Literally and figuratively

“Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years. That means there’s not even the smallest part of you now that was part of you seven years ago.”

Steven Hall

“Everything about your life, about your body, grows! Your cells regenerate; your hair, your nails, everything grows for your entire life. And your soul needs exploration and growth. And the only way you’ll get it is by forcing yourself to be uncomfortable. Forcing yourself to get outside, out of your head.”

Mel Robbins

“The short answer is that this seven-year-replacement factoid is, sadly, incorrect. But we do know our cells regrow and replenish. How long does that take — and, back to the main point, why don’t our scars ever truly heal?”

Sam Westreich PhD (full post)

Literally. Literally one of the most misused words since ironic. For me, I’ve fallen prey to the enticing feeling of literally misrepresenting a figurative thought or situation. I will likely fall prey to it in this post. Again. But I do get it, I am an aspiring writer, and proper usage of these words should then be part of my toolbox. My arsenal for lobbing truths across the wall. And yet, I feel there’s a grey area. A sort of juxtaposition of these two words. Maybe I don’t literally mean literally, but I’m expressing a feeling that is much stronger than figuratively. But then again, perhaps this usage is like overusing (or even using at all) “very”. As Mark Twain said, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” And yet I stand very firm on the fast and loose usage of literally. Let’s talk about one particular distinction.

In case you’re confused by the quotes above and my post so far, let me clear it up. Maybe you’ve heard, or not, the concept that the cells of our body continually replace themselves. Meaning that after a certain period of time, every cell in your body will have replaced itself. Therefore you are literally a different person than you were that certain period of time before. Well. Are you though?

This is not a new thought. As a matter of fact this has been chewed on by many a great mind. I love this sort of brain exercise. What makes a thing a thing. What makes a ship the Theseus? What makes a collection of yucky cells all loosely held within a sack of skin Marv? Me? I have the same sorts of innards as you do dear reader. But I’m not you, and you’re not me, yet we so very similar. Literally. Concerning the Theseus, the quote below from Plutarch states plainly, especially for a philosopher, the crux of the problem.

“The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned from Crete had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their places, in so much that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”

Plutarch, Theseus

All this being said, I can confidently affirm that I am literally figuratively not the same person I was a couple of decades ago. Hell, even a decade ago. Sure some of my body’s cells have been replaced. But it’s not the literal physiology of me that has changed. It’s my thoughts. My opinions. My acceptance of things which are outside of my comfort zone, my realm of knowing. And I think it’s the adjustment of my “knower”. As in I just know deep down in my knower that things like marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose, the allowance of self-identification, are all the right things to acknowledge and respect. And that changing one’s mind really is a very good thing. Mark Twain be damned.

Peace and love (literally, ironically very literally)

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