Proto-Self

Before “I” was, there was “it”: the consciousness-less, functioning, embryonic organism, generated either in vitro or directly by the parents, which succeeded in forming for itself a nervous system and a brain which then, at some point, brought forth indeed a consciousness, through which “I” began to exist. When might this have been? We will surely never be able to measure it nor indeed to learn anything precise about it at all. Perhaps we can agree on the fact that a certain knot of nerves, or a brain, is an indispensable precondition for a larva or an embryo’s acquiring a basic consciousness or awareness. A good candidate for the point marking this transition both in human beings and in the higher animals is perhaps that stage of development that is designated by the word “foetus”. When the embryo developed this minimal consciousness or “proto-self” and became a “foetus”, at this point “my” existence began. Had that still-consciousness-less embryo which came later in fact to constitute ME been destroyed before this occurred, then “I” would not have been killed thereby (since “I” did not yet exist). What was destroyed would rather have been an inanimate embryo, although this destruction would have prevented a killable “I” (an “I” capable of dying) from beginning to exist (>Abortion).

Where one takes into account this pre-natal “proto-self”, that “new beginning” so celebrated by advocates of natality (and so vehemently insisted upon against a supposed “stream of death” in philosophy – not just at the point of our birth but already some months prior to this. We can clearly see from this that the attempt to oppose, to the supposedly death-obsessed philosophy so far produced by Man a “philosophy of natality” suffers ab ovo from a certain important flaw. If we begin, in fact, to live already some months before our birth – namely, as soon as a “proto-self” emerges from a merely embryonal “it” – then what ought to give occasion to celebration is this initial constitution of “I-ness” and not the birth occurring several months later.

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