You are not a person

In a conversation about death, Tucker once said to me “you don’t ever actually die. In a very real and physical sense, each of your actions makes an impact on others. I am a different person because of you, and you because of me.” I like to think of the world that way, that we are all connected: actions we do make an impression on others that is physically modifying their brain – a wave to a friend is a series of chemicals in your brain moving a series of molecules, which will affect a series of chemicals in the receivers’ brain as well. (In my opinion free-will-based questions of whether we can actually control this and soul-based questions of whether there is a non-physical more are completely beside the point I make here.)

Consider how people are raised and how we react to incentives: a happy community, a family with issues of alcoholism, a great workplace, are all examples of people being a part of a fabric of actions. Think about stories, which in a way can be said to exist not in individual people but connected by an actual physical line between many people. So I am the ambitions and hopes of my parents, my own reaction to those hopes, the energy of the city I live in, the fears in the television shows I watch, the thoughts of the people I live with, all mediated by my brain and body, which has the genetic signature of my parents and the physical components of thousands of plants and animals. In this beautiful chain of causality, we function in some ways like a massive organism. There is no metaphor in what I am saying – this is physical and real.

Look at how a YouTube video can spread across the internet through social connections. Think of how a virus can spread, or a dollar bill. Now consider a smile to a stranger; how do you react when a stranger smiles? I smile back, feel good for a while, and probably smile at a few other people. Sometimes a chain like that will die, yes, but other times it must keep going, passing and mutating like some geometrically growing game of telephone. What if your smile travels at once on planes to South America and Africa? Maybe it comes back to you in a week and then again in a month–the same smile you started.

So in so many ways you are not a person but a node, information and thoughts being expressed and reflected, mediated by your consciousness. I think it’s a beautiful way to look at the world.

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2 Comments to “You are not a person”

  1. Sergey 15 March 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    I agree, it’s a great way to think about our role in the world.

  2. […] not much new here, but it is nice to listen to and dovetails well with my previous post, You Are Not A Person (though much less philosophically.) Not a must-watch, but a cool one to […]


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