The Unfixed Brain
November 19, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

 
Maybe that's why zombies like it so much; it's the pablum of organ meat.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2013


On the value of medical dissection previously by rumposinc, "I carry her in my heart, because I held hers."
posted by Blasdelb at 8:58 AM on November 19, 2013


Methinks that brain needs fixed!
posted by manoffewwords at 9:04 AM on November 19, 2013


It's always nice to hear a term like "totally squishy" mixed in with all the Latin and technical phrasing
posted by Redhush at 9:05 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I held a mildly fresh human brain when I was in high school. Quite honestly I think it's something every kid should do.

The one I got to check out was not nearly as bloody as the one presented here.
posted by efalk at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I admit that by about halfway through I was expecting this to go badly wrong, and that this seemingly nice professorial type would take a huge juicy bite out of that squishy, bloody, succulent-looking brain.
posted by chavenet at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2013


I can't help but think it looks and handles like a meatloaf. Strange to think of that 3 lb loaf as holding all that we are. If we put it in a strainer, would it leak out?

Mmm, meatloaf.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 AM on November 19, 2013


I've always figured the brain was about like flan or panna cotta. Delicious panna cotta with raspberry coulis flowing through all its convolutions.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:18 AM on November 19, 2013


The fixed brain is so much worse - with some brains, no amount of rinsing can remove the stench of formalin that makes your eyes and throat sting.

WARNING: I AM ABOUT TO BE SLIGHTLY DISGUSTING BELOW, but if you're in this thread, you're probably fine with what I am about to describe.

Of all the brains I had to cut up when I was learning neuropathology, there are two that still strike me because they were so unique and informative. (Of note, pathologists use food analogies, so preserved brains were like firm tofu or mushrooms, and the cauda equina at the end of the spine legitimately DOES look like ramen noodles stretched out. So if they're your teachers, you pick up that bad habit.)

The first one was the brain of someone who had been declared brain-dead for three or four days before the family could bring themselves to withdraw care. Most brains that have been pickled in formaldehyde for the required number of weeks are sort of greyish, firm, easy to handle. This brain was purplish, soft, rotting, falling apart. You could tell that it had started to "decompose" prior to the person's physical death.

The neuropathologist commented that once you're braindead, your brain might as well be on the shelf next to your body for all the good it's doing you. And you could *see* this. I know I say the brain is dead, but you could see how very dead the brain was!

The second memorable brain came from a small plane crash. I was hanging out in the lab, waiting for the neuropathologist to show, and one of the pathology fellows saw me and excitedly called me in to the next room to see "something cool." (Note: never trust a pathologist's definition of "cool".)

In the next room, which was like a large concrete-floored hall with cadavers on various gurneys, the three victims of the plane crash had been spread out on tarps. They of course had been engulfed in flames, and were contorted like the bodies from Pompeii in the pugilist's stance, etc (muscle contractures which are apparently diagnostic of having been alive when exposed to high heat - you put up your dukes like a boxer.) The lab techs were cutting open the rib cage to expose the pink, cooked internal organs (I'd say they were a medium), and - now this was the "cool thing" the pathologist wanted me to see - they had already used a bone saw to open up the top of the skull, and they popped the top of the skull off of one of the victims to show me that the brain had been cooked as well, soft and yellowish like scrambled eggs.

Which makes sense, I mean, it's so fatty.

Brains! If you get a chance to prod at one, give it a chance.
posted by vetala at 9:22 AM on November 19, 2013 [41 favorites]


Good thing I already don't like scrambled eggs, then
posted by thelonius at 9:26 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Two things.

One: fascinating, thanks for posting
Two: I really shouldn't have watched the video or read vetala's comment just before supper.
posted by YAMWAK at 9:28 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Years of food preparation videos and a certain TV show starring Mads Mikkelsen has completely ruined my 'squick' factor for these videos. I am watching and all I can think is "I wonder if she'll be sauteeing or baking it."
posted by griphus at 9:28 AM on November 19, 2013


I love how many comments here are directly or indirectly talking about the human brain as a food source.

Never change, Mefites. (If you need me I'll be over here with my shotgun.)
posted by fight or flight at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Brains! If you get a chance to prod at one, give it a chance.

Does a human brain differ in squishy handling from animal brains? Aside from size, obviously.
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 AM on November 19, 2013


What the fuck was that still in the beginning? Was that girl eating brain? Was the brain hers?

I need to know why that still was there!
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 AM on November 19, 2013


Does a human brain differ in squishy handling from animal brains? Aside from size, obviously.


Um...anatomically, they look different, but I wouldn't say they are different in consistency. I was originally going to say that I haven't ever handled animal brains, but then I remembered that I have not only handled animal brains, I have both done research on them and eaten them (not the same ones) so I guess I have selective amnesia. (I have indeed used the guillotine in a lab setting.)

Rat brains are very small, and are a little softer - especially in the pups. Rat pup brains are so delicate you dissect them with the tip of a glass pipette. They are so small and delicate that you can't drink coffee on the morning you're going to do the procedure, or the fine tremor of your hands will actually screw everything up! I wouldn't have believed it until I did it myself. But this softness is true of the brains of human infants as well.

