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We hear this term from time to time, but I highly doubt that a normal human being is capable of doing such a thing.

However, if someone was physically strong enough to tear through the various tissues involved, as well as mentally willing to do something so horrifically brutal, would it actually be possible for them to do this without, say, rendering the heart unrecognizable as such, or getting their arm stuck in the victim's bodily tissues?

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  • $\begingroup$ There's some blur here. If you are strong enough to tear through the tissues, will you get your arm stuck in the tissues? What makes a heart "unrecognizable as such"? I feel like this is a wood-chuck-could-chuck situation. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ Edward Scissorhands would like a word with you ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 10:38
  • $\begingroup$ Why would someone go down the throat instead of a traditional method of ripping the rib cage? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ As my mother would often say, the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 17:23

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Quick check: my hand closed in a fist is just a tad narrower than my neck.

Pushing a hand in someone's thorax through the throat would require passing through the gap defined by the clavicles, which again based on a quick, external check, barely fits a closed hand.

Add to this that the heart would be attached to blood vessels (and as far as I know it has no quick release connections) and that it would have to be held firmly to be pulled out, I doubt it would pass the ordeal intact.

All this neglecting what it would take to reach and grab it through the esophagus.

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This isn't going to work. Ball your hand up into a fist, and it's not that much narrower than the neck. People choke on stuff a great deal smaller than a fist regularly; there's no way a fist is going to go down the throat without wrecking everything along the way, and even the attempt would shove a lot of tissue farther down, making it harder to force your hand farther down. I don't know how well you could force the tissue to compact itself, but the body doesn't have a lot of empty space in it, and you're basically driving most of the neck into the chest: if you reach that compacting limit before you get a grasp on the heart, you're stuck.

You've also got to consider that the arm and hand will need to bend, and it's a sharp angle from the mouth to going down the throat. To reach all the way past the neck, you're almost certainly going to wreck the head as well, especially when you have to bend further to actually grasp anything in the chest from that position.

As for retrieving the heart intact, that's not happening without a lot more damage to everything else. Holding the heart means your fist will end up at least slightly larger, which means even more damage when you pull back up. The heart itself is also at least the size of your fist, so you need to make sure there's space for that. Given that you're just tearing it free with your bare hands, there's no cutting of the arteries and veins: it's quite likely that it won't tear away neatly and might leave pieces of the heart behind, but I can't predict which way that would go.

Conclusion: this is the worst way to do it. You're going to basically take half the person's head off and wreck everything in their neck to pull out a possibly-mangled heart (in case it's not obvious, they'll likely be dead before you even grab the heart).

If you want to impress and kill at the same time with your super-strength, I'd advise stabbing into their body with an open hand like it was a knife instead and tearing the heart out that way: faster, cleaner, and safer for you, since forcing your hand and arm through someone's mouth will cause tears from their teeth and likely infection as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually the thorax has a lot of empty space in it. It is called the lungs. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP True, the lungs expand and compress, but the whole chest goes with it usually. If you're forcing your hand down the throat while they've got air in their lungs, you get a little compression space, but compacting the air inside someone's body like that (it won't be escaping out the usual way when they're choking on your arm) is probably going to wreck the internal organs. Catch the person when they've just exhaled, and that space for compression is gone, because the whole chest has contracted with it, and your hand isn't going to be able to manipulate their guts enough to reverse that. $\endgroup$
    – Palarran
    Commented Nov 10, 2021 at 23:09
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Sure, if you don't mind ripping the person in two.

The throat isn't really large enough to contain an arm, or a muscular bulging bicep. As such, while you can do this, you'll rend the throat and the oesophagus along the way. The neck will probably tear open.

Once you get there, the heart isn't well positioned to be removed. You need to push past the lungs (I doubt the eosphagus will survive you punching through it) and find the squishy thing with tubes running off it. Then, you need to tear the aorta, the cardiac artery and vein, the superior vena cava, the pulmonary artery and vein, and the rest should snap off easily. Just grab the heart, and yank it back out.

This will almost certainly kill the person.

For worldbuilding sake, I would imagine doing this is an artisan ability passed down super strength lines. You'd need to practice on dozens or hundreds of victims to get it right, and so it would be a skill passed down their lines.

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You are basically "gutting" them like a fish

While there are certainly techniques that would destroy the heart, if your goal is to get it in tact, then that is not too difficult. If you've ever gutted a fish, you know that the whole point is to use your hand to rip out the internal organs without rupturing them. If they rupture, you contaminate the meat. You do this by grasping the connecting tissues instead of the organs when you pull. This rips the organs free without significant damage.

... this is not to say your victim will remain intact, but the heart will. As you reach down the throat, the muscles will tear, the jaw will dislocate, and there will be tons of internal hemorrhaging. The skin is probably flexible enough that the neck will not rip open though. Your hand may either go down the trachea or the esophagus, but should not matter which. As you get your hand just above the heart, you may need to open your hand up wide, possibly working your fingers side to side until you force a tear. Then your hand will be inside the Pericardial Sac. Then you will need to reach down just past the heart and grab the vena cava and descending aorta and pull. The major blood vessels will rip free leaving only smaller arteries left connecting the heart to the body. The remaining blood vessels will rip long before the heart does.

Once the heart is mostly free, it would help if cup it in your hand and scope it out. This will help use the structure of your hand to protect the heart from being crushed or torn when ripping the remaining connecting tissues.

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The biggest problem with this scenario is that the heart is attached to your insides by several large arteries and veins. Arteries and veins are exceptionally strong, they have to be to survive the constant tension of your blood pressure for 80 years (and occasionally, they fail... that's always bad, really bad).

Worse, the direction that he would be pulling on these blood vessels is along their axis, rather than sheering across. And wrapping a hand around a slippery still-beating heart, there's just not enough grip left to twist or sheer through those, I think. So, to grip the heart strongly enough that he could pull it free of those blood vessels, the supervillain will inevitably end up squeezing it into mush.

It might be possible to go through the rib cage. At that point there are several sharp, broken ribs and those same veins and arteries might sheer lengthwise against the edges.

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