Join 3,422 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bodily Feats
November 26, 2010 3:12 PM   Subscribe

The human body can achieve some pretty amazing things and Discovery Health has come up with a bunch of articles explaining how some of these feats are accomplished.

Sword Swallowing | Firewalking | Bed Of Nails | Glass Walking | Fire Breathing
posted by gman (51 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great stuff!

Now tell me how the mousetrap-on-the-tongue thing works!
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:24 PM on November 26, 2010


I dunno, but Je-sus.
posted by gman at 3:29 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did Discovery Health really just take their journalistic cue from cracked.com or is that just coincidence?
posted by Avelwood at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


These things all have real dangers associated with them. It is inadvisable to attempt any of this stuff without a mentor. In the case of Firewalking, having someone knowledgeable/experienced is very important (build a bad fire, you'll get burnt).

I've known fire breathers; they tend to discourage folks that want to learn. Fire breathing really is dangerous.

Interesting articles though. I just wished they would have pushed the 'down try this at home, kids' line a bit stronger.
posted by el io at 3:32 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can Discovery Health explain how people are able to pass gas loudly on public transport without any sort of embarrassment?

Cos I seriously don't understand that.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:43 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I know performers will go to great lengths to get that audience "wow," not to mention money and possibly fame. So glass-walking, lying on a bed of nails, and even sword-swallowing don't surprise me.

But taking swigs of lighter fluid on a nightly basis? NOT WORTH IT.
posted by eugenen at 3:51 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I once saw the Torture King pass around a tub and instructed everyone in the audience to smash their beer bottles into it. He then jumped around inside it. He must've botched that trick, though, since he cut the hell out of his foot and had to briefly stop the show to have someone wrap it up.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2010


This is an old theme; finding a medical or scientific authority to "explain" how sideshow stunts are done.

In my opinion, this is one reaction to the natural anxiety felt by the audience. At its core, sideshow works to increase the anxiety and tension of the audience. A good sideshow knows this, and like music, allows for release of this tension, usually by humor.

I've never felt that medical or scientific explanations of sideshow stunts detract from the aesthetic element any more than using calculus to "explain" the trajectory of a baseball hit out of the park detracts from the grandeur of a home run.

In my opinion, the very best sideshow performances take on quasi-religious overtones, and in fact many sideshow stunts originated as religious demonstrations, particularly among Hindus and some Muslim sects.
posted by Tube at 4:06 PM on November 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've known fire breathers; they tend to discourage folks that want to learn. Fire breathing really is dangerous.

Tosh. I learned when I was 16 in about twenty minutes. Lamp oil or kero will only ignite as a mist, or soaked in something, so there are only three important things:

1) don't swallow (easy enough, it tastes like rubbish)
2) don't do it into the wind (self-explanatory)
3) don't use ba big torch and don't hold it too close.

It's really very easy and much safer than it looks. I have taught lots of people.
posted by smoke at 4:14 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I keep wondering if the explainer actually tried these things or merely got paid by the word.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:20 PM on November 26, 2010


smoke: did you perform daily? did you have an entire routine that you performed multiple times a day? even if you do it right, it's not a very healthy thing. hope you told folks to keep the bulk of your flammable liquid away from your performance and to keep a quantity of water nearby as well.
posted by el io at 4:36 PM on November 26, 2010


I reiterate: firebreathing is not "really dangerous". I agree with you generally that it's not a very healthy thing to do regularly - lamp oil is carcinogenic among other things, but the number of people who do it every day or multiple times per day are vanishingly small as a percentage of people who can firebreath. Assume that I know how to do it safely.
posted by smoke at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2010


I'm kind of sad to see my dream of working gills blown out of the water. I was preparing to wish for those someday.
posted by theredpen at 4:47 PM on November 26, 2010


I used to hang out with a very vaudeville-performancy crowd (okay still do, but I don't perform anymore) and the joke was all acts could be reduced to Skill, Deception, or Hurting Yourself For Money. Like when I asked the blockhead what the trick to glasswalking was, I got

"There isn't a trick. You just don't let them see you bleed."

Also many fire eaters failing at getting me to learn "Oh c'mon! It's real easy once you get over your fear of shoving a ball of fire into your face!"

