Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mad science: They saved Michael Jackson's brain!

After various reports in the blog-twit ProAm that Jackson would be preserved like Lenin, embalmed like the Chinese prisoners of the traveling Bodies exhibit, or otherwise turned into a freakish display, the late entertainer is, somewhat anti-climactically, going to buried in Los Angeles's Forest Lawn cemetery.

But, it seems, the King of Pop will be shuffling off a few bits of his mortal coil prior to ending up in the cold, cold ground. Reports are that the LA corner's office will be keeping Mr. Jackson's brain topside.

Why? From the Mirror:

Los Angeles Coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey confirmed that neuropathology tests will be carried out to see if it holds any clues to the exact cause of his death.

But the examination cannot begin until at least two weeks after the death when the brain has hardened sufficiently to slice it open.


Vaughan Bell of the Mind Hacks blog clarifies:

Although this may seem unusual, the 'hardening' process is actually a standard part of any post-mortem examination where the brain is thought to be important in the cause of death, such as in suspected overdose.

It involves removing the brain from the skull and leaving it to soak in a diluted mixture of formaldehyde and water called formalin. This soaking process usually takes four weeks and the brain genuinely does harden.

A 'fresh' brain is a pinkish colour and has the consistency of jelly, gello or soft tofu meaning it is difficult to examine and the various internal structures are often hard to make out.

After soaking the brain, it has the consistency and colour of canned mushrooms making it easier to slice, examine and photograph. However, because the brain is so soft to start with, it can't just be dropped in a tank of fixing solution, because it will deform under its own weight.

To solve the problem it is usually suspended upside down in a large bucket of formalin by a piece of string which is tied to the basilar artery.

After it has 'hardened' or 'fixed' it is sliced to look for clear damage to either the tissue or the arteries. Small sections can also be kept to examine under the microscope.


On hopes the LA corner's office is taking the necessary security precautions to prevent brain-napping. The crime is not without precedence: in 1955, Dr. Thomas Harvey removed Albert Einstein's brain without the permission of Einstein's estate. Harvey sliced the brain into 240 individual sections, doling out a few sections to interested researchers, but keeping the majority in preserving jars at his home. In 1996, after years of negotiation and acrimony, Harvey surrendered the brain to Princeton Hospital in New Jersey.

11 comments:

The Frog Queen said...

Facinating!

Cheers!

MonsterScholar said...

Yowza! This could be the sequel to "They Saved Hitler's Brain" (1968) only with more dancing.

Sasquatchan said...

By keeping the brain, does that help or hinder MJ's zombie re-awakening ?

CRwM said...

Scholar,

Somebody just found our ticket out of the rat race!

CRwM said...

Screamin' Sassy,

There's so little of the original frame left, I suspect that the brain issue is the least of Zombichael's worries.

zoe said...

people collect the damnedest things..

i feel a lot better about myself, now that i know how to properly prepare a brain for study. my last attempt was such a mess!

did you catch the ghost on youtube's clip from larry king live?

CRwM said...

Zoe,

I hadn't until you mentioned it. And foolish me thought that Neverland ranch couldn't possibly get any creepier.

Shon Richards said...

For some reason I am picturing Michael as Marvel's 'Deathlock' character now.

Seriously though, if you wrote a story starting with Michael's brain being saved, people would consider it too unrealistic. Reality is creepy that way.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Shon,

That's the weakness of artistic realism: It is so rarely realistic in the random, messy way the real is.

I'm seeing a scenario in which Zombie Jackson comes back and is unstoppable because of his superhuman agility and ability to sync the moves of large zombie hordes. The only solution is to put Jackson's brain in a giant robot body and let them fight it out.

That's the last weird thing left for Jackson to do and the universe seems determined to get the full craziness out of him before it lets him go.

zoe said...

oh, i've been corrected and thoroughly chastised. apparently, it's not strange at all to collect such things:

"Some of what is known about the history of preserving pieces of the dead for spiritual reasons is this: the Greeks did it as part of their religious devotion to soldiers killed in battle. The Jivaro people of the Amazon did it to harness the power of their enemies...While the people of pre-Buddhist Japan did it to themselves, developing a method of self-mummification that resulted in once-living statues worshiped as images of eternity."

that's from peter manseau's "rag and bone;" he's explaining why he's standing in a very long line to get a look at St. Anthony's...tongue.

maybe they could pay for the funeral that way, by charging for views of the brain? just a thought.

CRwM said...

zoe,

When I was writing this up, I actually thought that the shame of it is that Michael Jackson's brain was just the sort of thing Michael Jackson would have bought, if conditions didn't obviously make that impossible.