Dinah, ClinkShrink, & Roy produce Shrink Rap: a blog by Psychiatrists for Psychiatrists, interested bystanders are also welcome. A place to talk; no one has to listen.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
The Secret of Climbing Perception
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It turns out that Tom Stafford, co-author of Mind Hacks, is a rock climber. He wrote a nice blog post about the psychology of perception and climbing entitled Rock Climbing Hacks. In this post he gives some of the neuroscience background to what climbers call 'route-finding', in other words the ability to pick out handholds and footholds as you go up a wall.
I really appreciated this post after this past weekend when I climbed to the summit of some of the best rocks in the Mid-Atlantic. Somewhere midway up the several hundred foot rock I learned that my idea of a 'good' foothold had changed dramatically. Suddenly a good hold was any little nubbins of a protrusion that I could use to balance on my big toe. And a 'good' handhold was one that I could hold onto just enough to stay balanced on my toes. Miraculously, it worked and I didn't fall. Pretty cool.
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Routefinding is the art of selecting and following the best path appropriate to your abilities and equipment. So, wilderness routefinding could be determining the best line to the summit (and the quality and frequency of holds would be a factor in this) but mostly routefinding is finding a climb that you read about in your guidebook. Climb on!
"Routefinding is the art of selecting and following the best path appropriate to your abilities and equipment."
What a lovely metaphor for therapy.
Anon: You left pretzel crumbs near your smelly climbing shoes...
I can't find the citation, but I specifically recall reading a study that hypothesized that the greatest athletes possess an unique perceptive ability. By independent interview, the authors determined that, for example, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, & Emmett Smith coming down the ice/court/field, perceive, instantaneously interpret, and can then successfully utilize the perceptive opportunities more successfully that others. Likewise, this unique perceptive ability allows hitters Tony Gwynn & Cal Ripken Jr. to see a pitched ball significantly more "vividly" and with less perception of velocity.
This would suggest to me that, perhaps, your first commentator's description of the "art of selecting & following the best path" is certainly characteristic of the repetitive practice & accumulated experience of mid and "top-level" climbers. But it would seem reasonable to me to conclude that super-climbers (and I will never forget the terror I felt in watching the free climb of Araceli Segarra that opens the IMAX film Everest) are gifted with special perceptive abilities as well.
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