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 our...
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 fucking car off her son with her bare fucking 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 his ass 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.
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.
To fight crime.
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.
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 shit. But your brain forgets that unimportant shit 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?