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Welcome to part 2/2 of this deep dive into Wim Hof, the modern day iceman!
Part 1 can be found here! This story is going to try and understand some of the Wim Hof method and his claims in greater detail. We're not that interested in proving whether it works or not, just looking at the language used and how he is trying to communicate his ideas to the public.
The Words of the Iceman
Wim and twelve others were injected with E-Coli bacteria, as part of a clinical study of 16,000. Wim explains that his group’s results were significantly different from normal, showing unusually reduced immune responses, with less inflammation and no physical symptoms, as Wim explains it. His results show a much higher level of adrenaline in his body too, which makes some sense, and goes some way to explaining these results.
He says this therefore shows that he can control the autonomous nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. He concludes that his findings have revolutionized science, because he has demonstrated that these systems are not really autonomous, contrary to established medical theory. Basically, mind over matter, WH says his technique and lifestyle controls the response of the immune system to resist inflammation, and effectively may provide people with resistance to infection.
According to my very basic understanding of biology, Adrenaline refocuses body efforts to fight or flight, and sharpens most bodily functions vie increased breathing and pulse rate. This, plus WH’s greater oxygen saturation via his years of breath training, may indeed make him and anyone else using such methods able to resist inflammation slightly better. Plus, WH’s spent lots of time outdoors, probably been exposed to a lot of pathogens… sure, he’s probably got lots of antibodies floating around that bloodstream! So fair enough, the science stacks up, to a large extent. Results make some sense.
Now, on the face of it, the findings therefore suggested that WH is an outlier. The scientists involved in the trial suggested that his abilities may come from his genetic code, putting him at the upper end of the scale for immune response and cold resistance. However, this is disputed by WH, who says he has a twin brother who has lived a more 'normal' life than he has, working an office job, and WH says his twin shares none of these incredible abilities.
WH insists that his abilities come from his outdoorsy lifestyle, spending lots of time in icy water, not wearing clothes most of the time, and his famous breathing technique. Just to mention, by the way, people have died while following the WH Method… perhaps too seriously. But hey, maybe that’s just bad luck. He warns people not to do this at home and all, pretty responsible overall. Human lives are fragile at the best of times. Fine, lets skip past the tombstones for a second and actually listen to what the guy is saying.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?
To a large extent, WH has a point, and it’s certainly true that most of us would benefit greatly from many of the things that he suggests. Some of these methods are already commonplace today in certain environments, and have been since it was possible to do so technologically. Just a few are listed below.
- · The majority of elite athletes, who regularly take ice baths to minimize inflammation and promote muscle recovery after games.
- · Oxygen is used by altitude climbers on Mt. Everest, and Wim's technique can be boiled down to a more basic, equipment free version of bottled oxygen.
- · Oxygen is used widely by elite athletes too, who sleep in oxygen tents to simulate the effects of altitude
- · Oxygen tents are also used widely as a form of recovery therapy in the medical industry, in various forms.
This helps the body increase its oxygen saturation, which is kind-of similar to WH method? but without all the techniques and meditation. When I was growing up, I heard about oxygen bars, where O2 is used not as a treatment, but more of a recreational activity. Breathing pure O2 definitely does have some effects on the mind too, and I’ve heard it can be quite an enjoyable buzz. I always wondered what it would be like. I’m sure I’ll give it a go someday.
Also, in a completely unrelated world, I have heard anecdotally that parents in Northern Europe occasionally leave their children wrapped up warm in a pram outside during bitterly cold winters, for a variety of reasons, including boosted immunity, sunshine, a cool breeze outside stuffy heated homes, etc. Then again, Wim himself, and most of his ‘test subjects’ and ‘volunteers’, originate from this part of the world anyway, and more than likely have been in/around bitterly cold temperatures for the entirety of their lives!
This is very different from the experience of many people in the world, especially me. I had to climb a freaking mountain to encounter sub-zero temperatures for most of my life. Snow and ice were only real to me because of pictures I saw in books and stories, that mentioned them rather often! I guess winter is a pretty popular time to write, for a number of reasons, including staying in to keep warm, the thematic contrast of a snowy scene, the effects of the cold on character behavior, etc. etc.
Winter also seems to be a pretty popular time for Wim Hof to take a swim in freezing temperatures, and convince many others to do so too! Fair play to him, I have no objection, please carry on, and enjoy your swim! Maybe he’s on-to something and science could indeed be revolutionized, as he says it will.
Chakras, and the thousand bells
I’ll quickly restate that I understand that these kind of podcasts with RB and JR etc. are just light entertainment shows, and that they aren’t meant to be taken too seriously. The point is that this kind of programming reaches millions daily, and the words that people use do have an influence, as evidenced by the people who have died from using this method. I’m not calling for anyone to be cancelled or whatever. Just analyzing the language that’s being used, and trying to properly unpack how I understood it.
Pretty early on in both interviews with both RB and JR, WH speaks directly to camera as he talks about how he travelled to so many different cultures and tried all kinds of ‘esoteric disciplines’. However, WH says that he was left wanting, and none of the experiences truly satisfied the feeling of something missing, to connect deeply with his inner spirit. Most of us would agree with such sentiments, and view such a quest as a noble one. After all, don’t we all yearn for and seek fulfillment, one way or another?
WH went on to explain that when he held his breath for long amounts of time while immersed under icy cold water, he eventually saw these bright lights, and they could clearly be identified as the symbols of the ‘chakras’.
This word immediately got the hairs on my back to sharply stiffen, and a whole symphony of alarm bells began to simultaneously ring in my ears.
Big Ben on steroids. I listened keenly as they went on.
WH explained that he saw these chakras, moving around in front of his eyes, and RB could barely contain himself with excitement. RB boldly displayed his upper right arm, lined with symbols, to WH. “Do you mean these chakras?”. WH said yes.
They began to list the individual chakras by name, and discuss how they are related to the ancient elements of fire, earth, water and air. WH proceeded to explain how he heard this special noise three times, and how he heard these thousand bells -as we know from yoga- he says to RB, who nods reverently. I snorted with laughter as I watched. I’ve always been skeptical of this entire branch of mythology and ‘ancient wisdom’. Sure, there’s definitely something there, but I remain really skeptical.
These warning words, like ‘chakras’, ‘vibrational energy’ and the-like have typically signaled the presence of a clear and obvious charlatan, from my past experiences. Now WH does explain that he wants to keep it scientific, but let’s pause for a second.
In my opinion, ‘chakras’ deserve a label of ridicule as a branch of pseudoscience. When I hear anyone use the word ‘chakras’, I am immediately turned off from the content of the conversation, and almost all the associated practices that are mentioned to me alongside the word fall into ridicule, and lose their potential value in a flash. I would even go so far as to say that I would instantly some respect for the person’s intelligence.
Obviously, I lack a comprehensive knowledge in this concept of chakras etc. I have researched it as intensively as I could, several times over a number of years. I have discussed it with numerous people, but I remain unconvinced of its scientific merits. I am yet to find a scientist who says that chakras exist. So I remain skeptical until I get to see some actual evidence, please, and thank you very much. That’s my best interpretation of all that ‘chakra’ stuff.
So what did WH see and hear when he was in the icy water? To me, based on my limited prior knowledge, what he saw was probably a hallucination, brought on by the self-induced oxygen deprivation that his brain was experiencing at the time. People use this effect all the time, and its well-known that oxygen deprivation causes weird effects within the brain. Indeed, when we look at the students of WH, they all display some weird side effects after using his techniques for a while
I wouldn’t recommend trying to find out what kind of effects those are, but it’s probably harmless and no big deal really. After all, it’s impossible to kill yourself by holding your breath, right? Well, yeah, you’d faint from lack of oxygen, and automatically start breathing again. No problem. All good, right?
Well, what if you’re under water? Or even worse… ice?
Exceptions, rules, and ancient Rome
There was one more segment of WH’s interview with RB that I found interesting to analyze, which was almost precisely a repetition of the words he said to Joe Rogan in 2015, on his all-encompassing, industry-creating podcast.
Wim Hof has repeatedly said that after he was tested, scientists called him "the exception that proves the rule". This phrase will be vaguely familiar to many, if not most English speakers around the world. But immediately upon listening to it, it does provoke a slight moment of literary confusion within the brain. Doesn’t it? Joe Rogan is a bit confused by this to, as can be seen below, and questions WH in surprise, his brain trying to perform the gymnastics required to understand the phrase. This is probably the most hard-hitting segment of actual journalism in these multi-hour interviews. Obviously.
“The exception that proves the rule? What does that mean exactly?”.
It definitely seems to be slightly contradictory as soon as you start to unpack it. Weird. But I bet most of us brush it off and pretend to understand it. Both RB and JR eventually ignored it and moved on, I know I did at first. But upon reflection, I got the feeling that this is just one of the latest examples of a trick that’s as old as language itself.
