wim hof

Human echolocation

A superhuman is a person with extraordinary and unusual capabilities enabling feats beyond anything a layperson could conceivably achieve, even through extensive training. Superhuman can mean an improved human, for example, by genetic modification, cybernetic implants, nanotechnology, or natural evolution. Occasionally, it could mean an otherwise ‘normal’ human with purported super-abilities, such as psychic/psionic powers, levitation or flight, herculean strength, or unique proficiency at some task.

Superhuman can also mean something that is not human, but considered to be ‘superior’ to humans in some ways. This might include a robot that easily passed the Turing test (an indicator of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior) that possessed greater than human strength, which is already common in robots today. A very intelligent or strong alien could be considered superhuman. In its most basic sense it means anything beyond (typical) human capabilities, e.g. a tiger may be described as having ‘superhuman strength.’

There have been verified and well-documented cases of humans having physical abilities that seem superhuman. A Dutch world record holder, adventurer and daredevil, commonly nicknamed the Iceman for his ability to withstand extreme cold, Wim Hof is nearly impervious to extreme temperatures. In 2009, he ran a marathon, wearing only shorts and a cap (no shoes) in -20C temperatures. He owns the Guinness World Record for the longest ice bath (nearly two hours). In 2011, he ran a marathon in 40C temperatures without drinking a drop of water during the run.

Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mäntyranta had a gene mutation that causes a wild increase in red blood cell count, meaning that his blood had the ability to carry up to 50% more oxygen than that of others – this is a tremendous advantage in any cardiovascular activity.

Diagnosed with retinal cancer at the age of two, American Ben Underwood had his eyes removed at the age of three. He taught himself echolocation at the age of five. He was able to detect the location of objects by making frequent clicking noises with his tongue. He used it to accomplish such feats as running, playing basketball, riding a bicycle, rollerblading, playing football, and skateboarding. Underwood’s child eye doctor claimed that Underwood was one of the most proficient human echolocators.

There exist also people with a condition known as savant syndrome that have superhuman mental capabilities. These individuals usually have some kind of mental disability, which has led to the belief that in order to have these abilities some sort of trade-off is required. Nonetheless, many of them have extraordinary talents, and some, known as prodigious savants, are relatively normal and functional with only mild or even no noticeable impairment.

Kim Peek, the basis for the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie ‘Rain Man,’ was one of the few people ever verified to actually have an eidetic memory (photo recall), and was also a speed reader and human calculator. He remembered about 98% of everything he read and memorized approximately 12,000 books in his lifetime. He was also able to recall music he had heard decades before and sing it, as well as play it on the piano to a limited extent. However, he is also believed to have had developmental disabilities, as he had very poor social skills, scored low on IQ tests and had limited physical dexterity. Originally believed to be autistic, it was later speculated that Peek probably had FG syndrome (a chromosomal disorder).

Musical prodigy Derek Paravicini is a blind savant who was born extremely prematurely at only almost half the duration of a normal pregnancy (25 of 40 weeks). As a result of oxygen therapy during this time, his eyes became nonfunctional and his developing brain was affected, causing severe learning disabilities in addition to autism. As Paravicini grew up he learned to play the piano and it slowly became apparent that he had an amazing gift for music. He has absolute pitch and can play a piece after hearing it only once. He also has prowess in improvisation and can create a piece instantly as he goes along.

Matt Savage is an autistic savant and musical prodigy with a number of talents including extremely high intelligence, hyperlexia (precocious ability to read), and perfect pitch. He was advanced in development as an infant who began to walk early and learned to read by the age of 18 months. At the age of three, he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder, a form of autism. Though he initially did not like noises or music as a child, when he was age six, he taught himself how to read music and began playing the piano. With no formal instruction in music composition, Savage became a professional musician and by 18 years old, he had released 9 albums and performed with Chaka Khan and other popular singers. He is currently enrolled at Berklee to advance his music career.

Stephen Wiltshire is an architectural artist and savant who is moderately autistic and has an eidetic memory. Nicknamed ‘the human camera,’ he has gained worldwide notoriety from creating massive panoramic drawings of large cities such as Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem and London with astounding detail and accuracy after only taking brief helicopter rides over them.

Orlando Serrell is an acquired savant who, at the age of ten years old, was struck on the left side of his head by a baseball. After falling down, he got up and continued to play baseball, but following the incident experienced a headache that lasted for a long time. Eventually, the headache ended, and Serrell quickly noticed that he was able to do calendrical calculations of amazing complexity. He can also recall where he was, what he had done, and what the weather was like for every single day since the incident.

Rüdiger Gamm is a mental calculator with no apparent disabilities whatsoever. By 21 years of age, he attained the ability to calculate complex mathematics in his head, usually through memorization. He can also speak backwards and calculate calendars. Shakuntala Devi was a human computer. By age six (1935) she demonstrated her calculation and memorization abilities at the University of Mysore, India. In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, she was asked to give the 23rd root of a 201-digit number; she answered in 50 seconds. Her answer—546,372,891—was confirmed by calculations done at the U.S. Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation. On June 18, 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers — 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779 — picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds. This event is mentioned in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records.

