Lecture 5 – Luck, games, and stupidity
In the last of his Christmas Lectures, Dr Hugh Montgomery reveals how our intrinsic survival kit – our genes – can also influence how well we fare when faced with life-threatening situations.
On the night of March 24 1944, in the midst of World War II, the plane bearing Flight Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade came under attack from a German aircraft and burst into flames. Preferring to die from the impact of landing rather than stay put and be killed by the fire, Nicholas jumped from his burning plane without a parachute. It was a decision that ultimately saved his life; his fall was softened by the pine forest and snow-covered ground that lay below, and he lived to tell the tale.
Nicholas survived by chance, but, as Hugh Montgomery reveals, not all cases of survival depend on being in the right place at the right time.
In perilous situations, genes determine how well we respond to risk factors like the cold, pain, smells and infection. Just a small difference to the DNA in our genes can make a large difference to how we react. But our environment can have a large influence, too. So, just how much of extreme survival is down to nature, and how much is nurture?
To find out Hugh also talks to Uraguayan political figure Roberto Canessa, one of 16 survivors who lived for two months in the Andes mountains after their plane crashed. In his remarkable tale of survival we see why in extreme situations, some people live and some people die.
About the 2007 CHRISTMAS LECTURES
When a huge meteorite hit the Earth 65 million years ago, it wiped out the dinosaurs whilst our ancestors survived. Since then our planet has experienced several similar episodes of mass extinction and each time, our ancestors have lived on. We have evolved to withstand the most extreme environments, but what determines our survival?
The science of survival
In his series of five lectures from 2007, geneticist Hugh Montgomery leads an exploration of human endurance and the very thin line between life and death.
Hugh reveals how the body is equipped to perform exercise, adjust to high altitudes, and endure hot and cold climes. Discover how the human body responds when faced with peril, and why some people take flight, whilst others stay and fight. Plus, find out how our bodies deliver the energy we need to react, and what happens to our vital organs when the adrenaline kicks in.
A question of fate?
Along the way, Hugh speaks to real-life survivors who have fought some of the world’s most extreme conditions. From starvation to dehydration, and severe cold to blazing heat, their extraordinary tales remind us of the fragility of human life and the astonishing endurance of the human body.
Why do some people live and some people die in perilous situations? Does our fate boil down to good old-fashioned luck, or does it lie deeper in our genes? And just how much influence does our environment have over our chances for survival?
NB: We do not currently have a version of Lecture 1 available due to technical issues.