Thanks for the reply. Itâ€™s nice to hear from you. Iâ€™ve enjoyed reading your posts on this Forum.
You cannot know in any verifiable sense that because you did not have a body before you were born, you also did not possess a life of some kind.
My mother tells me that she had to change my diapers (nappies to you) when I was young. Imagine that. If my life on Earth were merely a resumption of an earlier life, isnâ€™t it a wonder that of all the great knowledge acquired in my earlier incarnations, I still had to be re-taught not to shit in my britches? I might have been as clever as a Newton, talented as a Mozart, and as articulate as a Shakespeare in my earlier life (or lives), nonetheless, I arrived in this world drooling saliva out of my mouth.
For the sake of argument, letâ€™s suppose that I did have an earlier existence. Despite the fact that I remember none of it, could it be that Iâ€™ve already lived millions of prior lives? Alex, you might argue at this point that it doesnâ€™t matter if I remember my earlier lives. You might say that the fact that I donâ€™t remember them does not preclude the possibility that I had earlier lives. I say it does
preclude the possibility, and here is my argument.
My argument revolves around the notion of what makes you, you, and me, me. Also of pivotal importance is the concept of the continuity-of-life.
All right, letâ€™s imagine what it might be like to have a very specific earlier life. Letâ€™s erase from your mind everything you have learned since you were conceived in this present life. Yes, I know, youâ€™d be back to drooling and messing your pants. So let's make you a mature man. Your name is Simplicus Simplicissimus. Letâ€™s drop you into the world in what is presentâ€“day Germany, say in the year AD 1669. Despite the fact that youâ€™re an earthy character; you still manage to â€œhumiliate the mighty, confound the gods, and ridicule the pretentious.â€ Youâ€™re something of a rustic version of James Bond. You live in a time and place of incredible upheaval and turmoil, the time of â€œThe 30 Years War,â€ to be exact. Simplicus doesnâ€™t just go to the office after his breakfast of orange juice and Wheaties. Simplicus has to fight daily for his very life. He uses his wit to survive. If he wins, he is allowed a bit of â€œrape and pillage.â€ If he loses, he gets a pike in the belly. Now please remember Alex, this isnâ€™t just your ancestor we are talking about, this is
you, in everything but the flesh.
So, we have you born to parents you now donâ€™t remember, living in a distant time you now know little of, and speaking an old dialect of German which would sound much the same as Greek to you today. You have had incredible memories that you now cannot remember, as well as friends and loves whom you couldn't today even recognize. You perpetually had a bad haircut and smelled like the monkey house. Yes I know, this guy doesnâ€™t look, think, or speak like you do today. Still, despite the fact that you've no recollection of it, and despite the fact that nothing Simplicus thought or did in his entire life changes a single moment of your present life, I'm supposing for the sake of argument that he is as much you, as you are you today.
But wait. If Simplicus bequeathed you nothing; not his genes, not his memories, and not his ideas, then Simplicus could have just as easily been me in a former life as he was you! What claim do you have of him that I could not equally make? Actually, neither of us could make a credible claim that one over the other were Simplicus.
You and I are each the direct product of our individual genetic, environmental, and random histories. Part of what makes me who I am is the scar on my forehead I got when I fell down the steps as a kid. Part of what makes me was my thrill of climbing with a girl into the backseat of my old Chevy. Itâ€™s also the fact that my eyes are blue and my arms were too short to throw a baseball from the outfield to home plate. Part of what makes me who I am was as a kid coming across a novel by Albert Camus, and my early chance hearing of a sonata for violin by J.S. Bach.
If you remove from me all Iâ€™ve experienced in this life, Iâ€™d be back to chewing on my buttons and throwing my food across the table. Iâ€™d have to begin again to make myself; partly from the world as I find it, and partly as I make it. Iâ€™d still have the same parents, the same siblings, and the same body, yet Iâ€™d become a different person. Simplicus had neither the same parents nor the same memories as you and I. Well, I have a term for people with different bodies and different minds than mine. I call them other
people. Simplicusâ€™ entire life of struggle means far less to you or I than the most insignificant and random
event of our life here. One Random Event
One morning as a kid at summer camp, my friends and I decided to practice archery just after breakfast. We were screwing around as usual when we walked up to the range. I was the first to put an arrow in my bow. I aimed, released, and watched my arrow skim just over the top of the bales of hay that held the target. I heard a scream. My legs were barely strong enough to carry me behind the wall of hay to see a woman lying on the ground. She clutched her left arm up near her shoulder and cried hysterically. I nearly wet my pants. Her husband appeared, insane with fright and anger. My arrow wasnâ€™t sticking in her arm. It had struck her and bounced out. I suppose the blunt target head had something to do with that. It did however, make a gouge to the bone. An ambulance took her away, and I never saw her again. I should explain that the two of them had been searching for their own errant arrow behind the wall of hay, as we walked up to begin shooting. I worried for years what would have happened if my aim were just a tiny bit to the left. I would have sent the arrow into the womanâ€™s heart. I might have killed a young woman if only Iâ€™d turned my body a single degree to the left. On the other hand, if Iâ€™d aimed a degree lower, Iâ€™d have hit the bale of hay instead of the woman. Doubtless, Iâ€™d be a somewhat different person today if that arrow had hit the target instead of the woman. An individual life is filled with millions of such â€œcould haveâ€ events. The totality of these millions of "could haves" makes you what you are.
