Are you made of chemicals?

chemicals in a laboratoryOver recent years, various researchers have proposed that our identities are chemical. They have proposed that emotions and personality are seated within the chemicals - including hormones and neurotransmitters - that flow through the bloodstream, basal cell network and the synapses of our nervous systems.

Could our identities simply be a mixture of complex chemicals? A logical review of the scientific evidence would indicate otherwise.

The value of our body's chemicals

According to data collected and compiled by multiple scientists over the years, including scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture' Bureau of Chemistry and Soils (resource since removed from DOA site), our body contains the following basic elements in addition to many trace elements, in order of approximate volume:
  • Oxygen: 65 percent
  • Carbon: 18 percent
  • Hydrogen: 10 percent
  • Nitrogen: 3 percent
  • Calcium: 1.5 percent
  • Phosphorous: 1 percent
  • Potassium: 0.35 percent
  • Sulfur: 0.25 percent
  • Sodium: 0.15 percent
  • Chlorine: 0.15 percent
  • Magnesium: 0.05 percent
  • Iron: 0.0004 percent
  • Iodine: 0.00004 percent

Adapted from "Elemental Composition of the Human Body," Ed Uthman, MD

The table below lists the amount of each chemical element found in the human body from greatest to least abundant. The listing contains each element and the amount in mass units in an average, 175 pound (70-kilogram) body, together with the volume of the element, and the length of a cube side containing the pure element. 

Volumes of solid and liquid elements are based on density at or near room temperature. For gas elements such as oxygen and hydrogen, the density of each is the liquid state at their respective boiling points.

Raw data is from The Elements by John Emsley, 3rd ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998. 

Table of Human Body Composition

A = Mass of element in a 70-kg (175 lb) body.

B = Volume of purified element

C = Element would comprise a cube this long on one side:

ELEMENT    (A)       (B)          (C)

