May 17, 2021
Investigative journalist and bestselling author Scott
Carney is our guest as we discuss: what it means to be human, going
deep in the Wim Hof method, benefits of cold exposure, climbing
Kilimanjaro without a shirt, using The Wedge to change
conversations with your limbic system, kettlebell throwing, and why
you might want to embrace failure.
Guest Bio: Scott
Carney is an anthropologist, investigative journalist,
author, and a seeker of both the fringes of human experience and
the core of what makes us human. Scott has written four books to
date, including The Enlightenment Trap, The
Red Market, and What Doesn't Kill Us. Most recently, he
Wedge, which dives deeply into understanding the space
between stimulus and response. Scott's work has been featured in
many different magazines -- Wired, Mother Jones, Playboy, Foreign
Policy, Men's Journal, National Public Radio. He has won the Payne
Award for Ethics in Journalism and is a multi-finalist for the
Livingston Award for International Journalism.
This episode is in support of the Altruism in
Medicine Institute, an organization founded by
Barry Kerzin, a physician, teacher, author, and Tibetan
Buddhist monk. The mission is to increase compassion and resilience
among health care professionals and their patients. Compassion
fatigue is a very real thing, especially in health care. Building
your compassion muscle is one of the most potent tools not only for
avoiding burnout, but for finding joy in what you do.
The common theme of Scott’s
books -- what does it mean to be human? [05:00];
Who is “The Iceman” Wim Hof and
and why might cold water immersion lead to general resilience
Hof is a Dutch athlete who developed a method of ice water
immersion and breathwork protocols that give him what appears to be
superhuman powers. Wim claims that his techniques can boost the
immune system and cure autoimmune disease.
was initially dubious of Wim’s assertions and was eager to meet
him. He quickly learned that Wim’s program works.
Extreme cold exposure combined with breathwork creates
a stressful internal state and triggers a fight-or-flight response.
With Wim Hof training, you tell yourself, “I can do this, the
stress isn’t so bad”, and the amount of cortisol, adrenaline, and
other stress hormones that are secreted is reduced.
being able to handle that stress, your physiology adapts and
contributes to overall resilience.
the science behind the Wim Hof method.
live in relatively static environments, having manipulated the
environment to make us feel comfortable. Wim’s message is to get
into places that make you feel uncomfortable from an environmental
perspective and then learn to be OK with that. You start activating
biological systems that have let us survive for all of the
millennia before central heating and electric
The three elements of the Wim
Hof method and how they relate to the wedge [15:10];
Deliberate cold exposure.
protocol where you do
rounds of controlled hyperventilation followed by exhalation and a
breath hold. (Note: the cold immersion and breathing protocols are
not meant to be done concurrently.)
Your mindset during
the stressful states of cold or hypoxia. This mindset led Scott to
the concept of the wedge.
you put a wedge between challenging stimuli and your brain’s
response to it, it gives you an opportunity to realize that this is
something you can do.
can find the benefits of the wedge in everything you do, because
you’re constantly interacting with the environment. That
environment is sending sensations to your body, and you have a
choice on how you respond to that sensation.”
“That's really the point of being alive. Who I am is
not the person you see when I’m sitting on the couch watching
Netflix. I am the person engaged in something that is difficult. By
expanding those limits to where you can exist in challenging places
and yet do so comfortably is really the measure of who you are as a
An advantage of the Wim Hof
method vs. other mind-body connection practices (like Tuomo) --
it’s fast and you can learn it in about 3 days
Scott’s weekly cold water
immersion practice with benefits that last 4-5 days
weekend Scott joins a group of friends at a private lake where he
does long immersions, at times lasting 26 minutes.
loves the anticipation, yet wonders why he keeps coming back for
what many would consider to be torture. He enters the water calmly,
and when his mind tells him that he should get out early, there’s
another part of him that replies, “What if I just want to see how
far I can go?”
so valuable to see my body go through these changes in the ice.
It's this conversation between the words in my head and then what
my body is actually telling me. When I get out, I feel warm with
the sun on me. This good feeling can last 4-5 days where I'm in a
better mood, knowing I've done something hard. It's almost
addictive, to be put under these stresses and then come out and
want to do it again.”
