Even started up the Philosophy offering again this week, and oooh boy am I excited about it! (And not just because I get to reintroduce my fav tag to this blog 🙂 )
Hugo, visiting this week, posed this hypothetical: Say you’ve got a boat. And your boat is made of wood. It’s an old boat, and it’s coming apart slowly, but you really love it so as planks fall off of it you replace them with pieces of metal. Eventually, at the end of your journey, every piece of wood on the boat has been replaced by metal. Is it the same boat?
And we were off! I love this question, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few months in regards to human bodies, and my body specifically. Basically, every cell in your body is replaced every 7 years (okay, actually upon further research this isn’t entirely true; it’s a commonly-held factoid but it’s just an estimate – the cells in your body die and are replaced at different rates depending on what their function is. Some, like the cells that line your stomach, are replaced every few days, while others, like those that make up the lenses of your eye or the neurons in your cerebral cortex remain the same from birth to death. More info) – if this is the case, are we still the same person 10 years later, or are we a new person every decade? Or, is our selfhood not determined by our physiology at all (cell replacement or not) but rather by something more ephemeral – a spirit, or our experiences? If I travel through time and space to the other side of the world and come back with a wealth of new experiences, am I still the same person when I return? If I shave my head and change my name and move to Tibet am I a different person? If I hit my head and get amnesia and learn a new language am I a different person?
I love playing with these questions, and so I proposed we watch Are You a Body with a Mind or a Mind with a Body? I’m a person who is wrestling with my body a lot recently; it feels like a part of my deschooling process to acknowledge that I have a body and that it is a vital part of my self. In my schooling (in most “traditional” schooling) your body is nothing more than a distraction – it’s meant to be kept still so it doesn’t lead you astray from thinking. I was good at school; I was skilled at keeping still. All those unpracticed years have definitely made reorienting myself in my body a harder process. I don’t regret anything, and yet I’m glad to be contemplating these questions in a philosophy class where everyone is free to move around as their body needs to. No matter what an institution might prefer, the reality is that we have bodies; that they are sometimes unruly and often need tending; that without them we couldn’t stop and smell the flowers and hold present in that moment of being. And without that, what’s the point really?