Monday, September 18, 2006

The Human Organism is a Verb, Not a Noun

The title for this entry is based on Michael Shermer's comment in this piece that "science is a verb, not a noun." Thank you for that idea, Michael Shermer. I am going to borrow it for other applications - I hope that's all right with you.

I went to see the BodyWorlds exhibit Sunday morning and was, as I expected, blown away. Certainly there were throngs of people, more than I've seen all in one place at Scienceworld in a long time, more than one would ever see at a science exhibit probably, in Vancouver at least.. the crowds tend to gather for music festivals instead. But here were people, hundreds of human primates all patiently lined up, thoughtfully gazing, murmering to each other in hushed tones, closely examining the most spectacular array of carefully prepared, formerly live human bodies the public has ever seen.

I went to see nerves.

There they were, well preserved and displayed on most of the specimens, flowing downward and inwardly spiralled around the limbs, around and through equally spiralled muscular parts.

The Gunther von Hagen preparations were dynamically displayed. Through the audio device I listened to how von Hagan had decided to place the specimens into lifelike poses after an exhibition in Japan, where people had complained that the standard anatomical positions used made the plastinates look too stiff, "like ghosts."

Regardless of how they came to be in these athletic looking poses, the bodies look amazing. The nerves are clearly visible, especially their relationships at knee and elbow in flexed poses, and through windows strategically cut out of the body wall to permit a view in to the plexuses.

On the body wall the nerves are surprisingly large. I've always thought I could palpate them, but wasn't quite sure until I saw how thick they are, and how they angle downward and obliquely out over the wall, under the skin, in 90ยบ angles to the fibres of the latissimus muscle over which many of them pass.

According to the audio program, there are 45 miles of nerves in the human body, running everything. As the peripheral nervous system reaches the lower parts of the extremities the nerves become more numerous, carefully tucked up into hands and feet.

This is an opportunity to see how our human physicality is constructed, while simultaneously beginning or continuing the process of meditating upon the end of personal existance. This exhibit facilitates both. I'm so glad I live in a time when it exists, and under circumstances in which it's possible to see it, contemplate it. Take full advantage of this opportunity. It's a beautiful thing, to be in a human body, being. Doing.

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