My mum is visiting from Bundaberg today and we got talking about philosophy this morning over coffee (as you do). I mentioned that the universe is eternal and infinite (because it incorporates all of space and time) and she pointed out that when she was growing up, that was how the Catholic nuns described God. I agreed and said the only difference between the universe and the Christian version of God is that a) the universe isn’t interventionist (i.e. it doesn’t make exceptions to the laws of physics in the lives of favoured individuals) and b) we are not separate from it.

Her sticking point seems to be DNA. When I mentioned that, at an atomic level, our bodies are just constant swarms of atoms, moving in and out, coming and going, she pointed out that the constant is our DNA. Of course, for starters, the non-human DNA in our bodies out-numbers the human DNA by about 10-to-1 – so you are 90% non-human.

But even if we just look at the human DNA in our bodies, we know that it changes constantly over the course of our lives. Due to things like copying errors and interaction with free radicals, our DNA gets corrupted, leading to various maladies, the ageing process, etc. IN fact, researchers in Iceland and the U.S. showed that over a period of 10-16 years, some people’s DNA changed as much as 20%.

So, even your DNA isn’t a constant. So if you say “I am my DNA”, you’d have to decide WHICH VERSION of your DNA you are – the version you had at age 5, or the version you have now?

Anyway you slice it, you are not the same person today that you were 10 years ago. Our concept of having a solid, constant identity doesn’t stand up to analysis.

When you keep in mind that 99% of the atoms that are your body today were something (or someone) else 5 years ago and, over the course of the last 14 billion years, have been countless different animals and inanimate objects…. and before that, they were part of a distant sun…. how can your sense of being an individual entity, separate from the rest of the universe, remain intact?

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