lizards and lorries

Oh damn it.  It’s the lizards again.  I’ve got this idea and I can’t quite crystallise it.  I was looking at some lizards in a garden centre the other day.  I don’t know why I find them fascinating but I do.  I’m looking at these lizards and they seem identical to each other.  Like exact copies.  They behave in the same way.  It’s like they are the same thing.  Just in a different space-time.  There is something odd about this.  These lizards are more similar to each other than two human beings.  It is perhaps that that is sparking something off.  Because the lizards are animals and they seem more alike than humans it allows the consideration of us as animals with the concept of our similarity heightened.  The thought or concept that I am struggling with is the idea that we are all the same person.  It’s kind of paradoxical which doesn’t make things easier.

There are some philosophical questions that people have considered relating to whether things are identical but in a different position or are they fundamentally different things.  If you have a text file (this html file for example) if you delete one alphabetic character and re type it, is it the same thing.  One could go a long way into discussing what is meant by the same but surfice it to say that in some sense it is the same thing.  It is indistinguishable from the original.  The only difference is its history.  And here lies a clue.  It’s fine having a concept of matter (the material stuff matter) and searching for the smallest indivisible thing - but really this is an erroneous quest.  Why?  Because we have a utilitarian concept of a thing, an object.  We conceptualise it as “stuff”.  It is the purpose that we ascribe to that stuff that gives it substance.  But it is a matter of scale and significance to us.  A lorry is a lorry.  It’s standing there in the road and it’s a lorry - it’s that lorry.  And two seconds later it’s the same lorry.  Isn’t it?  Yes - in the sense of what we mean by conceptualising this thing and identifying it - it’s the same lorry.  Park another one next to it and we know that is a different lorry.  But we know enough about atoms to know that 2 seconds later all the “matter” which makes up that lorry is moved.  In some sense it is quite really not the same lorry.  My point is that at every scale you consider it you conceptualise it as a thing.  The electrons have spun round the nucleus.  They are in a different place.  But they are the same electrons.  But are they.  They, as far as we know, are the same as the lorry.  Made up of other things.  So what are “things”?  I don’t suppose there are any “things”.  I don’t mind people having the idea that God made all this stuff out of very tiny things that we can’t see.  But it doesn’t seem like that to me.

It’s all so bloody conceptual.  The next thing I run up against is software.  And there has been (and still is) lots of difficulty legislating about software.  But the software gets written and copies are made.  They are all the same software even if they are different occurrences of that software.  It would not help our understanding of things to call them different software.  Every time you run the software it’s like a new occurrence of that software.  You may be using the same source file from your disk but it could have been secretly replaced by another copy overnight and you wouldn’t know the difference.  And it is a serious question as to whether it is different.  Look at it this way.  Overnight there has been a huge amount of electron movement on your disk.  The copy you run today is, in some sense, a different copy from the one you ran yesterday.  So what exactly is it that is the thing that is the “same”?  For me it seems to be the process.  The functionality.  In fact, it seems to me that the “sameness” is the concept.  For all your intentions and purposes it is the same.  It is your intentions and purposes, it is your perception that contains something of the “sameness”.  So when it comes to lizards, are they like software, a different occurrence of the same thing.  And when it comes to us, are we a different occurrence of the same thing.  Are we the same software doing different functions?  Physically there is an argument that we are because we are copies of copies of copies.  I am thinking that the “me” of today, is a copy of the me of three days ago.  And that can be extended down the line.  I can see that there is a slow evolutionary change happening here.  But that, more than anything, seems to indicate that the flow of change from one copy to another is a defining part of what this thing is.  So the sameness in me is the change as I move through time.  That extends back to my parents, their parent and so on, all the way back to lizards and beyond.

The interplay of events differs widely and some events have more significance than others.  This is relative, of course.  My experience of my life is how I tend to define me.  I have a starting point of thinking I am “me”.  I have a history and a recollection of that history.  I have no conscious recollection of my parent’s history.  But I suggest this is a matter of significance.  I look out of a glass window in the middle of the day.  It is bright sunshine outside and oddly I have the electric light switched on in the room.  I see what is outside.  But as the day wears on and the sun goes down and it becomes dark outside, I find I am looking at me in the window.  The point of this is that the strength of the image that seems clear to me at night (that of my own reflection) has not changed.  What has changed is that the daylight image so outweighed the reflection that I could not see it.  My own experience of my own existence overrides and outweighs a lot of other experience.  It is fairly evident that we know more than we are generally aware of.  Most of us have had experiences where something we had “forgotten” about comes back to us.  The implications in this for me, are that we do have contiguous experience from our parents.  This is not amorphous “memory” (though there may be something like that) but through the physical replication we already know our parents - let alone the mechanism of affecting each other.  And this goes way back.  We are simply not consciously aware of it.  But the implications are that we will evolve to have more conscious awareness.  That, by our own definition, is what has been happening.  So maybe one day in a million years time I will remember who I am.  The weird thing about all of this for me, is that it sounds so much like “life after death” or “immortality” or the oneness of the universe and God.

I can’t quite get over the notion that when one discovers the reality, the truth, of something that was once not understood, it is so obvious.  It’s not that I think it should have been obvious to start with, no, it’s that it is so obvious.  The idea of the world being spherical makes complete sense.  But to have told someone prior to that knowledge or perception, that if you walked far enough in a straight line that you would arrive back where you started would seem ridiculous.  If you packaged that idea up in a thing called religion and you said to people “Oh you don’t understand but I have it from good authority that it’s true.”  it would seem a bit like magic.  Tell them that one day they would understand and they would suspect that they would have to change before they could comprehend such a patently obvious contradictory notion.  But they don’t have to change.  All that happens is they learn a bit more and the comprehension is easy.  It becomes obvious.  Oh - they do change - by learning - but they don’t change in some unknown and mysterious way.  I do have a problem with the way that I have been brought up and in particular the huge influence of “authority” and in particular from the Christian religion.  I think it is weird to have this fairytale notion of God and life after death presented to small children (with heaps of oppression) rather like imposing the notion that it is true that you will arrive back at the same place if you keep walking in a straight line.  If it’s true why keep insisting its true but do nothing about showing the children.  Of course the implication is that the most of them don’t believe it’s true.  Oh I’m sure they have largely convinced themselves, but I think it is more literally morphine than they think.  Check up Arthur Janov for more information here but we kill pain chemically in our brains and pain is emotional pain too.  But I suspect that Jesus could see a little more clearly.  And my perception of him was of someone who objected to the dogmatic hierarchy of the established church.  His point seems to me to be to love.  It doesn’t seem to me that he was being more than metaphorical referring to his father in heaven.  I don’t think this is going to turn out to be such a mystery.  I think loving is being open and receptive to the experience of living.  And by loving we feed life and evolution.  I suspect that the local experience of one life is a scope that we deal with.  My father, me, and my daughter are contiguous.  And we are contiguous with the lizards.  The paradox for me seems to lie in that I experience this as just me whilst what I experience is everything else.

I’m probably hacking an old path of existentialism here.  But even if I am, for me, this is a problematic conceptual struggle.  I’m just getting more and more convinced that there is something more obvious about life than meets the eye. (And incidentally I have spotted a serious clue which I will endevour to put into words.  But if you need to know before I manage that just email me at and I will give you what I feel to date.)

© Nik Allday 2000