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5 Superpowers You Didn't Know Your Body Was Hiding



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5 Superpowers You Didn't Know Your Body Was Hiding
By Brian Thompson
September 09, 2009

Those motivational speakers are right: You are capable of amazing things. You wouldn't know it, because 99 percent of the time your body or brain hides these superpowers from you.

Sure, they say there's a good reason, but we're not sure we're buying it. Dammit, we want ours ...

Super Strength

You may have heard urban legends about "the lady who was able to lift a whole car in an emergency" but, believe it or not, it's not just a legend. They're talking about Angela Cavallo, whose son was working on the suspension of a 1964 Impala, when the car slipped off of the jack and trapped him in the wheel well.

Angela ran out to find her unconscious son pinned under the car. Rather than saying something passive agressive about how she "told him to get that thing out of her garage," she yelled for a neighbor to go get help, and when help wasn't coming fast enough for her liking, proceeded to lift the car off her son with her bare hands.


OK, maybe she didn't lift the thing over her head like She-Hulk, just the few inches it took to get it off her son for the several minutes he needed to drag him to safety. But that's no small feat considering that the vehicle weighed at least 3,340 pounds. Go out to your driveway and try it (The Cracked Legal Department asks that your recreation leave out the unconscious loved-one trapped in the wheel well).

Then you've got guys like Sinjin Eberle, who was rock climbing in New Mexico when a 600-pound boulder came lose, smashed into him (crushing his hands in the process) and started pushing him, Wile E. Coyote-style, toward a 150-foot drop and a splattery death. Again the "shit hitting fan" adrenaline mode kicked in and the man tossed the boulder aside, crushed hands and all.

                               "Next time I get panic muscles, I'm tossing boulders with my dick."

Why Can't We Do This All of the Time ?

So the evidence suggests that our actual muscle fibers physically have the ability to let us punch through a wall like the Terminator if they really really want to, but our brain arbitrarily limits us. Why? One problem is the tendons and other tissue that hold you together aren't made to take that kind of abuse. It's the same logic that makes steroid users more prone to injuries--the support structures can't keep up with their juiced muscles.

Also, when you're in that "lift the boulder or die" mode, the body gets that strength by stopping other bodily functions like digestion and immune response. It's the sort of thing that is only awesome for a few minutes at a time.

Still, we're kind of pissed that we can't seem to just summon the super strength at will. Wouldn't that mugger have been surprised if you had thrown him across the street into a plate glass window? But we suppose if science found a way, the muggers would know how to do it, too. Man, that would make for some awesome fights though.

"Seeing" With Your Ears (a.k.a. Echolocation)

This is the superpower that the Daredevil has. He overcomes his blindness with sonar-like sense of hearing that's so sharp it basically replaces his vision.

This is a real thing. In the real world we call this echolocation, and guys like Daniel Kish have it. He is completely blind and has been his whole life. Despite this, one of his favorite pastimes is mountain biking.


And as easy as it is to imagine this guy crashing hilariously through your window clutching a Braille map, he's actually pretty good at it. And he does it all by using sound to mentally paint a picture of the world around him, and doing it so fast he can avoid trees, boulders and bears while speeding down the side of a mountain.

You may remember that we previously wrote about another guy with this ability, Ben Underwood. This is the guy who trained Ben.

Why Can't We Do This All of the Time ?

For the same reason people who use calculators suck at math. Most people choose the easy way, in this case relying on your vision to tell you where things are, and lose the ability to do it the much harder and far more awesome way.


But any one of you can pick up echolocation even without losing your eyes in some kind of superhero origin story. Tests have found that blindfolded people can learn to judge distances to objects based on the echoes of their own footsteps. Soon they can even judge the shape and texture of unseen objects by echo alone. Try it; close your eyes and slowly walk toward a wall while talking, listening to the change in your own voice as it echoes back to you.

Your brain recognizes all of those subtleties in echo (you've been hearing them your whole life, after all) and it's just a matter of training yourself to use them.

Super Memory

Hey, remember that March afternoon when you were eight-years-old? And you were pooping? And nothing remarkable happened?

You don't remember that? Why not? After all, just as your muscles technically have the ability to let you twist a dude's head off, your brain technically has the ability to store every single damned thing you've ever seen or heard or experienced.

Jill Price

Just ask Jill Price ; she has a condition called hyperthymesia which gives her that nearly perfect autobiographical memory we just talked about. Give her a date and she can remember everything that she did that day, what the weather was like and all the other seemingly trivial events that no one else remembers happened.


But even if you don't have a disorder (and only a few cases have been studied), there are tricks to make your memory perform many levels above what you're getting out of it now. In a study on short term memory they tested subjects on their ability to memorize strings of numbers. With a little training one subject went from being able to memorize about seven digits at a time (about average) all the way up to about 80, something that would seem like a pretty damned cool magic trick if you did it at a party.

Why Can't We Do This All of the Time ?

First, it's important to note that what Jill has is not a "photographic memory" like some people have claimed to have (where they can, say, flip through a phone book and remember all the numbers). That is thought to be a myth; science has never been able to verify anyone who actually can do it beyond second-hand stories. You may have noted that Jill doesn't even have a gargantuan noggin in which to store all those memories. She's able to store her entire life in a brain that is roughly the same size and shape as yours. Why?