Cow and sheep brains, similar consistency and heft. You use the usual tofu-levels of care when prepping them for meals.

(I have a feeling I am going to regret this series of comments)
posted by vetala at 9:38 AM on November 19, 2013 [13 favorites]


Oh my. I need a walk now, and lots of fresh air.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2013


I am trying right now to find a way to use "tofu-levels of care" conversationally.
posted by ardgedee at 9:47 AM on November 19, 2013


A question for anyone who has been able to touch unfixed brains - Suzanne in the video talks about the vulnerability of the spinal cord to gentle contact from a vertebral subluxation or a disc bulge. I was under the impression that the spinal cord (and all nerves, actually) were relatively tough, although not as tough as arteries, say.

Is this me being wrong from only working with fixed cadavers?
posted by fizban at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2013


I really wanted to see that thing hucked at a wall to see if it stuck, slid or splattered.
posted by Caskeum at 9:59 AM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It probably wouldn't stick, but would splatter and some of the bits would slide down the wall.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:00 AM on November 19, 2013


Maybe it only sticks if perfectly cooked. Like spaghetti.
posted by Caskeum at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This thread has evolved in a Calvinesque grosscool direction pretty fast. Awesome. Do continue.
posted by Iosephus at 10:22 AM on November 19, 2013


I always get a bit freaked out looking at brains. I never have a problem accepting that our minds are somehow emergent from stuff going on inside the brain, except when I'm actually looking at a few handfuls of blancmange-like tissue and trying to convince myself that an entire person -- a lifetime of hopes, dreams, thoughts and tragedies -- all happened in there. It makes me have some sympathy for dualists.

fizban - I don't have experience with human tissue, but fresh rodent spinal cords are, if anything, less tough than their brains. Somewhere around the squishiness of good Greek yoghurt, with perhaps the tensile strength of tofu. I assume that most of the squishiness is the lipid-rich white matter, but even so I can definitely believe that they'd get damaged very easily. Fixing does make them quite a bit tougher: more fibrous, less squishy.
posted by metaBugs at 10:33 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Abby Normal, anyone?
posted by GhostRider at 10:44 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


And to think, only the outer 2% layer is where most of "neural processing" happens. The rest is wiring. I'm way impressed at how much the brain manages to get done with only the most basic and level of cord management.

vetala, thanks for your comments!
posted by nicodine at 11:28 AM on November 19, 2013


[oops - double]
posted by nicodine at 11:38 AM on November 19, 2013


vetala, let me thank you as well. That was very interesting. Feel free to write more as you please.
posted by not that girl at 11:39 AM on November 19, 2013


Note: never trust a pathologist's definition of "cool".

Always trust a pathologist's definition of cool- just realize that they have lost most other means of discrimination, like 'not unsettling'. Autopsy conference is one of the best events an early medical student can attend because it (a) reinforces core pathophysiologic concepts and (b) allows one to play 'what's in the bucket?'.

What is in the big white painter's bucket is always cool. Second trimester fetus with Patau's syndrome! The heart of a major celebrity! Lung with an aspergilloma! Lots of failed kidneys! Pass it around, check it out!
posted by monocyte at 11:55 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I miss going drinking with medics, they always have the greatest stories.
posted by metaBugs at 12:01 PM on November 19, 2013


I used to work on rat brains - we would pop them out with a little spoon.
posted by exogenous at 12:03 PM on November 19, 2013


Mouse brains are about the size of a peanut and have the consistency and color of turkey fat. They lack the wrinkles of the human brain, and have very large, prominent olfactory bulbs sticking out in front (unlike the olfactory bulbs of the human brain, which are tiny and tucked underneath). You need fine tweezers, steady hands, and a microscope to dissect one without mangling it, but like most things, it becomes easy with practice.
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:04 PM on November 19, 2013


BURNS: Dammit, Smithers! This isn't rocket science, it's brain surgery! [Mr. Burns removes Homer's brain, then puts it atop his own head] Look at me, I'm Davy Crockett!
posted by kewb at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing the cerebral pinochle is what gives us the ability to play card games, or does it control our hands?
posted by orme at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2013


Even better than an unfixed brain is the chance to see a living brain. It gently pulsates as blood flows in and out with every heartbeat; fascinating to look at and marvel at what goes on inside of it.

The comparison of brains with scrambled eggs is apt, considering that pork brains and scrambled eggs is an actual dish.
posted by TedW at 12:58 PM on November 19, 2013


I'm guessing the cerebral pinochle is what gives us the ability to play card games, or does it control our hands?

It's actually the cerebral peduncle, which refers to that creepy dude that your dad always claims isn't his real brother.
posted by greatgefilte at 2:09 PM on November 19, 2013


TedW: "The comparison of brains with scrambled eggs is apt, considering that pork brains and scrambled eggs is an actual dish."

Step 1: drain brains
posted by Red Loop at 6:58 PM on November 19, 2013


nicodine: Some would say the wiring is the neural processing - it's how you connect those neurons together that's important. Also, the outer layers of the neocortex (not sure where the 2% number comes from) have if anything more wire: Each cubic mm contains 9 kilometres of wire (vs. 4km for the white matter). Source: Braitenberg and Schüz 1991.
posted by FrereKhan at 1:02 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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