Value of a human

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An annotated version of the Life magazine summary of how some British chemist estimated that a human is worth 5 shillings or 1$ (US) in cost or value, based on the price of the elements that make up his or her body.

In hmolscience, value of a human (LH:#) refers to a 1932 to present, reoccurring joke, about how much a human is "worth" or costs in terms of the price of the "market value" price of total elements that comprise a person.


In 1931, someone, in the Bulletin of the Manufacturer’s Association of New Jersey, was reporting the following:[1]

“Analysis shows that the average man, weighing 140 pounds, is composed of enough water to fill a ten-gallon barrel, enough fat for seven cakes of soap, enough carbon for 9,000 lead pencils, enough phosphorus to make 2,200 match heads.”

In 1932, Life magazine, in pop-news regurgitation of the previous summary, reported a “lecture” last night was given by a Dr. F.E. Lawson, on the “Chemical Analysis of a Human Body”, the full article of which is shown adjacent.[2]

Over the next four-decades, variants of this $1 cost of a human, were repeated, eventually making their way into post cards, mailed to chemists, from friends.

In 1944, Marcel Florkin, in his Introduction to General Biochemistry, to give some contextual historical perspective, stated that 100 elements were present in the earth’s shell (correctly on 92 elements naturally occur) and that “22 elements” are present in organisms.[3]

In c.1950, Reader's Digest, to give one example, printed the following:

What are little girls made of?  Right...’Sugar and spice and everything nice.’ Says the nursery rhyme.  Well, there ARE some nice features, alright, and also

  • Enough chlorine [Cl] to disinfect 5 swimming pools (3-5 gallon jugs of water (=”chlorine”)
  • 85 pounds (38.25kg) of oxygen [O]
  • 2 ounces (56 g) of salt [NaCl] [sodium + chlorine]
  • 50 quarts (50 liters) of water [H2O]
  • 3 pounds (1.35 kg) of calcium [Ca] (3 lbs of chalk)
  • 24 pounds (10.8 kg) of carbon [C] (24 lbs of charcoal – or 9,000 pencils)
  • enough phosphorus [P] to make 20,000 match heads (80 boxes of paper matches @ 250/box) enough fat for  ten bars of soap
  • enough iron [Fe] to make a sixpenny nail enough sulfur to rid a dog of fleas (flea powder)
  • enough glycerin [C3H8O3] to explode a navy shell (glycerin in bottle)

But.... no spice! (hold up a can of Alspice) 

Here, at least, in respect to a Readers Digest level of understanding of what a "human" is, we are at 8 elements, in count.

In 1972, Chemical and Engineering News (CEN), was reporting that the adult human body is worth $3.50.[4]


Scene from the Fullmetal Jacket, the 2001 to 2010 Japanese manga series, wherein the character reads from his notebook the cost of the "ingredients" of a human, amid dialogue about how the sun is not a god..[5]

In 1976, Harold Morowitz received a birthday card that assessed a human body’s raw materials at only 97 cents.[4] That year, Morowitz published strong refutation of this childish logic.

On 31 Jul 1976, Science News, in their article “Six Million Dollar Man”, reported the following:

“High school science textbooks used to make a big point about the materials that make up the human body only being worth about 97 cents. Yale molecular biologist Harold Morowitz finally got fed up with this piece of reductionist nonsense when he was reminded of it again in a birthday card. He got out a biochemical company's catalog and added up the cost of the synthesized materials, such as hemoglobin ($2.95 a gram) and bradykinin ($12,000 a gram), and came up with... guess what? .... A six-million-dollar man ($56,000,015 and 44 cents) to be exact). Professor Morowitz's calculations originally appeared in Hospital Practice and frequently been reprinted, most recently in the July 19 Washington Post. He uses this public exposure to drive home a more important point, however — that "information is more expensive than matter." What the biochemical companies offer is simply the highest 'informational' (most organized) state of materials commercially available. And even these are mostly taken from living animals; if synthesis of all the compounds offered had been done from basic elements, their cost might be as high as $6 billion. The logical extreme of the exercise, obviously, is that science is nowhere near getting close to synthesizing a human. Just to take the next step of organization — the organelle level — would cost perhaps $6 trillion. Morowitz thus offers a new dimension to what scientists have been trying to say for the last century: ‘Dr. Frankenstein was a fraud’.”

Firstly, to correct whoever wrote this, the character of Frankenstein, was modeled on Percy Shelley, who was no fraud, to say the least. Morowitz and Shelley, while similar in their mutual attempt to formulate an "affinity" (Shelley) or "Gibbs energy" (Morowitz) theory of their origin, are fare leagues apart, intellectually. To understand how to "synthesize a human", one has to study, thoroughly, the joint science of "affinity" with respect to "free energy" (or Gibbs energy).


A 1996 Weekly World News segment, based on the 1932 fodder, stating that a human is valued at 9,000 pencils, in element cost value.[6]

In 1977, William Noteboom, a biochemist at the University of Missouri, reported that a human was worth $5.70. Noteboom, however, realizing his errors, wrote to CEN to explain that it failed to feed into the computer tabulation of the chemical worth of a human body the value of human serum. Noteboom said the serum, indispensable in many medical situations, is worth $130 to $170 per liter (1.06 qts).  One kind, known as type AB retails of or $270 per liter. A male adult contains about five liters of blood, source of the precious, life-saving serum.  So Noteboom estimates this alone would be worth “an absolute minimum of roughly $650.”

Formation energy | Value

To summarize, via short digression, to correct the above "one dollar valued human" folklore, which is but child-like idiocy shoveled into adult minds (who have not method to stop the snow), par excellence, the so-called “value” of a “human”, in a given “state” of “formation”, is defined by the Dolloffformation energy” (1975) equation:

This shows the “value” of the “free energy” that was required by the universe to form one person, or atomic bound state, in their given existence state. This logic was first worked out by Lewis (1923).

To understand what is being said here, compare:

Then come back a decade later, and reprocess.[7]

End matter


  1. Author. (1931). “Article” (pg. 31), Manufacturer’s Association Bulletin, 19:31. New Jersey.
  2. Anon. (1932). “The Useful Citizen”, Life (pg. 35). Publisher.
  3. (a) Florkin, Marcel. (1944). Introduction a la Biochemie generale. Publisher.
    (b) Schoffeniels, Ernest. (1973). Anti-Chance: a Reply to Monod’s Chance and Necessity (L’Anti-Hasard) (Amz) (translator: B.L. Reid) (pg. 33). Pergamon, 1976.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Anon. (2013). “The Chemistry of Life: an Introduction” (pdf) (WB), Indiana University.
  5. Anon. (2009). “Human is so Cheap” (YT), Fullmetal Alchemist; tocstein, Apr 18.
  6. Anon. (1996). “Segment” (pg. 7), Weekly World News, Mar 19.
  7. Note: Don't forget not to get Harold Blum confused with Harold Morowitz, the former, intellectually, outranking the latter by sever degrees.

External links

  • Z., Ernest. (2016). “What is the cost of a human body, in terms of the different elements that make it up?” (Ѻ),, Oct 30.
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