Eye of the...? Culture helps tell us who's gorgeous

Q. When it comes to who we all find attractive, does Nature or Nurture pull the strings? –A. Jolie

A. We are strongly yanked by both, as beautiful faces and bodies worldwide are generally ones that look youthful, healthy, symmetrical, "average" in the sense that we prefer features– noses, legs, physiques–  that are neither too large nor too small, says David G. Myers in Psychology.

"So sensitive is our radar for facial attractiveness that we can judge someone's looks after but a 0.15-second glimpse,” Myers says.

But beauty is also in the eye of the culture, as attractiveness-seekers of various times and places have pierced their noses, lengthened their necks, bound their feet, dyed or painted skin or hair, leather flattened or silicone-pumped breasts, gorged themselves to plump up or liposuctioned fat to slim down.

"In North America, the ultra-thin ideal of the Roaring Twenties gave way to the voluptuous Marilyn Monroe ideal of the 1950s,” Myers notes, “only to be replaced by the lean busty ideal of the 1990s. Americans now spend more on beauty supplies than on education and social services combined."

Q. How do you survive a four-story fall? –K. Wallenda
A. When Australian pro skateboarder Jake Brown pulled off a double midair rotation of 720 degrees at the 2007 X Games in Los Angeles, he lost control and sailed off the end of the ramp, reported researcher Adrienne So in Wired magazine. His board flew out from under him, and he plummeted 45 feet before slamming into the deck so hard that his shoes flew off!

Brown lay motionless for a few minutes, then stood up to wild cheers and walked off with arms raised. Unfortunately, he'd fractured a vertebra and both wrists, lacerated his liver and suffered whiplash, but he was still alive.

The next time you fall four stories without a parachute, you too could survive if you follow these rules:
 1. Don't panic.
 2. Pick a good landing spot. Trained skydivers can survive free falls of 100 feet if they hit mud or a slope.
 3. Spread the impact. Brown turned in midair and absorbed the impact with his feet, then rolled onto his back, thereby converting vertical momentum into horizontal.
 4. Be tough as nails, lucky, or Australian. From 50 feet up, you quickly accelerate to 30 miles per hour— so fast, as one expert put it, you're lucky if your internal organs stay in place on impact.

Q. On the outside at least, we humans are even, balanced, graceful, symmetrical– nicely streamlined. But how about on the inside? –M. Debakey
A. Lopsided or asymmetric is more like it, says Lewis Held Jr., in Quirks of Human Anatomy. We have a spleen on the left but not the right, our left lung has two lobes, but our right lung has three, our heart and stomach are shifted left of center, our liver to the right, and our intestines meander throughout our abdominal cavity. In fact, our intestines are about ten times the length of our torso, and to pack such a "fire hose" into the body cavity requires that it deviate from the midline. Still unclear is why our gut doesn't just coil haphazardly instead of its twists and turns normally culminating in a clockwise colon (ascending right, crossing, and descending left). The epitome of asymmetric complexity must be the heart, arising through pretzel-like contortions of an initially symmetric tube. Our most dangerous asymmetry is found inside the heart, where we have only one unilateral pacemaker.
"We would be better off if we had a 'backup' pacemaker on the other side that could take over in the event of a heart attack," Held notes.
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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at Strangetrue@cs.com