Saturday, August 07, 2010

History Channel: "Stan Lee's Superhumans": An electric man, a human calculator, a dolphin and a cat

On Thursday, Aug. 5, the History Channel aired an episode of “Stan Lee’s Superhumans”, with the complete episode (not embeddable) available here.

The show does start with a warning, “do not attempt”. And this is not a case of stunt men (even those subbing for Ashton Kutcher). These are people (all of them men in this episode) with unusual biological abilities, similar to those found in other animals, seemingly related to genetic mutations.

The host was a slender young blond man, Daniel Smith, who, attractive enough, set himself up in the show as a physics nerd (eg, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”). He travels to southern India (that’s a great thing about having the job of a journalist like Smith) to meet a man, Raj Mahan Nair (the last name is ironic, isn’t it), whose body can take almost any electric current. Smith, with an electrocardiograph-like machine attached momentarily to his own chest, measures his own skin resistance as 18 ohms, about average for a young adult male. Nair, however, measures at over a million ohms. Not much explanation is offered, other than that some fish and underwater invertebrates (eels and mollusks) have similar electrical properties.

Smith then plays substitute teacher in a San Diego, CA grade school, and introduces the human calculator, Scott Lonsburg, whose abilities to do math calculations in his head, including perpetual calendars, match those of an idiot savant, or of some autistic people, which he is not. The kids work the problems on graphing calculators. Smith then takes an MRI while doing math, and his “normal” MRI is compared to Lonsburg’s, which shows increased activity in the parietal “Area 44” (sounds like Area 51, doesn’t it), and less in other areas. In the workplace (particularly in computing and I.T.), Lonsburg’s abilities would be valuable examples of extreme “mental agility.”

Next, Smith meets a blind man, Juan Ruiz, in Santa Monica, CA. (A particularly cruel epigram comes to mind from my Army days.) But Juan can see by “echo location”, similar to that of bats and even dolphins. They go into a cave in the San Bernadino mountains to explore his ability.

Finally, Smith drives to Houston to meet the world’s strongest man, who can bend steel wrenches and who can tug against a force of over 1000 pounds exerted by a motorcycle at a local biker bar. His strength is analyzed with electrodes pasted to his forearm, and he is found to have unusual ability to control acceleration. (Some animals are very good at this, even the house cat, which is orders of magnitude stronger than either humans or dogs in proportion to mass.) There was a news report of a teenager in Germany with similar strengths.

Well, Smith didn’t produce the idea that “Man can fly”, but some of young Clark Kent’s powers in “Smallville” really could exist in biology. Certainly supersensitive hearing and super strength, and speed. (I don’t know about heat vision, which I wouldn’t want. I remember back in the early 60s that super-strength could take on negative meaning: homosexuals were accused of having hidden “super strength” according to urban legends.)

What about extreme ability in sports, without steroids. Move over, A-rod. What about baseball pitchers like the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, now sidelined with inflammation. They say it’s all physics. In fact, the medical diagnosis of Strasburg’s “injury” seems to come from basic physiology. Although men stop growing in height at about 18, their muscles and tendons and bones grow and thicken slightly up to age 25. Strasburg has just turned 22. At that age, his arm and shoulder haven’t even quite finished growing physiologically. He may not be able to throw 100 mph every five days until about age 24, when his biological, genetically programmed development, finishes.

I wonder what would happen if Tom Welling, who plays Clark Kent (now 23 in the series, at age 33 as an actor) took the mound and pitched against a major league team. They should try it at Anaheim (Disneyland) Stadium.

Stan Lee on Thor in this YouTube video:

No comments: