Your body’s amazing reaction to water

ideas.ted.com

Writer James Nestor explores the science of the “mammalian dive reflex,” the phenomenon by which water triggers an immediate decrease in heart rate.

In 1949, a stocky Italian air force lieutenant named Raimondo Bucher decided to try a potentially deadly stunt in a lake on the island of Capri, Italy. Bucher would sail out to the center of the lake, take a breath and hold it, and free-dive down one hundred feet to the bottom. Waiting there would be a man in a diving suit. Bucher would hand the diver a package, then kick back up to the surface. If he completed the dive, he’d win a fifty-thousand-lira bet; if he didn’t, he would drown.

Scientists warned Bucher that, according to Boyle’s law, the dive would kill him. Formulated in the 1660s by the Anglo-Irish physicist Robert Boyle, this equation predicted the behavior of gases at various pressures, and it indicated that the pressure…

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