I was doing some reading and happened to stumble across some of the writings of Chilean biologist and philosopher Francisco Varela which I thought were interesting. Varela, a Buddhist, coined the term \”autopoiesis\” to describe the regenerative process of human cells and that relation to the body itself.
Put more simply, Varela pointed out that the human body is constantly remaking itself. This is known in some circles as \”structural shift.\” Skin and tissue cells die and are replaced by new ones. Bones completely regenerate themselves after ten years. So you literally are a completely different person every decade.
The interesting part to me is how the person I am today relates to the old me of a decade ago. How is it that I have the same traits, same knowledge, and same characteristics of that guy people knew as me 10, 20, and 30 years ago? At some point, my brain cells die off and new ones are created. How do the old brain cells pass on information to the new ones? Do they \”teach\” the new cells what I have learned in the past? When I grow new taste buds, how is it they have the same tastes as the old ones?
It also made me think about what role an environment might play in one\’s development. While the body continues to regenerate, the objects within someone\’s environment may not. Someone\’s surroundings could play a large part in molding the new person into the same person they were before.
Regardless of which \”me\” happens to be around at any given time, my couch is extremely comfortable. It would be comfortable to Chris at age 10, Chris at age 20, and Chris at age 30. I think all three of them would very much enjoy laying on it – so I do, and quite a lot. I still enjoy much of my favorite music from my teens – is that because there\’s some objective standard of good music, or because my teenage brain has taught my adult brain to like specific albums? And is music and movies the only way I can go back and communicate with the now-extinct me of the past?
In the end, this all may just have the effect of making me feel older than I really should. It\’s a little spooky and a little depressing to know that I fell in love with Mary Beth Hammond in fourth grade a full two sets of eyes ago. When I call my insurance company to tell them the speeding ticket I got in 1998 wasn\’t me, I\’ll really be telling the truth.
On the other hand, this may all just be a lesson that I should stop eating the mushrooms out of the bag that guy on State Street handed me.