Museum hopes that pain means gain

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The Independent Online

A torture chair, an iron maiden, a knuckleduster, a tongue extractor, flails. Insufficiently grim? Then watch the video of an amputation, or shudder at the ancient equipment dentists once used to remove teeth.

A torture chair, an iron maiden, a knuckleduster, a tongue extractor, flails. Insufficiently grim? Then watch the video of an amputation, or shudder at the ancient equipment dentists once used to remove teeth.

One might have thought the public would go to great lengths to avoid such reminders of the grisly past, but the Science Museum in London believes otherwise. The instruments of torture and of developing medicine are revealed in their original gruesomeness in a new exhibition on pain, which opened today.

The show - entitled Pain: Passion, Compassion, Sensibility - examines masochism, sadism, torture, amputation, childbirth and circumcision in graphic detail, and comes with a warning that it is unsuitable for unaccompanied children younger than 12.

Organisers have defended the exhibition - which runs until June - as a serious exploration of the history of pain and the methods adopted to tackle it, from quack medicine through to modern drugs.

Ken Arnold, of the Wellcome Trust, the scientific foundation which organised the show in collaboration with the museum, said that it had to be seen "in totality". He said: "We see that scientists over the past 400 years have added a huge amount to our understanding of pain, but we still end up with puzzles. For example, we don't know why some people enjoy pain."

Javier Moscoso, the exhibition's curator, said there were serious themes underlying the exhibits. He said: "There will be people who come and say, 'What a display of horror'. For many visitors, this will be [like] the London Dungeon. My advice to them would be to look more carefully."

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