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Conversation on Immortality
B. If by 'empirical Self you understand one that contains a particular organism as one of its constituents - certainly!
D. Some people would not call that immortality.
B. Don't forget, my dear David, that you have to account for mortality too, after all. The idea is to combine, in one theory, mortality and immortality.
S. Excuse me. You seem to be advocating nothing less than some sort of theory of re-birth, if I have understood the gist of what you say correctly. You actually seem to think that one can justify the idea that the Self of one human being can partially at least - whatever that partially means - be the same as that of another human being. Is that so?
B. Yes. I admit it.
D. Then, to my mind, you are admitting an open absurdity. Could your Ego and my Ego be even partially the same?
B. I am not here going to defend the metaphysical arguments that would, in fact, even maintain what you say. It does not apply to our question. We are, unfortunately, contemporaries. I mean no offense, nor am I passing judgment about which of us may have deserved a better fate. Our respective organisms provide strong evidence that precludes any fusion of our Selves except in a remote metaphysical sense, which we need not examine now. But if you compare two personalities that live successively, the possibilities are obviously different. When one says I, it cannot be the other saying it.
If we keep to what we may call the relation theory, many reasons can be adduced, which would speak in favor of a close connection of the past Ego with the present. The body is not only the condition of the Self, it is, at the same time, the obstacle to another body becoming the Self. And if we can take our eyes away from the organism enclosing the whole condition of a Self, and pay attention to the importance (for the Self) of the 'field relation' of this organism to its collectivity, we may perhaps detect the true kernel in the frequent arguments of philosophers past and present who maintain that not the whole of human consciousness, but something of it is imperishable. This concept of an indestructible something within human consciousness is extraordinarily important, because it brings to light a forgotten and unfulfilled parallelism between mind and body. In order to make clear what I mean, let me remind you of a factor in the reproductive system of our species, the role of germ plasm. I happen to have with me an expert biological formulation on the subject, because I borrowed a little book of essays by Julian Huxley from my friend Sandy. Wait a moment. (Looks under the bunk.) Here it is (reads): "Thus there is something that connects generation with generation by actual continuity of substance and this something is usually known by Weissmann's name: germ-plasm. This is potentially immortal". And here, a little further on : "In each generation the germ-plasm splits off from its immortal Self a mortal part - the individual's body...From the point of view of the species, the soma - that means the body - is but a soon worn out casket for keeping safe the germ-plasm's undecaying pearls - save that here the pearls make the caskets". 'Potentially immortal' means that in the germ-plasm there is no inner cause of decay, no inner time limit of life's duration, and destruction can only come about through external causes.