You are NOT your body.
The thing we all know as ‘I’ or ‘Me’ is intangible – it has no directly touchable or visible physical manifestation as does the body we inhabit. Our bodies are the interface between what we actually are and the physical world. We are, in part, a creation of our body’s interactions with our immediate physical environment, beginning from the moment our mother’s genes allowed our father’s genes to fertilise the egg each one of us came from, right up until the present day. For most of us the first 9 months of our formation consisted of a pretty confined interaction with the external world, indeed it could be said that much of what we interacted with was an internal world of it’s own with an occupancy, most often, of one single being. During this time the external world had to be experienced from, and compete for our attention with, a far more isolating environment – the womb.
At the time of our birth our bodies were endowed with at least five different modes of sensory reception from which we could take in stimuli from the world external to our body with which we would adapt our previously somewhat restricted sense-gathering systems and the associated neural pathways already being set into our newly-formed brain. During this time the thing we know as ‘I’ was very limited in it’s awareness and could not control or discriminate for or against what input our senses received – we just soaked it all up and let it build connections between our brain cells as they would.
The intangible ‘I’ had already been forming it’s embryonic (literally) self during those 9 months of incarceration and relative safety when, suddenly at birth, it had to attempt to make some sense out of an entirely new set of experiences and stimuli. New sights, albeit blurred ones; new smell; new sounds; new touch/feelings through our skin and new tastes as we began to eat/drink. Accordingly old pathways our brains had created and grown used to no longer were applicable and we had to learn anew as best we could and re-adapt earlier learnings to our present (and ongoing) situation. Once you are out of the womb there can be no going back.
It is thought that the average child spends approximately the first 2 years of it’s life just soaking up the mass of information our senses provide to our brains, sorting it all out as best it can into some kind of understandable construct without any real discrimination, during which the number of connections and ingrained pathways in our brains between neurons (nerve cells in the brain) constantly increases to the point where, if it created any more, we would begin to find it difficult to react appropriately or quickly enough to survive and prosper. From the age of 2, when literally anything is possible in our future, we begin to ‘specialise’ and refine our thoughts, feelings and brain’s function concerning the masses of external sensory data our brains are assaulted with, and narrow down the multitude of brain cell interconnections. Although we cannot know it at this age it is the connections we choose to keep and those we chose to discard at this time that will ultimately determine the brain’s ability to learn and how effectively we fit into our environment throughout our life.
It could be said that it is at this time we start to ‘choose’ the ‘I’ we will ultimately become.
It is true that the environments we find ourselves in will also have a significant part to play and these include such things as our parents and home environment, our school and schoolmates, our culture and society and whether or not we experience things such as wars, harsh environmental and/or economic conditions, crime and drugs, etc. but throughout all of these influences it is how we form the ‘I’ in our brain cells that will have the biggest influence on the being we become. We have the choice of how we let any and all of these things alter us. Sadly, very few of us ever realise this until it is largely too late or we are too ingrained in our thinking to consciously control what and how we fundamentally think or feel.
A second reason we are not our bodies is that we have a continuous and direct connection of our self from the day we were born, albeit for most of us the first couple of years after are pretty blurry and some later details might not actually have occurred exactly as we presently recall them. However, while we have this unbroken, except for when we sleep, connection to ‘Me’ most of what is presently our body has only been acquired in the last 10 or so years of our life! take our outer layer of skin, or epidermis, for example: this slowly wears away from the outside as old skin cells die and is replaced by new cells from underneath (most obvious to us when we have a scab or scar tissue). the average age of a skin cell in this layer is around a month. Similarly to snakes and crustaceans we shed our outer skin. the skin you can touch now is not the same one you had last year and will be a different one next year, possibly you will have had several in that time. Other parts of us also live and die and are replaced far more often than we think we will do.
We are not our bodies.
Another reason ‘we’ are not our bodies is that we are not alone in them – we share our physical volume with literally billions and billions of other living entities who all have their own separate lives which play roles of varying levels of significance in who we think we are and what we (think we) choose for ourselves to do. Our behaviours have been built from influences that were never entirely 100% of our own creation.
There are billions of people in the world (many of whom are those in the so-called Third World) whose bodies are infected by perhaps just one type, or possibly many types, of parasites and many of these play a significant part in the life we live. Having said that in the ‘Western World’ there are as many as 30% of us infected with a parasite from our cats (or the neighbours’ cats!) and possibly as many with a different parasite from dogs (but is also shared with cats). Parasites have been around on earth for far longer than we have and have evolved ingenious ways to ensure they get what is best for their own survival.
This generally means that if a parasite chooses you as a host it is probably going to be much better than you at doing what it needs to live and breed than you are at preventing it and perhaps even being aware of what it is really doing TO you.
To give you just one extreme and rather horrifying example: If you are one of the 3 in 10 people mentioned above infected by the cat/rat parasite Toxoplasma Gondii, then by some scientists estimate you are up to 2.4 times more likely to have a car crash than someone who is not infected. If insurance companies wake up to this it could mean owning a cat increases your health premiums. Toxoplasma Gondii attacks brain tissue so as to decrease a person’s (or rats) fear of danger, and also alertness, leading to more risk taking or undertaking riskier activities than normal where the fear of danger or of dying or being attacked is diminished!
It is transmitted via the cat’s faeces and one of the most popular places for cats is sand and sandboxes where kids like to play, for example.
Women who get infected while pregnant have been found to have a higher rate of miscarriage than those previously infected or not infected at all.
And just to re-inforce how clever and manipulative these tiny beings can be to us humans – it also changes our sense of smell to make cat urine seem attractive. This is of more consequence to rats than us as spending time in an area a cat has peed while having a lower fear of danger is likely to end up with the rat being eaten (the parasite’s objective for the rat host) while for the human it is more likely to result in the cat getting a good home for life than the human host being eaten by the cat!
By no means all human parasites/shared microbes have as dramatic effects upon our daily lives and some are no doubt even beneficial in some ways to us (such called symbiotes) but to think we alone are 100% responsible for what we do and think and hence who we are/become is tragically optimistic and unlikely to be based in sound fact.
To give you some perspective: By a recent estimate there are about 37 000,000,000,000 (trillion or million million) cells that make up your body. At any given moment you share your body with at least this number, and by some estimates several times more, of living organisms which consist of at least one living cell a large number of which exist within your gut.