I’ve been listening to Radiolab’s broadcasts while I fall asleep the past few nights. It’s a way of culling my bad habit of reading internet trash before I shut my eyes. So far I’ve listened to podcasts about sleep, memory, and identity. The upside of these podcasts is that they are FASCINATING, and I’m finding out some things about what scientists have come to believe so far about the brain and its function. The downside is that, of course, everything is stunningly fragile, mysterious, and only vaguely understood.
My husband mentioned to me the other week that western science still hasn’t determined the exact moment of death. It was previously considered to be when the heart stopped, and then that changed to brain death — but with technology allowing for ever finer and finer measurements of brain activity, even that last boundary is losing its clear distinction. (Side note: I believe Japan may have been the last industrialized nation to adopt brain death as the legal definition of death, doing so only in the past few years.) This thought brought me a terrible dream…I’ll share that another time if I ever feel up to it.
In all the various statements on identity and being, the only one that rang true to me was from a researcher out of the UK — that we are essentially narratives that we continue to tell ourselves. I think of my own experiences over the past fifteen years or so, and the person I was in my late teens and early 20s would ABSOLUTELY NOT RECOGNIZE the person I am now. Even the things that I was interested in and fueled by just a few years ago have changed. The only consistent thing I have is being in this body, being recognized (and confirmed) as myself by others in my life, and telling myself that I’m the same person — that these experiences over the years are all mine.
It’s fascinating — how slender yet layered and tenacious it all is.