Let's look at the brain like it's a computer. It has a really fast processor and almost unlimited storage space. But it also has a very unique and often inconvenient filing system. It's less like the directories you have on your hard drive and more like the results you get back from a search engine.


Your brain makes memories accessible by creating links to other memories, with all those links to each memory sorted by relevance (based on similarity and how emotional you were when the event happened).

So a memory is only accessible by opening one of the other memories that the brain arbitrarily linked to it, or by inputting the same information again (that is, somebody reminds you). Otherwise, it's gone forever. That's why you can forget about an appointment, but when reminded suddenly slap your forehead and say, "Oh, right!" with all the details suddenly spilling back into your mind. The appointment didn't get deleted, the link just got broken.

So with somebody like Jill, her perfect memory of decades of personal minutiae is thought to be the result of an obsessive/compulsive dwelling on and refreshing of those memories... at the expense of everything else. Like the people who were trained to remember those strings of digits, she "trained" herself to remember years of unimportant stuff. But your brain forgets that unimportant stuff for a reason: so it can prioritize the important stuff ahead of it.

So brains with hyperthymesia are like a broken search engine that returns porn no matter what you search for. So basically, like Google Image Search, we guess.

Oh, and did we mention Jill's depression? Yeah, it turns out it's not all that awesome to remember all the times you peed your pants in front of your friends when you were seven. Honestly, if we could give you a pill that would let you remember every minute of your teenage years, would you take it?

Immunity to Pain

The fact that pain is a necessary part of life is one of those hard lessons we all learn growing up. But then, at some point, you break a bone or have some other sudden injury and realize, wait a second. This barely hurts. In those moments of shock and trauma your brain flips off pain like a switch.

Ask somebody like Amy Racina, who fell off a cliff, landing six storeys below, shattering her knee and breaking her hip. Not feeling more than minor pain, even with broken bone jutting out from her skin, she dragged herself until she found help. It was only at the point when she was being loaded safely into a helicopter that the pain returned.


The phenomenon called runner's high is similar. At the point where exertion should have your whole body screaming for mercy, a sense of painless calm washes over the runner, it's almost like being drugged.

Why Can't We Do This All of the Time ?

Welcome to the wonderful world of endorphins. The very name of this miracle substance means "morphine produced naturally in the body." It's the ultimate feel-good substance. It's released into the body during exercise, excitement and orgasm, and it has the power to dull or completely eliminate pain by coating the receiving end of the synapses in the brain that would otherwise receive pain signals from the rest of your body.

                               Yep. That's what it feels like.

So why is your body so stingy with the endorphins? Why can't you just flip this on and leave it on? Well ask anybody with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, a genetic disorder that leaves them in this painless state all the time. The parents of one such girl saw her on different occasions accidentally chew off part of her own tongue, absent-mindedly bite through her finger and drink scalding liquids.

For every one time pain annoys you, there are about a hundred times it saves you from disfiguring yourself.

You're probably tempted to say, "But why doesn't my brain let me decide? Give me control of the endorphin switch! I won't use it to try to win a bar bet by eating glass!" but deep down, you know damned well you would.

Time Manipulation

Quite simply, "bullet time" is real. Talk to people who have been in combat, or other life-or-death situations and they'll talk about time stretching out like taffy.

There was a study of police officers involved in shootouts and other "holy shit" moments. One guy was quoted as saying, "During a violent shoot-out I looked over, drawn to the sudden mayhem, and was puzzled to see beer cans slowly floating through the air past my face. What was even more puzzling was they had the word 'Federal' printed on the bottom. They turned out to be the shell casings ejected by the officer who was firing next to me."


Fire fighter Ryan Jordan tells a similar story. The moment when a forest fire suddenly came racing their way and they had to think fast to avoid getting flame broiled, the crucial moment felt like somebody had paused the game.

Why Can't We Do This All of the Time ?

How fast time moves for you is literally all in your head. But you know that, you've been in the waiting room at the dentist, or in the chair while they put that huge tattoo of a bald eagle and American flag on your forehead. Talk about bullet time. Seconds become hours.

Something similar happens during moments of frantic mayhem, but for different reasons. Experts say it's because your brain has two modes of experiencing the world, rational and experiential. The first one is what you're probably in now, calm and able to think things through. But if a bomb goes off on the other side of the room, you'll suddenly be in the experiential mode.

                          Legal note: Please don't test this just so you can call us liars when you blow up your office building.

Your brain goes into a kind of overdrive, bypassing all sorts of analytical and rational thinking processes in favor of hair trigger decision-making. Most normal thinking processes are scrapped, and suddenly you're operating on instinct (or in the case of a cop or soldier, your training). And because you're thinking faster, the world seems to be moving slower. It makes sense; Neo never had the ability to slow down time. He could just move really fast.

So why can't you just turn it on like Neo? A better question is, would you want to? In those times of your life when you've had to make panicked, split-second decisions, how good were those decisions? We're going to hazard a guess that most of the most idiotic (non-drunken) decisions you've made have been in the middle of some kind of panic.

This is why they make police go through all that training. You have to overcome your natural instinct to start crying and shooting in random directions. Experiential thinking is to your brain like stripping all the weight off your car to make it faster. It's not just losing the air conditioning and headrest DVD players; it's losing the antilock brakes and power steering as well.

Now that we think of it, it's kind of like instead of turning you into Neo, it turns you into Keanu Reeves.

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