This it seems is the week of extraneous body parts. First, from Geneva, a city used to the media spotlight of late, came the news that a pensioner had developed a completely imaginary but yet perfectly working third arm. And then yesterday it was announced that Australian performance artist Stelarc would be giving a talk in Edinburgh about his third ear. An ear it is worth noting that happily resides on his forearm. I can see we are going to need some clarification so let’s start in Switzerland.
Doctors at the Geneva University Hospital have reported in the Annals of Neurology a rare case of Supernumerary Phantom Limb (SPL) syndrome in a 64-year-old stroke patient. A few days after her stroke the pensioner told of how she could not only perceive a third arm, but see it and move it as well. In fact, not only could she move her imaginary appendage but could use it to scratch a very real itch on her cheek.
Curious about the veracity of her claims, neurologist Asaid Khateb put her through an MRI machine and studied the activity of her brain. Remarkably when asked to move her ‘phantom limb’ her motor cortex was activated, suggesting that the brain thought the arm truly existed and was able to be moved. Furthermore, her visual cortex showed signs of activity suggesting she could also see this apparition.
The team in Geneva believe this to be the first case of its kind where a patient can intentionally move a make believe member.
For our second anatomical add-on we must move to Scotland, where yesterday’s Guardian website reported that Stelios Arcadiou, Visiting Professor at Brunel University, would be leading a session at The Edinburgh Science Festival. Arcadiou, better known as Stelarc, is a performance artist with a twist, that twist being an extra ear on his lower arm (see picture below) that was cultivated from stem-cells in 2006. In his talk, entitled Alternate Anatomical Architectures: Fractal Flesh Chimeras & Extra Ears, Stelarc hopes to “explore and extend the concept of the body through human-machine interfaces.” After waiting ten years to find a surgeon willing to construct his aural addition out of human cartilage, he is now trying to hook it up to the internet so that people all over the world can tune into to the delightful acoustic surroundings of his forearm.
In days gone by, people with more body parts than traditionally adorned with by nature would be cruelly toured around the world in so called freak shows, glorified circus acts. It seems to me that a modern day self promoting circus act is just what Prof. Arcadiou may be.