I had a funny thought in the shower this morning. I noticed a patch of skin was peeling following our recent bit of summer weather and it reminded me of something I read in a Deepak Chopra book about how our bodies completely recreate themselves every nine years. There isn’t a single atom of you that was you nine years ago. Makes you think, doesn’t it? I’ve mainly used that knowledge with my clients as a way of making the point that we carry problems with us long after the person that experienced them has been replaced.
If you have a completely different stomach every month, why (and how) does it manage to keep your IBS?
If the brain that stored your childhood trauma is no longer your brain, how come the memory is still around?
But this morning I had a different thought about this. I’m 49. That means that in my lifetime there have been 5.5 versions of me. Enough atoms to make 4.5 versions of me are now somewhere else (actually it’s a lot more ‘me’s’ because things like skin are replaced every few weeks, and my maths isn’t good enough to begin to make a guess). As I thought of this I got a vague sense of the universe being this constant ebb and flow of energy becoming matter, and then returning to being energy. My physical presence is part of this flow; I’m never completely matter, or energy, but moving in-between, and my sense of self just gives the illusion of being a fixed point moving through a physical realm. I wish it wasn’t so vague, but the immenseness of the thought makes it feel like trying to hold smoke in my hand, and my brain just isn’t big enough to hold it for long.
One of the upshots of this thought, that my wife Rebecca liked, is that these other 4.5 me’s are somewhere. Some atoms have returned to the foodchain, so there is a good chance Rebecca, and my dog Barney, and the birds in my garden, and the grass in my lawn contain some of me, and me them. And maybe some of my atoms are Wayne Rooney, and maybe some atoms have escaped the world and are making their way through space. With this in mind I can imagine myself involved in anything and everything!
As an atheist, it’s about as spiritual as I feel able to get, and it’s all the immortality that I need. Of course, the downside is there’s a chance that some of me is George Bush…