Super-human is one of the stages in classification of progress in artificial intelligence and denotes where an entity of artificial intelligence performs better than most humans do in a specific task. Examples of where computers currently are super-human include backgammon, bridge, chess, reversi, scrabble, and even Jeopardy!

Any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means may be referred to as human enhancement. The term is sometimes applied to the use of technological means to select or alter human characteristics and capacities, whether or not the alteration results in characteristics and capacities that lie beyond the existing human range. Here, the test is whether the technology is used for non-therapeutic purposes. Some bioethicists restrict the term to the non-therapeutic application of specific technologies — neuro-, cyber-, gene-, and nano-technologies — to human biology. According to transhumanist thinkers, a posthuman is a hypothetical future being ‘whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.’

Speculation about human nature and the possibilities of both human enhancement and future human evolution have made superhumans a popular subject of science fiction. Beings with supernatural abilities are also common in fantasy fiction, but are very rarely referred to as superhumans in that genre. The concept of the superhuman is quite popular in science fiction, where superhumans are often cyborgs, mutants, aliens, telepaths, the product of ongoing human evolution or genetically engineered.

The greatest publicity for the concept are comic book superheroes, such as ‘Superman’ (an alien). The term is often used in discussions of comic book characters because of the considerable overlap between superheroes and superhumans is such that the archetypical comic book revolves around superhuman characters who become super heroes or super villains. However, many comic books outside of DC and Marvel rely on alternative terminology for both because the terms ‘Superman’ and ‘Super Hero’ (not the generic ‘superhero’) are registered as trademarks. Superhuman characters in various comics, role-playing games and other entertainment media have also been referred to as a metahuman, mutant, evolved human or superhuman, or posthuman.

One type of superhuman described in science fiction stories, particularly during the Atomic Age, derives from the concept of mutation or further human evolution. In such tales, a human would evolve into or give birth to a being that either has powers not yet exhibited by ‘baseline’ humans, or else motivations entirely different from those humans, or both. In some stories, these humans are either unable to get along with ‘normal’ humanity, or will ultimately supersede them entirely, causing the eventual extinction of the descendants of contemporary baseline humanity.

These metahumans are designated as a ‘new species’ (or “‘successor species”‘) of humanity. In some fictional franchises, such as those of ‘The Tomorrow People,’ ‘Babylon 5,’ or the ‘X-Men,’ they refer to themselves through use of the binomial nomenclature ‘Homo superior,’ to distinguish them from Homo sapiens. Progress is inherently built into this science fiction subgenre, as it is assumed that they are the natural product of ongoing evolutionary adaptation to a new environment.

However, other stories turn this notion on its head, showing the disadvantages of a supposedly superior ability or quality; for example, the mutants of the ‘X-Men’ are depicted as being unable to control their own powers, resulting in significant damage and catastrophe when their powers first activate. They must undergo rigorous training to make practical use of their powers and to coexist among others. In ‘Briar Patch’ by Dean Ing, a group of ancient hominids were portrayed as a largely pacifistic, telepathic and highly empathic species who could not stand to inflict pain, even while hunting; they were eventually overwhelmed and exterminated by the less sensitive but more ruthless Homo sapiens. Indeed, fear, persecution and interspecies ‘racism’ from non-metahuman humanity is a problem in the fictional universes of ‘The Tomorrow People,’ ‘X-Men,’ and ‘Babylon 5’ alike. Military exploitation and abuse of telepaths, anti-mutant Sentinel technology and the repressive tolerance of Psi Corps in the latter universe parallels real-world versions of prejudice and discrimination.

In ‘Marvel Comics’ the term superhuman is part of a ‘power classification system’ and applies to aptitude (usually physical) far beyond the range attainable by normal humans. An ‘athlete’ is a normal human in extraordinary physical condition, such as a weightlifter or boxer. ‘Peak human’ is applied to physical abilities that are nearly, but not quite, beyond the limits of the best of humans, such as an olympic-grade athlete. ‘Enhanced human’ refers to superhuman abilities some distance beyond the limits of humans, such as being able to lift a small car but not a tank, and is a term for ‘light’ superhuman abilities. Then comes the level of the ‘superhuman.’ Characters with a ‘superhuman’ attribute are far beyond normal human abilities.

Many other types of superhumans are also portrayed in science fiction. For example, the ‘Dune’ series contains several varieties of superhumans, ranging from those produced by selective breeding to chemical enhancement or lifelong training in as yet uninvented mental and physical disciplines, a nearly-immortal human-sandworm hybrid, and artificial lifeforms such as the Face Dancers. The ‘Dune’ prequels also describe nearly-immortal brain-in-a-jar cyborgs called Cymeks and advanced artificial intelligence.

The ‘CoDominium’ universe has superhumans produced by artificial and natural selection and by genetic engineering; for example, the alien Moties have been bred for thousands of generations to be far better than humans at their caste’s specific job, such as Engineer or Mediator. Many other fictional aliens, such as Vulcans, Kzinti and Mork from Ork have greater than human abilities or powers, sometimes simply for the purpose of making them seem more advanced or more ‘alien,’ other times simply for dramatic reasons (particularly if they are the antagonists of the story).

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