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Are the chemical ingredients of a human really worth only a couple bucks?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

This is an idea that chemistry teachers have been repeating for decades without fact-checking it. In Bill Bryson’s charming 2019 tour of human physiology, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, he points out that serious efforts to estimate the cost of the ingredients for a human have produced vastly higher price tags. Pure carbon is rather precious, as are several other ingredients like calcium, phosophorus, and potassium:

Altogether, according to the RSC, the full cost of building a new human being, using the obliging Benedict Cumberbatch as a template, would be a very precise $151,578.46. Labor and sales tax would, of course, boost costs further. You would probably be lucky to get a take-home Benedict Cumberbatch for much under $300,000—not a massive fortune, all things considered, but clearly not the meager few dollars that my junior high school teacher suggested.

A hundred and fifty grand?! Too bad I’m already using all my chemicals.

What a great example of how many popular ideas, even in science, are just wrong.