I attended the fourth annual American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14th to 16th, 1996. The cryonics organization CryoCare Foundation, of which I am Secretary and Vice-President, held its Annual General Meeting on the preceeding afternoon — Friday the 13th. So the morning of Friday the 13th was a convenient time for me to go Bungee jumping. It was also convenient for CryoCare President Brian Wowk and CryoCare Treasurer Kevin Brown to come-along to watch.
I had been thinking about doing a bungee jump for two years — from the time I first learned that Las Vegas had such a facility — when I was attending my first A4M Conference in 1994. It is difficult to explain the fascination and "pull" this had for me, but I didn't really seriously believe that I was risking my life to jump. I felt mainly that this was a way of confronting fear — and of experiencing something very unusual.
The 175-foot platform for jumping is located next to Circus Circus. I had to fill-out forms absolving A.J. Hacket Bungy company of responsibility for any injury I might have, while attesting to my perfect health. I initialed more statements than I initialed for my cryonics sign-ups. A 16-year-old girl walked-in off the street and spontaneously decided that she too would take the leap.
At the bottom of the elevator a list of medical conditions was posted on the wall, and I again had to attest that I had none of them. Brian, Kevin, the teenager, her girlfriend and I accompanied the staff on the long elevator ride upward. I think I may have commented on the value of having two cryonicists with me, but this could not be taken too seriously. But being on top of a 175-foot platform would have made their response-time pretty slow if something had gone amiss. Even if they had been standing at the bottom next to a Portable Ice Bath (a somewhat ridiculous image), the scraped-up remains would not have made for a good cryopreservation. Although I can see macabre humor in all this, I am still somewhat amazed, in retrospect, that I chose to jump. I have invested so much in the chance that cryonics can save me that it makes little sense that I should take a chance of being destroyed — on little more than a lark. I had not been prepared for the depth of terror that I would experience on the top of that pole — or the degree to which I began to think that I may actually be risking my life. I am often very reluctant to back-down once I have committed myself, and this may eventually be my undoing.
I had a strong conviction that bungee jumping would be safe. How could there be a tall, expensive tower standing for years next to Circus Circus — and servicing a profit-making business — if it was really a death machine, or had at least caused several deaths? Capitalizing such a business presumes many thousands of jumpers, even at $50-a-pop. One of the staffers told me that a million people have bungee jumped at all of the A.J. Hackett outlets alone. (I didn't ask him about survival rate, because I wouldn't have believed his answer). My "faith in institutions" told me it was safe. This is ironic insofar as I have more often thought of myself as a critic of institutions. Also, I regard my cardiovascular system to be excellent — largely because of CRAN (Caloric Restriction with Adequate Nutrition) & exercise — so I felt my health risks were minimal.
The 16-year-old girl and I sat side-by-side as our ankles were wrapped with towels and tightly bound. We were told that it is best to look straight ahead and to not look down. I looked-down only once, and saw the 175-foot drop to the shallow pool below. It was so terrifying that I didn't look down again. I can't say that that was the end of my fear. Even looking forward over the Las Vegas skyline to the mountains I could not ignore what I was about to do.
All of my senses told me not to jump, but I had made up my mind. Feelings were not going to dissuade me. I'm sure similar psychological forces have allowed me to successfully practice CRAN. It is all "mind over matter" or will-power. A problem with this is that such will-power could potentially ignore valuable evidence from the senses or make me unresponsive to emotional issues.
Worse, however, was the fact that rational thought had become very difficult for me. I had the thought that this could all be a plot to induce me to kill myself. I was able to dismiss that idea, but it is also true that every other person on the tower was looking forward to my jump. I don't like the idea that I would jump primarily to avoid humiliation or to prove my "courage" — to them or to myself. I have better ways to spend my courage than by risking my life for no particular benefit.
If I had been more rational I would have carefully checked all my clamps, lines and connections. But I was too caught-up in my own emotions to do this in more than a perfunctory manner. My ankles were tightly bound, so I could only move toward the platform in tiny "baby steps". I made the statement that "I am very afraid", but that was the limit of my "caving-in" to emotion. My will was firm, but my terror was still throwing my rational faculties out of kilter. It was as if I had suddenly materialize on the top of this tower and that I was totally shocked by being there and by what I was about to do.
Now I was afraid not just of the jump, but that my confusion was so great that I would make a fatal mistake and do the wrong thing. A staffer told me that I should jump at the count of "1", and then started counting-down from "5". I found this to be frightfully complex & confusing — why did they tell me to jump at "1" and then say "5"? I hesitated a moment at "1", but then spread my arms and pushed-forward.
Soon I was looking-down and plummeting earthward. There was little terror — it was more of an other-worldly break from life as it is normally experienced. An "altered state of consciousness". Life in suspense, with me in a bizzare state of detachment. The tension in my ankles increased gently, and I sprang upwards, oscillating less often than I had expected. Soon I was just hanging above the shallow pool and was reaching for the grappling-hook held by the person who would gradually let me down onto the vinyl-covered couch.
Brian later asked me if I had not been agonizing over the surprisingly long period (in his estimation) between when I jumped off the platform to when the cord began to tug me upward. But I was really not conscious of this. I had spent an enormous amount of emotional energy on my decision and continued resolve to willfully jump, but once I had jumped I no longer felt that I had choices to make or that there was anything I could do. There may have been relief, but in saying this I am (ironically) only speculating about my own emotions.
I am not a thrill-seeker. I have sky-dived once, but that too was done as a novelty. Somehow, a 175-foot tower over a city is more terrifying than the view from an airplane over countryside. I get more excitement from science, which does not involve the same risk. Admittedly, the risk to life was probably very small, but when the possible cost (loss of life) is so high, even a low probability can lead to a significant negative Expected Value. By what benefit can I justify such a cost? I placed my life in the hands of thrill-seekers, not rocket-scientists. If they had made a mistake in hooking-me up, I was not in a state of mind to monitor the situation.
My goal is to live at least a millenium. If I live long enough, and if I take enough similar low-risk chances, one of them will inevitably be fatal. As it is, I often "kick myself" for the risks I take crossing the street or rushing through traffic in an automobile. I love life and I embrace every life experience that I have had, but I will not bungee jump again. But this in no way detracts from the fact that I cherish all of my experiences, and that I am glad that this one is now included in my repertoire.
For a short video clip of my jump, see :
For a short video clip of my jump, see (3) :