You are a Colony of 70 Trillion Organisms

6 thoughts on “You are a Colony of 70 Trillion Organisms”

  1. Wow, Bryce – You’ve outdone yourself. I (whoever and whatever I am) will probably respond in several comments. I’ll start with my skin cell theory of existence. I am to the whole as a skin cell is to me. Of course, the magnitudes here are vastly different, but you get the idea. There are lots of skin cells that are in me. They live for a couple weeks and then get replaced, while “I” carry on. Imagine if a skin cell was sentient and had a “small self” – wanting to do a good job as a skin cell, maybe be bigger than a cell next door, or more tan than another, maybe sharing a cute freckle with another. All good stuff in a relative kind of way. I need my skin cells to be doing their jobs during their short two week lifespan. Imagine now if that skin cell could develop a holistic consciousness. It could feel this rhythmic pulsing – it doesn’t know or understand the heart and circulatory system, but it feels that pulsing. It also feels these chemical surges that come through – it doesn’t know about endocrinology but it feels the impact of the chemicals that flow through it. It can also feel these electrical zaps that are happening. It doesn’t understand the brain or the nervous system but it feels these electrical charges. There is this trinity that it can directly experience and maybe get the feeling that it is part of something really big and whole – and it can experience its “big self”. Wouldn’t that be the ideal to be able to achieve during its brief two week earth walk? Wouldn’t it want to be a good skin cell AND know itself as part of a great mystery? That’s the way I think it is for me.

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    1. Beautiful thoughts David! It’s amazing to think about! We are both a small self and a Whole Self, both a skin cell and a Body of Humanity, even a Cosmic Body. Like the skin cell developing holistic consciousness of the human body, I think it is possible for us to become consciousness of our Cosmic Self, and that seems to be the function of mysticism, to encounter that greater Whole that we are, our greatest Identity, and then bring that realization back to our small neck of the woods to be a good human being, and act for the well-being of the Whole.

      I’ve wondered recently about the tens of millions of cells that naturally die every minute in our body (50-70 billion/day), and are replaced by newborn cells. Should we feel bad for these cells? Is it a tragedy of epic proportions that so many of these “organisms” are dying in our bodies. Or do they die so that we can live? Do we likewise die so that the greater Self can live?


  2. • Bryce – I mentioned that I would remark in segments, and your reply lets me move on to my next comment, in the human cell metaphor that I am referencing. I am responding to your comment, “That which is bad for some cells is bad for the organism as a whole.” That fits within the context of your exposition. It reminds me to want to share my ruminations on fate. Many of us encounter the question about “why do bad things happen to good people”. I have pondered this in the context of this human skin cell metaphor. If I go off for a hike to a mountain top, and am nourished by the view at the top, that experience which is definitely good for me as a whole, may result in a blister on my heel. Those skin cells die in a fiery, painful way. Clearly a tragedy in their experience, but resulting from some activity happily taken on by my total self. Of course, a nice glass of wine is a treat, and often recommended as part of an overall healthy diet, but some brain cells get sacrificed in the process. There are lots of ways that cells get sacrificed for the maintenance of the whole. Blood cells are a prime example. When I floss, if I get any bleeding, its curtains for those red blood cells. White blood cells are the warriors of our immune system, and are constantly being sacrificed to save me from infections. We could launch into consideration of surgeries and of modern chemotherapies – poisons intended to eradicate disease. Clearly there are lots of ways that pain and destruction happen at one level while the overall organism is being supported. At the cell level, this just feels like a horrible fate. I have no sure knowledge of larger purposes and meaning in creation – that’s why I hold it as mystery. I can be comfortable that bad things that do happen may be in the context of some overall functioning that is good at a higher level. I can’t know that, but I can understand it as a possibility, and I am comfortable living with the “why” of it all, without despair or loss of a sense of being held in a larger whole, while also holding the pain in my heart where it is very real and often enough destructive at the relative level. I tend not to be a fan of the saying that “that which does not kill me makes me stronger”. Sometimes that is true, but often such things can leave beings horribly wounded and constricted for their life walk. We can just try to open our minds and hearts to hold these injuries as part of our overall experience and feel what at least feels like goodness in the overall experience –“Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life” (UU first source statement).

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  3. I will leave my final comment on the subject. We are a colony of 70 trillion organisms. Most of those organisms have very short lives – skin cells, for example, live for a couple weeks. The number of organisms that comprise “us” over the course of an 80 year life assuming a two week average life might be something like 150,000 trillion, whatever that number is. A whole bunch of organisms. So what dies when we die? Very few of the participating organisms are on hand on the day we draw our last breath – they have come and gone. Thoughts like this leave me with no concept of what it would mean to have some kind of life after death. I doubt that there is a heaven for skin cells, or for organs if we have the misfortune to have any removed through surgery. I’m content to observe a universe of energy and information that is constantly flowing, forming, and reforming.

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    1. Well said. We seem to be much more of a process, a pattern, an emerging, than any kind of static being. It’s unlikely that any atom that exists in our body when we are born continues to exist in it when we are 80 years old. It seems everything cycles and recycles through.

      My current view of “life after death” is that it has not much to do with this particular body-mind, and far more to do with the Body of Humanity, or the Cosmic Body. That’s the one that keeps living, and I think the mystical realization of this Cosmic Body of which we are a part may be what has traditionally been called “resurrection” or “eternal life.”


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