by
The odds of being run over the minute you walk out of your door are one thousand, seven hundred and eightytwo to one. You have a one in eight hundred and ninetythree chance of being killed in your own car within ten minutes of starting the engine. One in every three hundred and twenty cars is technically unsafe, and a crash in one of these is sixtyeight percent likely to kill you.
Needless to say, I walk to work.
Of course, this isn't safe either. There are more ways to die on your way to work than I can think of. For example, did you know that for every thirty thousand steps you take, you will trip up twice? Did you also know that every time you trip, you have a four percent chance of breaking your neck, which is fatal eightysix percent of the time?
Now you do.
Walking is extremely dangerous. I wouldn't do it, but it's slightly safer than driving. I live three miles from work, so I take about an hour. Statistically, I will strain myself and suffer a stroke after I have done this twenty thousand, four hundred and twentyfive times. I started counting how many times I walked to work after I figured this out, but then I realised that I didn't know how many times I had walked to work before, and then I lost count. It's a real worry.
Work is a safe haven by comparison. Fatal accidents are rarer. Every time you use the photocopier, you only have a one in one million, eightyone thousand, nine hundred and two chance of being fatally poisoned by the fresh ink. The chance that the photocopier will explode and kill you is one in seventy million, twenty thousand and seventyseven. Which, let's face it, is so remote you would be silly to worry about it too much.
That said, the chance of working yourself to death is one in one hundred and fortysix. So don't work too hard. That's the company's advice. The company gives this kind of advice during recruitment to protect itself. The chance of suffering from Probability Anxiety, or P.A., working as a Risk Assessment Officer is one in six, rising to one in four after five years. You get told this before you join the company. Each office has its own psychiatrist, who says things like "Think of a world without numbers", and "Try and do something fun without calculating the risk of dying. Something like playing football."
One in four thousand, three hundred and twentythree.
The point is, the company is very honest about the risks, and tries to help sufferers, because the chance of successfully suing a company that takes these precautions is zero. It's one of the few things you can be really sure about.
There are different kinds of Probability Anxiety, according to the psychiatrist. Stage One is just vague paranoia about dying. Eightyone pointfour percent of sufferers only have Stage One. Stage Two, which I have, has the paranoia, but sufferers also have an obsessive need to calculate the probabilities of any given event. Stage Two occurs in twelve pointtwo percent of sufferers. More serious cases of Stage Two have been known to have heart attacks if they couldn't figure out something. This only occurs in one percent of Stage Twos. It hasn't happened to me yet. Although statistically, this makes it more and more likely to happen each time I need to calculate something. The numbers aren't on my side.
The second most serious stage is Stage Three. Stage Three has all the effects of Stages One and Two, but it also detaches the sufferer from reality. Stages Threes see everything that happens in the entire world as a series of numbers and calculations. Taking a single step becomes a matter of calculating the angles and velocity involved, as well as the percentage chance of something going wrong. Eating involves calculating the optimum number of chews, and the speed of the food travelling down your throat. Sex becomes a series of multiplications and differential equations. Six pointthree percent of those affected will reach Stage Three.
Finally, for the remaining pointone percent there is stage four. Sufferers stop seeing the world as we know it altogether. Instead, they visualise everything in numerical form, technically blind, but all the while in their heads they map out some new form of reality created entirely from fractions and percentages. Luckily for me, this only happens to one in every one thousand cases.
Thoughts like this mean work never gets done quickly. But that's ok. My company employs a hundred and six Risk Assessment Officers. Fortytwo have Probability Anxiety. If you make sure these guys don't work together, then you can get along fine. Generally, people with P.A. are excellent at calculating the probability of dying from any one thing, but when put together they just upset each other and nothing gets done.
There is a lot of fuss in the office today, because someone is saying that a cure has been developed. I don't know what to think. Despite repeated attempts, there is no cure for P.A. People have been trying for a long time. The most successful attempt to cure to date is by weaning the patient off numbers. To wean a patient off numbers is not hard. To do this, you overload them with algebra. Express everything as a factor of x and present every problem and decision in the form of a + b = c. If you do this with everything in the patient's life, they will soon forget numbers, which they can then be retaught without any apparent sideeffects.
The only problem with this is that the patient has a ninetysix percent chance of becoming addicted to language. If everything in the patient's life is expressible as a factor of a letter, the patient will then begin to articulate everything he or she sees, hears, does and thinks. All at the same time. This will result in the patient constantly vomiting out a seemingly inarticulate stream of noise. In three percent of cases of language addiction, the patient can be weaned off language. To do this, simply place the addict in a dark, windowless room for two and a half days. They can have no sensory stimulation or nourishment for this period, with one exception. Every time the addict speaks, a powerful strobe light is flashed directly into their eyes for ten seconds, inducing an epileptic attack. After two and a half days, through a combination of neurological and physical damage, and on the verge of braindeath, the addict is brought out of the room completely free of language addiction. There is only one drawback to this; it leaves the subject in a state similar to that of a newborn child. Completely blank. Born again at forty.
So I don't get too excited when people talk about a cure.
Anyway, I've figured out a better way of curing P.A. I'll tell you about it in a minute.
On average, I will make thirteen hundred and fortyseven calculations related to work every day. Calculations not related to work average seven thousand, one hundred and seventeen. These calculations, as well as a lunch break and twenty minutes talking to the psychiatrist, make up my entire work day. At half past four there is a one in five chance that someone will ask if I would like to go to the pub, raising to one in two on a Friday. Today is Wednesday, and nobody asks. That doesn't mean nobody is going. Just that they haven't asked me tonight. Other nights this might bother me, but not tonight. Tonight I wouldn't have gone out even if they had asked me.
Tonight is the test run of my cure for Probability Anxiety.
To cure Probability Anxiety is, if I am right, very simple. All you have to do is brave the walk to the local DIY shop, and buy several feet of rope. There is a ninety percent chance they will have some rope left, even after five o' clock. Then you walk home to your house, on which there is a one in seventeen thousand, three hundred and two chance of dying.
Not nearly high enough for me to begin the experiment, but a chance nonetheless.
Once you get home tie the rope into a noose, using instructions you have downloaded off the internet during work hours. In doing this, there is a fifteen percent chance you will be caught and fired, or at least disciplined. At home however, you have no such danger of interruption, as one in seven marriages where one person has P.A. will end in divorce within three years.
Attach the other end of the rope to something on the ceiling, preferably not a light, as this has a forty three and a half percent chance of breaking if you are over twelve stone. For this test, a clothes bracket securely fastened overhead is being used. This has only a three percent chance of breaking.
Place a chair under the noose, and climb onto it.
Secure the noose around your neck.
Kick the chair away.
Wait.
Wait.
If you are hung by the neck for more than twenty minutes, you have a zero percent chance of surviving.
I like those odds.
Wait.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nathan Wilkinson is currently just about to leave York University, where he will then lead a life of uncertainty and little forward planning. He has never been published anywhere before, though he got close a few times. He keeps writing anyway, in the hope that one day it might happen. At the moment, he's trying to write a full novel about waiters starting a revolution, dissertation notwithstanding.
