Dr. Kaushik Sridhar

What is the human life value formula?

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As chemicals, probably about a dollar. As part of the universe, about as close to zero as one can get. As another human in a human society, whatever that person makes of himself or herself, whatever value humankind assigns, and whatever chance permits.

Any value judgment is inherently subjective, meaning that the value of something is always an opinion. It’s weird to say this, but no living thing is inherently “worth” anything. Similarly, no non-living thing is inherently “worth” anything. But it’s also true that nothing is inherently “worthless.”

What humanity, human society, assigns varies with time, place, and one’s chance evaluators. One genius is burned at stake (Bruno) or poisoned (Socrates), another evades that fate by dying first (Copernicus) or accepting denial of truth (Galileo). A murderer remains “famous” (Julius Caesar, Timur the Lame, Jack the Ripper, Hitler, Stalin, etc.) or at least generally known, while others are barely remembered (Diogenes, Thales, Popper, Wittgenstein).

Still others may have received at least some comfort for their contribution (Pasteur, Einstein, Newton, Brahe) while still others died penurious and unknown until, posthumously, their greatness was acknowledged (at least by some), though without any benefit to them: Schubert, Van Gogh.

In sum, one may prepare; indeed, it has been said that “talent does what it can, genius does what it must” (Bulwer-Lytton), but what comes out of one’s trying, or even succeeding, is assessed by others. And how others assess what is presented to them varies with time and place and the mood of society. There is no “formula”, only chance, that dictates fortune or poverty, celebrity or obscurity. And every person who weighs another’s value does so by his or her own scale: there is no universal standard.

Value is both subjective (meaning it’s an opinion) and relative (meaning it’s a comparison to something else). How much is my life worth? Your answer could be a million dollars, a bag of rocks, or exactly equal to your life. Or not! It’s totally up to you.

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