Wow, good thread!
I think that taking risks, even life-threatening ones 'without purpose' is essential to the growth process, for some of us anyway. IMO, if you can't readily contemplate/face your own death, then you fail to fully appreciate life (I think this is part of some Japanese philosophy - forgot where I read it and I'm probably paraprhasing it poorly). In my younger days, I did a lot of "stupid" stuff - crazy stunts on rollerblades and skis, cliffdiving in the middle of the night, limited experience in the ring, etc. The activities themselves definitely put me in danger and probably had little point at the time (outside of the adrenaline rush). However, I do feel I gained a certain sense of perspective on life - as long as I have a roof without leaks, clothes without holes and food in the vicinity, there are very few things that I consider an 'emergency' (much to the chagrin of my wife). Since I am now married and have kids, I am pretty much done 'writing checks my body can't cash', but I don't think I would attempt to stop or judge others from doing those same activities.
There is something special about having mastery, and taking it to a place where there is no safety net. After you've done it (and it's a potent spice, to be used in very small quantities) you realize how bland the rest of the menu can be.
I couldn't agree more. One of my most transcendental moments was my first NHB tournament (not that this adequately compares to night carrier landing). Being placed in a dangerous situation and then letting your training take over to deal with the task at hand, IMO, can be a very useful experience. Since that experience, the excitement obtained from other, more derivative sports, has declined substantially.
IMO, a life lived without taking risks, sometimes even unecessary ones, is a life squandered.
Just some thoughts,