Saturday, May 04, 2013

I'm hundreds of millions of years old

I woke up last night thinking about how comfortable I felt wrapped up in my blankets with my wife.  I thought about what it must have been like for my grandfather when he woke up at night with my grandmother in their little home in Ada, Oklahoma.  I wondered about my great, great grandfather before him, and for the countless generations before him and before the invention of the modern mattress set.

They're all me, and maybe some of you.  They're not the personal me, the me of my conscious mind, but nonetheless my life is their life.  My life is a continuation of their being through sexual reproduction.  If at any point in my lineage had one of my forefathers' life been cut short prematurely, before his opportunity to reproduce, I would not exist.

We're all unique, it's true, as our generics are a combination of two different lines of humans---lines that likely crossed many generations ago, perhaps many times.  But the resulting human, me or you, we are literally them.  Our traits, our personalities, our physical makeup---all born of lines of DNA passed from organism to organism for millions of years.

Sometimes I wonder if we overemphasize the importance of the individual human, the person we know ourselves to be.  After all, our consciousness is transient.  We live in one body so briefly.  It seems we barely have enough time to grow up before it's over.  In 70 to 100 years, we go from knowing nothing of the world to knowing much that a human can know before consciousness shuts off.  But, if we reproduce, we pass on the core of who we are, the recipe, literally the life, on to the next generation.

Some might argue that you pass on the blueprint only, and that each new life is "born", but I'm not sure I would agree.  From the moment my little swimmers left my body, they were alive.  The fought their way into an egg and from there life morphed and continued.  I have three kids walking the earth today carrying on my life force.  If I were to die today, this life of mine would be considered a success from a biological perspective.

So who are we?  Macro individuals or members of a micro collective?  Are we but mere vessels, an ark for microorganisms to ride upon through time?

And from a conscious level, how am I connected to my ancestors?  Is my consciousness an echo of theirs?  Do I have the same struggles as a distant forefather 1000 years ago?  Did his back hurt like mine does?  Did he have high blood pressure?  Did he struggle with depression?  Did he like spicy foods?  Did he lay awake at night, satisfied to be near his wife, wondering about what it really means to be alive?