My life has a continuity about it that may be traced back to the first replicating organism on this planet. The climate and food supply of my ape-like ancestors some millions of years ago continues to have a profound effect on what I am today. Each moment since my own birth has had a part in shaping the person that now sits before this keyboard. The next sentence I write is a result of the totality of this history. The stars that exploded billions of years to produce the atoms that give me my body have as much to do with the next sentence I write as does the fact that the mushroom I had for dinner last night wasnâ€™t toxic. Life is a major result of a near infinity of minor details. Herr Simplicus simply wasnâ€™t one of those minor details! My life is mine, his was his, and yours is yours. That I aimed my bow a bit too high back in summer camp, means far more to my life than if â€œIâ€ were the Pharaoh of Egypt in a previous life.
The exploding stars that produced my body were not â€œme.â€ My millions of ancestors whose lives had so much to do with who I am at this moment, were not â€œme.â€ If some nebulous spirit descended from the heavens to further impregnate the moment of my Earthly conception, that spirit was not â€œme.â€ The single celled zygote that attached itself to my motherâ€™s womb and began the process that eventually resulted in my sitting at this keyboard was not â€œme.â€ The microscopic dot of ultra-dense matter that triggered the Big-Bang might be the ultimate zygote of life. Still, that tiny ultra-dense dot of everything wasn't â€œme.â€ Take a way a cell here, a memory there, turn up the heat to high, or turn on the wrong gene, and you will destroy â€œme.â€ Human life is characterized far more by its delicacy rather than by its robustness. If upon my death a spirit should rise out of my body to take flight; well, that spirit wonâ€™t be â€œmeâ€ either. I'm no more a spirit than I'm an arm, a leg, or even an entire collection of body parts. I am a specific, composite biological organism endowed with a unique history.
Let me make one last point. Suppose that we somehow could transcend our own death, and manage to retain our own identity. Which version of me becomes immortal? Perhaps I should better explain my question.
Suppose a man has a normal life, with the usual birth, adolescence, maturity, and old age followed by death. Letâ€™s say that at his maturity he was a happy, successful and respected man, but in his later years he fell ill with Alzheimerâ€™s disease. His last years in were spent in a nursing home, unable to recognize his wife and children, unable even to dress or feed himself. My question to you is, which version of this man flies away with the Angels to become immortal? I suppose we might first think that the man that exists at the moment of his death is the one to fly away. To take the man at any other place in his life would be arbitrary, besides, to preserve the man as he was in his earlier life is to discount a portion of the manâ€™s entire life. If this were permissible, the Angels might as well "rewind" the man at his death, and thus preserve the man as he was at birth. But the â€œmanâ€ at birth is nothing at all like same man at his death! To preserve the man as he was at birth would say that the details of his life were not important. You might suggest that the man as he was at the height of his life should be preserved. Yes, but which point in his life would that be? Would it be when he is 21 and able to play a 90 minute soccer game, or is it when he is 50 and at the height of his successful business and social network? I would point out that even though his Alzheimerâ€™s prevents him from recognizing his wife, even while ill he might have still enjoyed contemplating a vase of roses, or taken some secret delight in hearing a Mozart piano concerto. The day before his death might have held a moment for him that was the most beautiful of his entire life. So my question is; Which version of this ever-changing man would the Angels choose to wisk away so as to preserve his immortality? If they take the eldery and sick man, they leave behind most of his memories. If they take the young man they leave behind most of his life experience.
your premise cannot be verified and therefore it is useless to base anything else upon it.
Alex, along with nearly everything else in this life, my premise can never be absolutely verified. I have however, attempted to explain how it makes sense to me. The subject matter is not at all simple, and despite the fact that language wasn't designed for discussing philosophy, it will have to do. Wittgenstein remarked that:
"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language."
The validity of my viewpoint is one thing, my ability to express it is another thing, and your abilty to understand what I have written is something else altogether. It's a wonder that few of us ever feel we are truly understood.