Like any good audience member, I’ve always been impressed by magician David Blaine’s 2008 world record feat of holding his breath underwater for 17 minutes. I’d never given it much more thought than the observation that a young, healthy guy can probably achieve any given world record if he dedicates enough resources to the effort, and Blaine certainly appeared to have done so.
I received a forwarded email from the University of Pittsburgh’s Critical Care Medicine Group email list:
Absolutely enthralling video of David Blaine explaining how he held his breath for 17 minutes! Interesting the assistance he received from the medical fraternity, including trying liquid ventilation with perflurocarbons.
OK, well enough. This is pretty much what has been publicly broadcast about the stunt. Nothing new here. But then another poster replied:
I love magic and I very much respect David Blane`s skill as an illusionist and the training he does for his stunts. The talk is, indeed, enthralling. Blane is a superb magician and , even though the people at TED took his talk at face value (including some aspects of his medical assistance), I do not. A number of David Blane`s and Chris Angel`s stunt-illusions (including the prolonged breath holding under water) have been recreated by the nefarious “masked magician” with a reveal of the underlying principles of the illusion. To me, the “face emersion in a sink full of perflurocarbons” and some of the other medical discussion add to the illusion but don’t give a cogent alternative explanation to the true aspects of the illusion. An important part of the fun/magic of an illusion is the magician convincing you that there is no other explanation to what you believe you are seeing. You can find the “reveal” of the illusion on the net if you are so inclined.
Well, neither do I take the perfluorocarbons explanation at face value. Another poster replied with this:
My father participated in some of the original experiments with the SEALS using perflurocarbons. After watching James Cameron’s “The Abyss”, which attempted to show the liquid breathing effects on rats and people, he remarked it was reasonably accurate. The ‘panic’ reaction of holding one’s breath for as long as possible until being forced to breath in the fluid was an issue, and once the subject was breathing the liquid, they were unable to perform tasks because it took so much effort to breathe.
There is good reason to be skeptical of David Blaine’s feats. His famous TV show “Street Magic” is widely known to have been largely accomplished with post-production editing. For example, his “levitation” was a cleverly edited conflation of a parlor trick called the Balducci and a demonstration of using a wire rig for flying onstage (and I don’t think I’m violating any magician’s trade secrets by pointing that out). Should we not be equally skeptical of his breath holding trick? It was performed on Oprah, for FSM’s sake; and it’s not like no magician has ever taken advantage of the limited view television offers its audience.
Pretty much all of the authorities accept Blaine’s record as legitimate, though short-lived (it was broken only a few months later). Blaine’s problem is that he has established himself as the boy who cried wolf. Whether his feat was genuine or a trick along the lines of the Masked Magician’s reveal, his audience has good reason to doubt its authenticity.
What do you think?