“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Greater than the visible

I’ve orbited the sun 62 times. How many times have you orbited the sun?

But wait… Shouldn’t we be including the 9 months we spent in our mother’s wombs? Why should the beginning of our lives be counted only from the moment we emerge from the birth canal? 

By the above calculation, I’m already 63. But hold on. Am I only 63? 

The genetic material in my father’s sperm and mother’s egg that fused into my DNA was around long before 63 years ago. In fact, the follicle cells that produced the egg that turned into the zygote that became “Mark” were in my mother’s ovaries at her birth! And what about the DNA in her mother’s ovarian follicles? I must trace my bodily self back to the primordial ooze.

Then again, no cell in the body lasts more than about 7 years, so maybe I’m really quite young. (No wonder I’m immature!) On the other hand, every atom that comprises my body was forged in the furnace of various stars many billions of years ago. All of us are literally made of stardust.  So maybe I’m really as ancient as the starry eons.

This is getting fuzzy and complicated. All I’m trying to do is to determine, precisely, how old this body is.

But that leads me to a far greater problem: Is the body’s age (even if I could determine it) the age of my Self? Am I the body? If I am the body, who was that little tyke back in the 1950s who rode a tricycle and answered to the name “Marky”? That little guy was not me—was not the hairy dude who now types these words. 

Am I the body? If I am the body, then I am a short, wiry human primate that appears in this indeterminate locality of space-time. I notice that “All that appears disappears”—all that is composed decomposes. So will I disappear? Will I decompose? Of course I will—IF I AM THE BODY!

Am I the body?

If I am not the body, what am I? If I am not the body, WHERE am I? Am I located inside the body? Am I situated in the head? In the heart? In the left big toe?

The body appears in and of space and time. If I am located inside the body, does that mean that I am trapped also in space and time? Am I locatable? If I am located in space and time, Where is space, and when is time?

The body appears. Do I appear? If I do appear, what do I look like? In a mirror, I see an aging body reflected. Is that MY appearance? Is that how I look? Vision is limited to the viewing instrument; the human brain can perceive only a tiny fraction of the energy spectrum. Can that visible fraction reveal even what the body is, let alone what I am? If I am not the body, than no mirror can tell me how I look. Not only that, but you cannot see all of me, just as I cannot see all of you, for we are infinitely greater than anything visible.

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