The Seven Year Itch

You might be me. Did you ever think of that? In seven years every atom on my body will be replaced by new atoms. That’s just the way the universe works. Atoms are only on your body for a vacation (7 years. The 7 Year itch.)

Then they take off and find somewhere new to go. They might even end up in you. Some of them probably will.

What atoms? Some hydrogen, some oxygen. Some carbon I guess. I don’t know. There’s chemistry all over your body. And its largely disgusting. You know you probably only have about 10 trillion cells on you. But guess how many microbes that could even be categorized as living insects are on you this very second. About 100 trillion. They should build a social network and go public. Or pubic. Haha.

(maybe the 7 yr itch happens because we have 100% new atoms)

So the human body is about 10% human and 90% insect. You need those insects to keep you alive.

But who cares about that. I’m more concerned about my atoms. For instance, the atoms on my fingers, typing this article. I’ll miss them when they are gone. They were good to me. Where will they end up seven years from now?

Maybe they will end up on you? Maybe seven years from now you will be more me than I am! You will have more of my atoms from the past four decades than I will have, perhaps.

You never know.

I already miss the 5 year old me. He had fun all the time.  But his atoms are 100% different than mine now.

Does that mean he wasn’t me? Does that mean he was a completely different person. Something links that little boy and me

But we had different atoms.

For the most part we had different emotions

For the most part we had different thoughts and completely different ways of thinking.

We probably even prayed to different gods. I know this, based on the psychic email message he has sent me through something called “memory” which may or may not have been hacked: he prayed to the sun (because it was fun), he prayed to snow (sledding!), he prayed for grandma (gifts!), he prayed for a big BM (we still have that in common).

So who was that stranger. That 5 year old little punk calling himself “James”. And seven years from now, who will that stranger be who carries my name and thinks he has some claim on the memories I’m living now. He won’t even remember 1/10 the stuff I do today. That 5 year old is gone. His atoms dispersed throughout the universe. Even yesterday’s version of me is pretty much different in a billion ways than I am now (probably most of those 100 trillion microbes that kept me alive have been destroyed and replaced by their kin).

As for tomorrow’s version…? He’s a complete stranger to me now. He’s dead to me.

(these microbes are all over your body - 10 for every one atom)

Four years ago I was scared of losing money. I was scared of losing a marriage. I was scared of losing my kids. I started a business or two and lost them. Was that me? The atoms are different. I’m actually healthier now so I have healthy atoms on me. The emotions are different (I stopped hanging out with crappy people. I realized  I didn’t need to be afraid all the time. Or insecure) My thoughts are different (I have a lot more ideas every day thanks to my regimen of the daily practice, I blog every day). Spiritually I’m different. I don’t even know if I had a spiritual life then. Now, whatever spiritual even means, I know I have it. I’m still anxious about taking care of all the people around me. But to some extent I like to do that.

And so given that I know this, who will I be tomorrow, or four years from now, or 7, or 50.

I will tell you who I will be. The food I eat and the air I breath and the emotions and thoughts I “eat” (since they help with digestion and infection and immunity). And that’s it. There’s nothing else. I don’t get matter or atoms from anywhere else.

And what about my atoms now?

I’ll be the shit that hit the fan. I’ll be particles heading towards the center of a black hole. I’ll be atoms and microbes probably inside every other human being and animal on the planet. What do you say sister? You’re the love of my life. Because probably all of your atoms were on me at some point and mine are on you. I hope, then, you will be nice to me.



  • James, your writing is beyond awesome.

    If you ever decide to put any kind of media project on Kickstarter, like Ze Frank’s

    or a novel / movie / comic book / video game combination, or whatever, I am totally in.

    Thank you for continually brightening my day and the days of countless others.

  • Tscarborough

    Dang James, you got the gift!  I really look forward to reading your stuff.  And the comments/answers. Please keep it coming.

