At some point I learned that a person completely sheds their skin over a period of seven years, so that every seven years we are essentially a new person. I don’t know when I learned this or whether it is, indeed, a fact, but I know why the idea became popular even if just an urbane scientific myth:
It feeds into our idea of transformation, and it neatly packages such transformation for us.
It’s easy to see ourself as a present person who is distinctly separate from who we were. That five-year-old who pooped on the front step of the house? Completely not me. The shy fourteen-year-old who hid inside the hood of his jacket even during class? Totally different from me. The twenty-one-year-old recent college graduate who flubbed a relationship with an entering freshman? Um… yep, not me. Not me.
It’s not so easy to see ourself as a present person who is distinctly separate from who we will be. The past is the past and is tangible because we can remember it.
The future isn’t tangible. It’s a wealth of possibilities that we might be able to narrow, but that we can’t predict with any certainty. Even if we know the sun will rise tomorrow, we don’t know that we will necessarily be there. Even though we know we will age, that our bones will crumple inside us, that our brain will become so full of life that specifics will be hard to find down, it’s hard to imagine that future person as us.
More specifically, it is hard to imagine that future person as different from us. That person will be us and so that person is us.
Okay. All that being said, I’d like to promote a more complex version of this arrangement. Sure, the idea of all the cells in the body being replaced is an easy concept to master, and, more importantly, it provides a linearity that makes sense of the world and our lives in that world.
But there is no single one person that we are. We are legion in the present, facets of ourselves not only just presented as who we are to different people at different times, but revealed to ourselves because of those different people. And if we are legion in the present, then we were legion in the past, and we will be legion in the future.
And that’s what’s exciting and scary to me: not that we are in a constant and measurable state of transformation, but that we are indeterminate like subatomic particles, neither here nor there until someone takes a look.
Maybe us. Maybe a mirror.