The trick is to hide behind big words or smart phrases, then proceed to explain the concept inaccurately, to suit one’s point of view. Similar to a ‘bait-and-switch’, I think.
This tactic manages to fool or confuse people into accepting or ignoring the statement while you carry on speaking. The reason it works is because our brains stop trying to unpack what was said, and start focusing on listening once again, accepting, and potentially learning an incorrect, contrived interpretation of the words.
Old as the hills, really common thing that almost everyone has seen and done in their lives. Devastating when it works well, but it rarely survives the test of time. The famous proverb goes, “You can fool some people all the time, and you can fool everyone sometimes, but you can fool everyone all the time.”
The way to avoid this trap is to slow down and understand the words comprehensively before we move on, something that’s typically only possible in hindsight, in order to maintain social politeness, and avoid arguments mid-conversation.
“The exception that proves the rule”.
So what does this phrase mean? Obviously I must say that I’m no linguist or expert in Latin etc. But here’s my conclusion, as a person with opinions on the internet in 2020.
I did some digging, and apparently the phrase is widely misquoted, and hence misused. From some of the sources I could find here, here, and here, the actual original Latin phrase is “Exceptio probat regulam”, which means “Exception that proves the rule”.
So far so good, right? Let’s dive a bit deeper.
The earliest use of the phrase that I could find is in Marcus Tullius Cicero’s 56 BCE legal defense of Lucius Cornelius Balbus, accused of being a very naughty boy.
It was definitely partially politically driven, that’s for sure. All this was part of ancient history, from the era of Julius Caesar the Roman Geezer, but clearly remains relevant to the modern world, because of this phrase. The smart words of an ancient lawyer survived almost 2075 years of history, to finally be used in a pop-culture podcast, by another (potentially) world-class charlatan.
“Exceptio probat regulam”. The word “probat” is probably the most interesting word here, as the ‘verb’ of the sentence. and holds the key to the supposed error in translating this phrase. ‘Probat’ means ‘to prove’, but when I looked a bit deeper into the etymology and history, I found the story of clever talking, by a self-serving lawyer, in a Roman court trying to save his friend from the judge and the spirit of the law.
“‘Prove’ is awfully similar in meaning to ‘check’, or ‘confirm’, isn’t it, M’lud?”
Indeed, when we investigate Cicero’s use of the phrase, it demonstrates that in his argument all those years ago, he tried to show that an exception (due to unrelated special factors – trade treaties in the case of Balbus), ‘confirms’ the existence of the rule in all other situations (which are not affected by said special factors).
So the idea is that because something qualifies as an exception to a rule, that proves the existence of said rule in other cases that are not excepted. Because an ‘exception’ cannot be accepted and excepted, unless it is accepted that there exists a rule from which the exemption is being exempted. So therefore, the rule applies to all other cases without exception, but not this one because it has been excepted as an exception.
Got it? Does that make sense?
So that's that settled...
Sigh. Lawyers, eh?
I like Cicero, he’s probably one of the better folks out of that whole bunch of corrupt crony-capitalists of his time. But it’s clearly obvious to me that the crafty guy was just playing games with the language, to make it work out in his favor, arguing semantics and technicalities to try and win the case at any cost.
All those lawyers and politicians were the same back then, in the dying days of the Roman Republic, like Caesar, Crassus, Pompey, and their contemporaries. They repeatedly and frequently channeled their power and influence to achieve money, power, and fame. As usual. Just as humans continue to do today. History repeats itself. Anyway, Cicero successfully defended his mate Balbus, and the rest is history. Please enjoy this little tidbit of history, served hot and fresh for you, from long ago BCE.
The story pretty much checks out, even just simply comparing ‘probat’ to modern English, it looks pretty similar to the word ‘probe’ as in ‘to investigate’ or ‘test’. The links for all this are above. So I guess that’s all that cleared up.
So back we go to the new-era iceman. If WH is the exception, then that surely means the rule is confirmed, that his capabilities are probably beyond the reach of most of us, and that the systems he references are indeed autonomous. Right?
My guess is that that’s what the scientists meant, and WH has just taken the phrase and run with it. Please do feel free to correct me here, and help me find a doctor who agrees with WH completely, and says we should follow his techniques. I don’t think it will be easy to find one in a hurry. I definitely agree that more study needs to be done, no question about that. Its probably worth finding out if we can enhance our ability to resist infection, especially during these tough corona-crises affecting the world.