oxygen        43 kg     37 L        33.5 cm

carbon         16 kg     7.08 L     19.2 cm

hydrogen     7 kg        98.6 L    46.2 cm

nitrogen       1.8 kg     2.05 L    12.7 cm

calcium       1.0 kg      645 mL   8.64 cm

phosphorus  780 g      429 mL    7.54 cm

potassium     140 g     162 mL     5.46 cm

sulfur            140 g      67.6 mL   4.07 cm

sodium         100 g      103 mL    4.69 cm

chlorine         95 g      63 mL       3.98 cm

magnesium    19 g     10.9 mL     2.22 cm

iron                4.2 g     0.53 mL    8.1 mm

fluorine          2.6 g     1.72 mL   1.20 cm

zinc                2.3 g     0.32 mL   6.9 mm

silicon            1.0 g     0.43 mL   7.5 mm

rubidium        0.68 g   0.44 mL   7.6 mm

strontium       0.32 g    0.13 mL   5.0 mm

bromine         0.26 g    64.2 µL    4.0 mm

lead               0.12 g     10.6 µL    2.2 mm

copper           72 mg     8.04 µL    2.0 mm

aluminum     60 mg     22 µL       2.8 mm

cadmium      50 mg     5.78 µL    1.8 mm

cerium          40 mg     4.85 µL    1.7 mm

barium          22 mg     6.12 µL     1.8 mm

iodine           20 mg     4.06 µL     1.6 mm

tin                 20 mg     3.48 µL     1.5 mm

titanium        20 mg     4.41 µL     1.6 mm

boron           18 mg     7.69 µL      2.0 mm

nickel           15 mg     1.69 µL     1.2 mm

selenium       15 mg     3.13 µL     1.5 mm

chromium     14 mg     1.95 µL     1.3 mm

manganese  12 mg     1.61 µL     1.2 mm

arsenic         7 mg      1.21 µL      1.1 mm

lithium         7 mg     13.1 µL       2.4 mm

cesium          6 mg     3.2 µL         1.5 mm

mercury        6 mg     0.44 µL       0.8 mm

germanium    5 mg     0.94 µL      1.0 mm

molybdenum 5 mg     0.49 µL      0.8 mm

cobalt             3 mg     0.34 µL     0.7 mm

antimony       2 mg     0.30 µL     0.7 mm

silver             2 mg     0.19 µL     0.6 mm

niobium         1.5 mg  0.18 µL    0.6 mm

zirconium      1 mg      0.15 µL   0.54 mm

lanthanium    0.8 mg   0.13 µL   0.51 mm

gallium          0.7 mg   0.12 µL   0.49 mm

tellurium       0.7 mg    0.11 µL   0.48 mm

yttrium         0.6 mg     0.13 µL   0.51 mm

bismuth        0.5 mg     51 nL      0.37 mm

thallium       0.5 mg     42 nL      0.35 mm

indium         0.4 mg     55 nL     0.38 mm

gold             0.2 mg     10 nL     0.22 mm

scandium     0.2 mg     67 nL     0.41 mm

tantalum      0.2 mg     12 nL     0.23 mm

vanadium    0.11 mg    18 nL    0.26 mm

thorium       0.1 mg      8.5 nL   0.20 mm

uranium      0.1 mg      5.3 nL   0.17 mm

samarium    50 µg       6.7 nL   0.19 mm

beryllium    36 µg       20 nL    0.27 mm

tungsten      20 µg       1.0 nL   0.10 mm


Oxygen is the most abundant element in the earth's crust and in the body. The body's 43 kilograms of oxygen is found mostly as a component of water, which makes up 70% of total body weight.

Oxygen is also an integral component of all proteins, nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), carbohydrates, and fats.

Rubidium is the most abundant element in the body (0.68 g) that has no known biological role (silicon, which is slightly more abundant, may or may not have a metabolic function).

Vanadium is the body's least abundant element (0.11 mg) that has a known biologic role, followed by cobalt (3 mg), the latter being a constituent of vitamin B12.

The last of the body's elements to be discovered was fluorine, by Moissan in 1886.

In 1924, Dr. Charles Mayo approximated that the body's collection of chemicals was worth approximately $0.84. With inflation, the approximate value of the body's chemicals today (2017) is about $5.13 (Northwestern Health Journal). In 2011, Datagenetics calculated the value of our body's chemicals using modern chemical costs, at just over $160 for the average body weighing 176 pounds.

The question we must now ask ourselves: Are we just a collection of chemicals? Is our value only $160? If we went out and purchased the chemicals above and mixed them together, would they add up to who we are?

Are we just emotional chemicals?

The theory that somehow our body's chemicals have become emotional should be carefully examined.

Indeed, emotional responses to environmental stimuli will initiate any number of biochemical cascade pathways within the body. A cascade occurs when one chemical release stimulates the release of another biochemical, and that biochemical in turn stimulates the release of another. The biochemicals in the cascade might stimulate a particular cell, tissue or organ function. With each cascade, there are initiating stimuli and subsequent responses from various tissues and nerves.

Because neurologists and other researchers have seen these biochemicals involved with emotional response, some have proposed that these biochemicals contain the emotion. They propose that chemicals such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, or acetylcholine each contain the particular emotions they reflect and are thus the sources of the emotion.

They propose that these signaling biochemicals connect with receptors positioned at the surface of the cell, and the response by the cell is the emotion being released from the chemical.

What about opiate receptors?

An example some have used is the famed opiate receptor, linked with the cell’s reception of morphine or endorphins, and the sensation of euph­oria. The idea is that the feeling of euphoria is produced when the ligands like endorphin connect with the receptor.

One problem with this speculation is that no two organisms respond identically to the same chemical. With opiates, for example, some may hallucinate while others may only respond casually. On the other hand, some may have nightmarish experiences. If these structurally identical neurochemicals contained the emotion, why would each person respond differently to the same chemical and dose?

Who is observing?

Another major problem with this thesis is the observer: Who is observing that the body is feeling euphoria? Who observes the hallucinations created by certain chemicals? Who observes the positive or negative sensations of the body? The fact is, without an observer, there is no way to be able to view feelings. A physical body that is experiencing a physical emotional response with no observer would not allow the consciousness to review the experience.

Yet, the very scientists that suggest we are chemicals utilize observation and review to propose their theories. By their own "evidence" they are proving there is an observer.

If there were no observer - no self within - there could be no discretion regarding an event created by chemicals. There could be no judgment available as to whether the experience was positive or negative. There could be no available decision on whether the experience should be repeated or curtailed. There could be no analysis or learning experience from our activities. These require an observer of the experience.

Who perceives pain?

The perception of pain - which involves chemicals - may offer some clarity. In 2005, Dr. Ronald Melzack, co-author of the widely-accepted gate control theory of pain transmission, updated his theory of pain from a simple gateway effect to one that accepted an observer self within.

Melzack's updated theory—which he calls the body-self neuromatrix—explains that the consensus of clinical research on acute pain, behavior and chronic pain indicates an independent perceptual state of self; observing and exchanging feedback and response with the locations of injury.

In other words, there is a self within who observes pain.

Because doctors and researchers have found a good portion of the pain response is unrelated to specific injuries, but rather a modification of sensory experience, this neuron matrix indicates that pain requires an interaction between the nervous system and what Melzack calls the “self.”

In other words, pain requires two components: 1) The sensory transmission of pain and 2) the observer or experiencer of that pain.

