|  ERICH UNGER   Home | Essays | About Us | Contact Us|
Conversation on Immortality
B. Excuse me. Why did you change the terms of relatedness in the middle of your statement? You related consciousness to a body, but the body to other bodies. Why not relate consciousness to the whole set of bodies?
D. Because it is my consciousness; and only one of the bodies, connected through the process of generation, is my body.
B. That is true, on the surface. But, if you go deeper into the meaning of my or mine, you will find remarkable differences within the domain of what you call 'my body'. Part of the bodily processes are experienced by you directly through your waking consciousness; another part is not experienced consciously; you call it 'mine' only because you know from science or from indirect, external observation and inference, that it is causally connected with your conscious experiences. And a causal chain of this kind does not end with the individual organism, with 'mine', but passes into the universal network of collective life. So, one has to keep in mind that the meaning of 'my' and 'mine', when applied to the conscious and voluntary aspect of 'my' bodily experiences, is very different when applied to the unconscious and involuntary side, the physical basis of' my' consciousness. I would like to emphasize this. I would apply 'I', 'my', 'mine' less than wholeheartedly to the involuntary and unconscious side of my conscious being. And I would stress that the unconscious and non-voluntary side of my conscious bodily being extends beyond the boundaries of the individual organism. The contractions of' my' digestive tract are somewhat different from my Self, from 'myself,' as when deciding to write a letter and from the events that form the universal background, the causal processes of collective life that led to the existence of 'my' consciousness. And these events are different from 'myself , just as they are different from the involuntary functions of 'my' body, only in a more remote way. Thus, the unconscious and involuntary individual body already shows the beginning of collective life. So, if my unconscious and involuntary body can form the transition (without any fixed limits) to collective life, - why not connect my consciousness to the whole complex of life and its generative factor, instead of relating it only to its own end, only to its own organism? You would not say: I relate my consciousness only to the brain. You relate it to the whole organism. But that whole organism, too, is no real whole. The real bodily whole is the reproductive mechanism of collective life.
D. But my consciousness comes into being when my organism comes into existence and ends with its destruction.
B. To this I would reply with the words of Kant when he was told by his opponents that Time is real, namely "I grant the whole argument". I do not doubt that a waking consciousness comes into being when an individual organism comes into existence and that it ceases to exist when the organism does. What I question is whether that which is true of my consciousness is true in the same sense of the subconscious and non-voluntary conditions of my consciousness and whether the term 'my' applies in the same simple sense to those conditions that extend beyond my organism. To speak of my consciousness as coming into being in terms of matter, body and organism is not the same as speaking of my consciousness existing in terms of the subconscious and non-voluntary part of life. I say this for the following reason: When I speak of 'my' consciousness, I extend the relation 'mine' to the organism which is the condition of my consciousness. The organism is a spatial individual piece of living matter, part of which is experienced in my consciousness. It can be declared 'mine', the more so since it separates itself spatially from the web of collective life during the transitory process in which it forms itself out of the organism of its parents. So, while it is nobody's and is in part experienced by 'me', whereto should it be coordinated but to me. I am the resting center of coordination and everything related to that center is 'mine'. I am the defining term. If, on the other hand and conversely, the rise of the I and of 'my' consciousness is seen in terms of and from the point of view of the non-voluntary and subconscious automatism of life, the limitation cannot be something which, in the other aspect, is termed 'my' organism. Even in my own organism, the involuntary part is, as we have said, not properly and in the same sense 'mine' as my waking consciousness.