Friday, September 08, 2006

Human corpses

Did I mention the cadavers?

Yes, you heard me right. We had heard that a traveling exhibit known as Bodies the Exhibition would be in an Atlanta museum at the same time we were. Cat, her parents, and I all arranged to see the exhibit.

Our purchased tickets for the 1PM time slot coincided with a Sunday panel or two at Dragon*Con that I wanted to see- a "How not to get published" horror story panel and a "Bad Movies and Why We Love Them" panel. Both quickly got shunted for the prospect of seeing actual medical cadavers in an almost once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. On the other hand, Cat's dad wanted to see the 2006 Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant at 4PM, and I wanted to see a panel on the RPG business also at 4, so we had to be done by then.

Happily, the Civic Center was only a short walk from our hotel. Who needs a rental car in a major urban center anyway?

Upon arriving, we discovered that roughly half of Atlanta decided that it would be a good idea to come and see this exhibit. I was amazed at how different the throng as compared to at con. I saw a wide range of ages, races, etc., but they definitely were mundanes.

Once in the exhibit, I was a little stunned by the change in environment. Inside, the lighting was tightly controlled, people talked in hushed voices (if at all), and each room focused on a different aspect of the human body. Examples were actual human tissue; the water is chemically removed and replaced with a polymer of some kind- this effectively preserves the specimen indefinitely.

They showcased the brain, the skeleton, muscles, reproduction and birth, the organs of digestion, everything. Most memorable to me included a full-body specimen consisting solely of the blood vessels: arteries and veins in red and blue, hit with a tight spot in the darkness. It all but glowed. Also notable was a full body reduced to approximately seventy or eighty translucent slices in plastic, spread out to twenty or thirty feet- much like the Visible Human project, itself an amazing undertaking. I can't go on and describe every detail, apart from trying to express how strange it felt to stare into a stranger's guts, to see one dead man contemplate his own brain, to sense the pride of a woman with her womb visible. A complete digestive tract hung on the wall, from top to bottom. Silvery nerves flayed back from the skin; healthy and diseased organs side-by-side.

Specimens I've seen before; the Tulane School of Medicine had an embryology museum as well as human parts preserved on display. I would have loved to take pictures, but touching and photography were expressly forbidden. More than a legal requirement, I suspect, but rather a means to force respect. This science approached art.

Leaving the exhibit, I kept thinking how we are just made out of meat (story, video). I feel humbled and mortal and amazed that superstition once prevented human dissection and study. What does the future hold?

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