Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Probing Bodies for Answers

I am intrigued by the innovations of science on the body ever since I visited the Body World's II exhibit this weekend at the Ontario Science Centre. This exhibit featured real cadavers, preserved through a technique developed by Gunther von Hagen called "plasticization". The bodies were split open in various ways in a variety of positions, from the "pole vaulter" to the "skateboarder", as well as various dissections, from the "ring man", who had rings of flesh from the superficial to the interior, and "drawer man" who's chest opened up like a set of drawers to display his tightly packed innards. These served as diagrams of nerves, muscles, skeletal structure, and cardiovascular organs.

There were also natural irregularities, such as a man who had six fingers and toes on each limb as a result of a congenital disorder. There were tumors, brain hemorrhages, and smoker's lungs. It was all a little bit shocking to stand beside a corpse, look over at him, and take notice of his tattoos. I'm sure part of what attracted several thousand visitors in one afternoon was the lurid appeal of seeing dead bodies, whether we would like to admit that or not. However, I was reminded again of how surprised I was to see various orthopedic innovations, such as a hip replacement, and an artificial heart valve, when I read this story, about a baby who received a heart transplant before natural birth, on Valentine's day, because that was the critical time. Is that an example of preserving life, or in some sense, speeding it up?

This idea that modern science can save us, or build a monster, is what led to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It has also allowed us to generate brand new heart tissue from stem cells, or make blind frogs see again. It boggled my mind to see a metal kneecap shining on a skeleton, like a gold tooth amongst pearly whites. Seeing a little metal valve in the middle of a gushy heart seemed so strange. It was like something you'd expect to see in a gas tank. It really reminded me that we humans are just hardware. We're manipulable. Our brains are like a motherboard, we can play around with electrodes, and do some circuit-breaking if we like. If we do have souls, do they morph as our bodies do, taking on new shapes as we're weathered by the world? We're flesh and bones, and while we may be something else if you dissect us according to another category of being, when we die, we die. Nietzsche was thus quoted for that very reason, right in the exhibit: "body am I entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body."

That baby's life was saved by a transplanted organ the size of a golf ball. Another life (the surgeon's) that itself might have been saved in history too because of innovation, altered reality in a physical way. We see from this line of thinking, that choices can have an exponential result. If our bodies can perform feats to change their own structure and others, selecting which features survive by supplanting them in a mishmash of natural and interventionist parts, puts us in control of the conditions that we will thrive in. So how do we know that we are only our bodies? Might we not be a combination of many, and if so, which part of that consciousness that chooses, was simply a reaction? Which part of it is free will?

Filed under Philosophy


Blogger Blackempress said...

As a medical person I find this pic so interesting. The preservation is so AMazing.

Well its good that u learnt out of the session. From the sound of it, seems it was really good.

Btw the Pic below is really good.

I commented on that post but forgot to add the song for the occassion:

Song: Be Mine

from the very first moment i saw you
thats when i knew
all the dreams i held in my heart
had suddenly come true
knock me over stone cold sober
not a thing i could say or do
'cos baby when im walking with you now
my eyes are so wide
like you reached right into my head
and turned on the light inside
turning on the light
inside my mind hey

come on baby its all right
sunday monday day or night
written blue on white its plain to see
Be Mine Be Mine
that rainy shiny night or day
whats the difference anyway
hunny till your heart belongs to me

if i had some influence girl
with the powers that be
i'd have them fire that arrow at you
like they fired it right at me
and maybe when your heart and soul are burning
you might see
that everytime im talking with you
its always over too soon
that everyday feels so incomplete
till you walk into the room
say the word now girl
ill jump that moon hey

Belated Happy valentine's day

hope u had a great time. :)

8:18 a.m.  
Blogger Maddy said...

Is there a book that goes with
this? So fascinating. Were
these people criminals?


9:13 a.m.  
Blogger toobusyliving said...

I only let people I really like to "ponder" my "insides," or sometimes just people who happen to be around when I've been drinking.

2:11 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

blackempress -The preservation is state-of-the-art, although sometimes I thought it could be cleaner. There were broken ligaments and such. You make me curious. What kind of medical person are you? Thanks for the Valentine's song.

madelyn -There is no accompanying literature that I know of. However, this exhibit travels from place to place. I'm sure it would come to Vancouver. The bodies in the exhibit came from people who volunteered their parts for the pursuit of science. It is tragic but a six month pregnant woman knew she would not make it, so she donated herself and her young, who literally stayed with her, and there were bottles with fetuses at every stage of development.

too busy living -smart choice tbl. We cannot expose too much of our inner mysteries until the time is right. Even then, it is debateable whether or not we are truly known.

4:52 p.m.  
Blogger Adorable Girlfriend said...

I'd like to be probed for some answers. I just couldn't resist before YJA said it.

5:37 p.m.  
Blogger Lorena said...

i went to this exhibit when they were in Chicago during the summer. i thought i wasn't going to tolerate it looking at these bodies but it actually wasn't that bad. very interesting indeed.

12:36 p.m.  
Blogger GEL said...

(Plz excuse grammar.I hurt my hands) Love sc. museums! Like book, art, or music stores. Soak 'em up. WIll be back to read and comment on this post b/c am intriqued. I have sc. and art degrees...
Meanwhile, LOVELY gifts you sent L! :)

11:40 a.m.  
Blogger Nabeel said...

there was this huge display at the science and industry museum in chicago that displayed the human body

4:40 p.m.  

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