Archive for February, 2013

Equivalent Exchange

February 8, 2013

structure-functionThere is an old riddle that asks, what is the value of a human body? It goes on to enumerate the quantities of the various chemicals that constitute an average body, and then price those chemicals to come up with a total material value. This might come as a shock to the one who tried to answer the riddle, because the value is so low.

Of course that analysis ignores the real value of the body because it ignores the spatial arrangement of those chemicals in the various tissues and organs of the body. It ignores the form of the body as an hierarchical arrangement of structured parts. These parts are very valuable for someone needing an organ donation, for example.

This static analysis is lacking as well because it neglects the dynamic actions that a body can perform. Taken as a set of discrete individual acts, this is like considering the individual chemicals that constitute a body. One can enumerate the acts too, as in counting the number of breaths or the number of heart beats over a lifetime.

But we are still not finished, because this enumeration of actions also overlooks the functions that a body can perform, as arrangements of actions in time. These functions are the most important value of a body because they include but are not limited to being alive, thinking, and feeling.

So it seems to me that there is a heirarchy here, that goes from parts to structure to actions to function, with parts being at the lowest level and function being at the highest. Each level of the hierarchy is dependent on the level below, but the nature of a level is fundamentally different from the level below it, as well as the level above it. Please see my previous post Structure-Function.

The term “equivalent exchange” comes from an alchemy-centric anime, where through a process called “human transmutation” it is attempted to recreate a body starting from a pile of the basic chemicals that constitute it. Even with some high-powered magic, the attempt fails due to the fact that much more is required to fashion a body or even a living, breathing person.


Essay on Man

February 6, 2013

essay_on_man2All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see,
All discord, harmony not understood,
All partial evil, universal good…

 — From An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

I was struck by the four divisions that the poet makes in the world, and how it echoes many other of the fourfolds shown here. Ignoring whether you think the former or the latter extreme of each division is correct, consider the aspect of the world that each division ranges over. Between nature and art lies the material and the parts of the world, either naturally occurring or fashioned by some intention. Between chance and direction lies the individual actions and occurrences of the world, either merely haphazard or towards something. Between discord and harmony lies structures of those materials and parts, and between evil and good lies functional arrangements of those acts and occurrences.