Brains, glorious brains!

15 Apr

No, not the Welsh brewery. I’m talking about that slimy, alien-esque structure that lives in our heads. The Wellcome Collection currently has a fascinating (FREE) exhibition about the most mysterious of all bodily enigmas; the brain.

Brain leaflet

Brain leaflet

Among other things, the exhibition showcased some sharp-looking instruments designed for slicing ‘n’ dicing the brain and models used by medical lecturers to teach their students about the inner workings of this slimy mass.

A newspaper cutting from 1913 told of how, in 250,000 years time, we will have lost most of our physical strength and essentially just be brains on legs. The accompanying image depicted a ‘Pinky and the Brain’ esque character with a bulbous forehead and disproportionately stubby legs and arms. I’m pretty sure if we do end up looking remotely like that the human race will be doomed as no-one will fancy each other. Thanks, evolution!

There was also a slightly disturbing video (which was apparently made for promotional purposes) about the effects of Electroconvulsive therapy. Soon after the patient was given the shock, their body started tensing up and convulsing from the electric current. It looked a bit like having cramp, but infinitely more painful and probably longer lasting. My grandpa on my mum’s side was a pyschiatric nurse, and often used to help deliver these sorts of treatments. In his experience, ECT often proved to be very effective in the treatment of depressed patients (at least on the surface). The writer of this particular display’s blurb was quick to point out that scientists are still unsure as to WHY exactly this treatment works.

The highlight of the whole exhibiton for me was when a typical ‘Essex gal’ walked past as we were watching a video of a brain dissection and loudly exclaimed, “Are they puttin’ TEEF in that brain?” (they weren’t). Anyway, amusing vox pops aside, here are a few tid-bits of information that I managed to pick up along the way. I’ve handily broken them down into bite size chunks for your consuming pleasure!

  • Einstein’s brain wasn’t actually that large (or heavy, apparently). There was a model of his brain on show and it looked, dare I say, average. Somehow this makes me like him more.
  • Slices of brain look eerily like rice cakes or unevenly baked cookies. Or perhaps that’s just what we wanted to see as we were trying so hard not to think about the fact that we were seeing a dead brain. Yeuch.
  • ¬†Scientists cut open brains with something that could easily be mistaken for a bread knife. Try not to think about that next time you’re tucking into a slice of toast…
  • The Nazis had a huge, unhealthy interest in brains. Okay, so I kind of knew this already, but I didn’t quite know the extent of their obsession. The exhibition documented a number of people (most of them minors) who were euthanised for their mental foibles and subjected to a brain examination in the name of ‘selective breeding’ and ‘science.’

All in all, this exhibition is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the capital. Despite being free, there is so much on show and a lot of it is top grade stuff. To avoid the queues, I suggest arriving at about one o’clock on a Saturday; while people are pouching a plate of nosh you can get stuck into some brains! To be honest you’d probably feel a bit queasy diving in on a full stomach anyway…

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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