Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
That's the reaction I have to David Blaine's stunts. You can't hold your breath for 17 minutes. You can't live in a plexiglass box suspended by a crane over the River Thames, drinking only water, for 44 days. You can't survive being encased in ice for 63 hours.
The cynic in me thinks it must be a trick. An elaborate setup. Of course the fact that Blaine started out as an illusionist and magician doesn't help his cause.
In his TEDTalk about his breath-holding record, Blaine mentions that his doctor suggested early on that it would be easier to fake it than it would be to actually do it. They explored some options including stuffing a re-breather apparatus down his throat before dismissing that plan as impossible (ironically). The footage of those experiments is disturbing, to say the least (watch starting at 4:30 of the TEDTalk).
Did Blaine actually hold his breath for longer than 17 minutes? I don't know. Maybe?
Deep down inside we're really all cynics and skeptics aren't we? When someone does something incredible and seemingly impossible, especially when it's a feat of strength or athletic achievement, what's the first thing many of us think?
"Amazing! Bet he faked it somehow."
"A new world record! Probably doping."
It's not surprising given some of the people that have done the seemingly impossible, only later to be exposed as cheats.
Remember when Lance Armstrong won seven straight Tour de France races after beating testicular cancer? Or how about when Ben Johnson ran 100 meters in 9.79 seconds at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea? Or how about Barry Bonds hitting 73 home runs in one Major League Baseball season?
And those represent just the tip of the iceberg - the worst of the worst.
We remember these events because we took them personally. We were excited and shared in their achievements when we believed each athlete wasn't helped by performance-enhancing drugs.
Sadly, the widespread cynicism and skepticism that results from the tainted accomplishments of a few have also tainted the genuine accomplishments of some amazing people. -- James Koole
We wore yellow bracelets emblazoned with LIVESTRONG before we said, "Lance, how could you?" We waved the Canadian flag proudly before we said, "Ben, you let your entire country down." We jumped up and down every time a ball cleared the fence in San Francisco before we said, "Barry, you jerk."
Cheaters. How could we not be skeptical or cynical after all that?
Isn't it easier to assume the worst now? That way when the inevitable news of the drug scandal comes we'll be happy to have our feelings validated rather than upset that we were tricked.
Sadly, the widespread cynicism and skepticism that results from the tainted accomplishments of a few have also tainted the genuine accomplishments of some amazing people.
People make the impossible possible all the time, with no cheating, illusions or trickery involved. Humans do amazing things every day and deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments. But because of the actions of some, those nagging doubts are always there, deep in the back of our minds.
There is no doubt in my mind that David Blaine is one amazing human being. He has taken the seemingly impossible and made it possible. It's not easy, but we owe him the benefit of the doubt. I owe him the benefit of the doubt.
If he says he held his breath underwater for 17 minutes and four seconds, and that he did it through intense training and a deep understanding of the physiology of his own body, then that should be good enough. I should take him at his word.
I want to believe. But I can't. And that's sad.
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