What makes you, You? There is the story, the question rather, of a boat. Suppose there is a wooden boat on the shore. This boat is taken apart one plank at a time, with each plank replaced in such a way that over the course of time the entire wooden boat has been replaced with brand new wood, none of the old timber or nails, no piece of hardware from the prior boat is still present. The individual planks which were removed from the original boat are subsequently reassembled in form an entirely new boat. So now there are boats, identical to one another. One boat with all new wood, each plank and nail replaced, the other boat rebuilt from the replaced planks and nails. Which boat is the original boat?
The easiest answer to this problem is likely, “who cares?“ which is of course a valid point in and of itself. However, the point raised by this story brings about another series of issues which dives into deeper and more fundamental issues of the human condition. Over the course of the human lifetime, everything within the body is replaced. At the macro level, one can feel this as fluid enters and leaves the body, as nutrition is taken in and waste is removed. However on the cellular level, this also holds true as cells of the skin, hairs from the head, and linings of all of the inner passageways of the body are sloughed and replaced, sometimes multiple times per day. Of course, there are many cells that are rarely if ever, replaced including neural cells which may persist over the course of an entire lifetime. However, within even these cells, the individual atoms, the basic building blocks of the cells will be replaced as the cell takes up nutrients and goes through its cycle of disposing of waste and rebuilding itself within its environment. Does this mean that once all the atoms in the human body are replaced that the original person is lost? The You that had made that person themselves is absent? Or perhaps even before all the atoms are replaced, and only 50% of the atoms are exchanged? Or are there some other criteria?
Perhaps the person is not the sum of the parts, existence is not only the combination of many individual molecules but rather together these molecules, cells, tissues make up something entirely new. Perhaps it is the ideas that make someone themselves, their view of the world, their perspective of life, the concepts that they hoard within their head. Perhaps it is their beliefs, the things that they adhere to, the things they hold most sacred. Perhaps it is the community that they dwell in, the people surrounding them to who they give meaning and from whom they receive purpose. Perhaps it is the morals and values that they hold, the sense of right and wrong, of up and down, of good and evil. Perhaps it is their hopes and fears, the things that drive them on, the things they desperately wish to avoid. Perhaps it is their memories, the recollections of days gone by, perhaps it is their dreams for the future, their aspirations for a better tomorrow. Perhaps it is the memories of them that live on through others, the vision of the person that others see. Perhaps it is the soul and spirit, that which goes unseen and unmeasured, the intangible defining characteristic of the human existence. Perhaps it is all of these together, perhaps it is none of these. Perhaps all of these together create something not simply a sum of the individual parts and pieces but an entirely new entity and being, You. As Renee Descartes said, “I think therefore I am“. If they’re at is a You to think, to relate, to enjoy, to celebrate, to cry, to pursue, to dream, to help then there is a You. If there is a You to ponder, to debate right and wrong, to lay awake at night and tossed fitfully in bed, there is a You. If there is something to lose, memories, dreams, achievements, and progress, by definition there is a You, And while there is a You that is enough simply to celebrate, to revel in, to mourn, to ponder, and to share.
Don’t waste the opportunity of You.