In the previous post I tried to convince that we are not the data that is stored in our brain – we are actually the matter that composes it. In this post I’ll try yet again to convince that this is not entirely accurate.
The human body , and essentially every body of a living creature is an incredible machine, shaped by natural selection through millions of years of evolution. it is made out of billions of cells of different types and each of them is an incredible machine in its own right. Every cell in a living body is made of various substances and molecules – fatty acids, proteins, water molecules and so on. Our brain is also no exception, each cell that’s part of the organ we call brain is made of the same materials. So following the logic from our previous post , we are actually the molecules and substances that composes our brain. True? not quite.
As most of us know, the most important molecules in living cells are DNA, RNA and proteins. Proteins are the workhorse of every living cell, they are the ones that make life possible – from harnessing the energy that is stored in glucose (the fuel we all operate on) to replicating the DNA that contains the instructions used to create them in the first place. Without proteins, our cells are nothing but micelles with some DNA strands in it. Proteins in the cell are constantly built and destroyed – there are some long living proteins, but most of them have a life span of several hours to several days. The molecules that composes the proteins, fats and water in each of our cells don’t stay at one piece for long. When proteins are degraded by a process called Ubiquitination , they are cut down to their most basic components – amino acids. One can imagine the process as taking a car and disassembling down to the smallest screw and cable.
So the question that arises – it is clear that the matter, the atoms and molecules that composes the cells that in turn compose our brain are constantly replaced , what stays constant is the structure (or, the information content) of these cells and their connections to other cells in the brain. The molecules and might be replaced and changed , but the structure and function generally isn’t.
So we’re clearly having a paradox here – what is consciousness anyway? is it the information that is stored in our brain? (that is defined only by the structure of our brain) or is it the matter that composes it? This paradox is closely related to a paradox/story called The Ship of Theseus and has several interesting solutions. In future posts I’ll elaborate about some of them.
Thanks for reading!