You have a body. What do you think of it? The exhibition Balance and metabolism delves into different understandings of the body.
Bodies are a center of attention today. The media focuses on bodies that are healthy or ill – obese or skinny, addicted or detoxed, fit or unfit, natural or manipulated. But what makes a body healthy? Each historical period has its own understandings of the body and the nature of health and illness. Medical science plays an important role in generating and supporting these understandings, both for the individual and society in general.
Using objects and images from the unique collections at the Medical Museion, the new Balance and Metabolism gallery showcases two different understandings of the body in the history of medicine. The exhibition focuses on the therapies that arise from these different theories of the body – from emetics and bloodletting bowls to insulin injectors and hormone treatments – as well the theories themselves.
The visitor will experience humoral thinking from Antiquity, which has many resonances with the contemporary focus on a balanced lifestyle, and see how the body as chemical communication was analyzed into being in the 19th century’s laboratories.
The humoural body was seen as consisting of four humours or bodily fluids – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – that had to be kept in balance in order to avoid illness. The physician worked to either drain excess humours or strengthen them.
The study of the chemistry of the body began in the 19th century and gradually replaced the humoural understanding, which had been predominant for more than 2000 years. The humoural body was seen as consisting of four humours or bodily fluids – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile – that had to be kept in balance in order to avoid illness. The physician worked to either drain excess humours or strengthen them.
Today, medical science understands the body as a complex chemical system – we learn, think, love, sleep, feel elated or depressed because of the chemical reactions in our bodies. Physicians replicate these chemical reactions in the laboratory, and try to adjust them in our bodies with tiny pills.