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The Body Electric

I’ve called this piece “The Body Electric”.  It is another of my tinkerings with taking a very old anatomical illustration and subjecting it to a process of cybernetic conversion, the idea being to depict early experiments to produce a functional Cyberman and to consider what might lurk beneath their metal exteriors…

The title, “The Body Electric” comes from a book, “The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life” by Robert O. Becker and Gary Selden in which Becker, an orthopaedic surgeon, describes his research into “our bioelectric selves”. Becker set out to examine why normal bones heal, and then explore the reasons why bones fail to heal properly. His experiments were mostly with salamanders and frogs, and his scope was widened to studying regeneration after lesions such as limb amputation. He suspected that electric fields played an important role for controlling the regeneration process, and therefore mapped the electric potentials at various body parts during the regeneration. This mapping showed that the central parts of the body normally was positive, and the limbs negative. When a limb of a salamander or frog was amputated, the voltage at the cut was lessened —a phenomenon called the current of injury. In a frog, the voltage would simply change to the normal negative after some weeks, and no limb regeneration would take place. In a salamander, however, the voltage would eventually normalize —and the limb would be regenerated. The electric field changes turned out to be caused by currents in the nerves, and the limb regeneration occurred from red blood cells. Becker later observed several interesting properties of bones and bone growth, proposing that bones are semiconductors and piezoelectric in nature. These tie into the healing process by electrically stimulating bone marrow cells to differentiate into a form of adult stem cells which regrew the bone from within by regeneration. By applying external electrical stimulation in the proper form, he was able to induce bone healing in patients whose bones had failed to heal together. Later in his research, observing from prior research that silver had been used as an antibacterial material in the past, he used a combination therapy of silver with electrical stimulation to drive silver ions further into tissue to enhance its antibacterial action. With proper stimulation fibroblasts would dedifferentiate and apparently became able to form new cell types, leading to the possibility of wider uses for regenerative healing in humans and other animals.

Quote from “The Body Electric”: “the (‘positive silver’) technique makes it possible to produce large numbers of dedifferentiated cells, overcoming the main problem of mammalian regeneration – the limited number of bone marrow cells that dedifferentiate in response to electrical current alone. Whatever its precise mode of action may be, the electrically generated silver ion can produce enough cells for human blastemas; it has restored my belief that full regeneration of limbs, and perhaps other body parts, can be accomplished in humans.”

My bit of art simply plays with what the early Cybermen might have done with experiments of this kind, attempting to regenerate their failing bodies and adding ever more cybernetic technology to themselves in order to prolong their lives – at any cost. “We Will Survive” – or at least, a few bits might…

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