What If You Had Ten Minutes To Live? | Unveiled

What would YOU do with your last 10 minutes? Join us... and explore!

What if you had just 10 minutes to live? Maybe there's a global disaster about to strike, or a personal tragedy about to unfold, but what would do if you knew that your life on Earth was limited? In this video, Unveiled goes on a journey that involves philosophy, psychology, a false apocalypse and Jim Carrey! Not necessarily in that order!

What If You Had 10 Minutes to Live?

Nothing in this life is guaranteed. Anyone or thing can be here today and gone tomorrow. Which is one reason why so many wellness mantras urge us to seize the day, or to live every second as though it’s our last. Because eventually, it will be. But what if you knew when the end was coming? And what if it was suddenly, incredibly close?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if you had ten minutes to live?

We’ll start today’s video where all good hypothetical scenario thought experiments should… a celebrity book promo. In July 2020, the actor Jim Carrey was busy fielding interviews for his new novel, “Memoirs and Misinformation”, the cover of which features a picture of his face when he’s told that he has ten minutes to live. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Carrey revealed that the image harks back to a moment in 2018, in Hawaii, when a missile alert message was mistakenly sent to everyone on the island state - including himself. The message urged all who received it, in block capitals, to “seek immediate shelter” before signing off with, “this is not a drill”. Carrey remembers at first trying to escape, before feeling that he “didn’t want to die in his car”, and so he spent the time looking out at the ocean instead.

Thankfully for all affected, the 2018 Hawaii alert was quickly confirmed to be a false alarm. There was no missile, and the message was a mistake. But the story does pose an interesting if morbid question that many have contemplated before, and will in the future: what would you do if you knew you were about to die?

There are a number of ways in which we could imagine such a situation unfolding. Perhaps, as was feared with Hawaii, there’s a confirmed, imminent and inescapable disaster that’s about to strike a massive population. Or perhaps it’s an individual case where, for whatever reason, somebody knows without doubt that their time is fast running out. For the purposes of this video, we’re imagining that although death is nigh… nobody is trapped. The unfortunate person (or people) facing their final ten minutes are free to do what they like. So, what happens?

The first and most likely effect is chaos. And if the ten-minute warning were to be suddenly sprung upon someone, then fear and confusion could well be the overriding emotions for the duration of their last moments. That, and disbelief. Many would simply refuse to acknowledge that death was at their door, sending their terror management instincts into overdrive. We’ve talked about terror management theory before now on our channel, but in simple terms it’s the idea that everything we do in life is in some way guided by our fear of death… and by our hope that something about us will last longer than our physical bodies can. So, with just ten minutes to live, we could all be frantically searching for what that something is.

In this particular situation, though, the pressure would be so high… and that could also bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen in history how disasters are often followed by a spate of looting. There’s plenty of psychology at play here, but most prominent theories as to why it happens point to the break down in society that occurs, in general, during the aftermath of a large enough emergency. And our hypothetical ten-minutes-to-live scenario would certainly constitute one of those! The idea is that social order relies upon a steady and reliable system. Laws, rules, loyalties and incentives to keep people moving forward in a positive way. But, with it being literally just a matter of time before you actually die, in this case all of that could get thrown to the wind. And our morals could swiftly follow.

Reactance theory says that whenever someone feels like their options have been limited, their behaviour can quickly U-turn so that they do things they wouldn’t have done previously. That could happen here, to an extreme degree… because nothing can be more limiting than knowing that your life’s about to end. More broadly, moral disengagement is when a person finds any available way to justify or distance themselves from their own immoral acts. Mob mentality is one version of this… where we can blame bad things we’ve done on the group we were doing them with. Meanwhile, partway through their ten-minute countdown, people might find it far easier to ignore the consequences of any potentially reckless (even dangerous) behaviour, because they’d know that they won’t be around to witness whatever happens next.

But it’s not as though a dystopic, societal breakdown like this would definitely, automatically happen in this scenario. Though there was panic in Hawaii in 2018, for example, there were no reports of those affected doing anything wrong. Instead, there were stories of groups banding together, trying to get one another to safety. Of strangers helping each other. And the phonelines were reportedly jammed, as people’s first thoughts were to get in touch with loved ones. So perhaps we should more readily expect the goodness in humanity to come to the fore. Which is a far cheerier way to approach things!

Take a look through history, and there have been countless times when humans have dealt with stress and anxiety by helping each other and connecting with each other. Granted, the stress and anxiety this close to death would be extreme… but perhaps that would mean that the acts of kindness would be bigger, too. More so than stories of looting and unrest, the news in the aftermath of natural disasters is often filled with stories of aid. With people giving time or money to the cause, and sometimes sacrificing their own safety in order to keep others safe.

Again, for today’s question, it partly depends on whether it’s one person who learns that only they have ten minutes to live, or if it’s everyone in the build-up to some kind of apocalypse. One of the most often repeated answers to the “what if you’re about to die?” question, though, is still that people want to talk with friends and family. This means that, if we had the opportunity, we’d be most likely to spend our last moments on our phones… hurriedly bidding farewell to those most important to us. Or, in the case of a global event in the twenty-first century, perhaps we’d see a social media surge with final posts and tweets. It might at least be interesting to see how people sum up the end of the world in 280 characters or less…

Another popular topic for debate is; what would you want your final meal to be? If you were truly none the wiser to your death until literally ten minutes before it… then you’re not realistically going to have time to cook your favourite food. But, say you did have the chance to prep beforehand… what would you choose? A 2018 poll by WishLockr, in the UK, found that most Brits would - somewhat stereotypically - opt for a roast dinner if they could hand-pick their last ever meal, with fish and chips coming in second. Meanwhile, fast food consistently ranks highly among last meal requests from death row prisoners all around the world.

Of course, with just ten minutes left to live, you’d have so little time that you might not feel like eating anything at all. And, again, just as so many of our other actions would have very little consequence, would there really be any reason to eat, anyway? Instead, terror management theorists might predict that a human in this most desperate situation is more likely to try to do something that lasts - like write something down, make a video, or plant something to grow after they’ve gone.

But wouldn’t it be most important to just not waste the time you had left? By some measures, ten minutes is long enough to do anything… by others, it would be impossible to achieve all you wanted. The one constant across all studies, surveys and articles on this topic, is that people would want to get in touch with other people. When we imagine the end being near, we also so often imagine all of the things that we’d like to say to others - and they’re usually positive things. Messages of love, thanks and unity. Even in the worst situations, humans find a way to connect. But it makes you think, why wait until this hypothetical “last ten minutes”? Why not pass on those messages now, today, or the next time you see someone?

What do you think you would do? What do you think is most important? Let’s hope that we’re all here for a lot longer yet… but let’s also make the most of the time that we have!