The other fun thing was drinking whiskey poured through tube in someone's sinus.
posted by The Whelk at 5:19 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


These articles are WAAY out of date. You haven't been able to get candy glass bottles for, what, a decade now? The new "breakaway" bottles are made out of some type of plastic, which has the huge advantage that it's not water soluble, and you can get vases and such - or even exotics like cinderblocks... see eg here.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:21 PM on November 26, 2010


The human body can achieve some pretty amazing horrifying things
posted by killdevil at 5:49 PM on November 26, 2010


These things all have real dangers associated with them. It is inadvisable to attempt any of this stuff without a mentor.

And a lot of gin...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 6:14 PM on November 26, 2010


Metabolism control, enabling ice running and other thermodynamic feats is another amazing thing that can be done.

Wim Hof ran a half-marathon in only shorts, above the Arctic Circle. He's training someone else, who I am internet acquaintances with on another forum. They are going for a double world record, at which point they will publish a book on how anyone can acquire such amazing abilities. Their blog is pretty preliminary right now but I'm excited to see their results.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 6:15 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have to think the Alliance is gonna frown on this.
posted by danb at 6:20 PM on November 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


*some assembly required.
posted by clavdivs at 7:17 PM on November 26, 2010


The absolute standout for me in this general genre is Michel Lotito, a truly unique human who consumed things not meant for the human body. I saw him in Venezuela in the seventies, it was seriously weird, dude was chewing away at pieces of a bicycle he was cutting up, swallowing metal and rubber as if it were bread and butter. How his stomach didn't shred into pieces, I mean, shit, it's a crazy thing if I've ever seen one, and I've seen more than a few.
posted by dbiedny at 7:17 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


6
'Firewalk. Take a deep breath and step lightly onto the coals'....mhno-k
posted by clavdivs at 7:53 PM on November 26, 2010


My wife and her dad went firewalking, years ago. He got bad burns on his soles and she, completely unharmed on the exact same path he'd taken, had to drive him to the hospital.
posted by signal at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2010


Fire breathing is actually surprisingly easy—the tricky part is learning to expectorate the fuel in a fine mist rather than a rope of liquid, which some people get the hang of faster than others—and not especially dangerous. I was taught by a circus acrobat who was happy to train me as long as I promised on my mother's soul never to do it drunk, no matter how much I might be begged.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


From TFA: According to Houdini, some of the sword swallowers of his time swallowed metal sheaths before their performances.

That's quite odd. "Sword swallowers are cheating by swallowing a sheath offstage first?" I think he misunderstood the part that was difficult.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2010


I've done fire-breathing a few times, without any "professional" help, from my old rooftop at parties. You don't need a big torch or lighter fluid. All you need is a zippo, some 151, and the ability to spit it out in a fine mist, which is the only real tricky part.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:21 PM on November 26, 2010


Did Discovery Health really just take their journalistic cue from cracked.com or is that just coincidence?

Actually these are all old articles for HowStuffWorks.com, ranging from 2004 to 2007. If you click the "Cite" link, it will show you the publication date. Discovery bought them in 2007, but they seem to have moved to rebranding things recently.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 9:27 PM on November 26, 2010


Exhaling in a fine mist (firebreathing skill) is also a great comedic skill; take a bit of water or coffee and spit it out in surprise in a nice fine mist. Used to be a running Letterman gag.
posted by el io at 9:42 PM on November 26, 2010


Fire breathers always wanted me to try cause I could gleek impressively, but I wasn't gonna fire-eat (which is really just blowing out a flame) let alone blow.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 PM on November 26, 2010


Oh and the best thing about performing with a vaudevile crowd? You can say things like "Scarlet Monkey? Miss Saturn needs BaBoomBah for the set." It was like interning with the Justice League
posted by The Whelk at 9:51 PM on November 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are any of these skills transferable to real life? Other than sword swallowing, I mean.
posted by pracowity at 12:30 AM on November 27, 2010


Sure, if you construct for yourself a life that involves sword-swallowing, fire-walking, glass-walking, or walking on beds of nails. The only real life is the one you have.
posted by !Jim at 12:52 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


glass walking: Election year could be applicable.
posted by clavdivs at 12:54 AM on November 27, 2010


yeah and hell yeah.
posted by clavdivs at 12:55 AM on November 27, 2010


vaudeville? was edison invented yet!
posted by clavdivs at 12:56 AM on November 27, 2010


I was part of the UK group who went to the World Scout Jamboree, in Chile, in 1998/99. We were all supposed to have a performance which was traditional for our part of the world for showing off at a big party on New Years Eve. As we were from Devon, the only thing we could think to do was Morris Dancing, but we felt that was a bit dull.

So we learned fire breathing.

I don't remember who taught us, but we did have buckets of water around, and it seemed pretty easy. We were all excited to think that we could show this off (and disappointed to find that it didn't work with spirits at all).

Sadly, when we got out to Chile, they were having their driest December is years, so the fire breathing was banned, and I had to make up a Morris dance with crepe paper and bamboo sticks, to the tune of "I 'ad 'er".
And sing some Beatles.

I think we are all still disappointed.
posted by fizban at 12:59 AM on November 27, 2010


It's easy enough to say "just don't inhale while fire breathing", but that's easier said than done. The fuel can cause chemical pneumonia if you inhale the vapour or mist - which is what you're doing when you breathe afterwards, if there's any fumes still in your mouth or on your face. Inhaling fuel that is alight can crisp up your lungs in ways that cannot be fixed. You may think "Well, I wouldn't breathe it in", but it only takes one incident to cause severe damage. You could get startled, or react to someone getting in the path of the flame. Once.

Oh, and ingesting fuel by accident can also cause a) cancer and b) diarrhoea.

Fire breathing is a great party trick, but I don't think it's doing anyone any favours to call it "safe".

Please don't fire breathe
- while drunk
- with people anywhere near the flame
- without having been taught properly

and please don't teach kids to do it. (Yes I've seen that done. I asked them to stop).
posted by emilyw at 4:32 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


emily if you're doing it properly the torch is never closer than about thirty centimetres from your face, with the vapour being forcibly - nay, violently - expelled from your mouth. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it would take several separate, breakdowns in a fairly straightforward procedure for anybody to inhale the flame or a significant quantity of vapour - or it would take the world's most hardcore inhalation.

I'm not disputing the carcinogenic and other toxic qualities of liquid hydrocarbon, but it's important to point out that the volume required to get chemical pneumonia is much, much higher than a fire-breather, following instructions in an outdoors area, would be exposed to.

If you get in a car you could be startled by something, or react to someone walking in front of the car. And it will only take one incident. But let's not get all paranoid and silly about hypotheticals here. Maybe if you're firebreathing someone could push the torch onto your face whilst tripping whilst walking past, and then you could trip into a fuel drum.

Nothing is safe, some things are more dangerous than others. Playing with fire and fuels can be dangerous. But for a reasonable person, in a reasonable situation, neither fire nor fuels - nor firebreathing - are an especially risky activity. And I wouldn't hesitate in teaching it to most people, anymore than I would deep-frying, or using a sharp knife.
posted by smoke at 5:53 AM on November 27, 2010


I want to know how Kuda Bux could read, identify colors, thread needles and perform other feats while very thoroughly blindfolded. He was also known for firewalking.
posted by beagle at 7:05 AM on November 27, 2010


I eat fire, and I've damaged my lungs by being surprised after a mouth hold. I was lucky, but over four months later, I'm still dealing with it. Mind you, I still eat fire and I'm learning to breathe it.

The Whelk - is that Adam's nose whiskey you're talking about?
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 7:11 AM on November 27, 2010


paranoid and silly

Thanks for that.

And I wouldn't hesitate in teaching it to most people, anymore than I would deep-frying, or using a sharp knife.

If someone posts an article with a good detailed discussion of the safety aspects of deep frying, to an audience most of whom are completely unfamiliar with deep frying at all, I'd still suggest avoiding blase comments about how deep frying is really easy and not as dangerous as it looks.

Anyone who hasn't read the article could be left thinking that fire breathing is like a kind of magic trick that looks dangerous but in reality isn't risky at all.
posted by emilyw at 7:18 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The best part of being a nerd in high school was that, after the AP exams, the science classes would spend the rest of the semester doing experiments and demonstrations for the elementary and middle schools.

In Physics, one of the things we did was breaking a cinder block on top of someone lying on a bed of nails. Surprisingly easy to do, and all explainable by physics. The biggest challenge - you absolutely MUST break the cinder block. Fear and hesitation by the block breaker is what gets you in trouble. If the block breaks, then all of the energy imparted to the block by the sledgehammer is distributed to the many small pieces that are now flying across the room. If the block doesn't break, all of that energy gets transmitted right through the block and into the body lying on the bed of nails.

