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.comment: Without a Parachute

The Paradox of Inverse Situation

February 4, 2001

Back in my younger and (believe it or not) even more foolish days, I used to jump out of airplanes, fall for awhile encumbered by nothing but air, open a parachute, and land more or less elegantly more or less the place I hoped to land, in more or less the same condition in which had I departed the airplane.

After I had done this a few times, I was surprised to learn that I felt better about the whole process while I was in freefall than I did after the parachute had opened. Freefall didn't frighten me at all, but I was never comfortable hanging under a canopy.

Odd, isn't it? I mean, I was happy as can be in a situation that, without intervention, would very soon join me and the rocky soil unhappily (for me -- I cannot speak for the rocky soil or for the Earth's core, toward which I would be attempting to bore). But when the threat of violent death got removed and I was now doing something that feels a lot like a Ferris Wheel ride, I was troubled.

It didn't take a lot of cogitation to sort out, though. Freefall is a pleasant sensation, but the governing feature is the fact that just about anything that one does -- opening the parachute, which is all of the possibilities for meaningful action -- will improve the likelihood of survival. Ah, but once the parachute is open, the reverse becomes true: Any significant change will be for the worse. Those uncomfortable straps joining me to parachute suddenly seemed mighty thin. Anything but judicious use of the toggles, the steering controls, could cause one to swing beneath the canopy, and if one got really carried away it could cause a partial collapse of the parachute. Land facing any way other than into the wind and the ground could be zooming along at a surprisingly high speed -- and landing at 10 miles per hour vertical speed with a forward speed of 20 miles per hour or so is not something that makes for happy memories.

Wandering around the display floor at LinuxWorld, I was somehow drawn to remember those days, those sensations, and how they seemed paradoxically reversed.

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