  • Chileanminor

    James, I’m a 20 yr old college dropout who has been reading your blog for about a yr now and it really has changed my life. I was literally trying to commit suicide before i started reading your blog. college really fucked up my life and no one could help me or give me any other advise besides, “you need to get back in school”.

    so thank you.
    and please email me i would love to talk to you

    • Daniel Beauregard

      @8684521aba72239834b67e2fae00fb7c:disqus I don’t know if James has responded to you but I was in a very similar position when I found this blog last year. I was in a very dark spot, had just lost my “dream” job and had to replace it with a very low paying not-so-dream-job. I lost money, I lost confidence and I lost myself. It all sounds very dramatic but it was one of those times where life was just beating me down. Sounds like you’ve had a similar experience, although from a very different perspective.

      This blog, and the practices I’ve learned from it – ultimately from James – changed my life in more ways then I’ll ever be able to describe or give appreciation for. The only way I know how to truly give thanks is to thank James whenever I get a chance, pay it forward to others who have gone through, or are going through at the moment, similar circumstances and to remember to take care of myself so I can be there for those around me. 

      Remember your daily practice, remember to ignore all the BS news and crappy people who try to beat the hell out of you all the time – aka: all those people who can’t think of anything else to say to you other than push you to go back to school – and don’t be afraid to mess up every single day.

      • Love to see what impact James has on people’s lives.

        His blog helped me to change my direction as well. Happy to be here!

  • roidude

    And yet your DNA, in a sense, extends all the way back to the first common ancestor life form 3.5 billion years ago.

    • And yet we have some control over how that DNA (and RNA) expresses by way of epigenetics.  

  • rolex85

    Hey James!

    I have to correct you: Yes every 7 years a new James, BUT the older you get, the longer it takes to complete the full regeneration circle. So when you were 5 years old, 7 years is true, but with 50 it could be 15 years or similar. THATS the only reason we die: The regeneration circle gets longer and longer, till the destruction is too great for the regeneration.

    Your thinking is ok, but dont you think it is depressing? I know, I know… we cannot change it and therefore we should be happy about it, but it _is_ depressing, no matter how you put it?

    •  I dont think its depressing. I think its a good thing, that we’re all probably interconnected in some way.

  • Very sweet and great post!  I think most of your atoms are already in me… I hope I get to write as good as you!

    • Egdg

      Would love to share some atoms with you too, Claudia!:-)

  • xdisciple

    A typical reductionist view.  Of course it’s wrong.  The human mind is not exclusively the product of its constituent atoms.  What modern science is completely missing (if not outright denying even though it is staring us in the face) is CONSCIOUSNESS as a Field of Force.

  • mikeyhell

    This question was recently posed to me: If atoms turn over every 7 years or so then why do tattoos last a lifetime? It must be the way the ink is injected that keeps a tat alive but I don’t know the details of tat tech. Anybody out there have an idea? Stem cells?

  • Very very existential of you James! There is a rejuvenating thought to all that you wrote. Literally, and metaphorically. Philosophy meets physics and no answer is wrong. Other than, “you’re wasting your time.” Thank you for this refreshing bolt of thought!

  • the pontificator

    Fun-to-read post, as usual!  But it does help spread the false meme that we fully replace all of our atoms  . . . I always wondered about this so I checked out a science discussion board, to see what the brainiacs had to say.  NO, this isn’t a blog advertisement, dangit!  here’s the page

    Scroll down a bit and we find this offering, you may find interesting . . . I would speculate that humans realize that they change very fast. “Yesterday-Me” was drunk and happy, as a result “Current-Me” (which is the real me, because Current-Me perceives the world) has a hangover. And has to work so that “Tomorrow-Me” had some results to report to boss/client and “Year-Later-Me” got bonuses and longer vacation. Yesterday-Me is a mean guy because when he enjoys life Today-Me suffers. Future-Me is elusive (there is no guarantee of any kind, not even that “Year-Later-Me” will live). So, should I work for some vague guy in future if I can do something pleasant now? This idea is very old. You might recall that criminals in ancient Greece argued that the crime was committed by some other guy (Earlier-Me), so, why should Today-Me be punished? Clearly, these questions are counterproductive and dangerous to both the “philosopher” and his neighbors. As a result, people started to convince each other that you are the same person from birth to death. Arguments were simple: yes, your habits, manners, and behavior gradually change, but the body remains the same. Well, size changes, proportion change too .. but (ace of trump) you form a continuous line in space-time. The idea that body remains the same became a dogma. Nowadays we work for better tomorrow because we logically understand that we should and because we suppress feelings (the feelings suggest to enjoy life now) with the “same body” dogma. When one suddenly*** discovers that his body changes quite fast his carpe diem attitude surfaces. Some people give in and die out, others experience pain in the lower part of the back, but bite the bullet, go into denial, and win the evolutionary race.

  • LOL! James turns full time philosopher. Some Metaphysics discussed here!

  • I’m disturbed.  James Altucher, the wisest man I know, twice referred to bacteria as “insects.”  And none of the comments have pulled him up on it. Is this an indictment of the American education system?

    Insects are just as closely related to bacteria as humans are. An elephant is more closely related to a mushroom. Insects (animals), mushrooms (fungi) and bacteria are completely different orders of life, except for the fact that we are all life-support systems for bacteria.

    The other thing is that a lot of that bacteria you mentioned really are “us” because they come from our DNA.  Example: mitocondrial DNA is considered to be a bacteria that has co-evolved to live inside of us. 

    James, I’d like to reccomend a truly magical, wonderful and enlightening book for your reading list. It’s called The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins.  This book made me rediscover a love of nature that I’d forgotten since I was 10 years old. It traces the story of evolution from humans back to bacteria (and beyond to the beginning of life). It goes through every branch one by one, humans and chimps, or primates from (say) elephants, or mamals to fish to insects, all the way back through plants and animals and back to bacteria. It’s the best non-fiction book I have ever read and it should be compulsory reading for every school student, or at least those that confuse insects and bacteria! :-)  (sorry, couldn’t resist).

    love & magic!

    • Guest

      What the fuck are you even saying in this post? Elephants related to shrooms?? Take James advice and stop talking so much

    • Good catch, Simon.  I am glad you brought that up because I was experiencing similar consternation at the error.  The mistake isn’t a big deal, but your correction has been enlightening.  Thanks

  • I love Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, but I can’t listen to it without thinking of “The Seven Year Itch.”

  • Boblanggood

    Emily Dickinson wrote a stanza, “The Single Hound”,  that relates to your post:

    This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
    And lads and girls
    Was laughter and ability and sighing,
    And frocks and curls,
    This passive place a summer’s nimble mansion,
    Where bloom and bees
    Fulfill’d their oriental circuit, Then ceased, like these.

    Or as Wayne Dyer wrote “like one particle of magnesium from a sword showing up later in the femur of a panther”.

  • PJ

    Actually a good deal of your atoms will now be happily living as your bed and favorite chair, and vice-versa. ;-)  Nice article!

  • P_Jaunne

    So, we all share and recycle all our atoms over and over again ad infinitum.  With other people, with animals, insects, vegetables, the rain, the ocean, on and on.  More than 99% of people’s DNA are exactly the same, but we think we are unique and different.  Our senses and perception can’t seem to grasp reality.  It’s not designed for it. Just like we can’t perceive or sense that even though we are sitting still in front of our laptops reading this, we are actually moving thousand and thousand miles per second, ridding on this space ship call earth that circles the sun, that in turn circles our galaxy in the universe.  And the universe itself is ever expanding.  All these movements and we don’t feel a thing. We are like in a virtual online world made up of atoms instead of vector graphics computed in a server somewhere and rendered on each players display by a graphic chips on the players computers. The question then, if this is a virtual world, is there a real world? how is it like? where? 

    But then again just like a line in the other post the other day, the real answer is probably simply: “who cares!?”  If ignorance is bliss, could it be, then, deliberate ignorance is enlightenment.  :)

  • James, I believe everything thing you said about “atoms” recycling in a person’s body is also true for a bigger construct — the cell. I do believe they get recycled at some rate. Also: we are not 90% insect, I think we are 90% bacteria. Bacteria are plants. So we are 90% green. That’s pretty good. You shouldn’t feel so disgusted. Gee, I am starting to write like you.