“You can’t put a price tag on life”, we’ve often heard. But can you put one on a human? Turns out, you can. In the Cambridge Science Festival, 2013, it was estimated by the Royal Society of Chemistry, that it cost precisely £96,546.8 to put together a life-size Benedict Cumberbatch (the guest director that year and, fortunately, an average-sized man). This, of course, only accounted for the cost of the components and not actually “putting it all together”. It would only get you the 7 billion billion (or 7 octillion) atoms in a pile so large you could hide in it, not the man himself. As Bill Bryson said in his book “The Body”, “The only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That is the miracle of life”.
“Look how strong your heart is, it beats all your life but never really gets tired,” my teacher told me in the 2nd grade. It beats incessantly, for every day of your life, about 10,000 times a day. When we’re awake, the heart beats, when we’re asleep, the heart beats, even if our brain gives up, the heart marches on. It’s almost as though it doesn’t need us to function, it can beat just fine in another human after we’re gone. But the moment our heart ceases to beat, we cease to live. This four-chambered muscle, just the size of your fist, hardly ever fails- well, only once in our life.
The brain does everything for us, including the things we don’t know we’re even doing- each of the 40,000 times a day that you blink, when your mouth waters when you see that cheese burger. It lets us think, reason, and gives us an intuition, setting us apart from all other species that exist. But it can also overthink, and blow things out of proportion for us making us sad without reason and scared of things we don’t know. Our mind gets sick too, just like any other organ of our body. All this is what makes it the marvel that it is.
We are home to trillions of microbes, and this is actually specific to each one of us, and is known as or microbiome, without which we wouldn’t survive. An average microbe weighs about one trillionth the weight of a currency note, and we are estimated to have a microbiome of anywhere from 3-5 pounds in us. You do the math. We might be bigger, but they’re so much faster. In a span of 3 days, E. coli can create as many generations as we have in all of human history. These microbes help us in ways we wouldn’t know, from digestion, to utilising most of the elements we ingest, to even synthesising vitamins.
It’s a humbling thought, really, that you could get yourself a fresh human by paying as much as you would for a Lamborghini. What, then, is so wondrous about us? It’s the way billions of cells in us, function seamlessly the way that they do. Each year, thousands of cells in each of us become cancerous, but our body repairs them for us. There are thousands of things that could go wrong with us, that could kill us, but only one does. Even when you do everything wrong, shove food down our throats and exercise minimally, your body maintains you. And that’s the beauty of it all.
Our skin -that colours us different colours to shield us from the sun; our liver- that takes a hit for our endless partying; our blood- that pulses through our veins and never stops flowing; our kidneys- that give us the washroom excuse to get out of an awkward conversation; our muscles- that let us wander the world the way we wish to; our lungs- that takes deep breaths to calm us down; our eyes, our ears, and a hundred other parts make us up. Maybe £100,000 can buy all the components of the body, but it can’t make them do all it should in perfect synchrony. So many things about us are a mystery to us, and so many more unknown- why we cry when we’re sad, why we associate our heart with love. Maybe someday down the line there’ll come a time when we’ll figure it out. But for now, let’s just be thankful for all that our body can do, and maybe even for the fact that we can’t assemble a functional Benedict Cumberbatch for £100,000.
“The Body” by Bill Bryson.