Thursday, September 27, 2007

Snake Sniffer

Liu Lang inserts a snake into his nostril and releases it out of his mouth on board a cruise liner berthed in Singapore. Born in Sichuan, China, Liu Lang has spent many years of hard work to master a set of extraordinary skills, which include lifting a pail of water with his eyeballs; swallowing steel bearings and expelling them from the ears, nose, eyes and mouth; and swallowing light bulbs.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fish Piercer

It might seem strange to pierce your cheek with a marlin to celebrate a Vegetarian Festival, but this devotee took to the streets of Phuket along with thousands of other worshippers and did just that in the hope of being rewarded with good health and prosperity.

The annual Thai festival, which takes place on 2-10 October to worship Chinese gods, has been going for more than 10 years, but a spokesperson at the Thai tourisum office said that there was no record of injury, fatality or even infection associated with the piercings.

Giraffe Woman

Paduang tribeswomen from Northern Thailand used to be called 'giraffe women' by jeering travellers.

Lizard Man

Eric Sprague, 28, speaks with a surgically forked tongue, his forehead is ridged with Teflon implants, his teeth are filed into points and his skin is covered with tattooed green scales.

A decade ago, the philosophy student decided he wanted to become a lizard. He is on leave from his PhD programme at the University of Albany, New York State, and is touring with the wonderful Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, where he pierces his cheeks with needles, breathes fire and swallows swords. He has spent more than 400 hours under the tattooist's needle, and plans another 200. If the technology advances enough to allow a tail made of real tissue, he will have one fitted.

His girlfriend in Texas is covering herself with tattoos depicting urban legends. One of his favourites is the fake scars she has etched into the small of her back where her kidneys were "stolen" while she was asleep.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is the Brain Really Necessary?

Is the Brain Really Necessary?

(Or What and Where Is Consciousness)

This was the question asked by British neurologist John Lorber when he addressed a conference of pediatricians in 1980. Such a frivolous sounding question was sparked by case studies Lorber had been involved in since the mid sixties.

The case studies involve victims of an ailment known as hydrocephalus, more commonly known as water on the brain. The condition results from an abnormal build up of cerebrospinal fluid and can cause severe retardation and death if not treated.

Two young children with hydrocephalus referred to Lorber presented with normal mental development for their age. In both children, there was no evidence of a cerebral cortex. One of the children died at age three months, the second at twelve months was still following a normal development profile with the exception of the apparent lack of cerebral tissue shown by repeated medical testing. An account of the children was published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.

Later, a colleague at Sheffield University became aware of a young man with a larger than normal head. He was referred to Lorber even though it had not caused him any difficulty. Although the boy had an IQ of 126 and had a first class honors degree in mathematics, he had "virtually no brain".

A noninvasive measurement of radio density known as CAT scan showed the boy's skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells to a millimeter in thickness. The rest of his skull was filled with cerebrospinal fluid. The young man continues a normal life with the exception of his knowledge that he has no brain.

Although anecdotal accounts may be found in medical literature, Lorber is the first to provide a systematic study of such cases. He has documented over 600 scans of people with hydrocephalus and has broken them into four groups:

  • those with nearly normal brains.
  • those with 50-70% of the cranium filled with CSF
  • those with 70-90% of the cranium filled with CSF
  • and the most severe group with 95% of the cranial cavity filled with cerebrospinal fluid.

Of the last group, which comprised less than ten percent of the study, half were profoundly retarded. The remaining half had IQs greater than 100.

Skeptics have claimed that it was an error of interpretation of the scans themselves. Lorber himself admits that reading a CAT scan can be tricky. He also has said that one would not make such a claim without evidence.

In answer to attacks that he has not precisely quantified the amount of brain tissue missing, he adds, "I can't say whether the mathematics student has a brain weighing 50 grams or 150 grams, but it is clear that it is nowhere near the normal 1.5 kilograms."

Many neurologists feel that this is a tribute to the brains redundancy and it's ability to reassign functions. Others, however, are not so sure. Patrick Wall, professor of anatomy at University College, London states "To talk of redundancy is a copout to get around something you don't understand."

Norman Geschwind, a neurologist at Bostons Beth Israel Hospital agrees: "Certainly the brain has a remarkable capacity for reassigning functions following trauma, but you can usually pick up some kind of deficit with the right tests, even after apparently full recovery."

