Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Talk About It...

Anecdotes are not evidence. I know this and yet...

Everyone who deals with certain extremes, every last person I know, has experienced things that don't make sense. People responding to a kill decision, before you have acted, as if they were stunned. Moving faster than it is possible for a human to move. Seeing bullets in the air. Feeling someone decide to take you.

We don't talk about them. Because we can't explain them. Maybe because we are afraid that no one else has ever experienced something similar...

But we all have. And we get together, sometimes annually, a group of very non-standard people and we drink too much...and we talk. What the hell? You tapped into the source of universal love and the ED freak suddenly curled up and started crying? How many bullets to the chest and he did what?

What would it change if we could collect these stories? I don't know if we could ever verify them (how often are cameras there when shit goes very bad?) and that makes it anecdotes, not evidence. I want to hear it myself, from people I trust after talking to people who have seen them in action... I've seen to many "masters" with brainwashed students and bullshit stories, I want something more.

Would it be folklore? Mythology? Would it be something we could find comfort in? "Someone else has seen that! I'm not crazy." Sure, the wannabes would twist it and repeat it back, but that's just the way of the world.

Would a book on the twilight zone of combat do more harm than good?


  1. Jay Gischer4:36 PM

    I've never been in the kind of life or death situation you describe, but I've seen enough to believe the kinds of things you describe can definitely happen.

    I don't, however, think it only happens under extreme conditions.

    A very mundane example: I was driving down the freeway with a friend. A car ahead of me did something that required me to brake. I did so, and my friend said afterward: "your foot was on the brake before he did anything!" I think he was right, and I have no idea how I did that, I wasn't really thinking about it. I just sensed his intention to lane change.

    Likewise, if I punch at a training partner's face with no intention of hurting them, they don't bother to block or dodge. But if I have such an intention, they get out of the way very quickly.

    This is something you touch on when you talk about feeds versus attacks.

  2. Have you read "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell? He adresses certain aspects of this phenomenon.

    For myself, when I've been training regularly, I find that I am more sensitive to what is going on around me. This is especially helpful as I'm in sales.

  3. If we get good video or other instrument readings which allow accurate measurements sign me right up. We can compare the reality to the perception. If they match it's definitely worth figuring out why the universe behaves differently when people are fighting. If they don't match it's more grist for the neurologist's mill.

    We're talking about subjective and notoriously unreliable impressions made under stress or otherwise altered states of consciousness. We already know a whole bunch of things that happen to people's brains and bodies in these conditions which change their perception. "And the knife was THIS BIG!" "Time slowed down. Honest." "He was there one moment and over there the next."

    We know the brain fills in the blanks by inventing plausible memories after the fact, sometimes minutes after the fact. No sane person would use something that reliably unreliable as evidence that physics "just doesn't work".

  4. Inspired by this post, I recapped my own:

    Dan: I believe physics work. I also believe there's a lot about human mechanics --add psychology, if you want-- we don't understand. Some people should not be able to move as they do.

  5. Is Studs Terkel still alive? This'd be right up his alley.

  6. I'd buy that book. But I'd rather listen to the stories in person. It's hard to (without judging) convey and compare a history of violence with someone, through text, when you can more easily do it over a few shots of whiskey.

  7. Studs Terkel is, unfortunately, quite dead.

    I don't know if this book would do harm or good, but it would certainly be a fun read.

  8. Change some names and details, and call the book a work of fiction. Those that have seen will know the truth, and the rest of us get some good stories.

  9. "Blink" is an excellent read.

    I think, however, that this is how Hollywood gets its atmosphere regarding violence. As did traditional folkore and legends that were passed along. To an extent, at the time, it was real. But the "telephone" effect of trying to explain it makes it seem a bit too "John Woo."

    Maybe it's better to keep it special among those who know how special it is.

  10. LTC Grossman's book, "On Combat," is another great book that deals specifically with the sympathetic nervous system response and adrenaline responses and how they affect us under life or death situations like combat, officer-involved shootings, etc. Highly recommended...

  11. Mitchell Paige, who as a USMC machine-gunner earned the Medal of Honor on Guadalcanal, vividly described how at one point in the action he distinctly felt a hand on his chest push him back, an instant before several bullets passed between him and his weapon.

    Hard to explain without falling back on "divine intervention," but there are many such stories in the autobiographies of fighting men.

    I think it's something more than the "blink" phenomenon, which is the almost instantaneous analysis of a variety of clues absorbed on a sub-conscious level. That phenomenon is also discussed by Gavin DeBecker in "The Gift of Fear."

  12. Anonymous9:15 AM

    Denise here. I'd buy it! Call it something like "You Didn't Hear it From Me..."
    That area of writing/tale-telling reminds me of "Things That Never Were" by Matthew Rossi. Seriously odd stuff that *might* be true...?