The Podcast that Turns People Inside Out


Full Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind from howstuffworks.com.

Robert Lamb: Hey. Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My name is Robert Lamb and I'm a senior writer here at howstuffworks.com.

Julie Douglas: And hello there. I'm Julie Douglas, writer, editor and lead phlebotomist.

Robert Lamb: This is our second episode. Last time we talked about animals going to sleep, shutting off half their brain. And this week, we're gonna go in a slightly grosser direction. Tell me Julie, did you have any strange childhood fears?

Julie Douglas: I don't know that I had any really terribly odd childhood fears; fear of clowns of course, fear of my neighbors, windows, latches; things like that. What about you?

Robert Lamb: Just - okay, so you just had clowns, other people and things that open; otherwise, nothing?

Julie Douglas: Yeah, stepping on vertical cracks on the left hand side when going in the direction of the north, yeah.

Robert Lamb: Oh, okay. Well, I don't see how that could have gotten in the way at all.

Julie Douglas: No. No, honestly, I didn't. I was a fairly normal child when it came to that.

Robert Lamb: Okay. Well, I had this fear for a while of turning inside out, which I suspect that a lot of people have this on some level for reasons I'm gonna get to in a moment, but I - it all goes back to when I was a kid, my family would go to the local video store. And we - me and my sisters, we were all kids in my family. They weren't really into getting horror movies, but the horror movie aisle was there. And they had all these just crazy covers on the VHS cases.

And you'd just walk by them and you'd see these things and you'd - my mind would just sort of run wild with what they could possibly contain. And there was this one box with this film called Screamers which was a 1979 film. And you can look the cover art up online by doing a Google search because it's really crazy because it's this dude that's turned inside out. And he just looks horrific, and the tag at the bottom of the box says, "They turned men inside out. And worse yet, they were still alive." And so it just got into my head that turning inside out was something that could happen to you or happen - that your body would do or that something that would be done to your body and that you'd still be alive and it'd be horrendous. And I imagine you'd go to the doctor and your parents would take you and it's like, "What can you do for him? He's turned inside out." And it would be like, "Well, I can't do anything for him. I'm sorry. You're son is just inside out from now on."

Julie Douglas: You'd be sitting in your third grade class just sitting there oozing your organs.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, just oozing all over the place and pulsating and stuff.

Julie Douglas: That's really horrible. Were you sitting there in the middle of the night saying to yourself, "Oh my God, this could happen at any moment?"

Robert Lamb: Well, it wasn't that paralyzing, but it was just kind of this feeling of - I guess when you're a kid you don't think as much about mortality, but certainly, it was kind of a lesson in "Oh my goodness, we're really fragile. We could just - we could turn inside out and then we're done for."

Julie Douglas: Wow, so it was the moment where you just lost your innocence.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, pretty much every we went to the video store, we'd see something like that that would beat down your innocence a little, but I suspect that other people have this problem as well because - I don't know if you've ever seen people turning inside out in cartoons, like kids' cartoons, but it happens more than you'd think it would. You can dial up horror movies besides - yeah, the other interesting thing about Screamers is that it actually, I found out years and years later, doesn't have anybody turning inside out in it. It's actually an Italian film about fish men. It stars Joseph Cotten of all people.

Julie Douglas: Of course.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: A seminal Italian film actor.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And so yeah, they just decided that they were gonna distribute it in the US with this crazy cover with a guy turned inside out and they - I think they shot something for a trailer that I've never seen that has a dude supposedly turning inside out.

Julie Douglas: So it was like a bait and switch of turning inside out.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, but as a kid, I never really thought about it. Or, a question why in the cover art they guy is inside out, but wearing jeans.

Julie Douglas: I think I'm familiar with this and he's got a belt and is it possible that the top - the button is undone as well, so it's like he's in partial undress?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I don't know if he's like, "Oh my goodness, I've turned inside out. I better throw on some jeans," or if he ingested jeans and then turned inside out and that's how come he happens to be wearing the jeans correctly. But I didn't think about those things.

Julie Douglas: Right.

Robert Lamb: But no, you look at children's cartoons like Invader Zim. Are you familiar with that one?

Julie Douglas: No.

Robert Lamb: That was a Nickelodeon show; kind of dark because there is a scene where a kid gets sucked through a portal and he comes out inside out. And then he kinda shakes it off and he flaps back to normal. And then there was another Nickelodeon show - Nickelodeon - there was somebody at Nickelodeon who was really into turning inside out apparently. There was a show called Inside Out Boy about a kid who was on the swing -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: Have you seen this?

Julie Douglas: I'm familiar with it.

Robert Lamb: Okay.

Julie Douglas: I've heard descriptions of it before.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and he went over - he swung so high that he did a complete 360, but it turned him inside out. So he's just this grotesque little gut boy walking around, and he has powers or something and it's totally fine for kids.

Julie Douglas: Well yeah, maybe because it's sort of a lesson like don't go too high on your swing. You'll turn -

Robert Lamb: Yeah, or this will happen.

Julie Douglas: - inside out. And it's a neat way maybe to work out our fears, but what I wanna know is could you actually turn yourself inside out and live to tell it?

Robert Lamb: I think I figured out pretty early, and I think most of our listeners will realize that you can't really because the human body is just a little too complicated and a little too rugged. Basically, for it to happen, you'd have to be a sock puppet where you could just - when you pull a sock puppet over - when you pull a sock off your foot and it just goes completely inside out. We're just - the human anatomy isn't geared to that.

Julie Douglas: To living with our organs on the outside.

Robert Lamb: Right. And any force that would e ven apply that kind of pressure on the human body would - you would have total body fragmentation before you had anything of that nature happen. We're both too fragile and not rugged enough to undergo that kind of transformation.

Julie Douglas: Hum, interesting; paradox.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Okay, but just because the human body can't turn completely inside out as we all should know, that doesn't mean that this process, which is called eversion, doesn't exist all over the place in the natural world. So that's what we're gonna talk about today; just run through some of the examples of eversion in animals and to a limited extent, with humans and just how amazing and gross it can be.

Julie Douglas: It is. It's some good, grotesque stuff. What's - so what do you - what one stands out to you just right off the bat in terms of a very simple process of eversion?

Robert Lamb: Well, in human anatomy, you can have examples of - there's bladder eversion that can happen. And we're not gonna go into a lot of detail on this because it's kinda gross, but -

Julie Douglas: It sounds convenient though, I have to say.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Well, it's different from bladder evacuation which is rather - generally, a rather pleasant experience as long as it's not in your pants on a roller coaster or something. But no, this is a situation where the bladder being an internal organ ends up on the outside through a - generally a naturally occurring orifice, but you can also have eversion occur with injuries where something will get kinda glooped out to the outside. And so yeah, it tends to be an injury or internal trauma type situation. It becomes prolapsed where it's on the outside now and it needs to be pushed back in or in some way repaired.

But you have a lot of animals where eversion is just part of their daily routine; just how they go about eating or digesting things or defending themselves. So of those, the sea star is a classic example of that. And if anybody out there watched the Discovery/BBC documentary series Life this year, they had a whole segment where it's sea stars feeding on this corpse underwater on the cadaver - or not cadaver, just a dead seal. But they will spit their stomachs out. They evert their stomachs onto the outside of their bodies to work at the digesting.

Julie Douglas: So it just kinda sucks up everything and pulls it back in .

Robert Lamb: Yeah, exactly.

Julie Douglas: Which again, that's convenient.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: You can see yourself at a buffet doing that. Maybe not you, but -

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I wouldn't do that.

Julie Douglas: You're not gonna go to a buffet.

Robert Lamb: And then this same - it's just you don't get your money's worth out of it unless you just really pig out.

Julie Douglas: No, you're completely right.

Robert Lamb: Unless you just completely evert your stomach. Oh, and the documentary series Life also shows these nemertine worms feeding. And they actually use - they actually have what's called an eversible proboscis and this is just their feeding mechanism is completely everted and then they just kind of pump it out with these muscles.

Julie Douglas: Just like a snout sort of going -?

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's like a long snout, but it's basically about the length of their body, but it's everted. So it's kind of like completely -

Julie Douglas: That is so cool.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. It's just completely pulled inside and then they just - they're kind of like a party favor where you blow on it and this ribbon kind of extends. It's like that.

Julie Douglas: And then it snaps back.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Then they pull it back in.

Julie Douglas: And so that's - I think those are good examples of getting your food from eversion. I think sharks and rays: they are sort of doing the opposite, right? They're dumping.

Robert Lamb: Right. Yeah, they have this thing called gastric eversion and it's kind of like if you're wearing blue jeans and you turn the pocket out to get rid of lint and find some loose change. They do the same thing with their stomachs out of their mouths. And you can find videos of it online. It's a really quick function because you're a shark; you're a ray: you live in a dangerous situation. You don't just wanna be swimming around all day with your stomach hanging out your mouth. So they just go - it's kinda like this quick [noise] and then it's out, shakes frees some debris and then it's right back in.

