It’s weird thinking that the atoms that make up me have been around for billions of years. As atoms, they’ve existed since some time after the Big Bang. Before that, they were smaller particles. So, in some way, everyone I’ve known, all that I’ve seen, and all that is me has existed for quite a while.
But atoms don’t have memory. They exist. They move. They join other atoms to form compounds. At some point, they have combined to form me.
My atoms still don’t have memory, but they have blended into a chemical process that can store information in ways it can’t appreciate. Other chemical processes create things that can gather other information. Eyes for light. Ears for sound. Smell for things in the air. And so on.
Sometimes I wonder if any of the atoms I began life with are still around. The most likely candidate is calcium in my bones, though it can break down and get replaced just like any other tissue. Or maybe none of me is original, and I’m in a state of collecting and shedding matter in a way that keeps my consciousness aloft but can do so without an interruption in perception.
And if that’s the case, is there any state of matter that my body must keep in order to keep its chemical processes going? Or am I fated to be cycling through matter? These thoughts can be pretty disturbing.
When I die, the chemical process stops like a game of musical chairs I am destined to lose. The atoms will not return to an inert state; they will exist in the same capacity as before. They will continue on as they have for billions of years.
3 thoughts on “The Immortal Self”
Exactly! And isn’t it gratifying that one’s atoms will not go to waste. I used to tell my chemistry students that hey had in their bodies atoms that used to be in parts of dinosaurs (then sotto voce “I won’t tell you which parts”).
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I find this oddly comforting.
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After roughly every 7 to 10 years every cell in a healthy human body has been replaced. Some organs and tissue of course churn through the replacements faster than others (the liver replaces itself every thirty days), but as a rule of thumb every decade the body, including the brain, has physically remade itself. Dive a little deeper and things get even looser, more transient. Presently I’m composed of about 7, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 flavoured atoms bundled together to make up 30,000,000,000,000 cells. Virtually every one of those atoms – 98% of them – will have divorced me by this time next year. The atoms presently making my left hand today (an energetic basket of mostly oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, sulphur, sodium, and magnesium) have absolutely no relation to the hand that existed 12 months ago. In this sense, at the atomic level, I’ve been remade – reborn – every year since birth.
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