The spark that lit the fire - Chakras and the 6th-8th senses.
Regardless of all this, the phrase “the exception that proves the rule” isn’t even the main thing that inspired me to write this article! All that up there was just the starter and main course. Stay with me here, I know it’s been tough, and well done for making it this far, you really do deserve a medal. The dessert is really good, stick around.
You’ll be pleased to know, that while I was considering writing a part 3 to cover the real trigger words, I decided to spare us all that horrific ordeal. I’ll try my best to cover everything that’s left to say here, and end this piece in the next 500 words, I promise.
Finally, after they moved on from all the chakras and exceptions and rules, WH began to explain to RB how humans don’t have five senses, we actually have eight senses, which are neurological networks in the brain like the other senses. Once again, my cynical Spidey sense tingled furiously. From what I knew before, science says we have anywhere from the classic five, to up to twenty different kinds of senses. So I was listening raptly, eager to hear about WH’s novel expansion of the traditional model.
WH explains that the object of the sixth sense is to “accessibility of will to go in any part of the brain – conscious and subconscious – when it’s necessary – which makes one confident”. I found this to be a jumbled word-soup, and couldn’t get much sense out of it. I ignored it and moved on, as did he, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.
WH explains the seventh sense as “proprioception”, and this was the moment where I went totally ballistic. I knew what proprioception meant, and even researched it afterwards to make sure I wasn’t mistaken. It means “the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body”.
Basically, if you’re blindfolded and you hold your own hand in front of your face, you know your hand is there, even if you can’t see it. If you stretch your arm out, you’re aware that your arm is stretched out. Pretty simple and unmistakable concept.
So was WH going to do the bait and switch trick again? You bet your bottom dollar he was! He explained proprioception as “a neurological network which connects the ‘will’ with the ‘specific immune system – in the deepest. With that we are able to get rid of disease in any way – or to heal them or prevent it – and the bacteria have no chance!”.
At this point I flipped out, paused, re-listened, paused, re-listened, several times. I stopped to do research on the word because I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The red mist descended, and I was utterly infuriated, as a passionate fan of science, language, and philosophy.
What? This is just absolute nonsense, isn’t it?! Come on Wim Hof?
You can’t just redefine words to suit your bullshit sales pitch?!
RB is mind blown and questions why nobody’s been testing this before. He guides WH into blaming Big Pharma and their desire to make money, and the two of them move on, chuckling that it’s all a conspiracy and money making scheme to hide the truth from people – that we can heal ourselves with the power of our minds.
RB gleefully and hopefully asks if this is the end of Glaxosmithkline. WH agrees mildly, but tries to rein it in a bit, saying the money spent on research is important, but that doctors are not interested in healing people in natural ways, but in making money. He blames the ‘establishment’ and says people need to put bread on the table. This exchange itself could be another whole essay, but it won’t. This ends here. I’m done.
The final part of note to mention is the eighth sense, which WH drags RB back to finish, and proudly says he has achieved it recently. WH says it’s “intero-ception”, which again, he hijacks and explains in his own way.
WH says it’s “having control - top down- by the will, over the body. That is to step beyond disease, and to take control of what is happening in nature, in the body – and that could be cold heat, emotion, anything…Top-down control”
Wikipedia explains interoception as “being able to detect and being aware of stimuli inside the body, such as cold, heat, hunger, thirst”.
I leave it to you to explain what this means, and tell me whether I’m right to be annoyed by this use of language to promote his own agenda. I know that there are bigger fish to fry, but while I heat the oil up, lets enjoy these small ones instead. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading, and well done if you made it to the end. Like, share comment subscribe, it really helps. Have a lovely day, and be careful of the language people use!
Useful Link - Medlife Crisis - An excellent analysis
TLDR: The WH method can be used by most people safely, and is especially useful In cold conditions, at altitude, during exercise to help re oxygenate the lungs, in case of an asthma attack, and in some other really specific situations. Have fun!
I would love to get your opinions on Wim Hof, the video above, and my writing too, I'm still new to this and I know there's lots of room for improvement. Than
Imran Somji (author) from Phuket, Thailand on July 11, 2020:
Thanks Eric! I should probably have split it up, and perhaps I will! Would you recommend that?
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 09, 2020:
I liked what I read. Too long for me. Perhaps I will come back and read the second half.