Julie Douglas: So it's like ancient Rome for the animal kingdom and that - it's like the vomitorium except for there's no playing in the background to cover up the noise.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, but it's exactly like - I think the way I was thinking of it's like with cats. We both know that cats love to puke. Or I don't know if they love it, but they do it without - it's no big deal. It's just a part of their lives. Sometimes, you've got to puke and they do it. So with sharks and rays, puking isn't the option; it's gastric eversion. So it's just - it's no big deal for them.

Julie Douglas: Right. And so that way they can scoop up even more food.

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: Is that right? Okay. And another really cool animal is the vampire squid.

Robert Lamb: Oh yes.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, tell us about that because that little creature - or large creature - I'm not quite sure how large it is. It's pretty fascinating.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I'm gonna attempt to make a shot at it's Latin name because it's pretty awesome: Vampyroteuthis Infernalis. It's the infernal vampire or something.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, of the dark seas.

Robert Lamb: It lives about a half-mile deep in the ocean and it has these - this webbed array of eight-inch arms. So it has this squid arms like the cephalopod arms like you typically see except they're all webbed together.

Julie Douglas: And it looks like a cape, like a vampire's cloak perhaps. It's very Steampunky looking, I think.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, you can - I can easily imagine wearing a little top hat and having a monocle.

Julie Douglas: If only.

Robert Lamb: But he will do this thing where he goes into a threat response stance that is sometimes called pumpkin or pineapple posture, which kind of - that doesn't sound nearly as cool as vampire and infernal, but he'll basically take this - his array of arms, this webbed array of arms and pull it back over the rest of his body. So it's kina like if you were to take your lower lip and your upper lip and you were able to stretch your lips back all the way over your body until you were just pink glistening meat. That's kinda what they do.

Julie Douglas: So that - so a predator might go, "Whoa. That wasn't what I thought it was."

Robert Lamb: Rig ht. And also, they have these little - they're not really spikes, but they have these lines of things on the inside that look like spikes. So then, when they go into pineapple stance, they look a little spiky to predators too.

Julie Douglas: Ah, so again, Vlad the Impaler there.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: I think that that's fascinating that you can turn yourself - you can essentially shape shift as an animal to say to a predator, "Hey, watch out" or "I am not what you thought I was." And one of the things that I'm thinking about is the sea cucumber.

Robert Lamb: Oh, this is a good one.

Julie Douglas: Yeah which is much exalted in Japanese culture. And the sea cucumber, to me - cucumber: I can see where they got the name, but it really looks more like a sea sausage.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's - you look at it and you can't really tell that it's - I don't know. It's not the most vibrant of living things. It's just kind of - it looks kinda gross and still.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And it comes in a ton of varieties, like some of them look like they've been oxidized and some of them look very psychedelic with warts on them. Not warts and they're anywhere from under one inch to six-and-a-half feet in length. So in terms of how they're represented out there: there's a huge variety. And not all of them do what I'm about to talk about, but some of them have a really interesting defense mechanism. And if you don't mind me being so bold, I'll just get right to the point.

Robert Lamb: Go for it.

Julie Douglas: They can take their internal organs and jettison them from their anus.

Robert Lamb: Hum. And this is of course a trick best performed when you can regenerate said organs, right?

Julie Douglas: Exactly, right. You don't wanna lose organs unless you can get them back in about a week to four weeks or something like that.

Robert Lamb: Okay.

Julie Douglas: But the reason why I think that is so fascinating is that to me, that's the ultimate boa movement that you might have in a bar fight. If you were able to expel your internal organs through your anus and just splat them on your opponent, to me, that's pretty intimidating.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I would think so. I've run across other situations where an animal has some sort of response like that. There's - there are different animals that like to go into a defensive posture and vomit blood or they - I believe there's a frog that actually fractures some of its bones and it creates compound fractures, but any of those techniques: if you were to pull that on Marta, the local transit system, if you were threatened, I don't think anybody would mess with you.

