Sunday, November 01, 2009

A ball of string looks at another

Everything is string. I spent an afternoon examining plasticized human remains and concluded that we are held together by string, we move through and interact with our environment by precisely manipulating string, and we are entirely composed of string: a sentient winding of bundled knots and fibres. We're essentially a rag-doll puppet moving on its own power.

Of course, there's different kinds of string -- different textures, different elasticities, different compositions even. Nerve fibre is different from tendon, which is different from veins and capillaries, which is different from muscle tissue, which is different from bone matter... but however you look at it, it's all just string.

The idea is mildly unsettling. We think of ourselves as more than just cables and wiring all twisted together, but that's all that remains of us when the spark of life has left the body. These bodies have been lovingly and carefully preserved and sculpted by the exhibitors so we, the living, can see ourselves in these frozen, exploded images and marvel at the "piece of work that is a man" -- before walking out the front door looking to stuff ourselves with more junk food, indulge in more bad habits that will undoubtedly hasten our own impending necrosis in the days to come.

I admit, it got to me. Side by side with healthy specimens were also diseased ones to show how their donors probably met their ends. There were aneurysms; cancers; tar-blackened lungs; fatty-smooth, engorged livers; shrunken, overworked kidneys; a heart enlarged by stress and strain; and a couple of genetic abnormalities too. All the time I was wondering if the donors could see themselves inside-out as we can them now, would they have changed their habits, their diets or addictions in exchange for a few more years of life?

Am I going to change mine? This twist of string, yarn, twine, fibre, tubing, wire all compactly woven into the thing that is me could perhaps do with some slightly healthier habits. Starting tomorrow.

Body Worlds is at the Singapore Science Centre until March 2010, in case any other woolly tangle of string is interested to go see.

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