Once that pain is experienced, there may also be a feedback response from the experiencer. This feedback may either be: 1) take action to remove the cause of the pain; or 2) if there is no apparent cause then become extra-sensitive to the pain until the cause is determined (Baranauskas and Nistri 1998).

Nociceptive pain

This increased sensory elevation leads to what is called nociceptive pain—pain not appearing to have a direct physical cause. Some might also refer to this type of pain as being psychosomatic, although psychosomatic pain is often considered not real. Nociceptive pain is considered real, but its cause is not obviously physically apparent.

Regardless of the name, this type of pain is very difficult to understand and manage. This is especially true for doctors and patients who deal with chronic pain that appears unrelated to trauma or inflammation. Because the self naturally seeks pleasure, we would propose that the current cause of that pain is always real, from either a gross physical level or a more subtle level.

Regardless of the level, the self who experiences the pain would certainly be considered separate from the pain, along with any biochemical messengers assisting in its transmission. After all, how could the self “escape” pain unless it was separate from the cause of the pain? Because they increase the separation of the self from the pain source, pain medications are a multi-billion dollar business.

Since the biochemical transmission effectors such as substance P among neurons are present during pain responses, it is logical that these chemicals have a role in the physical responses to emotions or memories. However, the proposal made by scientists such as Candace Pert, Ph.D. that emotions exist within the chemicals is not supported by logic or observation.

Researchers have observed an increase in biochemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and various endorphins in the bloodstream during feelings of love or compassion. The question being raised is whether the emotions stimulated the biochemicals or the biochemicals stimulated the emotions.

The implications of proposing the limited view that the emotion was created by the biochemicals are many. This would be equivalent to saying love comes from biochemicals. It would open the door to a murder suspect pleading that his body’s chemical balance was responsible for his committing the fatal crime.

Emotions versus chemicals

Dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are circulating at heightened levels following activities such as laughing eating, sex and post-traumatic stress. These biochemicals are also circulating at other times, during other emotions, albeit at different levels.

What comes first, the biochemical or the emotion? Does the emotion drive the biochemical levels or do the biochemicals drive the emotional response? To break this down properly, we must separate the physiological response to an optional response relating to behavior and decision-making.

Yes, a biochemical reaction or ligand-receptor response can stimulate a physiological response. But can it dictate behavior? Could a hormone or neurotransmitter ligand-receptor response force us to shoplift? In that case, we should be able to find that certain biochemicals were “shoplifting” chemicals. We’d be able to just reduce their levels and forget about putting shoplifters in jail.

We’d also have to look at blood donors’ criminal records before accepting their blood.

The reason we put shoplifters in jail is to teach them that shoplifting is morally wrong. This is a decision for an observer—an inner self—who can observe the body’s activities. Each of us can observe our activities and steer them with decision-making. We may not always be able to steer our physiological responses, which also produce certain moods within the brain and nerves. But we can observe those moods and decide whether we are going to let them control our activities. While more shoplifters are likely to have bad moods, we aren’t forced to shoplift by a bad mood.

If biochemicals create emotion, they would be present only in and prior to particular emotions. Instead, they are present during a variety of emotions. Again physiological changes can be brought about by biochemicals. But emotions stem from life: There is no emotion left in a dead body.

Furthermore, if chemicals could contain emotions, these emotional characteristics should exist in the chemicals both inside and outside of the particular body of the person experiencing the emotion. Illustrating this, health workers regularly remove biochemicals (in the form of body fluids such as blood, plasma, and marrow) from one subject and transfer them (or their components) to other subjects. In none of these cases are emotions transferred from one person to another.

Supposed “emotional biochemicals” do not retain or display the emotions of their donor once they are transferred to a new host. Certainly, if we found that blood transfusions resulted in changes in personality or emotions, blood transfusions would not be very popular.

Thus, the basis for a biochemical self falters thousands of times a day around the world in hospitals that transfuse blood.

This is not to mean that injected biochemicals cannot stimulate a physical response within a new host, which may or may not facilitate particular emotions to be expressed. The organism receiving epinephrine or another neurochemical may experience a physical response consistent with the vanilla biochemical response related to that particular molecular structure. Injected adrenaline may produce a physical reaction of increased heart rate, for example.

However, adrenaline drawn from one person during a fearful response will not induce a recall of the donor’s fears. The recipient’s physical response after the injection will neither reflect the appropriate response required for the donor’s particular fears.

Once the inner self responds to a particular sensory input—often signaled through biochemical reception—the unique emotional response of the self stimulates particular biochemicals to translate and express the emotion. In other words, these biochemicals help translate the emotional self’s response.

