A NEW BLOG FEATURE!
I’ve decided to try something new on the blog today. I’d like *your* view about something, your honest opinion based on serious expertise or complete non-expertise.
For this new feature, which I’m calling “What Do You Think?”, I will NOT be responding to comments/questions, I’ll simply be posting them, without making a reply, comment, question, or anything else to, so you can express yourself and have others can see your views. (As always, I will not be posting comments that are rude to others or irrelevant to the question – for example, castigations of particular politicians that many but not all of us may despise, on one side of the political chasm facing us or the other. [!]) Others of course can comment on your comment as they choose — and I hope they do. I’ll be listening in. For my own fun, education, and edification!
If this turns out to be a nice feature for the blog, I’ll do it again later.
Here is the issue that I would like your opinion on for this initial query. It’s literally a question of life and death.
As I understand it, scientists do not have a firm answer about how many cells are in the human body, but it’s an unbelievable number. Some say 30 trillion. (TRILLION!) Others 100 trillion Others… well, pick your multiple of trillions. It’s a lot.
Apart from the neurons in your cerebral cortex, all those trillions of cells regularly divide and die (at different rates depending on whether they are in your tail bone or your liver or you blood, etc.)– that is, new cells replace the old cells. After about ten years, your body cells are not the ones you had before.
So my questions are: in what sense are you the same person you were ten years ago? Literally? And what does it mean then to say that “you” are “you”? Aren’t you a different you now? If you’re not the same you, who are you? I realize the DNA remains the same, and cells are pretty much exact replicas. But they are not the *same* cells.
Surely that must mean your old you has died In my case, since I’m 65, it would mean that apart from a whole lot of neurons, I quite literally don’t have the same body I had in 2011 and that one was different from the one I had in 2001, which was different from the one I had in 1991… and so on. Yes, that’s already obvious from old photos. My first wife – high school sweetheart – used to say “I married a Greek God, but now I’m married to a Goddam Greek”…
But if my old body is dead, does it regret having died? Is it conscious of no longer existing? (OK, obviously not) What about when the whole thing dies?
The related reality is that none of my 30-100 trillion cells knows that it’s alive, even if I do. That too is worth pondering: how can I think, reason, regret, remember, and generally be conscious if none of my constituent parts does? Not even any of my neurons that apparently have been with me at birth knows I’m alive. My brain doesn’t but my mind does. Go figure. And so, when those neurons themselves also die, along with all the cells at actual death, why should I think that I will then regret or be upset about not existing?
I don’t feel that way when the other trillions of cells die; and none of my neurons that have already died (increasingly more every year, it seems) regrets having died. So what when they all do? If I already in a sense don’t exist, in that my body from ten years ago is now completely gone, and none of what is gone feels any physical pain, torment, pleasure, ecstasy, remorse, longing, or anything else, why should I think it’ll be any different when all of me goes in one foul swoop?
And when the neurons themselves do go, what’s left? Molecules, I guess.
Anyway, these are some of my morning questions. Tell me and everyone else what you think about any part of them.