[Not So] Irrational Fears; Damage vs. Risk

[Not So] Irrational Fears; Damage vs. Risk

Photographed on flight, approaching Istanbul.

The statistics of the risks of flying vs. driving is often used to illustrate irrational fears. The claim is that "flying is safer than driving", with "relative risk of driving being over 60 times higher". Yet, we "irrationally" fear flying more than driving. But the human mind works a little different than implied. An accident while driving, especially when you consider yourself to be s responsible driver, is not fatal fatal most of the time, whereas, if your plane goes down, chances are it will be fatal. The human mind understands this.

It also turns out that when fatalities per hour, rather than fatalities per mile is measured, "the risk of driving and commercial flights come out just about even". In other words, a three hour road trip has about the same risk as a three hour long flight. Maybe the human mind is not as "irrational" as we make it out to be.

Most risk analysis methods in engineering and business generally look at the risk of some event occurring. Even then, they are not very good when it comes to chaotic or complex systems. On the other hand, the [unconscious] human mind tends to calculate damage prior to risk; The mind tends to do a potential damage analysis. And there is a very good evolutionary reason for that. Given that most phenomena in nature is complex or chaotic, in other words, very difficult to measure and make accurate predictions, "safety" dominates. Where it may be next to impossible to measure risk, it is often easy to predict potential damage.

The risk of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake might be very low at a given location, but if somehow it happens, it is relatively easy to calculate that the damage would be much higher if this location were densely populated. So should urban planning be based on risk or damage? More broadly, in decision-making, under what circumstances should we consider risk over potential damage, and when should we prioritize potential damage over risk?
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