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Conversation on Immortality
The subconscious and involuntary automatism of life is a continuous process and a whole. It does not allow a somewhat one-sided emphasis on one separate piece of living matter. That perspective springs from the developed, waking consciousness and is supported by a spatial separation. The non-voluntary and subconscious stream of life points to the presence of collectivity, of continuity and of the non-self. The non-self already begins in the non-conscious part of our bodies. But the fact that my organism is only conceivable as a phase in the unending and indestructible coherence of human life and is a product of the life-impulses of my ancestors, must have an effect on the constitution of my consciousness. This effect is implied in the same way as the ability to grow is implied in growth during childhood. So, in the constitution of our own Ego and in the consciousness of our selves there must be traces of that collectivity and that continuity and we must be less 'individual', less 'our own' than we are usually inclined to think. We tend to over emphasize individuality. No wonder Hume could not discover the over emphasized I. The depth of our Self is just setting out on its way towards the non-Self. It is, therefore, necessarily non-conscious, sleeping. But it is, for that very reason, the 'root' of our Self.
D. What is the bearing of all this on my thesis? I repeat: my consciousness comes into being when my organism comes into existence and ends with its destruction.
B. It does have a bearing, it seems to me. Let me use bolder language. It will sound more metaphysical. It should be more intelligible, though it may give rise to more objections. Don't you see? The less there is a one hundred percent identifiable Ego - though its identifiability is not zero - the less paradoxical its persistence becomes. The difficulties, the paradoxes all lie in the question of identity and not, as is usually supposed, in the persistence of something, the identity of which is defined and taken for granted. What if nature chose - as it always does in life-processes - to preserve by abandoning. If what there is of an Ego is so closely related to the subconscious Ego that it must, to some extent, be considered one entity, then, to some extent, there is indestructibility of the Ego. If you identify your Ego completely with the conscious experiences of your particular body, then, of course, it will come into being and perish together with that body. But, if you do not identify your Ego entirely with the conscious experiences of your particular body, the line of thought divides along two possible lines. One is traditional and familiar; it assumes that what cannot be identified with your particular body must be something radically different from it, something incorporeal, namely the familiar spiritual entity we call the soul. Let me venture along a different direction.
If my Ego cannot be completely identified with my particular body, the reason may be that this identification does not go far enough - in a physical and biological sense not far enough - because it fails to take into account that the network of collective life participates in my own Self. Collective life, too, awakes to my Ego, not only my body. 'I am not only my body' may be true without, for all that, necessarily comprising what we call a soul. The reason may be that I am more than my body because I am also, to some extent, collective life. The Self, according to this speculation, is not a simple entity, as old proofs of immortality assumed, It is a complex emerging from two elements: my organism which, by itself, (if such a concept were possible) would not account for the Ego, and the collective characteristics and context of life which, taken on their own, would not account for the Self, either.
Here we must keep in mind something we tend to overlook, especially as regards individuality, namely that both individuality and collectivity are not fully real; in their pure form; as extremes, they are abstractions. Life is an oscillating process between the poles of individuality and collectivity, which are never reached as unmixed forms. If the term I stands for unmixed individuality, in one sense, then my real I does not coincide with that I. The Self is a constant current from collectivity towards individuality, without ever attaining the point of individuality fully and finally. Likewise, collective life is impossible without continually giving rise to sub wholes and wholes, i.e. to individuals which are, however, never such in the strict sense. The Self is not a fully individualized thing, but the continuous process of individualization itself.