July 5, 2011

American Museum of Natural History - New York City, NY

After lunch at Shake Shake, I still had a lot of time until I could check into my hotel. So I headed across the street to the American Museum of Natural History. On all my previous trips to New York City, I had never actually been. I'd seen the Metropolitan Museum of Art a twice and the Museum of Modern Art once, but never the Museum of Natrual History. So I was extremely to see what one of the most famous museums in the country had to offer.

Unfortunately, the first sight I was confronted by were hoardes of children. And I don't mean a crowd of children or even a mob. I mean a literal hoarde of children like regiments of an invading army that occupied every floor, room and exhibit available. They were not polite hoardes, they were running, screaming, shouting hoardes with screams that echoed off every imaginable surgace. It was not how I had hoped to see the museum. That doesn't mean I don't like children, I'm actually fond of them. Just not when they seem to be re-enacting a scene from Dawn of the Dead.

The first exhibit I was was the Mammals of North America. It was extremely disconcerting because it was pretty much just taxidermy animals in backlit glass cases with plaques that were difficult to read in the dark hallways. Taxidermy has always given me the willies. It was also strange to see exhibits about animals I usually regarded as road kill, included one of the oppossum. I decided to skip the rest of the exhibits on the floor, mostly because I didn't have enough time to take in the museum in its entirity. So I hopped an elevator and jumped straight to the dinosaur exhibits.

I am officially not smart enough to appreciate any of the exhibits on palentology. Everything I know about dinosaurs I learned from "Land Before Time", "Jurassic Park", and the BBC sci-fi show "Primeval". These are apparently not reliable sources of scientific information. A lot of the displays focused on the claws and wrists of the dinosaurs. I was really confused by that and when I mentioned it to my mother on the phone later she explained at great length why this was important, but I still didn't get it. So my reaction to the most important palentology exhibit in the country consisted almost entirely of: "Cool, the skeleton of a T-Rex! Cool, the skeleton of a triceritops! Cool, the skeleton of that dinosaur with the really long neck! You know, the one Little Foot was in "Land Before Time"."

With my admission, I also bought a ticket to one of the special exhibits. There were several available, including one on the world's largest dinosaurs (which given my failure at understanding the permanent exhibits, I'm glad I didn't choose). Instead, I opted for the exhibit on the brain.

It was absolutely fascinating! It started with an explanation of the parts of the brain and their function with an introductory video similar to what you could have seen on PBS. But it continued with very thought provoking displays. The sensing brain portion focused on how our brain interprets sensory signals, such as what we see and feel. For example, you stood in one spot and saw a person walking in the rain while hearing a sound. At first, my brain heard it as the sound of rain based on what I was seeing but it was later revealed to be sizzling bacon. The display on the thinking brain was probably my favorite as it showed how our learning and developing can actually change the physical nature of our brain. For example, London cab drivers have to learn every possible route throughout the city from one location to another. In order to accomodate this incredible amount of information, studies found that part of the brain associated with long term memory in these individuals actually enlarged! The final portion of the exhibit focused on exciting new developments in brain technology, such as anamotronic limbs that can be controlled by thought. This would allow ambutees to control their prosthetics with their minds, like a natural limb.

By the time I finished the brain exhibit, I realized it was time for me to check my hotel. In about three hours, I had only managed to see a few of the exhibits, which made me sad. But I still was happy to see as much as I did and especially happy to have been able to see the special exhibit "Brain: The Inside Story."



  1. Sounds like an interesting exhibition! I don't know much about our brain or even the wrists of dinosaurs (I studied anthropology, history and now museums!), but I would love to go to the AMNH. Have you gone to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History? I love the fossil and oceans display there.


  2. The dino collection is the best one we've ever had the privilege of seeing. The Museum's anthropological collections are also outstanding. Excellent Museum !!!

    “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.”
    travel jobs