Daily Departures

Departing daily from the ordinary objects of my thoughts.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

On a Completely Morbid Note

Someone at Metafilter asks:
Do you think a super strong person could yank off his own head?
Like one of those strong-man competition guys (the ones who lift those big boulders and carry around telephone poles), or some other freakishly stong person, could one of them actually kill himself by ripping off his own head? Or would other physiological factors make this feat impossible?
There are 33 replies thus far, some of which are quite involved. For example:
I don't think so, and I'll tell you why: it's because the major muscle group involved in doing this is the triceps, and the triceps is quite weak when the elbow is flexed 90 degrees or more.

I doubt that anyone's strong enough to rip off an adult person's head at all, although I'm not certain that a powerlifter who rigged up some kind of mechanism to transfer the power of his squat to someone's neck might not manage it.

If you Google for autodecapitation, you'll find a couple of articles about men who tied ropes to fixed objects, tied the other end around their necks, got in their car (one an SUV, the other a Geo Metro), and then accelerated away. They succeeded; the SUV, which we assume weighed somewhere around 5000 lbs, was estimated to be traveling 30 mph at the unhappy moment.

Huh, this gets more interesting as you read more about it. Black Jack Ketchum apparently was decapitated during his hanging; the rope was too long, but a photo of the scaffold on the internet shows it couldn't have been much longer than 12 feet. So the energy necessary to decapitate someone shouldn't be much more than that necessary to hurl a man 12 feet in the air; it'd have to all be brought to bear on the neck in a pretty quick movement, though, and I doubt that's possible.
And you get really short responses like:
It's not a question of where he grips it, it's a simple question of weight ratios.
And finally, the questions about fiction start coming, namely:
We always contemplated the very zen question of whether Superman was strong enough to pull his head off.
So, if you're still interested, go and weigh in yourself.

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