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Cold war experiments to find a superman in sport (theguardian.com)
37 points by prostoalex 34 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments

I believe the underlying thread here is positive or negative visualization which can sometimes produce effects so staggering that we mentally leap to the mystical.

Believing you can do something is often said to be a prerequisite to achieving it. Exactly how much it matters to the outcome I’m sure is up for huge debate, but small and large things alike in your day can be measurably impacted by your mental state, and visualization is an extremely effective way to alter your mental state in a given moment.

Weightlifters (even non-pro) will be able to identify with my own experience in reaching new PRs. Muscle activation in particular is some percentage physical and some double digit percentage mental. If you know you can lift that weight, it just doesn’t feel as heavy.

I’ve read that athletes often visualize their performance very viscerally to prepare their body to perform a routine. Reading the passage about a basketball dribbler thinking of himself being able to literally pass through other players on the court, to me is just a form of this positive visualiation.

To take it a step further, someone visualizing all that negative energy, turning it into a semi-controlled form of mass hysteria, absolutely has a significant physical effect on the people participating, and very likely also the people watching nearby.

The idea that this could work on a physically isolated subject who is unaware of the experiment would be the true revelation, but it is yet to be seen.

We do have “superpowers” in many ways, but unfortunately the laws of physics put somewhat of a damper on macro scale spooky action at a distance.

The power of the mental can be demonstrated through something as simple as adrenaline. This is something that is mentally produced and can enable feats that seem superhuman, enormous strength and speed in particular. If somebody could consciously control this, they'd effectively be a superman, though I'd expect not for long. I think it's reasonable to assume that the reason we cannot manually control things such as adrenaline is because of the wear and tear on our bodies. It's almost like overclocking. You can generally lift, without adrenaline, an amount that you can safely lift (though not necessarily control). But factor in adrenaline and you can lift far more than you can safely lift and very likely injure yourself in the process.

A more controversial example (since it includes foreign substances) would be PCP, but it's a similar story. A single man suddenly seeming to gain the strength and endurance is not because the drug is somehow physically changing him - it's just shutting off various critical systems like pain detection. A similar story to the above in that we are physically capable of vastly more than our bodies consciously enable, but the consequences usually involve pushing your body past its physical limits which can result in self injury.

But yeah I've also noticed the exact same thing you mention with visualization and lifting. It'd be interesting if visualization somehow helps us, even if slightly, consciously override our subconsciously enforced performance limits.

I think visualization has been shown to actually improve performances, which is not that much of a stretch, really (IIRC, a study on power lifters, I can't find it back, something Greg Nuckols wrote).

At virtually any level, performance is a function of one's physical condition and one's coordination. Even joggers will get better and more efficient at running simply by doing so repeatedly, regardless of their physical condition improvement (just like I get better at playing challenging video games, and it's not about the muscles in my thumbs). In other words, there are many non-physical factors to performance.

Visualization surely help to trains those. But yeah, not a superpower :(

> In one creepy experiment, the scientists implanted electrodes in a mother rabbit’s brain, took her young litter off to a submarine and, when it was deep below the surface, killed them one by one. At each synchronised time of death, the mother’s brain reacted.

I wonder if this is reproducible... ...

This reminds me of the time that a couple on vacation saw me and made a hand motion and muttered what sounded like nonsense. I saw it out of the corner of my eye and didn’t fully process the visual motion initially (being peripheral) but heard the audio.

At that moment, my hand stumbled and I dropped my brand new phone with case (except screen) onto the pavement, which happened to impact the screen with a rock and cracked it.

While the obvious explanation is that it was due to my own clumsiness along with bad luck, I had the distinct sense that they were experimenting with (what they likely thought of as) voodoo or magic, mind control or influence, etc. It was surreal and all happened in slow motion.

In another incident I was with classmates at a school basketball game on the sidelines. I’m a terrible shot with no shooting ability at all. My classmate quiets everyone down and says “watch this” and throws me the ball. A big group of people in the stands are now focused on me and I chuck the ball at the rim line drive style and sunk it. Everyone erupted.

To this day I’m convinced they said some prayer or otherwise did magic. Group positive energy. Who knows.

Fascinating subject and highly relevant in today’s interconnected world.

> I had the distinct sense that they were experimenting with (what they likely thought of as) voodoo.

Thanks for sharing. I've traveled several times and have sometimes heard people having entire conversations in what sounds like nonsense. You could be on to something here with an association between vacations and people muttering what sounds like nonsense. I've been lucky that none of that nonsense caused me to drop my phone.

Your story does make a lot of sense though. In a world where magic and voodoo exist, it would certainly be used to make sure that tourists drop their phones. I'm wondering if we should avoid vacations or if there's some kind of counter-voodoo that we can learn to defend ourselves. Phones are getting more expensive every year so it's prudent to take some kind of action if we can.

> some kind of counter-voodoo that we can learn to defend ourselves. Phones are getting more expensive every year so it's prudent to take some kind of action if we can.

Ummm, a $50 case for your $1,000 phone?

An anti-voodoo phone case for $299, you say? With special sigils on it for added effect? Definitely could make for a very disruptive startup, especially considering that horoscope app just raised $5M

It's interesting because I've heard similar experiences described by my close friends who are avowed atheists and skeptics. It's hard to convince people to share these sorts of experiences, but I like to hear them. Personal experience is still a data point in my view, even if a very fallible one.

To my point, one friend described visiting a historical site that was an ancient tomb and feeling fine until a young couple started chanting some weird stuff. After that she said she experienced a feeling of total fear and dread and felt the need to run out of there. She says it's a feeling she never felt before or after, and she's not the superstitious sort overall.

Heck, even my husband and I once shared an experience that is impossible to explain outside of the ideas of ghosts or some other shared hallucination phenomena. Had it been just one of us witnessing it, it would be so easy to dismiss, but try as we might we still have no good explanation. I'm still a skeptic to my core, but the experience certainly made me more curious about hearing from others about their experiences and not dismissing them as pure fabrications or delusions outright

You think maybe the young couple visiting the historical site was just, y'know, talking in their native language? Maybe a prayer?

It's not that unusual for white people to feel terror and dread on hearing somebody talk in a different language. The "they must have been doing voodoo" is a cute rationalization, though.

Well, she described it as a chant, so a prayer does seem likely. But again, this is a person who mocks religious practices and has traveled extensively and isn't freaked out by languages.

The fact that it was a burial site or crypt makes me think the setting was key to that response. Maybe movies or something predisposed her to be freaked out in that setting. Her theory was that the burial site itself was chosen for geographic features that made it make people feel freaky. I'm not sure if that makes sense either, but it's interesting considering how people try to explain unusual things to themselves.

It's perfectly normal to be scared in a horror movie even though you know it is fiction. Even for atheists. Human beings have wonderful imaginations; getting spooked by a creepy underground crypt shouldn't send anyone looking for a supernatural cause (or capture an $N million dollar grant).

I chalk it up to serendipity and confirmation bias. Our minds are constantly trying to link cause and effect, even when there is more noise than signal.

Do keep in mind survivorship bias, in that all the instances where unlikely things didn't happen are the ones you don't vividly remember.

What about all the times someone near you said something and you didn't drop something? Have you documented those cases as well?

I had never heard such utterances from a human, and haven’t heard any such utterances since then.

But surely that doesn't mean it has never happened, only that you didn't hear it.

Yes, fascinating. The first one makes sense. My wife does that to me often. Except, in her case, she's trying to help. But more often than not, her advice just ends up distracting me.

For the second one, I gotta say "N=1". Most of the time, "watch this" doesn't turn out so well.

its like you missed the entire enlightenment era

Upvoted. Prayer and voodoo are the most logical, rational explanations here.

Since both definetely have heavy influence on the mind, sure.

(in both examples he directly witnessed people influencing him, not that they were hidden in a dark room somewhere else)

Please don't post unsubstantive comments here. Also, please don't snark.


Rather eccentric article...

On a related topic - I recall seeing a documentary about two twins of eastern origin that both had freakish long distance running and specifically VO2 max ability. Anyone recall a name by chance?

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