01 Jul The Science of Eternal Life | Jean Finot | Inspirational Podcast
Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of inspirational fashion and gift ideas. Visit them online at BookofZen.com. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from The Philosophy of Long Life by Jean Finot, published in 1908.
The world is led, not only by ideas, but above all by words. It is sometimes only necessary to give a thing a pleasant or a repulsive name, and our mind will be at once penetrated with the significance thus lent to it. The word becomes idea, thought, and conviction—the covering of the object thus identifying itself with the object itself.
If the vanishing of our body (instead of being called death or disappearance) had been conceived as a resurrection, a sort of return to the immortality of nature, it would rather evoke a delicious shiver at the mystery of the afterlife, instead of the horrors of nothingness.
It is by will that we repeat certain words, and it is these words which in the course of time become our faith. It is this faith in its turn which impresses our mind, and makes its conceptions hereditary and innate. Faith is born of words, and acts are born of faith.
Not only do ideas change to power and to acts, but acts, by their repetition, are transformed in their turn to power and to ideas. The false direction given to our thoughts of death has falsified its significance and its end.
Death is perhaps not so desperate a condition as we think it. We have distorted its meaning and thus it escapes our comprehension. The fear with which it inspires us may be compared to the fear of poverty. Those who look at its good side easily accommodate themselves to it. Others, and these are far more numerous, fear it like death itself. All depends on the angle at which we place ourselves to observe it.
Francis Bacon observed that there is no passion in the heart of men and women so weak that it cannot surmount the fear of death. The desire of vengeance triumphs over death, love scorns it, honor breathes it, despair flies to it, fear advances it, faith embraces it with a sort of joy.
The great poets, who with their supreme intuition have succeeded in foreseeing the science of tomorrow, have found in the picture of the infinite sorrows and limitless despair which death means to the average individual, smiling visions of hope and joy. Virgil says with irony: “Is it such a great misfortune to lose one’s life?” To Lucretius death alone comes to the help of nature in creating life.
If things are ordinarily only valued for their rarity, life (as the great object of our efforts, of our enthusiasm, and our desires) being more frequent, durable, and inseparable from the organized being, loses by that very fact much of the price of affection which we attach to it. Scattered with an unparalleled prodigality, it is universal in the world.
Considered impartially in the light of modern science, the phenomenon of death offers us much unforeseen consolation. Death is our companion of every day and every minute, and its manifestations are as permanent as those of life. When we remember that we are dying piecemeal at every moment, we cease to understand the fear with which the so-called final deliverance inspires in us.
We know that our body is composed of an innumerable quantity of cells, which each live its own life and keep their individuality. Guided by the principle of the division of labor, each cell fulfils its functions and contributes to the prosperity of the whole. The cells are the bearers of hereditary properties, the source whence are born the germs of new tissues, and the motors of the vital activity of our organism.
Now these cells, the infinite number of little beings of which our physiological ego is composed, are born, evolve, and die. The continued, permanent, and inextricable death of these cells thus forms the condition of our life. Without the death of the cells of the salivary glands there would be no saliva, a condition inseparable from digestion, and, consequently, from life itself. With the death of a cell, however, dies a portion of ourselves.
Looked at from this point of view our organism is nothing but a vast cemetery, and our vital processes are a series of successive burials. The cells are not automatic little beings, working independently of one another. As in a well-organized state, where each citizen has their rights and their duties, each cell has its functions to fulfil, while being bound up with the whole of our nervous system.
All cells, living their individual lives, form intrinsic parts of our corporeal ego, and when some of them take their departure they are but infinitesimal portions of our ego which have died. The cells of the organism live together and die separately.
Out of thirty thousand millions of cells of which the human organism is composed it is absolutely admitted that at least twenty-four thousand millions are renewable. In other words, about 80 per cent of our organism is constantly dying and being replaced by other cells.
We do not think of this series of deaths of our physiological ego, just as we do not think of the series of deaths of which our soul is constantly the theatre. For our moral and intellectual ego is also only a vast cemetery, where lie our successive states of consciousness. In the case of a thinking individual, the morrow never finds them identical with their state of the previous day.
The sensations, the thoughts, the pleasures or the vexations of life, and in default of these, the constant and brutal fact of the variations of age and of the health of the body, are forever modifying, in an uninterrupted manner, the state (or rather the states) of our soul.
