How long would it take you to master a new language? A year? 18 months? Longer? For a special operator in the elite Navy SEAL Team 6 it used to take six months of study, but thanks to a combination of physiological and neurological optimization, it’s now down to six weeks – then they’re off in a foreign country navigating the cultural terrain, and engaging with locals and allies. High-performance expert Jamie Wheal spent time at ‘The Mind Gym’, the Navy SEAL training facility, while researching his new book in collaboration with Steven Kotler, Stealing Fire. Here he gives us just a taste of the advantageous technology that is cracking open seemingly super-human skills like accelerated learning, and raising the bar of human performance. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler's book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.
Steven Kotler's and Jamie Wheal's book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.
Jamie Wheal: Out of all the organizations we've studied the Navy SEALs are probably right there on the cutting edge of deploying advanced technology to accelerate their performance in the field and to accelerate their performance in forming and leading teams. There are probably three major areas in their bodies and brains they focus on. The first is neural electric activity, so what is happening in our brain wave states as we go into stressful situations, our heart rate and the quality of our cardiac rhythms, so not just how many beats a minute are our hearts beating under stress but literally what is the quality? Is it anabolic meaning and healthy and positive or catabolic meaning unhealthy and destructive in my cardiac rhythm. And then even galvanic skin response so how much is my system under stress or strain and sweating kind of the same metrics that are used in lie detector tests, polygraphs and those kind of things. And they actually have very robust vests filled with sensors that will allow teams to go through operations and have commanders being able to see on a laptop up to 50 operators at once and being able to monitor all of their activities in the field, see who's fallen down, see what their core body temperature is, see a host of biometrics.
In their mind gym, which is unique and specific to DEVGRU, which is more popularly known as SEAL Team Six, but their official name is Special Warfare Development Group, those guys also have an entire center built called the Mind Gym and it's dedicated to deeper dives for training and recovery. And amidst all the other tools that we've just discussed they are also making use of sensory deprivation as a recovery and learning aid. And sensory deprivation tanks, which are usually they look like giant egg shaped pods and they're filled with basically lukewarm super salty bathwater that's very, very buoyant. So you go into them and close the hatch and you're floating in pitch-black darkness with no reference points. And these have been used for the last half century to research consciousness because one of the ways we determine who we are and where we are is by understanding visual sidelines and what's in our environment. When you take that away you take away one of the core elements of orienting where am I and who am I in time and space.
What DEVGRU is doing now is they're adding in 21st century biometrics into that experience. And so they are adding audio and visual feedback as well as biometrics. So again, brain waves and heart rate variability and they're able to steer operators into an optimum state of physiological and neurological relaxation and then introducing new content. And one of the examples that they shared with us was the learning of foreign languages. So obviously special operators are special operators. They are highly trained and there aren't enough of them to go around when the U.S. is engaged in overt and covert conflict on at least five continents.
It's essential that they understand solidly the language of the territories they're about to enter so they can engage with locals, they can engage with allies, they can do what needs to be done. In the past that's been a minimum of a six-month cycle time. So you take highly trained operators and you have them sitting on the bench learning a foreign language before being deployed that's incredibly inefficient. By combining these deprivation tanks with next generation biofeedback these guys have been able to reduce a six-month cycle time in learning a foreign language down to six-weeks. So that's basically cutting it into a quarter and that is just by, same people, same body same brains, but just optimizing where they are to receive and learn and retain new content.