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Unlock your inner superman

By Hugh Wilson
Unlock your inner superman
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Some people believe men possess superhuman strengths. But how and when do we unlock these hidden superpowers?

In 2006 in Tucson, Arizona, Tim Boyle watched as a large Chevrolet car ploughed into a teenage pedestrian, pinning him underneath. Boyle rushed to the scene and lifted the car off the ground for 45 seconds as the driver pulled the victim free.

After the incident Boyle couldn't explain where he'd found such superhuman strength. "There's no way I could lift that car right now," he said.

But science may be able to offer some clues. The fact is, we may all possess powers more usually found in the pages of superhero comics. Scientists have discovered that, in extreme situations, most of us are capable of feats that, in normal circumstances, we may not think possible.

Here are four superhuman strengths we all possess, and when we might unlock them.

Super strength
Tim Boyle found super strength when he needed to, and he's not the only man to do so. Nor woman. In 1982, Angela Cavallo lifted a 1964 Chevrolet Impala (weighing about 4,000lbs) off of her son Tony when it fell off the jacks that had held it up while he was working underneath.

So what's behind these feats of superhuman strength? Scientists put it down to adrenaline, the powerful hormone that surges through our systems when danger strikes. Adrenaline is part of our evolutionary 'fight or flight' response, and it prepares us to perform at our peak, above and beyond our usual capabilities.

Most importantly, it increases blood flow to muscles, and makes sure every unit of muscle fibre is primed for action. In normal situations, our bodies don't use all the muscle power at their disposal. In fact, scientists suggest that most of us can only usually summon about 65% of the maximum power available to us.

The more danger you're in, the more the adrenaline effect kicks in. So you might not realise just how strong you can be until you really need to.

Sixth sense
We know about sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch, but humans have long speculated about the existence of a sixth sense, working away in the background and providing us with the sort of information the other five can't. It has been suggested that telepathy or psychic ability might be evidence of a sixth sense in some people.

In fact, we might all have a sixth sense, based simply on the astute subconscious calculations our brains make all the time. You might call it intuition, but it's all done without you knowing anything about it.

So how does it help us, and when? Well, according to scientist Dr Gary Klein in his book Sources of Power, our sixth sense is working all the time, but you might only notice it in extreme situations.

Klein describes the sudden decision of a fire fighter to pull his team out of a burning building, based on nothing more than a sense that something was wrong. Seconds after the fire fighters left, the floor on which they were standing collapsed, pitching everything left on it into a basement inferno.

The fire fighter didn't know why he had ordered his men out of the building, but it was probably down to his subconscious mind rifling through a large stock of all-but-forgotten fire fighting experience. Somewhere it had picked up a clue to the state of the floor that his main five senses had missed.

In other words, your intuition isn't just guesswork, and following a hunch can sometimes be the best decision of all.

Pain threshold
It's a staple of comics and superhero films that even when the hero has taken a pummelling he just gets up and gets on with it. He doesn't seem to feel pain.

But then again, maybe we all have the superpower to push up our pain threshold when the situation demands. When we're under intense pressure — whether that means being attacked by a psychopath or straining every sinew to breaking point to win an Olympic gold medal — our bodies make sure that we don't feel pain.

It's an amazing feat, and eminently useful. Normally your brain needs to feel pain, so it knows that damage is being done to tissue and can take appropriate action to protect it. But in the heat of battle, when the attack is still going on, the last thing you need is the distraction of searing pain.

In those extreme circumstances, our bodies block the pain neurotransmitters. And we're so good at it that soldiers who have had limbs blown off in combat have been known to report to medics that they feel no pain.

Contrary to popular myth, men may be better at upping their pain threshold than women, because of naturally high levels of testosterone. In one study, when birds were given a testosterone supplement they left their feet in hot water for longer.

Temperature control
In 1985, a team from Harvard University witnessed a group of Tibetan monks enjoying a sleep in the open air. The only odd thing was that this tent-free camping session took place at an altitude of 15,000ft in the Himalayas, on an ice cold February night, and the monks slept peacefully without huddling or shivering wearing only thin cotton shawls.

How did they do it? We simply don't know. But we do know that the monks practised a kind of deep meditation called g Turn-mo that assisted them. Other practitioners have been witnessed drying cold wet sheets with only the heat from their bodies, and raising the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17C.

Again, nobody is quite sure how the monks manage superhuman feats that would leave most of us with hypothermia at the very least. A clue might be in their ability to enter a state of near hibernation.

When researchers observed monks using another form of advanced meditation in India, they discovered that the men were able to lower their metabolism by 64%. By way of comparison, when you sleep your metabolism drops by no more than 15%. It seems that meditation is one way to unlock a range of superhuman powers.

Human or superhuman?
It seems pretty certain that we all have superhuman powers. Except that they're not superhuman at all. It's simply that, in extreme circumstances, our bodies can do things that, in normal conditions, we would never ordinarily dream were even possible.

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