Minutes 2 Midnight

"Do you remember where you were when?..." That question sums up the purpose of this site. When reflecting upon any occasion of great importance, most people remember vividly where they were and what they were doing when the event occurred. Am I the only one who finds these reflections fascinating? I'm thinking "probably not", but let's see if you agree. Take a look at the topics below (in the "Categories" or "Recent Posts" sections), choose one of interest to you, and add your story.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

ABC News' Black Hole...Where Will You Be?

I recently heard about a news piece that ABC did on the "looming possibility" that a black hole would one day swallow up the earth. After the comforting introduction, I heard follow-up interviews in which unsuspecting "men on the street" were asked what they would do if they knew the exact date and time of their demise. The answers were typical: spend more time with family, engage in copious amounts of partying, etc... As I listened, the news story eerily reminded me of a little experiment that I had conducted at my place of work not too terribly long ago: It began when, for apparently no reason whatever, I asked one of my deliciously frank and forthright co-workers what he would do if he knew that a nuclear bomb had been launched, was headed his way, and was going to make impact in only a few minutes. To my surprise, ol' Lou did not miss a beat: "I'd grab a lawn chair, crack open a beer, put on my sunglasses, sit back and watch the show," he said decidedly. I remember busting out laughing while simultaneously looking at him in disbelief.
"You're kidding!" I said, still laughing. "That's what you'd do? You wouldn't try to find a bomb shelter or something?"
"Of course not," he said - smiling in his own right, but betraying deadly serious under the grin. "What's the point of trying to survive it? The world won't be livable afterward, anyway. Might as well grab the beers, enjoy the light show, and go out happy."
I have to admit to a certain degree of admiration for Lou's bravado at that point. If it had been almost anyone else, I would have chalked the answer up to posturing. But with Lou, I had no doubt that an impending nuclear attack would indeed find him - beer in hand - basking in an SPF 5000 glow.
At least a year after that conversation, Lou and I once again found ourselves re-hashing the subject. "Remember when I asked you about what you would do if there was a nuclear bomb?" I asked. Lou remembered distinctly and re-rehearsed his original answer to the question. As we laughed at the memory, a couple of guys passed us in the hall, and - curiosity being what it is - wanted to know why we were laughing. It was then that I realized that I was looking at the perfect little petri dish in which to conduct the perfect little unscientific experiment. What would these others say, I wondered, if I posed the same question to them? And so I did. Or rather, we did. Seeing immediately where I was going, Lou helped me describe our original conversation, and then waited expectantly while I fired away: What would you do if you knew your home was about to be hit with a nuclear blast? The first guy to answer thought for a second, and then let loose with his answer: "Well, I know one thing," he said sardonically, "there are about 4 or 5 people that I'd take out before I went myself." I'd be lying, here, if I didn't admit that peals of morbid laughter followed that comment. Our attention then turned to the other guy standing with us. "So what would you do?" I asked him. Like the previous commenter, he thought for a moment, and then offered: "Well, at that point it sure wouldn't be a problem to run around nekkid, so I'd probably do that." At that point, we lost it. I laughed so hard I almost cried - all the while marveling internally at the vast differences in how the human psyche handles impending doom. From lawn chairs to the altogether, it was all there. Granted, engineers are a strange breed, and my bunch being perhaps stranger than most, we might not represent a perfectly scientific sample. But if I could encounter such diversity of response in my little circle, how much more would there be if we widened things up a bit? If the question were thrown out to a thousand, how would the answers differ, and how would they be the same? Perhaps that is what ABC was wondering when they did their piece. Black hole? Nuclear attack? The result is the same. Where would you be...if you knew?

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