Photo of Connie Culp before being shot in the face with a shotgun, after, and after a facial transplant. More surgery will be required to remove the excess skin from the new face. Photo from Cleveland Clinic via Newsweek.
I have to admit that my interest in this is probably more ghoulish than scientific. But it is absolutely amazing what can be done now.
This reminds me of something I've heard said about author William Gibson (or maybe I invented it): He used to write science fiction novels about weird, fantastical futures. Now he writes contemporary thrillers set in the weird, fantastical present. Science fiction used to help us think about possible futures and the future impacts of technology on human beings. But now we need a literary genre just to help us deal with the implications of what's already happened. Which in turn reminds me of what Nietzsche's madman said about the death of God:
This prodigious event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.The changes are coming too fast for our psyches to absorb them, unless we are children. Children are optimized to take in the wonderous (though I bet even they have their limits). From now on, every adult will be to some extent a fish out of water. Maybe the prolonging of adolescence in our culture isn't some kind of self-indulgent refusal to grow up, but a natural and healthy reaction to a rapidly changing society that rewards those who can keep up and punishes horribly those who cannot. If I stay a teenager, maybe I can catch the next wave (personal computers, dot com, biotech, search engines, clean energy social networking...), stay hip to the latest thing. Being a rooted grownup makes me too vulnerable to the massive changes crashing over us all the time. But can we really surf forever? At some point don't we have to make some choices with some permanence? But what has permanence in a world where one can get a facial transplant?
OK, that's enough pretension for one day.