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Does Hysterical Strength Really Exist?

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You hear about cases every so often: a mother lifting a car to rescue a pinned child, performing a feat of strength not usually available to humans. Evidence is almost always anecdotal -- like when a man in Arizona lifted a car to free a cyclist who'd been hit and dragged in 2006, witnessed only by those involved in the accident -- but these things happen so rarely (if they do indeed happen at all) that it's difficult to observe them under repeatable, scientific circumstances. But while proof of the events themselves remains hearsay, there is a theory, at least, among researchers that such things are at least possible.
It's all about adrenaline. Some believe that on a day-to-day basis we only use a small percentage of our muscles' capability. But adrenaline and noradrenaline, hormones that creates a state of fight-or-flight readiness in stressed humans, have the capability to raise the heart rate, dilate the pupils, increase respiration, slow digestion and, yes, allow muscles to contract more than they would normally. Here's a more technical blow-by-blow from Discovery Health:

When adrenaline is released by the adrenal medulla -- an interior region of the adrenal glands, which are located just above your kidneys -- it allows blood to flow more easily to your muscles. This means that more oxygen is carried to your muscles by the extra blood, which allows your muscles to function at elevated levels. Skeletal muscles -- those attached to bones by tendons -- are activated by electrical impulses from the nervous system. When they're stimulated, muscles contract, meaning they shorten and tighten. This is what happens when you lift an object, run or throw a punch. Adrenaline also facilitates the conversion of the body's fuel source (glycogen) into its fuel (glucose). This carbohydrate gives energy to muscles, and a sudden burst of glucose also allows muscles to strengthen further.

So does that mean it's possible to perform superhuman feats of strength? The evidence is frustratingly thin here -- but there's one example of our muscles' amazing capabilities that may point to the possibility of hysterical strength, and that's what happens when our bodies are shocked with electricity. You've heard of people being thrown across rooms by shocks, or their hands clamping down on live wires so hard they can't be loosed? It's not the current that causes it, but our muscles' reaction to the current. If nothing else, it demonstrates the potential for muscle use that's not normally available to us.

So the verdict is: maybe! But until scientists begin staging lab experiments where moms have to pull their children out from underneath cars, we may never know for certain.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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