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In Brotherhood, during a transmutation, what happens if too much is given as a part of the equivalent exchange? In the series, the brothers lose something each for trying to give too little during the human transmutation attempt to bring back their mom... So what would happen if they give too much? Anything at all?

  • I suppose if you intended to transmute a kilogram of dirt into a 500 grams of gold, you'd have 500 grams of dirt left untransmuted. But transmutation of more complex objects might work by different rules. Not sure that was explained in the canon. – Hakase Mar 13 '15 at 17:39
  • @Hakase So you are saying it is a process that only uses what is needed should more be present? But then takes from the user a sort of payment when what is provided is not enough? – Jeff Mar 13 '15 at 18:24
  • Btw. we see what happens if someone uses alchemy, gives something but does not get anything: Scar. His arm is for disassembling things and until he gets the 2nd tattoo in Brotherhood, he does not get anything from it. In the original series, it is unclear if that stuff is used for the stone too but this question is about Brotherhood so we have it answered in the show itself. – hajef May 18 at 10:53
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There is no such thing as "giving too much" here. @Becuzz's answer touches on this, but I want to expand on it as well as talk about the human transmutation.

Giving "too much"

Alchemy (in the FMA canon) is basically chemistry. I will assume anyone reading this has not taken much (or any) chemistry in their life, so I'll try to keep it relatively simple.

Imagine you have a lighter filled with benzene. When you light it, and it starts burning, a chemical reaction is taking place, transforming benzene (C6H6) and oxygen (O2), into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). You can represent this as an equation showing the "amounts" of each compound required.

2C6H6 + 15O2 -> 12CO2 + 6H2)

What happens if you put in 25 of O2 instead of 15? Simple: the 10 remaining O2 will not be used.

Transmutation, while more complex scientifically, obeys the same principle. If we're transmuting a block of lead into gold, we will get an equivalent amount of gold as the lead that we transmuted. Giving "too much" lead will result in either excess gold (if there is enough transmutation energy), or leftover lead (if it is not transmuted). The amount of gold will always be chemically equivalent to the amount of lead consumed in the reaction.

TL;DR: The chemical amount consumed in the reaction will always equal the chemical amount of the product created.

Human transmutation

In the series, the brothers lose something each for trying to give too little during the human transmutation attempt to bring back their mom

This isn't exactly correct. I get what you're trying to say, but it's not quite accurate.

The brothers gave exactly what they needed to get their mother back, right down to the soul data from their own blood. The reason they didn't succeed is because they could not provide her human life to go inside the body they created (which was actually a pretty good attempt for pre-teen prodigy knowledge of human anatomy). Add to that, of course, that God does not permit resurrection of this human life, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

The reason they lose their bodies proper is because they had to pay a toll to go inside the Gate (yes, against their will, as punishment). In the eyes of the beings overseeing this transmutation, the exchange was equivalent:

  • The materials (carbon, water, etc.) given were consumed and created the blackened beast.
  • Edward lost his leg and saw some knowledge within the Gate.
  • Alphonse lost his body and saw a lot of knowledge within the Gate.
  • Edward lost his arm and brought back Alphonse's soul from beyond the Gate.

In the end, neither too much nor too little was given, and the transmutation obeyed equivalent exchange.

Related reading

  • Thank you @キルア, I read since posting this a little more about why they lost what they did... It seems that Truth, or God, has a sense of humor as to why he took what he did in order to teach them a lesson type thing. I also read some people believe this is why Ed/Al/Izumi can transmute without a circle. Your answer makes sense, I'm surprised I didn't make the connection. Thank you! – Jeff Mar 14 '15 at 11:54
  • What do you mean by God does not permit resurrection? I don't remember this being mentioned in the manga though. – Peter Raeves Mar 15 '15 at 14:35
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    @PeterRaeves Ed and Izumi talk about the fact that their attempts at bringing back the dead through human transmutation would never work to begin with. Given that God oversees all alchemical transmutations, it's just a simple deduction from there. – Killua Mar 15 '15 at 15:57
  • There's no known case of a successful human transmutation. If you remember, at least on original series, they're some body change (Moving the soul from one body to another), but not transmutation. Probably it's right to tell who "God does not permit resurrection", or maybe it's more correct to tell "There's not a known equivalent payment for a complete life". – Sakura Kinomoto Mar 16 '15 at 16:24
  • I'll cut the part about who has taken how much chemistry but I want to point out that creating gold needs nothing short of nuclear physics. – hajef May 18 at 10:50
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I don't believe that you even can pay too much. The law of equivalent exchange would dictate that if you put in a quantity X of dirt and transmuted it to gold, you should get the exact equivalent amount of gold out, no less.

In terms of paying more (as Ed and Al did) there is a fairly good explanation in episode 26 "Reunion". (Spoilers ahead)

Ed, Ling and Envy are inside of Gluttony. Ed explains that a failed transmutation (which I assume would include paying too much, if such a thing is even possible) "ricochets back onto the one that performed it", whatever that means. To me it sounds like it just doesn't work. Though in this case it sounds like less of "paying to much" and more of "trying to do something that just plain doesn't work."

Ed also gives a very good explanation of what human transmutation really is in that same episode. He states that human transmutation (as they wanted to do to bring back their mom) just isn't a thing. Human transmutation really involves transmuting live humans, not bringing back the dead.

Later in the same episode, Envy explains that to open the Portal (which is really what Ed and Al did, they didn't actually transmute a human), they have to pay a toll. In the case of Ed and Al they paid with their bodies/body parts. In exchange the got to open the Portal and received the knowledge and power that came with it.

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    If I recall correctly, the gist or moral of the story was that there is nothing that can equate for a human life. They failed not because they paid too much but because they didn't have anything that was equivalent. I seem to recall giving life with alchemy was something taboo and forbidden. Mostly because when it would succeed it would only bring forth abominations and was something that could not be perfected. – mrdanthedeadman Mar 13 '15 at 18:59
  • @mrdanthedeadman I believe that is definitely the moral. In that episode he goes into a bit more detail as to why they couldn't bring back their mom but Ed was able to pull Al's soul back and stick it in the armor. (Tho it takes a bit of thinking about what he says against what happened to get to the conclusion about why one worked and the other didn't). – Becuzz Mar 13 '15 at 19:08

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