COLUMN – World Embryo Day – EN


The credo of a freaked-out anatomist?


My dear friend and (much admired by me) fellow anatomist John Sharkey alerted me to the existence of World Anatomy Day and its celebration on 15 October 2023 this year. To my shame – this year I will have been an official anatomist-embryologist for 50 years – I had never heard of this day. Its proclamation does evoke mixed feelings in me.

Those mixed feelings are not about the apparent reason for planning the day on 15 October. On 15 October 1564, the life of Andreas Vesalius ended. He is my greatest (philosophical) hero and with the publication of his book in 1543 De Fabrica Humani Corporis, he changed the world and, like Copernicus in that same year (!), opened European (‘Western’) humanity’s eyes to a new reality. A new (scientific) consciousness that at the moment most people today are so used to that they can hardly imagine that mankind has not been able to think like this for thousands of years either (and that there is therefore also such a thing as pre-scientific reality).  In philosophy, it is called, Vesalius was the first to describe the human body from a modern ‘Gegenstandbewusstsein’ (object awareness). Just as Vesalius opened a new bodily awareness for us, in 1543 Copernicus gave us a new modern awareness of our Earth (no longer the centre of the solar system, but one of the planets). With both great geniuses, we also lost something: namely, the primary naïve reality in which we live day-to-day and in which our body is really not an anatomical specimen and the Earth is certainly not a planet,. That reality is considered by a lot of scientists and people today to be naive, obsolete, outdated and illusionary (“scientific reality is the only real reality”). By turning the body into ‘anatomy’ and the earth into ‘a’ planet, we have become accustomed to this spectator-consciousness which allows us to view and experience the reality we live in almost exclusively from this new scientific mindset. As a result, we completely lost the spiritual connection with ourselves and we this earth. Wisdom became knowledge, knowledge became information, and information disintegrated into meaningless data.

Still, so far nothing but good things about the geniuses Vesalius and Copernicus, i.e. the dead. Vesalius died on the Greek island of Zakynthos after the ship he was sailing with to Jerusalem was wrecked by a storm. He was forced by his protector, the king of Spain, to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land because he was accused of having practised anatomy under questionable conditions. Vesalius had powerful opponents who also tried to silence him. Fortunately for us, that did not happen: we owe to Vesalius our modern world, our modern consciousness. Of course, we also owe it to others, a paradigm switch never comes from one person; the time is simply ripe for it.

My relationship to Andreas Vesalius, this great genius, has become very dual. For me, no World Anatomy Day. For many years, it has been my mission to make people realise that anatomy, and especially our ‘anatomical’ mindset, has destroyed much more than we care about. I propagate the restoration of a holistic thinking that does not cast aside or deny anatomy but rather raises it to a higher level so that we can move forward and overcome it. This is also why I joined the fascia research world at the time because I believed more people there would be ready for such a paradigm switch. It is the embryo and my embryology on which I developed this thinking. Of course, the anatomy and anatomical mindset of medical science cannot cease to exist. It has given us too much (good), we owe the whole of medical science to this endeavour. But I am also short of something, constantly. I myself have tried to transform ‘anatomy thinking’ into holistic modern thinking, starting with architectural thinking about connective tissue and fascia and the human being. Fascia as representative of the holistic, of the Whole within us. And that is not anatomy. Our body is not the product of parts. That the body is arranged in parts, in cells, as the embryo constantly shows us, does not prove that it is made up of these parts. We have lost something and this can be summed up under the multi-functional term Spirit. Spirit has disappeared. Out of the body, out of the earth that thereby became a planet (and of a planet you simply have many; of the Earth there is only one). So I prefer not to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of anatomy. I would like to see anatomy ‘disappear’ and the paradigm of the sacred particle, of the sacred part, of the sacred organ all too gladly exchanged in the life sciences for a new paradigm in which the Whole is recognised again, through the anatomy of the parts.

I commemorate my mother’s death anniversary on 15 October. I owe a lot to my mother. Especially her mindset, even though she never had anything to do with science or medicine. So a bit naively I cling to my mother on the anniversary. The similarity between my mother and Vesalius is that they have both been guiding geniuses for me. The difference is that while I can love my mother without restraint, professionally I cannot love Vesalius, however great and compelling Vesalius has been professionally for me.

Sorry John Sharkey! You will surely understand me. You are an anatomist I can love.

HOPEFULLY ONE DAY THERE WILL BE ANOTHER WORLD EMBRYO DAY. I don’t know the date yet, because my dying day has not yet been fixed (…). At least not by me. But I hope that on my dying day, not death, but life, not body, but spirit will be celebrated: The Embryo in Me so . See

Footnote: Read in David Lesondak and Angeli Maun Akey’s magisterial book, Fascia, Function and Medical applications chapter 1: De Fabrica Humani Corporis – Fascia as the Fabric of The body by Jaap van der Wal


17th October 2023 John Sharkey replies:

My dearest friend Jaap, I appreciate your perspective on World Anatomy Day and your thoughtful reflections on the legacy of Andreas Vesalius. It is evident that you have a deep appreciation for the profound changes in human understanding that figures like Vesalius and Copernicus brought about. Your desire, one that I share with you, for a holistic approach to anatomy and a deeper connection to the spiritual aspects of our existence is both insightful and commendable. Your commitment to the idea that the body is more than just the sum of its parts and your emphasis on the importance of the whole is truly inspiring to me and so many others across the globe. It is clear that you are dedicated to a higher level of philisophical thinking that incorporates anatomy but transcends it. Your work in the field of anatomy, fascia and your focus on the embryo as a symbol of the whole within us are both laudable endeavour’s. I can understand your reluctance to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of anatomy, given your desire for a new paradigm that recognizes the spiritual and the whole within the realm of life sciences. It’s a noble vision, and your passion for it is evident.
I am honoured to be considered an anatomist you can love (as I love you but we are dinosaurs as you have often told me and at risk of extinction). I share your hope for a World Embryo Day in the future (in fact we should declare it and I will look into such a possibility !!!), a day that celebrates the essence of life and the spirit within us. Your dedication to a more holistic understanding of our existence is something to be celebrated, and I look forward to the day when we can commemorate such a profound perspective,