Trip to Museum of Science and Industry, Part I: Body Worlds

Last Friday, Sarah and I went to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry to see the Body Worlds and Game On exhibits. Read about Game On in Part II

Body Worlds was pretty interesting. There have been some pretty in-depth discussions about Body Worlds on some of the mailing lists I’m on. There were people who questioned the ethics of such a display as well as the taste. Now that I’ve experienced it and had a few days to reflect, I think I can comment on it.

I have to say it was one of the most educational things, outside of my profession, that I’ve done in years. I found the side by side displays of healthy organs next to diseased/cancered/etc to be informative. Also, after looking at the black lungs on some of the pieces, I don’t know why you’d continue to smoke. The other thing is that all the bodies used in the display either donated their bodies or had them donated by their next of kin with a very good release form that asks many reasonable questions including “Why are you doing this?” It looks like they would reject donations if they felt the people weren’t fully understanding or believing in what they were doing.

For the most part, I thought all the displays were tasteful and put in positions that emphasized a part of physiology they were trying to show. There was only one or two that I turned me off. For example, there is a piece called “the wingman” where the bodies muscles are fanned out, but I forget now what it was demonstrating. I think maybe it was the thickness of muscles in certain parts of the body. That part was fine, but he was wearing a straw hat with the caption of the display saying something akin to “He’s wearing a hate to further blur the line between life and death.” In any case, that kinda turned me off and made it less educational and more silly. Sarah pointed out that maybe it was a request of the person who donated their body or a reflection of someone he was known for.

One section of the display that was difficult for me to view was separated off in a curtained area, probably for just that reason. It was displays of mothers and fetuses in various stages of pregnancy. Previous to having a daughter, I don’t think it would have affected me, but I know that’s why it bothered me now. I couldn’t help but think of how sad it was for them to have lost the baby and/or for a husband/father to lose his wife and potential child. One of the things about the display is that they don’t share with you the reason for death of the donated bodies, they say its to focus on the body and their life and not to dwell on their deaths. I agree and understand why they did it, but for this section I wanted to know, if only for selfish reasons of feeling lucky about how well everything went for us. That being said, I think I also got more out of this part of the display post-fatherhood as I had more of an interest and could remember back to how we were and what we were thinking about at that time.

Another interesting part of the display was they had a horse they had put through the plastination process and displayed with a man. They invited you to compare and contrast between the human body and the horses and really examine how we were similar and different. For most of the display I had only been thinking about myself or people I knew when looking at the bodies. The horse display forced me to put humans in context with the rest of the animal kingdom and I liked its inclusion for that. However, part of me knows that this piece was there for the sensationalism of it that its size brought to it.

2 thoughts on “Trip to Museum of Science and Industry, Part I: Body Worlds”

  1. Having an RN in the house, it was predermined that I was going to this within the first month. I had a Get In Free coupon, so I agreed.

    I was in the camp of “this is going to be nasty” and a little anxious about the state of the displays (something feels wrong for me calling dead people displays, but…): for instance I can’t help but cringe even at “fake” operations let alone the real ones on Discovery Channel.

    It was nothing like that. It was very easy to view and quite interesting. I was finding myself looking forward to the internal organs (they start out with various bones and bone systems like the skull, etc.).

    Overall it was very tastefully done and have recommended it to others since.

    Although they did mention somewhere about the pregnant woman. Apparently she was diagnosed prior to or during the early stages of pregnancy that she had a “terminal illness” and was going to soon die.

    All-in-all I had a nice time, and visited the other parts of the museum too which I had not been to in, easily, 17 years. A lot has changed, and it took a while to figure out what used to be where and such. I did find the pendulum stairway and the Olde Tyme Ice Cream Shoppe.

    …but the whisper booths, couldn’t find those. Oh well.

    I did find the old plasticky heart that you could walk in and hear a “heart beat.” Not quite the same after seeing one out of a body.


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