Julie Douglas: Oh yeah, everybody would move out of the car for sure, except for maybe the one person that was still asleep, unfortunate for them. But this, what's also called a sea slug, the sea cucumber is just pretty fascinating in the sense that it really does embody all those shape shifting elements to it. It also can collapse itself which is really cool; the collagen fibers of it and pretty much will liquefy itself and go through cracks. Again, that's an incredible shape shifting talent. I'd love to have that.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: So it's not just a sea sausage there just sitting on the ocean floor acting like a bottom dweller. It has a rich life.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and if you think it's gross before you start messing with it, just wait until it has to run away. It's gonna possibly shoot out its organs and then turn into a liquid.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, that's right; dematerialize.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and I was actually not - I wasn't aware before today just how much of a role it apparently plays in Japanese culture. I didn't know - I guess I knew on some level that you could eat it because I think I've seen it on menus, but have you ever had it anywhere?

Julie Douglas: I have not. I think have as well seen it on menus. And I'm thinking of sushi. I could be completely wrong, but that's what I'm thinking about and I guess it's a huge delicacy in Japan.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I think - no, I do remember where I saw it. There's a - there are these little hot pot restaurants. It's a Chinese thing where you have this - it's kind of like fondue except you have a little pot to cook your pile of vegetables in. And one of the meats that is available, I believe, is sea cucumber.

Julie Douglas: Wow.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I did not have it. A friend of mine had it and he - I don't think he said he like it, but I think he said it was interesting.

Julie Douglas: And it's also again, referred to as sea slugs, so you've got sea slug fondue, which it just doesn't roll off the tongue as sounding quite delicious. And I think it's called sea slug because cucumber is not really translatable from Japanese to English, which I think is in the book - what is it called again? It's very - it's just -

Robert Lamb: Namako?

Julie Douglas: Namako, okay. Yeah.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, because we - in researching this, we both ran across the same book. It's called Rise Ye Sea Slugs by Robin D. Gill and it is a book about sea slug haiku.

Julie Douglas: There are 1,000 haiku about sea slugs.

Robert Lamb: See now, that's just - I really had to look at it again because I'm like, "This is a joke. This is some joke entry on Amazon back in the day when people would put fake movies on IMDD. This is just a - somebody's making this up," but it's legit. It's like they're that important in understanding Japanese culture.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, they're that celebrated. And what I like about it is that the sections are defined by its various traits; my guess is as we humans see it. And a couple of sections are in the order scatological, melancholy. There are a couple other ones in there, but you have to understand that the book is not only just celebrating the humble sea cucumber, but it's also sort of talking about the culture itself and how it is expressing itself through its love of the sea slug.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. There was - I think this makes perfect sense now that I - once I have read it, but there's a point in the book where they're talking about comparisons between this act of eversion that the sea cucumber performs with its guts comparing that to the traditional samurai act of seppuku. I may be saying that wrong and then the westernized version of that is what Harry Caray I think - and so they are obvious similarities between this creature expelling its organs to escape a danger comparing that to say a shamed samurai or somebody basically eviscerating themselves with a knife in order to save face, preserve their honor.

Julie Douglas: Yes, the honor thing is a very interesting thing to bring up to relate that back.

Robert Lamb: Do you have one of the haiku, the translation of the haiku?

Julie Douglas: Yes, I do.

Robert Lamb: Oh, well you have to read that so people will get a full idea.

Julie Douglas: Well, this one is from 1741 and I feel like it's still very relatable now. And it is from a writer whose name was Gijô. I hope that I'm pronouncing that right. And it is "A few drinks and I am a sea slug out of water."

Robert Lamb: Ooh, that's actually really pretty.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And also, I feel like in terms of our predilection for maybe overextending ourselves with libations, it still rings true today. There are times when after a few drinks, I feel that I am out of water as well.

Robert Lamb: Well, some of the ones I found were a little more grotesque. This is one here "Life's hard. No doubt. Sea slugs end up inside out."

Julie Douglas: I love it.

Robert Lamb: Oh and then there's this one: "Sea slugs: their guts are made to swim."

Julie Douglas: 1,000 of these.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Just as a reminder.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and of course, these are translations, so we can't really experience the true beauty of sea cucumber eversion poetry.

Julie Douglas: No, but it would say that - the holidays are coming up, so if you've got a marine biologist in your family, I think that you just found their present.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I think Amazon has one copy left, so jump to it.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, get on it. So the thing about the sea cucumbers is that we see this as a phenomenon, this inside out as something in nature. What about in terms of injury; something self-inflicted or even in pop culture?

