About the Boring Flight Sim

Posted on: January 29th, 2012 by
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In my last post I introduced the Boring Flight Simulator, which was nothing more than a random number generator, aimed at giving some hands-on experience with the odds and statistics of air travel.

Many fearful flyers consider knowledge of safety statistics to be logically reassuring but practically useless in assuaging fear. I have speculated that one reason for this may be that humans simply do not understand odds and large numbers, having a natural bias toward presuming that their “number will come up” anytime and soon — you need look no further than the success of the various gambling industries around the world for proof of this. And, of course, many of us are quite simply not “numbers people.”

The purpose of the Boring Flight Simulator, which allows you to observe how truly unlikely it is that you will be harmed when you fly, is therefore to take such discussions out of the realm of maths, and into a hands-on practical experiment you can try anytime, anywhere. The idea is that by repeatedly observing the almost certain safety of the numbers you may, perhaps, begin to believe it.

Is that alone going to cure fear of flying? No, but in conjunction with other efforts such knowledge growth, psychological support and encouragement and the teaching of anxiety management techniques, it may prove to be a useful piece of the puzzle. Feeling is believing, and the Boring Flight Sim allows you to feel the numbers.

But, despite attempting to remove the necessity for maths, sometimes a partial delve into numbers can be helpful. Here’s a post I made on the Taking Flight support blog in which I attempt a simple explanation of the numbers involved…

Every time you play you have 1 chance of losing (YOUR number comes up) and 4,999,999 chances of winning (meaning ANY OTHER NUMBER COMES UP, representing a boring flight and you arriving at your destination safely).

I hear you say, “Surely the more I play the greater my chance of losing, and having the number I wrote down come up on Fear Dragon’s stupid simulator.”…

Correct, but there is still a VERY good chance your number will NEVER come up, and here’s why…

To give yourself the same chance of your number coming up as if, say, number 22 came up on a roulette wheel (which has 38 slots in the USA) you will have to play my game 131,000 times.
If you click the TAKE A FLIGHT button once every 10 seconds this will take you 15 days… if you don’t sleep.

Even then, that only gets you to the same odds as a single spin of a roulette wheel. To get another spin of that wheel you’ll need to click my button for another 15 days.

That means your are almost certain to be bored, no matter how many times you play.

It’s all headache inducing stuff, and not easy to wrap one’s head around, which is why I made the Boring Flight Simulator game. Keep pressing the button for as long as you like, imagining that each click is a flight, until you are convinced, in your guts, that your chances of arriving at your destination are very, very good and the chances of YOUR number coming up are very, very low.

The funny thing about us is that we BELIEVE our number will come up any time now, and WAY OVERRATE the chances of this occuring.

So powerful is this innate misunderstanding of numbers that I felt fear when I suggested you play this game. What if he clicks the button once and his number comes up? Won’t you have confirmed his worst fear?

And yet, the numbers don’t have emotions; the numbers don’t have memories; the numbers don’t care if you play or not; and the numbers don’t give two hoots for all of your arguments about wings, turbulence and distracted engineers. The numbers don’t have fear.

Despite my fear and yours, you will find it is almost certain that your number will not come up, no matter how many times you press the button.

No one is going to tell you, and you certainly will not believe, that air travel is 100 percent safe. It isn’t. But it is as near to it as just about anything.

Do you have the courage to press the button 100 times to see if your number comes up? (Do I have the courage to even suggest it?)

Of course, the knowledge gained by this experiment is not going to help you if you believe the Universe is structured such that your plane will crash because you have chosen it. That is a different issue entirely!


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