Yesterday afternoon I spent two hours looking at dead bodies. Plastinated ones, so skillfully presented and preserved the smallest nerves and tendons could be seen.
I got tickets to Body Worlds 3 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland because it was my wife's birthday. Laurel wanted to see the exhibition. I wasn't as wild about the idea, given that I've got this decided preference for existing rather than not-existing.
Also, upside down.
The main thing I learned from the exhibition was this: we're meat. Strip away our skin and humans look an awful lot like what you see in a butcher shop. Which shouldn't be surprising, because we're animals.
Animals, however, who can think about death and dying.
All sorts of people, young and old, toured Body Worlds 3 along with us. I was perusing a display about hip degeneration when I noticed an older woman with a cane looking at the bones with more interest than me. Understandably.
Another woman reclined in a motorized wheelchair, accompanied by a friend. Her body wasn't working so well either. Each of us is going to join that club one day, no matter how healthy we are at the moment. Death is an efficient equalizer.
As I walked from display to display, looking at dead bodies in astoundingly creative poses, moving along with other mortals, each of whom eventually was going to end up in the lifeless state we were so fascinated by, I felt a bond with my fellow OMSI-goers.
Now and then I'd interact with a person next to me, asking a question or making a comment. It was easier to reach out to a stranger than it would be, say, at an art exhibit. We all had a lot in common: being alive, after which we'll be dead.
The creator of Body Worlds, Gunther von Hagen, wants this to be more than an anatomical learning experience. He says:
The human body is the last remaining nature in a man made environment. I hope for the exhibitions to be places of enlightenment and contemplation, even of philosophical and religious self recognition, and open to interpretation regardless of the background and philosophy of life of the viewer.
Scattered throughout the exhibit were quotations from great thinkers about death. I appreciated that, being a philosophical sort. I especially appreciated some quotes from Seneca and Epicurus.
Via a Google cache, I located the Body World Seneca passage.
Death is the release from all pain and complete cessation, beyond which our suffering will not extend. It will return us to that condition of tranquility, which we had enjoyed before we were born. Should anyone mourn the deceased, then he must also mourn the unborn. Death is neither good nor evil, for good or evil can only be something that actually exists. However, whatever is of itself nothing and which transforms everything else into nothing will not at all be able to put us at the mercy of Fate.
Makes sense. I don't fret over my state of nonexistence prior to my birth. Why, then, should I get hot and bothered over my not existing after I'm dead? I won't be around to be bothered then. As for now, I'm still alive.
(1) Death is annihilation.
(2) The living have not yet been annihilated (otherwise they wouldn't be alive).
(3) Death does not affect the living. (from 1 and 2)
(4) So, death is not bad for the living. (from 3)
(5) For something to be bad for somebody, that person has to exist, at least.
(6) The dead do not exist. (from 1)
(7) Therefore, death is not bad for the dead. (from 5 and 6)
(8) Therefore death is bad for neither the living nor the dead. (from 4 and 7)
OK. I'm convinced. But I'd still rather be alive than dead.
But wait. I am! Cool.
And Oregon State just won the College World Series. Again. It's a great time to be alive.
Of course, any time is.