factor of mental acuity than anything else.
I just finished Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It’s a compelling book, and I’d recommend it not only for the gripping true stories of survival and the advice these tales impart, but particularly for its examination of how our brains work. This is as much a study of psychology and introductory neuroscience as it is a dos-and-don’ts of how to handle being lost at sea, stranded in the wilderness, or any number of other life-and-death events.
Consider this passage:
The limited nature of working memory, attention, and the executive function, along with the shorthand work of mental models can cause surprising lapses in the way we process the world and make conscious or unconscious decisions.
This is an eloquent explanation of how we can become distracted and thrown off from basic logic, like following standard safety procedures – things that mountain climbers, for example, should do practically as second nature.
And on adaptability, this passage:
We all make powerful models of the future. The world we imagine seems as real as the ones we’ve experienced. We suffuse the model with the emotional values of past realities. And in the thrall of that vision, call it, “the plan, writ large,” we go forth and take action. If things don’t go according to the plan, revising such a robust model may be difficult. In an environment that has high objective hazards, the longer it takes to dislodge the imagined world in favor of the real one, the greater the risk. In nature, adaptation is important. The plan is not. It’s a Zen thing. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan, too.
Phrasing like this – and applying Zen principles to survival concepts – kept me interested the whole way through.
This book’s subtitle in some versions is “True Stories of Miraculous Endurance and Sudden Death,” and while it certainly covers that, it explores far more – particularly in terms of how the mind handles itself in extraordinary situations.
I listened to the audiobook version from Audible.com, narrated in the authoritative yet friendly baritone of Stefan Rudnicki. Visit the Deep Survival page at Audible to read other reviews and hear a sample.