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6.81 seconds

Depends where you're looking from

Depends where you’re looking from


The Golden Gate Bridge is a popular spot for suicide jumpers. It’s roughly 746 ft (227 m) above water. That doesn’t leave much time between jumping and hitting the water. Neglecting (crucial) information like the jumper’s weight or the drag force from the wind, that comes out to roughly 6.81 seconds. Roughly 6.81 seconds to process what’s going on. Roughly 6.81 seconds to think about what would happen after dying, what family would think, what friends would say, what the world would be like down the road, if there’s a heaven…

I say roughly because every millisecond is important, but it’s only important relative to our perspective, looking from the outside in. It’s a measurable component that helps us to understand the magnitude of the situation. But those 6.81 seconds don’t matter to the jumper because as experience has told, many jumpers regret it the moment they let go. Not after being rescued or after breaking their bones. Not weeks after or a few years down the road, but immediately after jumping. One jumper described it like a mechanical switch that went off in his brain. Those years of what must have been unbearable pain and indecision — all of it suddenly superceded by the forces of nature and probability within a fraction of the time frame. It is a different moment than those who would commit suicide a different way, such as overdosing on pills, waiting for death to come to them while still leaving a small window of choice. It isn’t to say that the pain is any less or any different, but jumping from that bridge and letting unbridled physics take over is complete suspension.

With the talk of suicide comes religion, but again, that’s something we bring up, something that comes from our perspective. And by we, I mean those of us who haven’t gone over that railing and into the abyss. No matter how many times you’ve gone to church or how dedicated of an atheist you think you are; this is raw — much larger in magnitude than any social construct we believe to be innate to ourselves. With every fragile layer of social conditioning suddenly peeled away. experiencing a moment like this is probably the closest anyone can get to understanding their own mortality and where they truly stand in life.


Gaze into the abyss long enough, it starts to gaze back..

Gaze into the abyss long enough, it starts to gaze back..


And of course, it is important to know what they think when they jumped. Ken Baldwin thought to himself, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

Life is difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to know what we want until our choice gets taken away from us. But really, we never lose the ability to choose, our circumstances just change.

Written to Hammock – The Silence


Credit towards and Zine Project respectively for images.


It’s interesting to note in the New Yorker article that it is always done from the Golden Gate and never from the not as attractive Bay Bridge on the other side of San Francisco. In fact, people have crossed the Bay Bridge to jump over the Golden Gate. Even in a moment where they give full reins to nature, they still want control over this one aspect of it.

Addendum: That Radiolab link on the 11 vignettes of life after death is a real treat to listen to in its entirety.

Categories: Psychology.

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9 Responses

  1. I really like this post Macky. Hmm, if I had to hazard a guess – I think the moment of letting go, is one that which genuinely allows you to lose yourself in your entirety. I think you’re quite right to bring up control. I wouldn’t know, but I would suspect one’s entire selfhood evaporates within the first millisecond, perhaps here one sees the entire genuine lack of your control in life, and everything prior is accorded in a new perspective.

    Perhaps there is another way to look at this as well. Usually people who jump seem to be saying that they have absolutely no control in their life. This step forward is then literally and figuratively taking a leap, something they believe they have control over. However, once they do they take the leap, they realise at that very millisecond that they have too much power – that their actions which they controlled upon that jump could have made them realise that they actually have an overwhelming amount of control – so much that they no longer have control (physics – gravity). In other words, it seems like control is not a personal self-control issue, but the control of an external force that guides your life – like the unfortunate fate of Oedipus. However, that ‘fate’ which is understood as control in present times comes full force within those 2.25 seconds, that your wish is entirely your command, that once you jump, you will and must die. This then becomes traumatic – I never thought I would have entire control of any of my actions, that is why I jumped, but now everything is accorded exactly to my actions and I had no idea this was going to happen, I had no preparation for this. I didn’t think I would “die-die.”

    I have had 2 people whom I personally know that jumped. I don’t know. Life is just so uncanny, you know?

  2. Hmm. There might also be an aspect of multi-/ambi-valence in play. There are many reasons to live, and many ways to give your life meaning. The hopelessness that leads to suicide (or the feeling of having lost control) might in fact be the fear of committing to any one of them, of closing off possibilities and accepting one reality, one narrative, as the defining one. It makes for a much more flattering story to say that you’ve lost control than to admit that maybe you’re afraid of the control you do have. Anyway, jumping could then be interpreted as an attempt to avoid having to choose anything, but it does so by making the most definitive and irrevocable choice possible.

    And then the philosophy and religion that comes after would make sense as a means to try and restore some meaningful basis to life (but I guess in Nachlasse’s control story, it could be an attempt to outsource control to an external agency).

    The specificity of the Golden Gate bridge is also a fascinating thing. My suspicion there is that the GGB makes for a much more romantic narrative. The question is just who is the audience of that narrative. Is the jumper trying to add romance to a story that he’s telling himself while still alive, or is he thinking about posterity and trying to bring his survivors to see him in a certain light? I mean, if there was no communication involved, there are innumerable cheap and unromantic ways to off yourself. (Leads to the follow-up question of what different methods communicate. Different topic for another day perhaps.)

    You Guys might enjoy Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’, which is pretty topical. I’ve also noticed that those of us longer in tooth and greyer in mane could learn a lot about music from y’all. I request music posts, if any suitable angle strikes you.


    “6.4311. Death is not an event of life. One does not experience death.”

  4. @Guy:

    I think you’re absolutely right about possibilities. Perhaps there are two ways to go from here. I think firstly, what we’re both saying can be accorded together – the closed possibilities that people believe their lives are based upon is genuinely interpreted as the harshness unyielding ‘fate’ of life – in this sense is how I’m using the external agent. Like Oedipus – no matter what he did, how far he tried to run – he could not escape his fate. We can read it both parts equally Freudian and equally normal – the first fork leads to possibilities that are closed by the suicidal person him/herself (unconscious) and they believe life is just like that. But this reading does give too much agency (ironically) to the individual – if choices are all unconscious are they really ours? The second fork of the normal reading simply suggests that the person really does try – but external structural circumstances made it impossible for the person to advance in life at all.

    But the important thing to note perhaps, would be that Oedipus didn’t kill himself. He gouged his eyes out – which is entirely different from ending one’s life. The latter, I claim, requires that external agent.

  5. SkepticalChemist2013-04-16 @ 23:15

    I just made a calculation in my head and if we consider one free falls from 220m it would take roughly 7 seconds to reach the bottom. Weight is irrevelant in this case. However if we include wind speed which would not change the time it would take the object to reach the ground (if we consider the force is perpendicular to the object, which is the general case if you look at any flag poles on bridges). Even if we count 20m/sec drag applies a force 45 degrees to the object it would take 3 seconds at best. You might ask why is this so important, I believe it is the most important information, with the adrenaline rush one feels after letting himself go these 3-6 seconds could feel like half an hour in one’s perception. I couldn’t wrap my head around one can cover 220m in 2.15 seconds because you have to be around 7 to 8th seconds of free fall to cover that distance in 2.15 seconds. The horror isn’t just 2.15 seconds or 6, because it feels so much longer is the exact reason a person is changed forever, it’s like a time machine! It’s the reason for the cliche that your life goes past like a polymer movie film not because it had happened but because it is happening as you were falling all the way to the end, maybe last time you went to sleep and your brain releases the final drops of DMT in your skull hours before before it is shattered you realize everything, you figure it all out. In a matter of seconds. Or more. But you know what they say, it’s all relative.

  6. mackytrajan2013-04-18 @ 07:52

    Thanks for replying SChemist, I redid the calculation and you’re absolutely correct, this error explains lots of things in my personal life, if I do say so myself!

    I’ve heard the DMT release before death thing before, but I don’t know how true it is; I’d kind of heard it through the grapevine, mostly through people who had tripped a lot, so I kind of refrain from mentioning it, but if it DOES happen to be true, well, that’s a very interesting thing.

    I don’t know why having your life flash through your eyes would happen at that moment. And there’s still a possibility that people recalled that moment differently than the way it happened at that time, making an error in interpretation. I think it just has to do with the way that things that happen-to-us have a very real, physiological effect — just to take things out of the philosophical, mental, and psychological realm for a moment.

    One interesting story I read was about someone who had dated a girl at one point, only to break it off after which they hadn’t seen each other for a few years.. After some serious brain injury, she had a form of amnesia where she didn’t remember who he was. They met again a while after that, and even though she didn’t remember who he was, she said something along the lines of “My heart is beating really fast right now, and I don’t know why.”

    I guess it’s because we’re the everchanging composite of all of our experiences. There’s “someone” who made brilliant use of the nature of quantum mechanics to explain the way someone wades through reality like water — and the manner in which it is done is that a single decision completely destroys all former possibilities; that decision now forever completely affects everything else — everything done after that moment is done relative to that. (Sorry if that didn’t come out so well)

    Kind of scary to think about I guess, the notion that everything we do has repercussions is a bit frightening. But I (would like to) think that it means we get to take responsibility for what we do and take pride in our accomplishments, because they are definitely real.

  7. Specific bridge gives you courage to do it, if you didn’t have it initially. Perhaps any recognition of death needs to accord within master signifier instead of big other – death as fulfillment only once recognized. Narrative, possibly, but only leading up – jump itself must be accorded, no longer narrative.

  8. Clicheguy2013-07-20 @ 01:45

    I would say that the Golden Gate Bridge is preferred because suicide plans often involve being a copycat. Becoming well known as a suicide spot probably increased the number of suicides that occur there.

Got insight?

Continuing the Discussion

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