(I just deliberately deleted the draft I was working on. It was not the best pattern.)
I want you to read this quote by Richard Dawkins, taken from the God Delusion:
Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all you really were there at the time, weren’t you?
How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place …. Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that does not make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.
Do read it again. It’s a pretty mind-expanding realization.
However, reality is perhaps even more mind-bending than you might already think. I looked up the original work on this phenomenon by Aebersold, published in the 1953 Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution. On page 232 he wrote (emphasis mine):
But radioisotope studies have called our attention to much more amazing facts on the day-to-day operation of our bodies. Medical men used to think of the human body as an engine that takes in food, air, and water mainly as fuel to keep running on. Only a small part of the intake was thought to go for replacement of engine wear. Investigations with isotopes have demonstrated that the body instead is much more like a very fluid military regiment which may retain its size, form, and composition even though the individuals in it are continually changing: joining up, being transferred from post to post, promoted, or demoted; acting as reserves; and finally departing after varying lengths of service.
Tracer studies show that the atomic turnover in our bodies is quite rapid and quite complete. For example, in a week or two half of the sodium atoms that are now in our bodies will be replaced by other sodium atoms. The case is similar for hydrogen and phosphorus. Even half of the carbon atoms will be replaced in a month or two. And so the story goes for nearly all the elements. Indeed, it has been shown that in a year approximately 98 percent of the atoms in us now will be replaced by other atoms that we take in in our air, food, and drink.
Yes, you read that correctly. In a single year, 98% of your whole physical manifestation, your body, is completely replaced by other atoms.
This observation has led me to think differently about myself, and about you. I indeed used to think that we were a solid body of somehow consistent matter moving through life, constructed from millions of grains of sand somehow sticking together.
Now I see us all as nothing more than the continuously changing _patterns_ that form briefly in the grains of sand of the universe. Winds blow grains of sand around, now taking part in one pattern and then in another. At some point, your body has contained parts of your best friend, and of your worst enemy. The patterns change continually; sometimes they fade away, and sometimes new patterns emerge. All of them are dependent on the same grains of sand.