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Value Added

One of the most fundamental rules of the physical world in which we live is that of conservation of energy. You can't create it, can't destroy it. Equilibrium is maintained. We all know that massive objects-- a chair, a frog, a lump of wax-- are really just energy. Ee-equals-emsee-squared. So any mass can be turned into an equivalent amount of energy, mass + energy, or mass. Take a piece of paper, m1, and rip it into two pieces, m2 and m3. m1 = m2 + m3. You have just what you had before, but in two parts.

That piece of paper featured a line drawing by Picasso. You just tore Orpheus's face in half.

Value, that's the difference. A heap of rubble totals the same mass as did the house it used to be, but try telling that to the family who lived there. Value is much trickier than energy-- it increases, decreases, disappears entirely, unlike the quantity of energy with which it's associated. Value has no place in the world of physics. There is no provision for quality, only for quantity.

My mother fell terribly ill two years ago. Kidney problems: same organ as ever, but after it stopped working, its value was gone. I gave her one of mine to replace hers. Mine had about the same mass, but an infinitely greater value, and all the more so because of the filial love it symbolized, etc., etc. "You saved her life," the doctors said. "I participated in an exchange of like quantities," I said.

The kidney started me thinking. The same massive object holds different values for different people. The invention of money has provided a standard unit of measurement for value. (The transplant operation, the hospital decided, was very valuable indeed.) Money: bits of paper, lumps of metal, and drops of ink, transformed into "legal tender for all debts, public and private"-- as long as it's in the form in which the government minted it. A $5 bill, torn into five pieces, will not fetch you $1 per piece.

But I digress. Hair is strings of dead cells. It may be considered a nuisance, subjected to the razor, depilatory creams, electrolysis. But start going bald, and you'll discover how much hair can mean to you. A wig of real human hair has a high price tag; the longer the hair, the higher the price. My hair was down to my waist.

I don't want children. Other women do, very desperately. The hormone treatments took a few months, but a cell the size of the period at the end of this sentence eventually earned me $10,000. This was considered an exchange of equal quantities. And ova and hair, unlike kidneys, aren't a one-time deal.

I was born with two kidneys, and also with two arms, two legs, ten fingers, and ten toes. There are some very curious, very wealthy gourmands in the world, as well as some very unscrupulous surgeons. I still had a profit left even after buying the prostheses. In fact, I was becoming quite rich myself.

All of this is just transactions. Does a toe have more value as a functioning part of one human body, or as calories energizing a different body? It's the same toe either way. And you may not want to believe it, but there's an established price range on the black market for a big toe, a pinkie toe, a thumb....

But there does remain uncharted financial territory when it comes to what's above the neck. And here the idea of value gets really hazy. Two brains with the same mass may belong, one to a genius, the other to someone suffering from severe mental retardation. Many people get mighty angry if you suggest one person is intrinsically more valuable than another because she's smarter. Oh, does a person equal her mind, does the mind equal the brain, who decides who's smart and who's not?... it goes on and on. But my MRI scan is clean, and the results of my IQ test gained me automatic entry into MENSA, and that should be good enough for anybody.

I'm going to rent out all the units in my brain's apartment building except for one, the landlady's portion. I'm sure I will find plenty of tenants.

It's just like partitioning a hard drive.

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