Why ‘gritting it out’ is not an
effective strategy for prolonged cold exposure
you approach an ice bath fighting the environment, trying to
soldier through, you’re doing the method wrongly. Don’t tell
yourself this is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, because those
words are counterproductive.
need to relax, let the environment in, know you can do it, and zone
Climbing up to Gilman’s Point
on Kilimanjaro shirtless and without oxygen [30:15];
pushed through the hypoxia by doing the Wim Hof method of
overbreathing (without the apneic breath retention) for 28
found he could counter the problems of altitude sickness by
increasing his respiratory rate, adapting his conscious breathing
to the environment that he was inhabiting.
Scott’s sauna routine and the
value of giving his body contrasts to adapt to new environments
His latest book, The Wedge, and how the wedge is activating
something within yourself in order to thrive in a difficult moment
you anticipate a remote stimulus that you’ve previously experienced
(such as an ice bath), many expect it to be horrible and enter
actual stimulus is your experience upon jumping in the water. In
that moment, you get to decide how important those previous
assumptions about the ice water are. You can make it worse or you
can make it better, depending on whether you fire the limbic
you’re in the ice water, you can redefine whether the experience is
good or bad and whether it’s making you better or not
wedge is a tool that can be applied to any environmental
experience: heat, psychedelics, relationships.
Using a library as a metaphor
for the limbic system [39:20];
the library of the limbic system there is a librarian, and when
someone first enters the library they come with no history of prior
experiences. All of the shelves which represent sensations are
someone experiences a strong sensation, the librarian contacts the
bookbinder (the paralimbic system) a few structures away in order
to categorize this for future experiences.
bookbinder takes this signal and links it with your current
emotional state at the moment. For the cold stimulus, the
instinctual emotional state is panic, so this book (panic = cold)
is sent down to the librarian to be stored on the
next time you go into ice water, the librarian has a book on the
shelf which immediately links the cold with the unmitigated pain of
your prior experience. “Your brain wires everything this way -- we are always
living in our emotional past.”
can add new books to the library, however, because each stimulus
can have more than one sensation linked to it. Cold can be
terrible, but it can also make us feel really good.
we add more books to the library, we have more neural grammar in
which to exist in the world. And we find that we can do that with
all sorts of things.”
The philosophical question --
do we experience a shared reality? [44:20];
the most part, everyone feels raw sensation (such as cold) the same
stimuli get more complex, we start to diverge because our own
backgrounds (our “limbic libraries”) are different.
need to realize two things. One, that we are all individuals. Two,
that we're all connected. Everyone’s wedge is going to be
this one package of life. And the thing about life is you have to
make choices about the things you want to do. We need to follow the
things that bring joy, and we can find our wedge even within those
Applying the wedge in the
emergency department when your heart is racing and you’re profusely
sweating because you’re having difficulty with a critical
Scott’s advice is to visualize failure. There are
multiple things that can go wrong, and you should have some degree
of professional detachment knowing that bad things can
you know that there is the potential of failure, of course you try
not to do whatever might lead to failure. You do your very best in
the present moment.
accept that from time to time people are going to die.
“Why are you even attempting to
save someone if you can't accept the fact that you might
valorize success. We do not accept failure in general. Do your
best, but realize that you could fail and then realize that that
failure breaks down into not just one error, but multiple errors
before you get there.”
The solution (or wedge) for the
mental irritation that often comes with reading opinions on social
makes social media so impactful is that we automatically respond to
things like tweets in fight-or-flight mode.
can insert a wedge, but you're never going to overpower all biology
on this. It’s just our limbic system playing out on the internet.
Social media is toxic for a million reasons, and this is just one
more reason to delete those accounts.”
Going from fear to joy to
almost a spiritual place with kettlebell partner passing
the movement of kettlebell throwing is easy, the stakes are real.
You must pay very close attention to the stimulus.
turns into an exercise of empathy. “I don't want to hurt you, you don't want to hurt me.
And we're doing this thing that's actually a little dangerous. It
really puts you into this moment of bonding.”
You're throwing the kettle bell with love and you're
catching the love from the other person. It's a spiritual practice.
You realize that what the external world sees and what you are
experiencing are totally different.
Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD