Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Body Worlds" and the Ultimate Goal of Anatomy

Upon reading Peter M. McIssac's Article Gunther von Hagen's Body Worlds, one phrase in particular struck me as very interesting, and perhaps very insightful. In the exhibit, human corpses, treated in such a way as to rid them of liquids and odor, are displayed for public viewing and study. McIssac states of "Body Worlds," "von Hagen's strategy can... be read as showing his exhibition to be a culminating moment in the traditions of anatomical display" (McIssac 170). I found the use of the phrase "culminating moment" to be most interesting, as it implies that "Body Worlds" has achieved the ultimate goad of anatomy and anatomical display - almost an achievement of perfection in the field, if you will. It's interesting, because one does not often consider perfection to be attainable, but this case got me thinking about what the Ultimate Goal of Anatomy could be.

First I considered what the Ultimate Goals of other fields might be, and they seemed to follow a pattern. The Ultimate Goal of physics, for instance, is to fully and completely understand all physical interactions in the universe - and I mean all of them - and the Ultimate Goal of medicine is to understand the nature and cure of all diseases. Therefore, the Ultimate Goal of anatomy would be to understand everything about the functions of the human body's organs, and the Ultimate Goal of anatomical display would be to show the human body and these organs without any hindrance, a goal that "Body Worlds" seems to achieve.

In this way, perhaps "Body Worlds" really is the fulfillment of the Ultimate Goal of anatomy and anatomical display, truly making it truly the "culmination" of these fields and perhaps even comparable to perfection. Certainly, anything that can be stamped as "perfect" can be considered a considerable achievement.

-Christopher Hoef


  1. "Body Worlds" has become a popular, controversial spectacle in that it combines art and anatomy using methods never utilized before until Gunther von Hagens developed it himself. In 1977, the process, which allows "Body Worlds" to be possible and successful today, was developed. Plastination was coined by Gunther von Hagens, a word describing the key to success and turning point in Hagens' life.

    In McIsaac's article, he praises "Body Worlds" as the culminating point as you have pointed out, Chris; however, it is hard to define anything in scientific history as having reached perfection. Science and the methods and approaches around science are ever-changing and progressing. Similar to how Galileo improved upon the microscope and increased it's magnification range (as did many others after him), the process of plastination is also complex and being worked on as time progresses.

    "I developed the Plastination technique at the University of Heidelberg’s Institute of Anatomy in 1977, patented it between 1977 and 1982, and have been continually improving the process ever since."
    -Gunther von Hagens

    I commend you for picking out such details in the diction McIsaac uses and picking apart his article. Perhaps that is what he truly meant, but one cannot say that science has reached its peak.. as Humboldt believed, there is always more questions at the discovery of something new and nature is always evolving and science expanding giving us more to research and learn about. McIsaac does well to pick out both sides of the argument while writing about "Body Worlds," but to imply that it is the culminating point of anatomy is a strong suggestion. The process of plastination allows for "Body Worlds" to be defined as a critical role in the development of anatomical display, but just as the process itself is evolving, so too is the development of anatomical display. I do not believe it has attained "perfection" quite yet.

  2. Should anyone want to read more on the process of plastination and how it came about, here is the link to the Body Worlds website..

  3. Expanding on what Chris said McIssac about the study of anatomy almost reaching perfection through the technique of plastination, plastination provides a good visual display of the different anatomical features of the body; however, some aspects of the tissues are lost in plastination. A key thing that is lost is how the tissue feels. Some of the texture may remain, but overall the tissue becomes a relatively hard mass no matter what part of the body it was. This allows the specimens to remain in one shape, but it is important to note that a property is lost.