Equivalent Exchange

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.

http://chemistry.about.com/b/2011/02/06/how-much-are-the-elements-in-your-body-worth.htm

http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/april12011/index.html

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One Response to “Equivalent Exchange”

  1. animosophy Says:

    Interesting blog. Of course, by taking a reductionist approach in the first place when facing a complex system like the human body (and mind), it forces an infinite regression into realms of existence we simply know nothing about. Stopping at the level of function wouldn’t be all there is to it, I think.

    Beyond function, I like to imagine an immaterial “potential” exists in all people for good, bad, knowledge, wisdom etc. in ways that ultimately unfold as they will, and what I believe makes us most valuable is our capacity to influence the potential of others through sheer will-power. Some like to call it the human spirit for a more numinous feel.

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