A good friend of mine woke me up in the middle of the night with a text. I had left my phone near my nightstand to wake up in the morning and the text buzzed me — I was worried that somebody back home had died. My friend’s text was, at least on first glance, not so urgent.
“I can not be a physical thing because I am unified and physical things are all made of parts.”
I got together with him in person at Jinky’s, a popular breakfast spot in my neighborhood. His hands were shaking but he drank cup after cup of espresso.
“My brain is made of cells and my cells are made of atoms but I — what I actually am — is not made of pieces.”
“Sure it is.” I said. “It is made of thoughts and feelings and beliefs and desires and memories.”
“No” he said “There is something linking all of those things — it is the I. I think. I feel. I believe. I desire. I remember. That is a single thing. And it is single in a way no atom or cell or physical item can ever be.”
“You are 1 you say and not 2 or 3 or 1/2?”
“How do you know that the I that thinks “I remember the text I sent last night” and the I that goes with “I taste espresso” are the same I? Maybe you are two or more?”
“I don’t think that’s even possible. Everything I know or think or do is all part of my world.”
“How do you know you have one world? The world has trees and planets and atoms and cells as you said yourself.”
“Because I know everything in the world. I bind it into one world.”
“But we don’t know that your I is one thing.”
“But I do. I know that because…” he faltered “Everything I know I know.”
“I’m not sure you are clarifying anything. All you are saying is that there are things and thoughts. You haven’t yet proved that they are one.”
“But the very fact that I am talking and experiencing this shows that it is all one. If it were two then there would be things that I don’t know or think.”
“But there are.” I said.
“Yes but I don’t know them!” he said. “So the actual world I experience and the actual I who is me is unified.”
“Do you mean to say, perhaps” I suggested “That you treat yourself as one? That you treat the world as one? Because certainly it is up to you whether to treat a deck of cards as 52 things or one thing. Perhaps your expression “unify” meaning after all in English “make one” is closer to your idea. There are a bunch of thoughts and feelings and you make them into one. And similarly the world has a bunch of plants and animals and rocks and stuff but you make them one by thinking about them.”
“Yes!” said my friend “Exactly right. I make them one.”
“How and more importantly why would you do that?” I asked.
Our conversation ended as such conversations often do with a barely perceptible slide into mutual embarrassment, which ocurring as it did below the surface of consciousness slid immediately into the occasion for mutual distraction from our embarrassment, and we talked about less important things — who we knew who lived and who we knew who died, who had sex and fell in love and had children and made money, and we left talk of the “I” and unity far behind.
But for a moment there during breakfast I think we almost had something!