Robert Lamb: Well, yeah, it's one of those things where - I think insulin comes to mind for me when I think of something that could actually turn you inside out, which by the way, another instance of a children's story featuring inside out things: How to Train Your Dragon. There's mention of a dragon that turns people inside out. So - which it's a great movie, but it's like these - that was just the other day. After I researched the podcast some and then I saw that movie and I'm like, "Whoa, this is all over the place. People can't get enough of inside out things for children."

Julie Douglas: Yeah, it's embedded in our subconscious.

Robert Lamb: There's also Slim Goodbody who I'm kind of on the fence whether that's inside outness or just a dude in a suit with guts on the front of it. You remember Slim Goodbody?

Julie Douglas: No. No, I don't.

Robert Lamb: You don't?

Julie Douglas: Tell me about Slim.

Robert Lamb: Oh God. He's - I believe he's Canadian; could be wrong though on that. But he's - Slim Goodbody's a TV personality and he was like - generally, you think of the classic Slim Goodbody where he's got curly hair and he wears this spandex body suit with all of the organs painted on the outside. And he talks to kids about the importance of eating healthy. The guy still travels around today.

Julie Douglas: Oh yes, I know; yes.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And so that's basically his whole shtick is educating children about the importance of health and taking care of your insides.

Julie Douglas: Wow, there's gotta be one kid that just freaked out when he saw him come to his school and was like, "Your organs are on the outside."

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and I think I've seen parodies before where people have done costumes where it's like Slim Badbody where they show organs that have been - the lungs are all blackened from smoking and things like that.

Julie Douglas: And like a huge [inaudible].

Robert Lamb: Yeah. But outside of Slim Goodbody, again, I don't think he was actually inside out. I think he just had a suit with guts on it. But the thing that instantly comes to mind is rapid depressurization in an airplane or - it's always happening in space movies. But it's rarely all that accurate.

Julie Douglas: So are you talking more like suction or force; something that would -?

Robert Lamb: Suction, force and then also just pressures - the outside pressure changing and then destabilizing pressures inside the body.

Julie Douglas: Okay.

Robert Lamb: There's a film called Outland that came out in the '70s, I believe. It's a Sean Connery western in space. And it was one of these where people would float out into the void without their helmet on and their head would explode like a balloon. And I think it happened in Total Recall as well, but it's like - things wouldn't really happen like that.

I believe the Air Force conducted some tests and you can find the results of it online where they took some salmon and exposed them to rapid depressurization and they did not turn inside out because that's just silly, but they did - there was some stomach eversion through holes. And so yeah, it's - the depressurization can cause some eversion, but it's not the kind of thing that would turn you inside out.

Julie Douglas: Okay. I'm also thinking too about some of the horrible urban myths that I've heard about before. And I'm thinking about - how am I gonna say this? Yeah, like airplane toilets; suction. I think that you can probably figure out.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, that kind of stuff - without going into an actual case by case Snopes analysis of the stories, it's like even that: at the most, any kind of pressure based injury is gonna just, I think, result in a prolapse or eversion of organs, but not the entire body.

Julie Douglas: Right, they're not gonna get sucked out.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: If you're gonna sit on a toilet seat, the odds are that the suction you would create wouldn't be nearly strong enough to even lend itself to creating an evacuation of your bowels so to speak again.

Robert Lamb: Right. And this is also a topic where we could go into more detail about all this, but we'll leave - if you're really that interested, there are some - you can do some more research on it, but we'll get in trouble if we get too much into it here.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, I feel like we're - we've entered into the zone.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: But one more is again, going all the way around on the swing set will not turn you inside out.

Julie Douglas: No, it will not. It may make you vomit, but you will not turn inside out.

Robert Lamb: It will scare any adults viewing the children.

Julie Douglas: Which could be worth it.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: We're not advocating.

Robert Lamb: Well, I think you - you do get a certain - I never - I was never the type of child to even attempt that, but the kids that would go really high on the swing set, that's instant cred, right?

Julie Douglas: Oh yeah. Again, I guess that is the kid equivalent of just ejecting your internal organs and splatting them on someone else is the metaphorical don't mess with me on this playground, kid.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Well, on that note -

Julie Douglas: We bid you adieu.

Robert Lamb: We bid you adieu. If you have any interesting tidbits about things turning inside out, either in your life or in fiction or in the realm of science, we may have missed some really awesome example from the biological world. Let us know.

Julie Douglas: Oh and if you have your own haiku to share with us, please we wanna hear it.

Robert Lamb: Yes, but only if it's about things turning inside out.

Julie Douglas: And that could be anything.

Robert Lamb: Thanks for listening.

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