BY Priyan Rajapaksa 

I had to undergo an MRI scan recently and the consent form that needed to be signed prior to the procedure required verification of the numerous artificial parts that could be inside me. It then occurred to me how similar my body is to my trusty car.

Now in the ageing phase, my automatic transmission is slipping when I walk uphill – my hip joint niggles. It’s affecting a machine that has hitherto functioned quite smoothly.

I visited my local mechanic (a.k.a. GP) who referred me to someone else who supposedly knows more than he does (referred to as a ‘specialist’) who couldn’t do much more than pass me through an MRI scanner.

The consent form for the MRI scan included check boxes for the following: pacemaker, defibrillator, artificial heart valve, brain aneurism clip, cochlear implant, neuro-stimulator, intravascular coils, vascular clips and brain shunt tube.

My initial thought was that if a person had all of these gadgets inside him or her, he or she must be a walking, talking, ticking time bomb – so maybe it’s time to opt for a trade-in and give up the ghost? After all, we apparently die and go to paradise.

Humans and vehicles comprise parts with a finite lifespan. Some parts can be replaced whereas others can’t be substituted. And when the major parts are worn out, the whole is simply not worth fixing.

It became a case of money wasted because the specialist couldn’t fix me. He wanted even more money for advanced procedures. So I thought it best to conduct my own analysis, and scrutinise my genetic code as well as family history.

My family history reveals that by original design, I was destined to live in trees and be a low profile four-wheel drive when on the ground. Fossil records suggest that around 1.8 million years ago, my ancestor ‘Homo Erectus Rajapaksa’ was motoring round the African savannah in this four-wheel drive, doing the occasional wheelie to rise up on his rear wheels and gaze over the horizon or pluck fruit.

When Erectus discovered that it was more convenient to use only the rear-wheel drive, he disconnected the front-wheel drive. His brothers continued to use the four-wheel option… and my cousins continue to live in the trees – some quite literally.

But it represented a painful trade. Over time, our family underwent several fundamental anatomical modifications to shift from a four-wheel to two-wheel drive version. The pelvis changed from being tall and flat from front to back, to being much shorter and more bowl-shaped, providing im­proved leverage for the muscles that move the hip when walking upright.

Ever since then, we humans have experienced issues with a weakened spine as well as back pain.

Straying from the design plans seems to be the issue. Humans have two large shoulder bones and a heavy head that would be better carried on two columns. When Homo erectus stood upright, he didn’t realise the consequences of this for his progeny.

On the other hand, my car is simple to fix and does not require specialists. Petrol, oil and a periodic replacement of its tyres is enough to keep it going.

When Kiichiro Toyoda copied Karl Benz to manufacture Toyotas, he had a two million year design advantage over Homo Erectus. He was able to build on two steel columns to withstand the strain of locomotion.

Indeed, the main advantage in design was the elimination of the stomach equivalent where two liquid systems intermingle and cause issues. And the energy and hydraulic systems of a motor vehicle are separate – unlike in humans, in whom the two systems meet in the gut.

The energy consumed by humans needs to be transformed in the digestive tract and transported by hydraulics to the rest of the body. Human filters are millions of years old and cannot cope with modern fats; and so cholesterol and other gunk is deposited in the numerous hoses and valves – hence the costly stents and bypasses.

In a motor vehicle, all that’s needed is a simple change of hose or coolant. The car does not imbibe and has no liver issues.

In fact, the oldest Toyota – the Model AA from 1936, which is now 83 years old – could be stripped back to bare metal and a new vehicle built on it.

The engine, which is the equivalent of the human heart, could be replaced by a Corolla electric. The cooling system (i.e. blood) would be replaced by artificial coolant and associated modern gadgets added to last another 83 years. It is true that a motor vehicle needs four tyres rather than two shoes but it’s an easy trade.

And the cost of disposal largely favours my car. When a motor vehicle becomes too costly to repair, the going price for a dead one is 200 dollars. Someone would pick it up without any tears.

In contrast, human disposal can cost ap­proximately 5,000 dollars even for the simplest of funerals. Maybe my family also wishes that I was a motor vehicle – to see me off in a tow truck, have the usual inheritance party and perhaps voice a few platitudes.