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David Blaine (born David Blaine White; April 4, 1973) is an American magician, illusionist and endurance artist. He is best known for his high-profile feats of endurance, and has made his name as a performer of street and close-up magic. He has performed all over the world and has set and broken several world records.

(Wikipedia)

In this TED Talk video, Blaine describes what it took to hold his breath underwater for 17 minutes.

What's fishy about this: Not only is Blaine an endurance artist, he's also a magician and illusionist. How can we know that Blaine really held his breath for 17 minutes? Do biologists/scientists think it is possible to do it? I doubt his authenticity.

PS: Do not try this at home.

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    What would it take to convince you either way? Would evidence that Guinness accepted it as a record be sufficient? Would an example of someone else faking the skill convince you? (I renew my long-term objection to debunking magicians.) – Oddthinking Aug 9 '14 at 15:41
  • In what way would reliable testimony that it had happened be different from "scientific proof that it's possible with no brain damage". In otherwords: what would it take to convince you either way? – dmckee Aug 9 '14 at 18:56
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    Hey all, it doesnt matter what would convince the OP. If there is evidence that david blaine did this, present it. If there is evidence that he faked it, present it. – user5582 Aug 9 '14 at 19:12
  • @Articuno: Because the question isn't great as it stands. Historically, good magicians have used authorities to verify their claims to make their magic appear more impressive. If Guinness authorities are considered sufficiently diligent to rule out trickery, Larry OBrien's answer is sufficient. If people are skeptical of that (and I saw people on the web who were) we have the problem of it being unanswerable. – Oddthinking Aug 10 '14 at 0:52
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Yes. David Blaine was recognized by Guiness as setting the world record for static apnea with O₂ in 2008. He held that record for several months.

Blaine set the record on the Oprah Winfrey Show; a video of the last few minutes can be found on the show's site.

One can hold one's breath for much longer if one breathes pure oxygen prior to the apnea. The Guinness record is now over 22 minutes (see link above). Enriched-gas breath holds are not one of the disciplines recognized by AIDA but Blaine's record can be put in perspective against the "normal" air record for "static apnea" of 11m 35s.

Blaine set his O₂-based record some time after failing to break the then-current 8m 58s static apnea record after spending 7 days submerged in New York City. While with a magician it would be foolish to rule out chicanery, his NYC failure and O₂-based record seem consistent with his claim of being (in addition to an illusionist) an endurance athlete with a very high level of discipline.

Apnea and extreme freediving are dangerous and even world-class athletes have died during record attempts.

A paper "Brain Damage in Competitive Freediving" says:

It is not possible to conclude that the observed increase in S100B levels in serum in the present study reflects a serious injury to the brain, although the results raise some concerns considering negative long-term effects.

  • I believe that 11m 35s record holder has unusually large lung volume. Close to double the average person. – fredsbend Aug 9 '14 at 23:03
  • I found that Wikipedia page in my hunting around, but I couldn't find a citation that mentioned Blaine. – Oddthinking Aug 10 '14 at 0:53
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    Blaine's attempt is ref'd on that Wikipedia page as "17:04 David Blaine 30 April 2008 Chicago, USA Guinness" – Larry OBrien Aug 10 '14 at 1:01
  • Sorry if I was unclear. Yes, Wikipedia says that, but it doesn't seem to provide a reference for that, so there's little reason to trust it. – Oddthinking Aug 11 '14 at 11:16
  • You can read a bit more about David Blaine's history as an endurance artist and his preparations in Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney's book, "Willpower". Interestingly enough, his Oprah attempt apparently started out very badly and he expected to fail shortly after beginning. – Sean Duggan Aug 11 '14 at 12:20
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No.

As explained in this video, Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed, the trick is a breathing tube secreted on an assistant who touches him when he floats to the top partway through the act.

Playwright, journalist, and theatre reviewer, Elain Liner uses the same video to support her claim that Blaine uses trickery. In her Dallas Observer review, she writes:

Would Blaine make it to 12 minutes without breathing, risking brain-damaging hypoxia? Of course, he would. Because he doesn't actually hold his breath that long. No human being can. It's a trick. One that's well-known in the magic biz. If you've ever watched that Fox TV show starring "The Masked Magician," you might have seen this episode, which revealed how the water tank illusion is done. Hint: A carefully concealed oxygen tube is involved. That rabbinical beard Blaine wears is good for camouflage. And if you looked closely at the overhead screen as he emerged from the tank last night, wasn't it odd how dry his hair was?

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    Note: We don't know whether this technique was used in the Guinness-verified attempt, or just on-stage. Also, if this were the technique he used, Liner's comment about dry hair makes no sense - his hair would be wet. – Oddthinking Aug 13 '18 at 5:13
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    It turns out there are a few deleted answers that tried to use the same reference. I wrote in January 2015: "On the one side, we have professional witnesses saying it wasn't trickery, and athletes with similar performances. On the other, we have a magician probably capable of tricking authorities, and other magicians revealing it is possible to fake (but we don't know if the witnesses precluded this technique.) Short of a confession, I can't see how this question is ever answerable." – Oddthinking Aug 13 '18 at 5:17

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