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Conversation on Immortality
D. Suppose I grant you this mysterious stuff, - which, in fact, I don't. What has all this to do with immortality? I don't quite see what you are aiming at.
B. I'll try to formulate it in another way. Traditional reasoning on immortality assumes and tries to make comprehensible a spiritual entity, the soul, the Self, the Ego, and then looks for possibilities - in religious arguments even for the whereabouts - of its persistence. Which means that it starts from some definition of soul and then searches for its continued existence that either follows from the definition or involves other reasons. Now, why not start from the other end? Why not start from something that is admitted to be indestructible and then look to see is that something may have a place or a share in what we call the Self? Let us take immortality where we find it as a fact and make the definition of the Ego our problem.
D. All right. There is a general collective immortality. But it is not just yours or mine.
B. Maybe 'yours' or 'mine' are much more problematic than we assume in daily life and in daily science. Maybe everyday speech does not use 'yours' or 'mine' correctly. Clearly, they cannot simply be abolished, as they were by Hume when he declared non-existent every meaning other than that of common speech. You must admit that, from a purely formal, logical point of view, if -I say if- the general collective life were to be recognized as a component in the Self, the Self would, to that extent, participate in the indestructibility of life.
D. Unfortunately, that comfortable collective human life is not mine.
B. Surprising as that may seem, it actually is.
L. He is a socialist!
B. Your joke is not as wild as you think, my dear Lowenthal.
D. How can you call it 'mine'? With an apparent paralogism, you are changing the place of the attribute 'mine' from a place where everybody agrees that it is, namely my unconscious organism, to a place where nobody would expect to find it, namely the collective complex of human life.
B. I don't deny the predicate 'mine' to my unconscious organism completely. I only advocated a reduced applicability. Much less do I apply it without qualification to the non-voluntary tissue of collective life. I only say that the latter must have a role, yet to be clarified, in the make-up of my Self and that it therefore deserves to be called the ultimate horizon of what is mine. Also, that in that horizon all human Selves must be rooted and united. It is their common biological fundament. But this common base and root of the Selves is only one component of the human Self. The other is his particular body.
S. Now listen here, all of you. This is becoming more and more speculative and metaphysical. Does what you have been saying amount to something like 'the common soul of Mankind'?
B. Such a term would seem too far beyond the facts for my liking. All that the facts justify is speaking of an inter-connection of human individuals through all sorts of biological impulses. There is no call for a metaphorical exaggeration like 'the common soul of Mankind'. By biological impulses I mean sexual, social drives, an interweaving that is reflected in the structure of the human organism. It is the whole impulse-linked complex of individuals that I call collective life.
Let us look at the gigantic automatism of the non-voluntary life of our species, on which the waking consciousness of every single organism rests as a thin layer. In the large scale view, the conscious minds of all of them are included; they are part of the natural dynamics of non-voluntary, collective life. If we fix our eyes on the vast, miraculous pattern of motion formed by human kind, it would seem that our voluntary consciousness has contributed nothing to its formation. But we must not lose sight of the existence of the dynamic pattern, the moving forces of which are the irresistible biological impulses that bind the individual to its collectivity. We must not overlook the existence of the super-individual, biological 'field' in our awareness of the spatial separateness of single, individual organisms and our over-valuation of their conscious wills. Just as material particles, spatially separate, belong to the gravitational or magnetic field in which they move, so our organisms are determined to some extent, perhaps wholly -1 won't bring in the problem of free will here - by the biological urges which link us, literally link our Selves, to the human whole. A Self is a current, a tension between an organism and a collectivity. Only one polarity can fall away, die, the organism. The reproductive polarity of the Self, I venture to suggest, persists. Something like falling asleep in a larger context.