When I was twelve years old I had the unique privelege of taking a specialized college science course, which was geared for children of my age but covered many of the scientific topics that twenty-something college students learn.
One day, about three weeks into the course, I walked into the lab and saw that the professor had set out several vats of different-colored liquids, gases and pyrex boxes containing elemental solids. Nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, mercury... a few other elements that the human body is composed of, all in proportion to how much of each element could be found in the average adult human body. Each container had a sticker on it, the price tag, as dictated by the supplier from whence these elements were bought. At the far end of the table upon which all of this stuff sat was a folded card, like a tiny tent of paper, and on that piece of folded paper, standing up like a marquee, was the sum total of each price. It read:
"The cost of human life, in raw materials: $83.72"
We sat down, mentally chewing that rather difficult modicum of fact, and most eyes stayed fixed in rapt awe on that little card, which seemed to unravel the mystery we had all considered at one time or another. The professor, I don't recall his name now, came into the lab and silently surveyed the room and our curious gazes at this perplexing display. Finally, he picked up the card, showed it to us and said:
"This is what the human body is worth, if you were to go out to the store and purchase the materials necessary to build one. But there's more to it than that, isn't there? You can't just take these things, mix them up in a bowl, slap them in the oven and, nine months later, wind up with a human being. It takes much more than that. These items must be arranged in a certain way, at the molecular and cellular level, and manipulated to a degree that it would boggle the mind. Genetics, cellular mitosis, osmosis, molecular replication... these are some of the processes by which a human body develops." He waved to the elements behind him. "All these things are inert, by themselves, but something is added to make them dynamic and singular. Kids, I'm going to tell you this once and once only: the human body is cheap, dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but the quality that gives a human body life is something neither science nor money can ever measure. You're here to learn how science works and how it can be applied to learning how things work, but it can only work up to a certain point. At that point, we must stop and wait for science to catch up. The saying that life is precious is true only in that the human experience which validates that life is invaluable. We cannot put a price on experience. You can pay for some experiences, but that is only a fiction of economics. Life is more than just your body and mind. And science cannot even begin to comprehend where life begins and where it ends. That task is best left for the philosophers and dreamers. If you came here looking for answers to life, then you're paying a significantly steep price for answers that will get you nowhere. Or, at least, your parents are."
I was twelve and I was copying what he'd said like a mad man, word for word. I kept it and stuffed it in a box, only to discover it years later, when I was in my mid-twenties and living in Winston-Salem.
Life is not worthless, nor is human life. The human body, though, is cheaper than a TV set.