Most, if not all, human languages contain a word which designates the end of our existence: that death which represents the consummation of the long process of dying. But are there languages which have an equally concise term for the beginning of this existence? One can, of course, in almost any language, have recourse, where all conciser terms are lacking, to the composite expression: “beginning of life” as a direct counterpart to “life’s end”. Whereas, however, the term “death” and its equivalents in the various languages can count, unproblematically, as synonyms for “life’s end”, the same is by no means true of “birth” as a synonym for “life’s beginning”. This inasmuch as it has long since been common knowledge that we are alive prior to our being born. Let us opt, then, for the moment, for the notion and expression “beginning of life”.
In contradistinction to the “organismic” theory of the beginning of a life the “mentalistic” theory which we wish to present here holds that a new living being begins to exist only at the point at which an organism (or some other entity) begins to display mental characteristics.
A new living being begins to exist at the point where a hitherto consciousness-less organism acquires consciousness or (as we might also put it) at the point where such an organism begins to display psychical or mental characteristics. A different sort of “beginning of life” might hypothetically occur in another way: namely, through some non-organic entity – an electronic system, for example – acquiring sentience for the first time.
On earth/in the universe in general what is generally called “life” began when the first organism acquired psychical properties.
“The beginning of life” is thus to be distinguished from conception, from the first emergence of an organism, and from birth. A human being begins to live when an existing human organism (a foetus) develops for the first time psychical/mental qualities such as the capacity to experience pain or taste. Generally speaking, the beginning of a life takes the form of a transition from the state of an organism without consciousness to that of an organism endowed with consciousness. Organisms (or other entities) with consciousness constitute living beings.