Friday, November 25, 2005

Body Worlds 2

Last week I had the opportunity to see the Body Worlds 2 exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre. It is an unusual exhibit of human and animal bodies, preserved through a process called plastination and exposed to demonstrate how their interiors work.

The exhibit begins with a long narrow corridor that contains a few small displays of bones, skeletons and a few other organs. Essentially, it's a warmup to prepare you for the full-blown bodies that are to come. In this first exhibit they explain the different kinds of bone, show various artifical aids, including hip and knee replacements, as well as other pins and wires that are used to hold damaged bone together. The room ends with two bodies -- the first is a human skeleton, with everything but the nerves removed. It demonstrates how everything begins from the brain and radiates from the spinal cord to every part of the body. The nerves that makes us what we are look like simple pieces of always-thinning rope or gristle. The other body is a cross section of an adult, showing many of the same things, but in a very thin section.

The next room gets into the first fully exhibited bodies. Some of the poses included a seated man, a ski jumper in mid-air, a skateboarder balanced upside down on one arm, and most unusual of them all, a businessman walking the street. It looks like two men, but it's really just one -- his muscles have been completely removed and assembled into a walking posture, and shadowing him a foot behind in the same posture is his skeleton and nervous system.

The final room is the largest of the three and contains many organs, fully posed bodies and animals. Here you will find the woman posed as a ballet dancer, men throwing a javelin and swinging a baseball bat. There are also a woman in a yoga pose, a man in an "exploded view" totalling hundreds of pieces, embryos and fetuses in various stages of development, a woman who died while pregnant, and a fat man, showing the toll excess weight places on internal organs. An adult camel is present, with much of his abdomen exposed, and his head and neck sectioned sagittally into three, giving the appearance from the side that there are three animals in a line with their heads, raised, even and lowered, not just one.

There are various diseased and healthy organs, including the normal lung, a partially black smoker's lung, and a shiny black miner's lung, which looks almost exactly like the pieces of coal I pick up on the beach on Lake Erie.

There are also remarkable displays of arterial blood flow through the human head, arms, kidney, and even an entire rabbit, completely disassociated from the rest of the bodies. Only the bright red blood vessels remain, showing the complexity and three-dimensionality of the circulatory system. It is amazing how a mesh of blood vessels instantly identify the organ or body it came from.

Some people had odd looks on their faces as they examined the exhibits. There are benches around, for those occasional weak-kneed moments.

The bodies are very life-like, in that they are obviously derived from human bodies. But they are also very unreal, having been opened up to expose their innards. For instance, the woman called Angel has her back muscles exposed outward like small wings. The man who has various body sections opened like "drawers" is similarly unreal.

Since most people aren't used to seeing bodies this way or their insides at all, it's often hard to match this representation with the fact that this was once a real person. The bodies don't smell, they aren't wet, and there's no blood.

Unlike most people, I've seen and touched inside real bodies, in anatomy labs and at an autopsy. So I'm a bit more used to seeing what's really in a body. (You can't touch them.) Real bodies are wet and messy, and these preserved bodies aren't. It is a measure of how successful wax museums are, that these bodies look very similar. They have a waxy, dry look to them.

If human anatomy interests you at all, you should go this exhibit. It's unique, interesting and well worth the time it takes to give all the bodies a good examination. It took me about 90 minutes.

My inside source said the best time to go was around 4-6 p.m., after the school tours have gone but before the evening crowd comes in. She was right.