Just as current travels within an electrical wire, neurotransmitters help transmit sensory feedback messages to the inner self. They also help transmit emotional responses from the inner self. The self is the observer of sensory input and stimulates feedback responses utilizing some of the same biochemical transmission pathways.

Someone inside

We must, therefore, conclude that there is someone inside who is either—directly or indirectly—receiving and responding to the body’s neural transmissions. Any response that proceeds with direction and decision-making must come from a conscious source. Otherwise, we would simply be machines.

Fuel may ignite a spark in the cylinder of an automobile engine causing combustion, which will push the rods into motion, exerting a force on the axle cranks. Fuel is not the original stimulant, however. Nor does fuel contain the ability to guide and steer the car. Rather, there is a driver within the car who consciously turns the key, presses the gas pedal and drives the car to a particular destination using the steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes.

At the end of the day, the driver stimulates the flow of fuel through the injection system by pressing the gas pedal. The driver can also stop the flow of fuel and the electricity running through the engine by turning off the car.

When the driver of the body leaves at the time of death, there are no emotions exhibited in the dead body. Yet all the hormones, neurotransmitters, genes and cells—all the biochemical ligands and receptors—are still contained within the recently dead body. The body supports no memory or emotional response because there is no longer a conscious driver present. The conscious driver who drove the feedback and response neurochemistry has left.

Emotions elicited from a response to an observation or other sensual stimuli would logically come from someone separate from those stimuli. Because emotion is integral with interpreting stimuli, an observer would be necessary for that interpretation. Without an observer, there could be no decision-making: There would be no optional behavior.

This does not mean that all physiological responses require conscious interpretation and decision from the self. For example, should we touch the burner of a stove there is programming in place within the neural network to instantly react by pulling the hand away. This will often happen before the self has a chance to make a decision. However, this programming does not mean the self cannot engage in the decision to resist that reaction of pulling away.

A firewalker may intentionally walk on the coals despite his sympathetic system’s programmed response to jump away onto the cool sand. These observations lead us to understand that the self can be involved in almost any sensory reception should there be determination and intention.

Most other stimuli require the emotional self to respond. Otherwise, no action would occur. This is where intention comes in. Upon hearing the alarm in the morning, the self could choose to do nothing—lying in bed for the rest of the day. The self could also intend to accomplish something that day, and rise to begin the day’s activities. Ultimately, the self creates the intention and impetus for those activities.

Chemical conductors

While biochemicals participate in the process of conscious response and feedback, they are actually conductors for electromag­netic wave transmissions. Once sensual stimuli are pulsed to the neural network after ligand reception, neurons produce specific information waves. As we will discuss later in more depth, at any particular point in time, there are billions of brainwaves of various frequencies moving through the brain. As the different waves collide—or interfere—they create different types of interference patterns.

The neurological research headed up by Dr. Robert Knight at the University of California at Berkeley and UC at San Francisco illustrated that the interaction of these interference patterns together formulates a type of informational transmission and mapping system.

This mapping system forms a type of observational screen from which the self can view incoming waveform information. Using this mapping system, the self can view the sensory information coming in from sense organs, and combine these with the feedback from the body, creating a total perception of one's environment and situation.

As the self views these waveform interference pattern images, we can respond with intention. Intention from the self is typically translated through the prefrontal cortex and medial cortex to create brainwave patterns that express the self’s response. These response brainwave patterns are translated through the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to produce master hormones such as growth hormone, adrenocorticotrophic hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, oxytocin, luteinizing hormone, and others, stimulating the cascade of biochemicals that translate the response into action. The brainwave transmissions also stimulate a particular nervous system response which activates particular muscles, organs, and other tissues.

The end result is a physical action combined with certain biochemicals that stimulate a physical response.

We can illustrate this process more practically. Let’s say that we heard from a friend that a relative was hurt. The transmission brought through our body’s ears will cause an emotional reaction from us as soon as we hear it. The emotion was experienced following the aural reception of the announcement. Upon interpreting the aural reception, our inner self—we—react emotion­ally. 

The particular response would depend upon our personal connection with the relative. It is not automatic. If they were a vicious, hurtful relative, we may react far differently than if we had established a close personal relationship with them.

Assuming a close personal relationship, our inner self may then initiate a physical response, producing tears and a rush to the hospital to be with them. These physical activities were stimulated by the emotional response of our inner self.

The emotional response and subsequent activities of the body originate from a conscious individual. Because there must be an initiator for the production of the biochemicals that produce an emotional response, there is ultimately an invisible source of the response.

This is the same source that disappears at the time of death - the invisible difference between the life of the body and the death of the body is the individual spiritual self.