Racing driver Alex Zanardi is an unusually driven man. In 2001, just a few days after 9/11, he lost both legs in a catastrophic accident, where his car was hit at 190mph as it emerged out-of-control from a pitstop. Equipped with highly articulated prosthetic limbs he has not only walked again, but returned to the same circuit and recorded times that were fast enough to qualify for a championship race.

However, in “Alex Zanardi: Life Goes On,” BBC Four/Two Thu 27, 23:20, the driver told how since the accident and return to racing he has had to train himself to think and operate differently in a number of ways, arguably making him a better driver.

Most telling, and perhaps revealing of the brain’s capacity to change, was the way in which his senses seem to have adapted to his artificial limbs. It was as if the sensation often reported by amputees of feeling their lost limbs had been acquired by his artificial limbs. He described how when he taps the side of his artifical foot, he can feel what he would have felt if the legs were real.

This capacity of the brain to compensate when required illustrates its enormous adaptive power, which for most of us goes untapped. Even in extremis, few may rise to a challenge in the way Zanardi has done.

The driver was described admiringly by all participants as a man who did not suffer from doubt. This was offered as an inspiration and example. There can be no doubting Zanardi’s achievement or the example it sets to others facing a similar setback.

However, this lack of doubt it was suggested is the crucial asset of a champion or winner. I am not so sure. This is the way his colleagues describe him, and from his public persona it appears accurate. Perhaps it also reflects our own discomfort with doubt and skepticism, despite the crucial role they play in individual and collective self-preservation. Overcoming doubt, for some people may itself be a critical challenge, while denying any doubts could itself have dangerous consequences.

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