What Are You?

What Are You?


Are you your body? Well, kind of, right? But, is there a line
where this stops being true? How much of yourself can you remove
before you stop being you, and does the question even make sense? Your physical existence is cells,
trillions of them, at least ten times more
than there are stars in the Milky Way. A cell is a living being, a machine made
of up to 50 thousand different proteins. It has no consciousness, no will,
no purpose; it just is, but it is still an individual. Together, your cells form huge structures
for jobs like preparing food, gathering resources,
transporting stuff around, scanning the environment,
and so on. If you extract cells from your body
and put them in the right environment, they will continue to
stay alive for a while, so your cells can exist without you,
but you can’t exist without them. If we take all the cells away,
there is no “you” anymore. Is there a line where
a pile of your cells stops being you? For example, if you donate an organ,
billions of your cells will continue to live on inside someone else. Does this mean that a part of you
became a part of another person, or is this other body
keeping a part of you alive? Or, let us imagine an experiment: you and a random person
from the street exchange cells. One at a time, your body
gets one of their cells; their body gets
one of your cells. At which point would they become you? Would they ever, or is this just
a very slow and gross way to teleport you? Let’s make this more complicated! The image of ourselves as
a static thing is untenable. Almost all of your cells have to die
during your lifetime. Two hundred and fifty million have died
since the beginning of this video, alone, between one and three million per second. In a seven-year period, most of your cells
are replaced at least once. Every time your cells’ setup changes,
you are slightly different than before, so a part of you is dying constantly. If you are lucky enough to become old, you would have cycled through roughly
a million billion cells, so what you consider yourself
is really just a snapshot, but sometimes, cells are broken
and don’t want to die questioning the very nature
of the unity of our bodies. We call them cancer. They cancel
the biological social contract and become basically immortal. Cancer is not an outside invader; it’s a part of you that
puts its own survival over yours, but you could also argue that a cancer
cell becomes another entity inside us; another being that just wants to
thrive and survive. Can we blame it for that? A chilling cell story is that of
Henrietta Lacks, a young cancer patient who died in 1951. Usually, cells only survived
for a few days in the lab, making research very hard. Henrietta’s cancer cells were immortal. Over the decades, they were multiplied
over and over again and used for countless research projects
saving countless lives. Henrietta’s cells are still alive
and overall have been grown to at least 20 tons of biomass, so there are living parts around the world
from someone who has been considered dead for decades. How much of Henrietta is in these cells? What makes one of
your cells “you,” anyway? Maybe the information contained in it,
your DNA? Until recently, it was believed that
all the cells in your body had basically the same genetic code, but it turns out this is wrong. Your genome is mobile,
changing over time through mutations
and environmental influences. This is especially the case in your brain. According to recent discoveries, a single
neuron in an adult brain has more than one thousand mutations in its
genetic code that are not present in the cells surrounding it,
but how much “you” is your DNA, really? About eight percent of the human genome
is made up of viruses that once infected our ancestors and merged with us. Mitochondria, power plants of the cell,
once were bacteria that merged with the ancestors of your cells.
They still have their own DNA. An average cell has hundreds of them,
hundreds of little things that are not really human,
but they still kind of are. It is confusing.
Let’s backtrack a bit. We know that you’re made up of
trillions of little things made from more little things
that are constantly changing. Together, all those little things
are not static, but dynamic. Their composition and condition
is changing constantly, so we might just be a self-sustaining
pattern without clear borders that gained self-awareness at some point
and now has the ability to think about itself
through time and space, but really only exists in
this exact very moment. Where did this pattern start: with your conception,
when the first human arose, when life first began
conquering our small planet, or when the elements that make up your
body were forged in a star? Our human brains evolved
to deal with absolutes. The fuzzy borders that make up reality
are hard to grasp. Maybe ideas like beginning and end,
life and death, you and me, are really not absolutes, but ideas
belonging to a fluent pattern; a pattern that is lost in this strange
and beautiful universe. (Shifting to the voice of CGP Grey)
The problem of who we are isn’t just a question of ourselves,
but it’s also a question of our minds. Just as our cells can be divided and
separated from us, so can our very brains be divided and separated from us
while still in the skull. Click here to go to my channel
and watch the next part. Okay, so now, go watch CGP Grey’s video. If you’re not yet subscribed
to his channel, you should really change that now. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

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