It dies in us from our infancy onward. It goes in pieces, in imperceptible fragments. The soul of an old man is not the soul at the dawn of his life. The gulf between the soul which a woman has at five years old and that which she will have at fifty is doubtless more profound than between the soul of an American and that of an ancient Egyptian.
These phases of incessant renovation give to the human mind the aspect of a cemetery of dead souls, just as our physiological life is an unending funeral procession of dead cells. And yet it is sad to part from one’s (quote) “individuality.” For death, they tell us, brings with it the breakdown and disappearance of the individual.
But what is individuality? We suspect its existence, but we do not know it. Where does it begin? What is our ego, what are its essential qualities? How can we separate it from the other individualities which people the universe? Science refuses to give it a definition; religion sometimes raises it in our eyes and sometimes tramples it scornfully under-foot, while our observation of ourselves and of our surroundings inspires us with the most contradictory conclusions.
Physiologically our body is only a co-ordination of numerous cells, limitless and nameless republics, subject to evolution and revolution, always changing and always changeable, living, disappearing, and resuscitating in our organic economy. Is our individuality that of our infancy, adolescence, maturity, old age, or of the thousand passing shades which separate the chief divisions of human life?
Each step that we take in life, each day which is added to its past cycle, the food which we take and that which we do without, the exercise of the body and that of the mind, our joys and sorrows, happiness and unhappiness, sickness or insomnia, all contribute to the fundamental modification of our organism, and thence to the alteration of our ego.
What then is this individuality which we lament? We apply the term “individual” to ourselves and to animal life, but we refuse to apply the same term to the mineral world. Yet, according to scientists, a crystal forms an individuality with numerous parts intimately united. Resembling individuals of the animal world, crystals live, grow, and die.
One imperative consequence of life is that it can ONLY be born of death. “Life is death” says Claude Bernard. The individual only lives because they die. In the egg the muscles, the bones, the nerves, and the organs appear and take their form, and, while developing these same organs become disorganized and destroyed.
In other words, the evolution of the being is only the invisible theatre of death. The most salient facts of life, the most imposing, are intimately allied to death. The anger which causes us to contract the muscles, the laugh which makes our faces beam, the thought which wrinkles our forehead, the aesthetic enjoyment which hastens our delight, are always accompanied by an organic destruction, a death of the cells.
Grizzly bears, when they wake after their hibernation, at once destroy their stored up provisions. Without destruction there is no vital creation. Without death there is no life. Organic creation, Life, is unimaginable without the physico-chemical phenomena of destruction. Always and everywhere death and life succeed each other, and mingle in a mysterious embrace.
There are as many of the principles of life in death as principles of death in life. We might express their curious intimacy by a formula of the precision of a chemical combination: Life-Death applying to life, and Death-Life summing up the essence of death. The principle of life seems so deeply rooted in organized bodies that it ends up triumphant, in spite of all the obstacles which spring up in its path.
There is no death in nature. Its youth is eternal, like its activity and its fertility. Death is an idea relating to perishable beings, to these fugitive forms upon which the beam of life shines successively, and it is these uninterrupted trans- formations which constitute the order and the matter of the universe.
Philosophically speaking, life persists in spite of the breaking of the contact of the whole. Grafting and budding in plants are only performed by virtue of the same principle of the autonomy of the cells. Our living body is perhaps, after all, only a combination of millions or thousands of millions of little beings or living individuals. Human life would thus be only the result of these tens of thousands of lives, whose greater meaning escapes us.
The cell (the atom) in spite of its movements, its migrations, and its apparent changes, remains indestructible. Death, as we fear it, is but an empty word. Above it lies the law of the conservation of matter, an immortal law, the law of Life. The continuity of life, and consequently the immortality of the partial forces which dwell in us, is the elementary law of the evolution of beings.
The conception of death, as it is enrooted in our minds, makes us hate and fear it. For the sake of the happiness of humanity (with our fascinating mysteries, our aspirations, and our impenetrable psychic faculties), which trembles cowardly before death, we must demolish these erroneous opinions.
Death is only the mysterious continuation of life. What does it matter that it is differently manifested? What does it matter if a living being has complex organs: lungs, a heart, a brain, or glands? All this is not absolutely necessary to life.
Death conceived as “nothingness” is enough to sadden our existence; but death considered as a “change of life”, now that will prevent us from fearing it and make us almost love it.
Subscribe to the Inspirational Living Podcast at iTunes & Stitcher
All transcripts from our inspirational podcasts are edited adaptations of the original work and copyrighted by LivingHour.org. For reproduction permission please contact us via our contact page.