The other day, I was going through some old files on my computer, and stumbled across a paper that blew my mind. It was a technical write up of an experiment with thermistors and Alexandrite Lasers and included discussions of temperature control, feedback systems, circuit diagrams, and lots of other technologies and techniques I know nothing about. Here’s what amazed me: the author listed at the top of the paper… was me.
Yup, this was a paper I had written for an AEP course at Cornell about a decade ago (yes, I’m a bit obsessed with organization and still have most of the projects I did in college). Even though I had spent lots of time on the experiment, the write-up, and had understood all the details back then… I not only can’t remember it now, I don’t even recognize it as something I could have known. The paper may as well have been written by someone else.
It’s as if a different person had lived that life and written that paper. That person and I share a name; we share some—though clearly not all—memories; and we look somewhat similar. But we are not the same person.
It’s hard to see things like this and not ponder a bit on human life. We speak of it as a single, continuous experience, but I think the reality is that we each live many, many lives.
A Thousand Lives
We form our first memories—live our first life—around the age of 1 or 2. Only a few years later, those memories die from childhood amnesia, and we start our next life.
Must keep swimming We spend much of our childhood reading books, watching movies, and living a hundred different fantasy lives. A princess, a superhero, a wizard, a vampire—kids try them all.
A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.George R.R. Martin
Then we grow up and travel a bit, living lives in other places, perhaps as other people. We go to college far away from home, study abroad, backpack in Europe.
If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?Fight Club
There are some memories—some lives—that we try to forget.
Joel Is there any risk of brain damage?
Howard: Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage, but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking. Nothing you'll miss.Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There are some that we forget accidentally.
I have to believe in a world outside my own mind.Leonard Shelby, Memento
Sometimes, we leave bits and pieces for our future selves.
Marshall: So when Lily and I get married... who is gonna get the apartment?
Ted: Wow... that's a tough one. Y'know who I think could handle a problem like that?
Ted: Future Ted & Future Marshall.
Marshall: Totally. Let's let those guys handle it.
And every single night, we lie down, and in our dreams, live still more lives. Is the person who wakes up the same as the one who fell asleep?
A cat has nine lives; a human has a thousand. Enjoy them.