Things I wonder about:
Time. I read somewhere that all the cells in our body are mostly replaced every 7 years or so. That turns out to not be completely accurate, as some cells take longer to turn over and some cells never replace themselves, and yet others have varying rates. Here is the “Short Answer” on this issue:
The Short Answer: Recent research has confirmed that different tissues in the body replace cells at different rates, and some tissues never replace cells. So the statement that we replace every cell in the body every seven years or every ten years is wrong. Using a revolutionary new technique (described below), researchers have shown that:
1. Neurons in the cerebral cortex are never replaced. There are no neurons added to your cerebral cortex after birth. Any cerebral cortex neurons that die are not replaced.
2. Fat cells are replaced at the rate of about 10% per year in adults. So you could say that on average, human beings replace all their fat cells about every ten years.
3. Cardiomyocyte heart cells are replaced at a reducing rate as we age. At age 25, about 1% of cells are replaced every year. Replacement slows gradually to about 0.5% at age 70. Even in people who have lived a very long life, less than half of the cardiomyocyte cells have been replaced. Those that aren’t replaced have been there since birth. (http://askanaturalist.com/do-we-replace-our-cells-every-7-or-10-years/)
Even with the above, accurate answer, it’s fascinating to me that there are documented cases of people with 1/2 a brain who have suffered no observable ill effects or even changes in behavior. They have lost 1/2 of their neurons without apparent consequence. Then, of course, we have those amazing experiments where most mice were subjected to losing most–if not ALL–of their brain tissue and could still run a maze and learn new mazes.
The myth that we replace all of our cells every seven years was typically used to bolster the argument that we are essentially re-created every so often, rendering the idea of a stable identity directly correlated to bodily processes null and void.
How are body expresses consciousness, identity, memory and unique behavioral/personality traits is a bigger topic than I can delve into here. Good evidence points to the independence of all the aforementioned concepts from bodily functions and processes, which brings me to the concept of TIME.
Time is often defined by chronology, a series of events that places processes in motion from point A to point B, and so on. However, none of this happens at the quantum level, where time appears to travel backwards in certain circumstances or loop around itself. The upshot for the notion of time is that it is radically undetermined. Strict chronology is an illusion or a creation required by humans to keep us from losing our minds. We couldn’t function in the world without the notion of past, present and future.
But in that space/place where our consciousness exists and interacts with bodies or something else once there is no body, chronological time does not exist. This explains why a free-floating consciousness fragment can ‘haunt’ a place for hundreds of years. That bit of personality has no idea how much time has gone by, for the whole concept is meaningless.
Truly, then, it makes no sense for us to ruminate on the past, for the past is, by definition, no longer in existence or–better yet–the past, present and future and always, eternally in existence and it is only an illusion that something happened “before”. We remember it as “before,” but there is no place called “before”. There is only “now.” Our memories of the past are stored in some vast, cosmic warehouse where they are eternally available, along with the equally illusory events from the “future”. Past and future are ghostly concepts, and everything we think happened and hope will happen is occurring right now, or it isn’t, and never will.
Let’s not confuse the entropy of living, physical systems with chronology. I will age and die, as will you, but that has nothing to do with the objective reality of the past and the future. That is simply the tendency of all physical systems to fall into decoherence, to disorganize and scatter. We associate that with “time passing”, but there is no natural relationship: we invent the relationship, because that is how we organize our human experience.
You are what you were and what you will be. In that sense, we are already ghosts, caught up in the machinery of eternal consciousness. That is why we can, and do, haunt ourselves, each other and every space we occupy, have occupied or will occupy. Is there a way out of this filmy construct, this tissue of fragmented psyches? Probably. But that’s for another post.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD