Deadly Disconnect

The human brain is an amazing organ. The San Francisco Chronicle and our local radio stations reported that three young hikers were swept over Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park yesterday afternoon.

If you haven’t been there yet, you should understand that Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall a bit upstream are truly magic places with, for this time of the year, enormous amounts of water shooting over the edge and thundering down the cliffs. The July sun and heat are melting the record snowpack rapidly, and as a consequence, the Merced River has turned into a torrent.

We were hiking there a couple of weeks ago, taking the Four-Mile Trail up to Glacier Point then following the Panorama Trail to Nevada Fall and down to Vernal Fall.

Here is our video of Vernal Fall, where the hikers died. Note the railing around the water—you can’t just fall in accidentally:

What I can’t understand is how anyone would dare to get within physical reach of this violent force, magnificent as it may be. It’s like trying to catch lightening bolts with your bare hands. My brain was ringing all sorts of alarm bells, just from hearing the thundering water. But surely, the hikers who got swept down must have received different signals from their brains, maybe something that urged them, siren-like, to go swimming or wading in the pool just upstream of the edge, or whatever, and it cost them their lives. Why do our brains do that? And why do they do that mostly when we’re young? Why this disconnect?

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