Friday, February 11, 2011

List: '15 mildly horrifying vintage prostheses'

Today’s ‘List Friday’. Yesterday’s post explained the difference between correlation and causation. Today I have two more commonly confused words: orthosis (or orthotic), and prosthesis. An orthosis is a device that doesn’t replace a body part [1], whereas a prosthesis [2] replaces a body part. Prosthetics – i.e. the production and application of artificial body parts – is nowadays a breathtakingly sophisticated science. But it started as an art – in ancient times. The first recorded mention of a prosthetic was by the historian Herodotus (c. 484-425 BCE) who told of a Persian soldier who cut his foot off to escape his captors and replaced it with a wooden one [3]. Prosthetics remained quite primitive until recent years when sophisticated space-age materials and computer technology have been revolutionary. Compared with today’s sleek and functional high tech prostheses, their predecessors are remarkably cumbersome, functionally lacking, and decidedly low tech. Today’s list, courtesy of, is titled ’15 Mildly Horrifying Vintage Prostheses’. You can access the 15 pictures here [4], but it’s quicker and easier to do so here [5]. They’re all pretty scary, aren’t they. I often muse about whether I’d rather live in our present day world, or one or more centuries ago. There’s no easy and simple answer, of course. And it’s hypothetical anyway. But if I was unlucky enough to need a prosthesis, I’d choose a contemporary one over one of those in the gizmodo slideshow. That’s for sure.

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