Kaspar Hauser

A strange boy was found in Nürnberg, Germany on Whit Monday of 1828. He was about 16 years old and wore the rough clothes of a peasant; people who talked to him thought him to be either drunk or dumb. He carried a letter to the captain of the 4. squadron of the 6. cavalry regiment. A shoemaker took the boy to the captain's house, where the boy repeatedly said, ``Ein Reiter will ich werden, wie mein Vater einer war'' (I want to be a rider like my father).

At the police station, the boy answered all questions with ``woiß nit'' (dunno). He seemed to be stuck on the level of a three­ or four year old, yet, when given paper and pencil, he wrote the name ``Kaspar Hauser.'' He was taken into custody.

Parts of the unsigned letter read:

Hochwohlgebohner Hr. Rittmeister! Ich schücke ihner ein Knaben der möchte seinen König getreu dienen. Verlangte Er, dieser Knabe ist mir gelegt worden 1812 den 7 Ocktober, und ich selber ein armer Taglöhner, ich Habe auch selber 10 Kinder, ich habe selber genug zu thun daß ich mich fortbringe ... habe ihm Zeit 1812 Keinen Schritt weit aus dem Haus gelaßen ... wenn sie ihm nicht Kalten so müßen Sie im abschlagen oder in Raufang auf henggen.
(Honorable Sir capatain! I am sending you a boy, who wants to serve his king. ... this boy has been given to me October 7th of 1812, and me a poor day laborer, I also have 10 children myself, I have enough to worry that I get along ... have not let him leave the house since 1812... if you don't keep him you'll have to beat him to death or hang him in the chimney. [Thanks to Georg Essl for assistance with the translation.])

The custodian took Kaspar into his house and watched him. Kaspar was healthy, but his feet were soft like those of a small child. He had an innocent smile, but that was all his face would express, and he did not know how to use his fingers at all. When he tried to walk, he stumbled like a toddler.

Kasper learned to talk in broken sentences. He could only eat bread and water; other food would not stay with him. He was not ashamed when the custodian's wife bathed him, and did not seem to be aware of the difference between men and women at all.

The custodian concluded that the boy was not a cheat, that there was some secret surrounding him. Finally, thanks to the interest of one Dr. Daumer who taught him, Kaspar advanced enough to shed at least some light upon his own past.

Before coming to Nürnberg, he had only ever seen one other human. As far as he could remember, he had lived in a dark ``Behältnis'' (container), about two meters long, one meter wide, and one and a half high. There was a straw bed for sleeping; he had worn a shirt and leather trousers. He found water and bread next to his bed every morning. Sometimes the water tasted bitter; then he slept, and when he awoke again, someone had changed his clothes and cut his nails. There was never any light in his container.

One day, a man came in and taught him to write ``Kaspar Hauser'' and to say ``Ein Reiter will ich werden, wie mein Vater einer war.'' When the man carried him outside, the boy fainted from the light and the air. Next he remembered he was walking through Nürnberg.

People from all over Europe became interested in the boy. Lawyers, doctors, government officials visited him. Because of his striking resemblance with members of the Grand Duke of Baden's family, he was connected to them around 1830. Around the time when Kaspar was born, two heirs to the throne of the Grand Duke had died as infants.

Soon after the death of the current Duke in March 1830 the British Lord Stanhope, supposedly a friend of the successor, Grand Duke Leopold, gained custody of Kaspar.

He publicly declared that Kaspar was Hungarian and had no ties to the family of the Duke. He also tried to convince others to change their statements and say they'd taken Kaspar for a fraud. But the German jurist Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach concluded that Kaspar's freedom had taken away from him because of greed; that Kaspar was a legitimate son of the Grand Duke, and that he had been removed to allow someone else to succeed the principal.

When Feuerbach died in 1833, rumors said he had been poisoned because he had found proof for Kaspar's principal heritage. No such proof was ever shown. One afternoon in December 1833, Kaspar Hauser was lured into the Ansbacher Hofgarten with the promise of obtaining information about his birth. The man he met there knifed him into the breast. Kaspar made it back home, but died three days later.

People told each other that the Grand Duchess Stephanie of Baden, Kaspar's supposed mother, had cried bitterly upon hearing of his death. Her husband, Karl Friedrich, was the last of the direct principal line; since he had no children, succession fell to the Countess von Hochberg, the second wife of Karl Friedrich.

Rumors say that the Countess Hochberg had exchanged the first child of Stephanie for the dead child of a peasant; Kaspar Hauser was handed to one Major Hennenhofer, and he, in turn, passed it to a former soldier. Major Hennenhofer, it is said, has admitted all that when he was questioned by Grand Duke Leopold.

The circumstantial evidence seems to support this story, but there is no proof. When Hennenhofer did, all his private notes were destroyed.

Giant Pigtail

Hu Seng La, a 77-year-old sorcerer from the Hmong hill tribe in northern Thailand, shows off his 17ft (5m) hair, which he last cut 55 years ago. The world's longest pigtail is washed every December to ensure good luck. This involves his seven children, gallons of water and at least 10 bottles of shampoo.

A museum in Pattaya has presented him with a certificate giving him the title of the man with the longest hair on Earth.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mr Magnet

Liew Thow Lin, 70, from Gunung Rapat in Malaysia, known as Mr Magnet, claims to have pulled a car for 70 yards (64m) using a chain hooked to an iron plate place on his stomach, and is said to be able to carry weights of up to 66lb (30kg) on his chest including bricks stacked on metal irons. His sons and grandchildren are said to share his wild talent.

Researchers at the Technological University of Malaysia at Ipoh tested Mr Liew and found that while his powers are not explained by magnetism, they are not an illusion. "His skin has a special suction effect that can help metal stick to it," said Professor Mohamed Amin Alias, who conducted the research. "That's why his two sons and two grandchildren also have the magnetic-like ability. They have his genes."

Long Nails

Lauretta Adams, 43, from Dallas, Texas, had her fingernails cut in October 1997, ending her bid to have the longest in the world. She had been growing them for 24 years. One was 35in (89cm) long and their combined length was 12ft 6in (381cm). She had some way to go to beat the record of 18ft 10ins (574cm) held by a man in India.


After 20 years and �100,000, ex-geek Dennis Smith, 43, is getting closer to his goal of looking like a tiger. Smith is tattooed with orange and black tiger stripes, his teeth and nails are filed to points, he has surgically implanted latex whiskers. and his lips have been altered into a permanent snarl.

Green contact lenses and an orange mane have replaced the specs and short-back-and-sides. The next step is to have tiger skin - he has a collection of old pelts - grafted on, which will, he estimates cost him an additional �65,000... if he can find a surgeon to perform the operation.

Catman - he changed his name by deed poll - graduated from the University of California with a first-class degree and holds down a �80,000 programming job which funds his transmogrification.

Shortest Man

The Shortest Man

Gul Mohammed, who was the shortest man in the world at 22.5in (57cm), died at the age of 40 in 1997. He was a familiar figure in the fetid alleys of old Delhi, dodging the bullock carts, rickshaws and crowds who were for ever treading on him. He felt at home among the beggars, eunuchs and saddhus of this largely Muslim quarter of town.
He was to short to leap across the open sewers and gullies and was carried across these obstacles by whoever was at hand. He chain-smoked all his life and died in hospital after a long struggle with asthma and bronchitis.

He was born on 15 February 1957, and his twin brother Zahoor died when he was four. Gul (meaning flower in Urdu) never overcame a lifelong dislike of children, who mocked and bullied him, forcing him to give up school and begin scratching a living selling sweet-meats. Children often stole from him, but they were too fast to catch and too big to reprimand. He often talked to the eunuchs about his dreams - such as marrying a tall actress - because they never laughed at him.

Leopard Man

Tom Leppard, known as the Leopard Man of Skye, lives in his "cave" built on the foundations of a ruined croft in a remote part of Skye, where he has lived as a hermit for the last 16 years. It is two-and-a-half hour's walk from Kyleakin, the nearest settlement. The ex-color sergeant in the Rhodesia Regiment, now aged 64, was originally surnamed Woolridge.

He was tattooed 16 years ago from head to foot with a leopard skin design, apart from the inside of his ears and between his toes. It cost him �5,500. He also had a set of fangs custom-made by a dentist. According to the Guinness Book of Records, he is the world's most tattooed man, with 99.2 percent cover. His neighbours in Skye regard him as harmless.