If someone I loved had been at the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, MH370, probably I'd be acting like the actual grieving relatives.
Many, if not most, are clinging to hope that, against all odds, the plane landed safely somewhere. The passengers are being held hostage. For some reason, the hijackers haven't made any ransom demands yet.
None of this makes sense. It is so improbable as to be virtually impossible. Believing in what I just said requires leaps of logic across vast gaps of implausibility.
Yet on radio and TV I keep hearing the relatives speak that way.
One man I heard interviewed today said that at first he held out a 20% chance of the plane having landed safely. Now he feels this is a 5% chance. He still holds out hope, though. As did another relative who said that even if there is the barest chance the passengers are still alive, he will believe they are.
Reminds me of religion.
In fact, the psychological dynamics seem almost identical. With belief in the existence of God, there also is essentially zero evidence that this is reality rather than wishful thinking. Nonetheless, billions of people cling to hope that after they die, they will land safely in heaven or some other supernatural realm.
Just as with the relatives of MH370 passengers, I understand why religious believers embrace their hopes. It feels good to envision a happy ending to a sad story, whether this be a plane that has disappeared or the end of one's precious life.
An article, "Missing MH370: Too soon to give up, only hope remains," examines the roots of such irrationality.
Of all the rivers of words written and spoken of the missing plane, for the waiting families one is primary. Hope. Their sentences are littered with it: Hope they are alive. Hope they will come back. Sometimes it is all that is left, this thread, slim and frayed, which humanity hangs on to.
Hope is powerful yet tenuous, there is proof from the past that it is worth hoping, yet it is also an emotion that doesn't always lend itself to logic or reason.
Five years after SilkAir Flight 185 crashed into the Musi River in Indonesia in 1997, a woman still clung to the hope that her husband was alive. She believed he had lost his memory and was wandering somewhere in Indonesia but would eventually find his way back home.
Dr Tan Chue Tin, who tells this story, is a psychiatrist in private practice in Singapore who has worked with people who have lost people they love in plane crashes and the Hotel New World collapse in 1986.
"When you don't see the body," he explains, "there is no closure. This prolongs the grief process and adds to the denial they experience. The hope that their loved ones are still alive is magnified in such instances and this hope brings them comfort."
...Alongside hope always sits grief and, in a world beset by accidents, grief can't be compared for loss has no measurement. There is no set scale for tragedy, no degree for sadness, but this much is true of this plane: it is the ambiguity - how it disappeared, where it disappeared - which is crippling for families.
...As Dr Tan said: "The mind conjures up all kinds of scenarios when you have nothing concrete. The mind just needs to find an explanation to relieve the pain and anxiety. Right now, the relatives would believe anything that suggests that their loved ones are still alive."