Today, we wonder why the reckless survive. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
So why do the reckless
survive? They expose themselves to more danger.
Surely that threatens their Darwinian survival.
You'd expect each generation to be more careful
than the last.
But recklessness does survive -- generation after
generation. Maybe we need risk-taking for survival.
The hunter who won't face a buffalo will starve.
The parent who won't risk her life to save her
child faces Darwinian extinction.
Author Melvin Konner asks us to look more closely
at the risk-taker -- the sensation-seeker.
Psychologists talk about four faces of that person.
The first is thrill and adventure seeking -- race
cars and mountain-climbing. The second is
experience seeking -- like travel or new friends.
The third is disinhibition -- hedonism in its
various forms. Fourth is boredom susceptibility --
simply being unable to bear routine.
That list caught me short. It embarrassed me. For
years I've praised the inventive mind. Now a
psychological profile for recklessness fits the
inventive mind perfectly.
Thrill and adventure seeking is at the heart of
creativity. The Eureka moment is a mountain-top
experience, make no mistake! And we chance terrible
frustrations and defeat to get there.
Experience seeking means opening ourselves to the
dangers of change. That's how we forge creative
Creativity is certainly hedonistic. The moment of
discovery is pure pleasure. Like other physical
pleasures, it's a moment of letting-go -- of
And invention is the only real way to beat back
boredom. It takes off the comfortable protective
old shoe of familiarity.
The reckless survive because invention is the prime
act of human recklessness. It's also our major
survival trait. Unlike bears, we can't survive the
cold without heaters and houses. Unlike lions, we
can't kill prey without weapons. Unlike oxen, we
can't graze grass that we didn't plant and harvest.
Recklessness is more than entering a burning house
to save our child. For our frail species it is
that, but it's more. It's the courage of the
creative spirit. It's the hedonistic pleasure of
abandoning control. It's risking change.
We're the only species that must give its future
over to the fruit of its inventions. That's
dangerous business. And some of the reckless among
us do perish. But recklessness survives, just
because our species depends upon it.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds