PMBAPsychology & Communication

Deep Survival – 2


Note: Because this book is so thick and full of stories, anecdotes and repetition, making it difficut to summarize, I am publishing the summary in two parts. Here is the second. The first part is here. Moreover, certain chapters are somewhat redundant, I skipped the ones that I thought brought little value to the overall work. I have put a concise description in parentheses of each passage to do with the title of these chapters that I don’t necessarily address here.

Part 2 : Survival

When you see someone crying, whether because they are in mourning, or because their son is far away, or because they have lost a possession, be careful not to be carried away with the idea that bad things have befallen them. Remember that in the moment what is affecting them is not the accident, which doesn’t affect anyone but them, but the judgment that they bring to the accident.



  • Chapter 9 : Bending the Map (The importance of an appropriate mental model for your surroundings, the 5 stages of loss)

One day in 1998, Ken Killip, a strong and experienced firefighter, took a three day hike with his friend, York, in Rocky Mountain National Park, a huge wild expanse of some 1,000 square kilometers covered with mountains and forests


Parc National des Montagnes Rocheuses

Photo by The Brit 2

Parc National des Montagnes Rocheuses

Photo by tgrt

They had a specific itinerary to complete of around 10 kilometers with their heavily stuffed packs and one part of their hike took them up to height of 4,000 meters. They were sharing their load and York was carrying the tent. The latter had to regularly wait for Killip who walked less quickly than he did. After five or six hours, he got tired and left Killip behind – people regularly fail to understand that they should travel at the pace of the slowest, not more quickly.

Killip was following York who had been before and knew the way. And while Killip had the map, York had the compass. So when Killip saw York gradually disappear, he did not understand the insidious process that was about to play out.

One type of mental model that people form is a mental map: a schema of the geographic area and what route to take. Killip had formed such a mental map ever since he had left his car. Because he was following York, he did not check his topographic map and it is not a good idea to create a mental map. Now his mind was unconsciously in the middle of creating a mental map of a route from an unknown position to a destination he had never seen before.

He found himself climbing up a slope that he thought was Mount Ida. When he got to the top, he was supposed to find landmarks that York had told him about and would be able to guide himself by, in particular a lake and some rivers of crystal clear water where he could quench his thirst – he had drank the last drop from his water pouch three hours ago. When he got to the top, the lake and the rivers weren’t there, the sun went down and the temperature was slowly falling.

In fact, he was not on top of Mount Ida. He had following a path almost parallel in the beginning, which ended up being further away by more than 5 kilometers to the north. It was the result of a minor geographic error. He should have retraced his steps and tried to find the path. Instead of that he continued on.

The apparently irrational behavior makes sense when you consider the brain’s point of view. The fact of not having a mental map, of trying to create one in an environment where sensory facts have no sense is interpreted as an emergency and triggers a physical – or rather an emotional – reaction. The brain pushes the body to hurry up and get somewhere more quickly, somewhere that corresponds to your mental map, a place that has everything you need to survive.

This is how Killip found himself wandering in a thick forest in total darkness with the horrifying feeling that he didn’t know where he was. By chance, a ray of light lit up a little pond, at which Killip could quench his thirst and fill up his water pouch. He got ready to spend the night there, he had no choice at present. He had food in his pack, but York had the tent. He also had materials to light a fire, but he didn’t. The rules prohibited lighting fires in the park, and Killip, a good fireman, respected the rule. If he had lit a fire he would have been able to find himself more quickly.

When he woke up, he had not yet completely admitted that he was lost. He wandered about all day long, becoming even more lost, because he had expanded his circle of confusion so much that he could no longer retrace his steps. He decided to climb up a hill to see where he was, slipped half way up and slid down the slope, severely wounding his shoulders and his legs. He stopped again beside a small pond, refrained from building a fire even though it was freezing cold, and fell asleep.

When he awoke, he was filled with frustration. He decided to turn back. But he didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know which way he had come. Everything he tried took him deeper into the forest. He tried again to climb up a mountain. But a storm stopped him and sent him back into the forest. He knew his clothes were dirty. He fell asleep again on the slope, with one arm around a tree to avoid slipping. Two days ago he was a perfectly healthy hiker, competent and well equipped, his pack contained what he needed to live for a week in the wild. Now, he was huddled on an icy mountain slope, exhausted, famished, seriously dehydrated, hurt and hypothermic. What started out as a small navigation mistake had progressed, one innocent step at a time, into a fierce fight for survival.

Getting lost is not a matter of the place you are in. It’s a state of mind. It can happen in a forest or it can happen in your life. People know it instinctively.

Research suggests that there are five general stages that a lost person goes through:

  1. First, you deny that you are disoriented and you move with a sense of urgency, trying to reconcile your mental map with what you see.
  2. Then, when you realize you are lost, the sense of urgency vanishes and becomes a complete urgency to survive. Thinking clearly becomes impossible and actions become frenetic, unproductive and even dangerous.
  3. At the third stage, often after getting hurt or exhausted, you develop a strategy to find a place that corresponds to your mental map. It’s a bad strategy, because you don’t have a map; you are lost.
  4. You deteriorate both rationally and emotionally as soon as you perceive that your strategy is failing to resolve the conflict.
  5. In the final stage, when you are low on options and energy, you become resigned to your difficult situation and accept it for what it is.

Whether you like it or not, you must then make a new mental map of the place where you are. You must become Robinson Crusoe or you will die. To survive, you must find yourself. Then the place you happen to be will not be so important.

These stages for getting lost don’t only apply to hikers in the woods. For example, the Xerox corporation, a multinational American company which made its fortune by selling one of the premier photocopiers, got lost on the road that leads to innovation even though that was the spearhead of the company. Throughout the 70s, when personal information technology was in its infancy, and had barely started spreading through homes, and when computers such as the Apple 2 were driven by command line interfaces in green text on small yet cumbersome screens, Palo Alto Research Center, a laboratory that belonged to Xerox, invented the mouse, the graphic interface, the flat screen and Ethernet, the standard for information technology networks. Veritable treasures, a generation ahead of its time, which could have allowed Xerox to completely dominate the emerging market for computer technology.

But others were to become rich with these inventions. The executive leaders of Xerox, busy with their old mental models, were still worrying about managing paper and photocopiers and did not relate any more to the reality of a world which had changed rapidly, did not see the enormous potential of their discoveries. They left others to profit, notably Apple, and its founder Steve Jobs, who used their ideas to create Lisa, then the famous Macintosh.

Unlike Killip, Xerox is still lost in today’s woods.

Because Killip, after spending his third night in the woods, could no longer honestly deny that he was lost. He could have resigned himself to it, but that is not the path he chose. He built a shelter and lit a fire, something he should have done the first day. He remained in the same place for two days, resting his body, adapting to his environment. He had begun to make a map of his real surroundings rather than imagining the map he wished for. He had discovered the first Rule of Life: Be in the here and now.

At last, a helicopter passed so close that he could have thrown a stone at it. Then it went away. This almost broke his spirit in two. But one of the most difficult stages that survivors must learn is to give up the hope of being rescued, just as you must give up the old world that you have left and accept the new. There is no other way of calming the mind. This might seem paradoxical, but it is essential.

The pilot had seen Killip’s blue parka hanging on a branch, and he sent help to him. He had lost more than 10 kilos in five days (about 22 lbs). The condition of his knees required two surgeries. But he got out of it.


  • Chapter 11 : We’re all going to fuckin’ die! (The importance of staying calm and adopting a good attitude for survival)

In January 1982, Steven Callahan was preparing to cross the Atlantic alone on a small boat that he had built himself, setting out from the Canaries on his way to the Caribbean islands. Six days later, in the middle of a storm and in the middle of the night, his boat struck something – perhaps it was a shark, and began to sink. Callahan was woken up by the noise and had just enough time to jump out, without recovering his survival pack, before water got inside the boat. He managed to put on his life jacket in spite of the tall waves and the howling wind, remaining remarkably calm in a very dangerous situation which allowed him to maximize his chances of survival by acting efficiently from the onset of the catastrophe.

On the other side of the Atlantic, three months earlier, a ketch, the Trashman, was busy sinking with 5 people on board after encountering a storm. The ship’s second in command yelled “We’re all going to fuckin’ die! We’re all going to fuckin’ die!” and in his panic he inflated his life jacket without attaching it to the boat. It was carried off on the wind and disappeared forever from sight.

Callahan’s boat took a long time to sink. It was the result of Callahan’s ingenious design which included several reservoirs sealed in the hull. He left his life jacket attached to the boat for a moment wondering what to do next. When he looked at the moon he suddenly noticed how sharp his senses had become. His perceptions had not become narrow with fear, they had been awakened. Obviously, he was afraid and had begun a bitter struggle to get control over his thoughts, but he turned his fear in a focused way towards thinking about survival, the first act of a survivor. He was thinking then in a clear and effective way. He knew that his chances of being spotted and rescued were small. He also knew that the tide was moving towards the west, not the east, which gave him a journey of about 3,000 kilometers. His life jacket contained a survival kit, but the pack that was in the flooded boat contained many more supplies for survival. Then he took a risk; he dived, got to the inside of the boat, cut the strings of the pack and brought it up to the surface with him. He had just risked his life, but he was better equipped for survival now. He made a rational choice and assumed the risks and the rewards.

The account of his survival, which he shares with us in his best seller: Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, is an example of everything you need to do to survive; stay calm, make decisions and act, accept the situation and understand whether the chances are slim, everything is possible, and do your best, your absolute and total best, to survive.

Many people finding themselves in much less desperate situations than Callahan don’t stay calm and make calamitous mistakes from the beginning, drastically reducing their chances for survival.

So, on the Trashman, all that was left after the life jacket had been carried off on the wind was an inflatable Zodiac (dinghy) which did not have a survival kit. Five people, one of whom was seriously wounded after having been tossed on the rigging by a wave, were in this little semi-rigid dinghy. Other than the wounded one, who was in pain, the team divided quickly into two groups of two people with completely opposing attitudes; one, hysterical, panicked and refusing to face up to the situation, the other calm, accepting the situation and preparing psychologically to do everything in their power to survive, and not only for themselves, but also for all those that loved them and would suffer if they died.

The first group, and the wounded one died. The two others survived.



  • Chapter 14 : A certain nobility (The need to consider everything right up until the end)

When Solon, a great man in the state of Athens, visited the court of Croesus, the rich king of Lydia, the king showed Solon his enormous wealth and his palace and asked him:

“My dear Athenian guest, we often hear you spoken of here; you are famous for your culture and your voyages, which have taken you far and wide to many different places. What I would like to know is whether you have ever crossed paths with someone who is happier than all others?”

Croesus waited to be named, but Solon gave him the name of an ordinary man, Tellus of Athens.

“You see, in the battle of Eleusis he rushed into a breach and made our enemies turn tail. He died, but his death was splendid, and the Athenians gave him a magnificent public funeral and greatly honored him.”

Croesus was somewhat put out at not being mentioned. Solon then replied to him:

“I am not in a position to tell you what you are asking me to tell you until you are also dead. It is necessary to consider the end of everything, and see how it ends up, because the gods often offer prosperity to men and then destroy them completely and blindly.”

This, then, is the paradox of survival: it is not possible for a man or for a woman to say they have survived and be a perfect survivor until they are dead, because every test is a preparation for the next. Survival is a path that must be followed from birth until death.


  • Appendix : The rules of adventure

At this point you could look over everything that has been written and wonder: this is all very well, but what am I doing right now?

The book was not designed to tell people what to do in critical situations but rather to allow research for a better understanding that will allow them to know what to do when the moment arrives – and it always comes one way or another.

None-the-less, Laurence Gonzales offers some suggestions that can help in any difficult situation, not just catastrophes and accidents.

To avoid getting into difficult situations:


  • Notice, believe, and then act

Avoiding accidents is intrinsically tied to the fact of being intelligent. Neurobiologist Horace Barlow says that intelligence is the fact of “guessing well.” Training is an attempt to make more accurate predictions about your surroundings. But if your surroundings change, you will need to be open and polyvalent, and have the ability to notice what is really happening and adapt to it. Therefore training and prediction might not be your best friends.

In Kendo – a martial art involving sword fighting, the practitioner must not anticipate his opponent’s movements or give free rein to the tendency to predict, because if his opponent does not act in accordance with his predictions, it could lead to surprise, and then momentary confusion, and thus a sudden death. Instead, he must keep his eyes open, remain clear and calm, and act at a decisive moment. Kendo teaches concentration, precise control of the body, courtesy, humility and confidence in yourself. These are similar to the qualities you need when you meet with the forces of nature.

Those who avoid accidents and those who see the world clearly see it change, and change their behavior as a result.


  • Avoid impulsive behavior; don’t rush

Catecholamines are a double-edged sword. They give you power when you need an energy boost, but they can also excite you to the point where you make mistakes. Don’t be the skier or the snow-mobiler who takes a slope that is prone to avalanches just because it is a wonderful day and the beauty excites you.


  • Know your business

As the philosopher and emperor Marcus Aurelius put it: “For every particular thing, ask yourself: What is on the inside, how is it constructed?” A deep knowledge of the world that surrounds you could save your life.


  • Get information

The same accidents happen again and again, year after year. Do internet research. Ask people who know. Game wardens, rescue workers and local authorities will be happy to inform you.


  • Be humble

A Navy commander told Al Siebert, a psychologist who studies survivors, that “the Rambo type are the first to go.” Don’t only think that just because you are good at one thing you are good at something else. The other principle is that experience endangers success, “this lamp that lights up our backs.” The beginner has a more open mind on what could happen than an expert. Those who manage to gain experience while keeping the mind of a beginner become long term survivors.


  • If in doubt, don’t

This is a difficult piece of advice. You have bought your ticket. You have waited all year for this trip. You have bought all the equipment you need. It is difficult to admit that things don’t happen as expected. During these times, it is good to ask yourself if this is worth dying for.

To better manage difficult situations when they arise:

  1. Notice, believe. Be attentive to your new surroundings, accept them as well as the consequences that occur.
  2. Stay calm. Use humor to focus your fear. Survivors keep their sense of humor and therefore their cool. They use fear rather than being guided by it.
  3. Think/analyze/plan. Stay organized. Identify small manageable tasks. Survivors get organized quickly, define routines and instill discipline.
  4. Take decisive and appropriate actions. Be both brave and wise when you identify tasks. Survivors are ready to take risks to save themselves and others.
  5. Celebrate your success. Take joy in accomplishing tasks. It is a very important step in order to create a sense of motivation and not fall into hopeless depression.
  6. Consider yourself happy. Recognize it – you are alive. That’s how survivors become survivors and not victims. They always have someone else to help, even if they are not present.
  7. Play. Sing, play mind games, recite poetry, count whatever you like, do math problems in your mind.
  8. See the beauty. Survivors are sensitive to the wonders of the world. Beauty appreciation, the feeling of seeing something great, awakens your senses, reduces stress and greatly increases your motivation.
  9. Believe that you will succeed. Develop a deep conviction that you are going to live.
  10. Surrender. Let go of the fear of dying and accept it. Resign yourself without giving up.
  11. Do everything necessary. Be determined. Have the will and the skills. Survivors have a meta-knowledge: they know their abilities and don’t overestimate or underestimate them.
  12. Never give up. Don’t let anything break your spirit.

Book Summary:

This book is unique in the sense that it contains an excellent book hidden inside. You need to find it, and assemble it piece by piece yourself, perhaps in an amusing attempt to create a seemingly interactive Web 2.0 version of an old paper book. Actually, this book is thick, crammed, poorly structured, and hides the heart of its messages among numerous true stories, messages that are more or less repeated throughout the book from different angles. The storytelling side is interesting because it allows concepts to be presented well, but it becomes somewhat indigestible by virtue of telling us these stories over and over. Moreover, the author, a journalist by profession, ventures into very difficult scientific territory – like chaos theory or auto-organization – which he doesn’t seem to have totally mastered, even if his attempt is praiseworthy.

The book is written simply and reads easily, but it could benefit by being cut in half and condensing the format around the heart of the author’s ideas. And his ideas are, undeniably, worth the detour. Because what Laurence Gonzales gives us here is a survival philosophy and an extremely interesting analysis of the way the brain and mind work in emergency situations, which goes well beyond catastrophes to other physical accidents which can affect us. He describes the state of mind that separates those who survive from those who die. He describes the importance of mental models, of a positive mental attitude, the effects of stress and the absolute necessity of understanding the paradox: to survive you must surrender without giving in, that is to say, fully accept the reality in all its horror and never give up the will to survive. That allows you to quickly adapt to the situation rather than wallow in denial. And that helps you to dedicate yourself to the present moment, as the author describes it in the passages are reminiscent of certain passages of The Art of Meditation.

This book, despite its form that might lose some people, is therefore immensely interesting and allows people to learn many things about the way the mind works, and the attitude to adopt to get out of all sorts of prickly situations. And who knows, perhaps it will be useful to you one day to get out of a situation where your life is in danger?

Strong points:

  • Philosophy and psychology of survival
  • Universal subject that applies to every delicate situation in spite of its focus on catastrophes
  • Much interesting information on the the way the brain works, the role of certain hormones, and the way they function in crisis situations
  • Numerous stories illustrating the author’s points

Weak points:

  • Thick and crammed, needlessly long
  • Numerous repetition
  • A bit too full of stories for my liking
  • The author ventures into territory that is not an expert in, like chaos theory

Translated by

My rating: image image imageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Add one star if you are in a risky profession or practice a risky sport.

Have you read this book ? How do you rate it ?

Mediocre - No interestReasonable - One or two interesting paragraphsIntermediate - Some goods ideasGood - Had changed my life on one practical aspectVery Good - Completely changed my life ! (3 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)


Read more reviews about Deep Survival on Amazon.


PMBA Challenge:

Cost of book : € 12.57
Total cost of project : 236.34
Number of pages : 295
Total number of pages : 3606
Time to read it : 4H
Time to write this article : 10H
Total Time of Project : 137H30

10 thoughts on “Deep Survival – 2

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