Yet the human brain is incredibly complex.
Lit by soft spotlights, it slowly rotates in a clear box at the entrance to the "Body Worlds and the Brain" exhibit at the Arizona Science Center. The brain elicits words of wonder from some; others are speechless.
"This organ, in my opinion, is the most intriguing," said Angelina Whalley, a physician and "Body Worlds" creative and conceptual designer. "It shapes our lives, and defines who and what we are."
The brain is the featured body part among the more than 200 in the exhibit, running through May 30.
The specimens - from gastrointestinal tracts to limbs, all revealing their inner workings - have been preserved through Plastination, a process that replaces fluids and fats with acetone and allows the tissues to last indefinitely.
"Body Worlds" first visited the science center in 2007 and drew record crowds. The current show, "Body Worlds and the Brain," is one of five currently touring the world.
Dubbed the 3-pound gem, the brain is the show's star. The organic marvel not only runs the body, but houses the memories, thoughts and dreams that make each person an individual.
"We want to make it obvious in what way the brain connects with the other systems to sustain our body," said Whalley, wife of Gunther von Hagens, a German physician and inventor of the Plastination process.
Text-filled displays examine brain functions, including its give-and-take with the nervous system and its production of the hormones that make us feel what we call love.
Floor-to-ceiling posters quoting philosophers, poets and religious texts hang next to preserved muscles, organs, bones and nerves.
Oscar Wilde's words cover one banner: "The consciousness of loving and being loved brings a warmth and richness to life that nothing else can bring."
And, from the Talmud: "We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are."
Diana Conger, 75, pauses at a leg and points at the prosthetic knee.
"This is Rosie's knee," Conger says, referring to the prosthetic knee of her 93-year-old (and very much alive) aunt, who has had five knee surgeries.
"I love the idea of it (the exhibit)," said Conger, of Albuquerque. "It's one thing to say I have a torn rotator cuff; it's another to see it."
Visitors can peer into a lung turned black by years of smoking, as well as a coal miner's lungs that appear similar to the mineral he once mined.
At the Alzheimer's disease display, a rather small brain with a large crevasse down the center shows the degeneration of the cerebral cortex.
Conger's daughter Jeneane Anderegg, 58, of Andrews, Texas, was amazed to see the texture of muscle tissue and the intricate ways it connects to bones.
"It's interesting to see striation that bodybuilders try to show," Anderegg, a former bodybuilder herself, said. "The human body is so amazing."
Back by demand
Since the 2007 exhibit, the science center has received hundreds of calls asking for the show's return, center president and CEO Chevy Humphrey said. The center worked for two years to bring it back, negotiating contracts and planning schedules. It also reached out to educators, religious groups and community representatives, Humphrey said, to explain the exhibit and "why we're so passionate about bringing it to Arizona."
The show always brings some controversy, hence the pre-emptive outreach, Humphrey said. But the center sees it as a way to educate and engage the public.
"This is a great opportunity for Arizonans to learn more about themselves and their bodies," she said, expecting to see more of the curious rather than medical professionals.
That's on par with statistics from other tours, where those in the medical field make up a quarter of the more than 32 million people who've seen "Body Worlds."
"It's an amazing journey to learn about oneself," Humphrey said.
'Body Worlds and
What: Traveling exhibit featuring more than 200 donated body parts that were preserved using the Plastination process invented by German physician Gunther von Hagens in the late 1970s. Admission includes general admission to the center.
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through May 30.
Where: Arizona Science Center, 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix.
Admission: $20-$25 non- members; $10-$13 members.
Details: 602-716-2000, azscience.org.
by Jennifer McClellan The Arizona Republic- Feb. 3, 2011 12:00 AM
Brain drives new 'Body Worlds' exhibit