Human efficiencies

In the world of machines, the notion of efficiency has a particular flavour to it – do more with less. Make the car go further on less petrol. Build a lighter laptop. Run data centers without chillers.

What amazes me though, is how differently the human body, and to a good extent, the biological world functions. Among other things, the success of an athlete often hinges upon the volume of resources his or her body is able to spend through given a finite period of time. The thing that sets Lance Armstrong apart, for example, is that his lungs are able to burn through more oxygen per minute than the average human being (read more VO2max).

Unlike the “save and conserve” motto of the machine world, the human body thrives on throughput – i.e. consume and expend. To be physically healthy is to engage in generous doses of physical activity. To sharpen one’s mind is to seek out and spend one glucose stores on new domains of understanding. To flourish relationally is to literally spend time with another being and often paying out with one’s ego, absorbing the unintended blows and embracing the prickly rough edges.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it” – I once heard; and it’s true. But more importantly and positively, when one puts an ability through the hard yards of regular use, beyond mere keeping, one grows in said ability and quickly realizes an increase in said ability. Be it muscles tearing and rebuilding, broader perspectives, or developing a deeper well of grace to draw from in the face of disgrace.

Lesson of the day? In human terms, you get to keep what you use; Spending is good; and to give of oneself may very well be the pinnacle of humanity, if the above is anything to go by.

p.s. As a counterpoint, can you think of what happens when a human starts stashing away lots of energy, or when abilities waste away from disuse, or shy away in defensive isolation?