Great fun. Of course, I failed to break the block one time and my friend lying on the bed of nails was not terribly happy with me.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:28 AM on November 27, 2010


Let me strongly agree on the dangers of firebreathing.

In fact, one of the most dangerous things about it is how easy it is. You can learn it in a few minutes - but it's easy to make a mistake - and then you might even die, or simply never take a breath without pain again.

We had a couple around here who were experts in this. Something went wrong. There was a fire in their apartment - second and third degree burns. There was a benefit - but I never heard of them again.

Please - don't teach firebreathing to kids. Don't do it when drunk, or tired. Always remember that it's easy, but one mistake and you'll regret it for a lifetime.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2010


I believe it was Albert Cadabras' nose whiskey, but I could be wrong. I had quite a bit of nose whiskey.
posted by The Whelk at 8:34 AM on November 27, 2010


Comparing firebreathing to using a sharp knife or deep frying simply shows your ignorance.

If you simply breathe in at the wrong time when firebreathing, it's game over for you. And breathing is a semi-autonomous function - you could do it without even being aware you were doing it.

It's not that hard. Thoughtful people can get it right each and every time. But believing it isn't very dangerous is foolish and will eventually lead you - or someone you've taught - to grief.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:35 AM on November 27, 2010


> I want to know how Kuda Bux could read, identify colors, thread needles and perform other feats while very thoroughly blindfolded.

Sorry, I promised not to tell, but let me assure you that it's a trick, and does not rely on paranormal powers....
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:36 AM on November 27, 2010


Seconding Smoke that fire-breathing is not as fraught as many here would believe. I first learned how when I was 14, from trained professionals. I had to show them that I could vaporize a mouthful of water tolerably before they let me at the lamp oil.

For one thing, some people seem to be under the impression that there's a serious amount of ingestion going on. The fuel is taken into one's mouth, and immediately ejected, spit out in a fine mist. Then one immediately rinses one's mouth. If you're doing this many times a day, many days a week, your exposure to the fuel is more than I would choose -- but the exposure to toxins here is less than a person working in an establishment that permits smoking.

Also, fuel choice makes a huge difference in health risks. Lamp oil MAY contain toxic additives, but if you get it from a reliable source, it won't. I've read the MSDS on several different brands of lamp oil, and the take-away is DON'T INJEST IT. Vomiting after injestion is the main source of badness, and breathing a lot of it is very bad too -- fortunately, the entire point is to burn off all the vapor, so there shouldn't be anything left to breathe.

RE: the fire in the apartment -- if someone is lacking enough in common sense to do something very flammable in their apartment, don't blame the thing they're trying to do, blame the moron. The only sensible options here are outside, in low-wind conditions (and I've seen shows canceled due to wind weather), or in a very controlled indoors performance/practice space that's set up for fire use.

Some risks are more obvious than others, but that doesn't mean that those that choose them are riskier people. My takeaway is that doing this as a career would be more risk than I'd personally assume, but less risk than many choose in their careers. Anyone who drives for a living has as high a risk of injury and toxin exposure (and some with long commutes to otherwise "safe" jobs) from car exhaust. Biking to work will reduce some of the risks of driving and escalate others.
posted by kitarra at 9:06 AM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's sort of weird that, after hanging around various degrees of masochist is sort of kills the awe and wonder for sideshow stunts based on pain. You go from "mind over matter!" to "wow, sweet setup! Most people have to pay a professional of get a really, really indulgent partner to get someone to watch them torture themselves."

Add a high school level physics class and mind over matter starts being really depressing.
posted by Phalene at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2010


I've known fire breathers; they tend to discourage folks that want to learn. Fire breathing really is dangerous.

I taught myself how to breathe fire back when I was in a death metal band. It is surprisingly easy, but INCREDIBLY dangerous. I'll back you up in the claim that most fire breathers discourage learning it. I'm often hesitant to do it in front of people just out of fear that they'll see how it's done.
posted by toekneebullard at 10:09 AM on November 27, 2010


If you can find a copy, You should read Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women by Ricky Jay
posted by Megafly at 11:23 PM on November 27, 2010


Now tell me how the mousetrap-on-the-tongue thing works!

There are two things involved - a mousetrap and a tongue. One of them is fake.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:20 PM on November 28, 2010


« Older Dog Saves Injured Dog (via Wimp.com) - Warning: Fu...  |  "The 100 Best Movie Spaceships... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments