The cells of our body are dying every minute of the day White blood cells live for around 13 days, skin cells for about 30 days, red blood cells for about 120 days while liver cells hang around for 18 months.
We are all into recycling at the moment — it is the ‘woke’ movement of today.
All this suggests that you are almost completely renewed every couple of years. Apart from your brain cells, many of which live for your entire lifetime, even though we lose1% of them every year, and some of those are replaced.
Then you die.
Ooops! Do we have a problem here? In the words of the old Negro spiritual — “It ain’t necessarily so”.
OK, so dust to dust, ashes to ashes, but we are all into recycling at the moment so we become worm food which begets vegetarian growth which feeds sheep, cattle and even pigs, immune to our personal DNA, never mind the enamel of our teeth which is the longest-lasting part of our body is made of, and this is a wonderfully useless bit of trivia, hydroxylapatite, with added magnesium, fluoride, and carbonates; of which, there are many. For the sake of accuracy, I should point out that enamel is not a cell but a chemical compound without the capability to reproduce despite the toothpaste advertisements.
Even if we opt for cremation, we continue to contribute invaluable mineral resources to the planet, but it is only a restructuring of the atoms and molecules of our physical bodies.
So who were you? A lover, parent, friend or enemy?
What of those characteristics that made us who we were? Our offspring will remember us for our foibles, our generosities (we should be so lucky), our contribution to human life on this planet. Memories fade, like red blood cells, but last a little longer. Memories are also faulty.
Imagine three siblings discussing a shared event of the past. Each of the three siblings will have widely different recollections of a particular event. None will be completely correct — but the fact is that you are unlikely to alter their opinions.
So who were you? A lover, parent, friend or enemy? You will exist in many forms in other people’s memory. Does that trouble you? Do you wish to be remembered or would you prefer to look into the future?
Ah! The future. You may believe that you were an Egyptian princess in the past, but I have to tell you that this is unlikely. You are just as likely to have materialized as rhinoceros horn traded on the Chinese medical market.
Sorry about that. I can reassure you that, in the words of General Alexander, you “will return”. As what, or who, I am not prepared to prophesy.
All this is purely physical — and we have not discussed the possibility of a ‘soul’ and now we are in very deep water.
Do you have a soul? Of course, you do — but does it last, and for how long?
An interesting description of ‘soul’ suggests that it is an ‘emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance’. Does that suggest that a soul is a form of energy that we leave behind on our death? Our thoughts, another form of energy, die with us.
“Nowadays it’s become a kind of embarrassment to talk about the soul, and yet until now it has been central to most cultures.” (Dr Jonathan Rowson, Director of Perspectiva. in a lecture to the RSA in 2014.)
Over the centuries, the concept of ‘soul’ has intrigued scholars from every religion and philosophy, none of whom agree. Try to reconcile the beliefs of Christianity, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, and the Zoroastrians. The Divine Power might comment that they all are right, but they are also wrong. The reason is that we do not have the ‘divine’ capacity necessary to discern one from the other.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12