Monday, December 13, 2004


Yesterday I went with Alex, her daughters Julia, 9, and Victoria, 11, and one of Tory's friends, to the California Science Center to see Body Worlds, a traveling exhibit of human bodies that have been plasticized for display. Real bodies. Real fascinating.

The numerous, mostly male bodies, have been donated by people who wanted their earthly remains to serve science in some way. Plastination is a process that was developed by a German anatomist, Dr. Gunther von Hagens which preserves the tissues and muscles and organs and allows the corporeal body to be reconstructed, or in some cases, sliced and diced for display.

I now I sound very cavalier, but the bodies do not have faces or any other characteristics that would cause you to feel that you were looking at Joe Blow from the corner bar lounging around with his guts hanging out, although I do believe they have his liver. The bodies were just that, and there is no more striking evidence, for me anyway, that it is our souls that animate us and give us our unique qualities. Because under the skin we're all pretty much the same.

The exhibit starts on the first floor and focuses mostly on muscle and bone and how they work in concert to make us move. These bodies also showed how all our organs fit together inside our bodies, protected by the bone and muscle, and it is amazing to me that anyone can survive a gunshot wound because there's stuff everywhere that's important.

In addition to the bodies there are sagittal slices, like a deli sliced cold cut, that show the relationship of bones and organs. It's like one shot of a cat scan only it's a slice of the actual bone and tissue. Most of those slices were all in glass cases that you weren't supposed to lean on.

And if you do lean on the cases, they remind you that you're not supposed to.

You're also not supposed to touch any of the bodies even though you totally could, but you would get in trouble.

I just know.

Up on the third floor the bodies exhibit all the different systems. I was most blown away by the circulatory system. They had the circulatory system of a man and woman standing, with a child on the man's shoulders, and it was fascinating to see that all the errogenous zones are just masses of blood vessels, like so many as to make the areas appear solid. I have to say that it's amazing that John Wayne Bobbit didn't bleed to death when Lorena cut his penis off.

And speaking of penises it was truly amazing to see all the variety in size. The girls were giggling and a little horrified because all of the bodies that featured their reproductive organs, again, almost exclusively male, (what's up with that?) also featured the testicles dangling from their respective epididymis, epididymi? at a level about equal with the penis. The conversation went something like this:
"I didn't know that guys have three thingies."
"Neither did I, that's gross."
"I know and did you see all that hair?"

Alex and I assured them that guys only have one thingy, and that the hair is normal and all adults have it. Eleven is such a confusing age. But Body World will definitely give you the opportunity to address any questions with life size models. The guy with "all the hair" was a sagitally sliced man who appeared to be walking and trailing 3" slices of himself, but it was so cool to see exactly how and where everything goes. He had tattoos on his arms and one of them was of a skeleton smoking - heh.

My favorite part was all the diseased organs: the liver with Cirrhosis, the brain that had a tumor, the brain that had a hemmorage, the brain with Alzheimers, the kidney cysts, the heart with arterial disease, the enlarged heart, the cancerous uterus, the stomach ulcer, the smoker's lungs. Oh yes, all the better to visualize catastrophic health events. It was a hypochondriacal paradise. Every possible malady that had a physical manifestation was represented for my viewing (and obsessing) pleasure.

The girls' favorite part of the exhibit was the embryos and fetuses. They showed what an emryo looks like at the beginning, middle and end of the 6th week of development. The amount of growth accomplished in just that week is astonishing. The embryos are all in glass tube-like displays and when they go into fetal development from 12 weeks on they are all shown in vitro. Fetuses from 16 weeks up to 32 weeks are shown in glass cases and the fetus at 34 weeks, or 8 1/2 months is shown in the body of it's mother. For some reason this exhibit made me sad - maybe because this mother never got to hold her child, maybe because it is too easy to imagine all the plans she probably made for the future with her child, and then there was no future. I couldn't help but think that this was how old Laci Peterson's baby was when he and his mama died and I don't keep track of that kind of stuff - it just came into my head.

When you exit the exhibit hall there are bodies doing all kinds of things like extreme skateboarding, swimming, ballet dancing, gymnastics, even a guy sitting on a horse whose body is also plasticized. The human body is just amazing from the womb to the tomb - the whole development of our bodies and all that they can do.

Body World might be shocking to some people (frankly I'm surprised that the nuts in the religious right aren't out there protesting) but it's an amazing exhibit that I cannot recommend highly enough. In fact, I'll go back, but without squirrely little girls, who are hungry for lunch. I think I could spend 3 hours there easy, even having already seen it. The exhibit leaves in January for Chicago where it will be through 2005.


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