Yannis Pitsiladis, scientist and provocateur, had come here for the same reason that pilgrims wheezing with bronchitis and emphysema have headed to this low-altitude divide between Israel and Jordan. He had come for the oxygen. ... A quarter-mile below sea level at the Dead Sea, where the barometric pressure is high, there is about 5 percent more oxygen to breathe. The naturally enriched air had been shown to increase exercise capacity in those with chronic lung disease. Would it do the same, Pitsiladis wondered, for the world’s fastest distance runners? ... He wanted to redefine the limits of human endurance by training a man to run a marathon in less than two hours without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. ... The Sub2 Project, as it is called, is an attempt at the extraordinary — to reduce by nearly three minutes the world record of 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds, set at the 2014 Berlin Marathon by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya. ... Some consider the goal impossible. Many are suspicious because of widespread doping in track and field, and almost no one considers the feat achievable anytime soon. ... To run under two hours without the use of banned drugs would be to set a record that would stand with the four-minute mile as an ultimate test of human stamina. ... A 1:59:59 marathon would require a searing pace of 4 minutes 34 seconds per mile, seven seconds faster than the pace of the current world record. It would require 85 to 90 percent of a runner’s maximum aerobic capacity — twice the capacity of an average man — and a sustained heart rate of about 160 to 170 beats per minute.
Much has been made of Israel’s status as “Startup Nation.” Not even the size of New Jersey, with a population smaller than New York City’s, Israel is home to more Nasdaq-listed companies than any country except the U.S. and China. On a per capita basis Israel boasts more venture capital, more startups and more scientists and tech professionals than any other country in the world. ... To understand these dizzying numbers, you need to understand the mysterious Unit 8200. While no one has ever disclosed how large it is, FORBES estimates the unit has, at any given time, 5,000 people assigned to it, all mandated to deploy the latest technology, often in life-or-death situations, with surprisingly little guidance. ... what’s in 8200′s special sauce? After speaking with more than two dozen 8200 veterans, we narrowed it down to five things that, taken together, provide a pretty good blueprint for Startup Nation–and a pretty powerful cheat sheet on how to launch a successful tech startup. ... Unit 8200 predates Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Starting in the British Mandate period of the 1930s, what was then known as Shin Mem 2 (an acronym of the Hebrew phrase for information service) bugged phone lines of Arab tribes to learn about planned riots. In 1948 it was renamed 515–a random number so that it could be discussed without using words. In 1956, the year of the second war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the name was changed again, to 848. ... Unit 8200′s turning point came when Israel’s did, in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War ... That moment, which led to national soul-searching, resulted in a reboot. The unit would then be known as another random number, 8200. And it would become completely departmentalized, so that various teams in the unit wouldn’t know what other teams were doing. Each squad, like a startup, was pretty much on its own.
I’m sure some of the criticism of people who claim to be using data to find knowledge, and to exploit inefficiencies in their industries, has some truth to it. But whatever it is in the human psyche that the Oakland A’s exploited for profit—this hunger for an expert who knows things with certainty, even when certainty is not possible—has a talent for hanging around. ... How did this pair of Israeli psychologists come to have so much to say about these matters of the human mind that they more or less anticipated a book about American baseball written decades in the future? What possessed two guys in the Middle East to sit down and figure out what the mind was doing when it tried to judge a baseball player, or an investment, or a presidential candidate? And how on earth does a psychologist win a Nobel Prize in economics? ... Amos was now what people referred to, a bit confusingly, as a “mathematical psychologist.” Non-mathematical psychologists, like Danny, quietly viewed much of mathematical psychology as a series of pointless exercises conducted by people who were using their ability to do math as camouflage for how little of psychological interest they had to say. ... students who once wondered why the two brightest stars of Hebrew University kept their distance from each other now wondered how two so radically different personalities could find common ground, much less become soulmates. ... Danny was always sure he was wrong. Amos was always sure he was right. Amos was the life of every party; Danny didn’t go to the parties. ... Both were grandsons of Eastern European rabbis, for a start. Both were explicitly interested in how people functioned when they were in a “normal” unemotional state. Both wanted to do science. Both wanted to search for simple, powerful truths.