The Incarnating Embryo – The Embryo in Us – Human Embryonic Development in a Phenomenological Perspective. BY Jaap ven der Wal and Guus van der Bie. In: Torsten Liem (ed.), Osteopathic energetics: Morphodynamic and Biodynamic Principles in Health and Disease, Chapter 10: Handspring Publishing Ltd, 1st ed., 2016
When professionals refer to prenatal life or existence they most often implicitly refer to fetal existence. From a biological point of view prenatal existence includes the phase of embryonic life. The fetus is distinguished from the embryo by the fact that in the former the body plan has been completed, at least at the macroscopic level. Embryonic life is a matter of somatogenesis and organogenesis i.e. formation of the body and of organs. The transition from embryo to fetus is said to be at about 8 to 9 weeks after conception. This means that at about two and an half months of pregnancy the embryonic phase of human existence is considered to be completed and is followed by the next stages or steps in human life i.e. fetus, newborn, childhood and so on. One of the issues of this chapter it to show that embryonic ‘way of life’ is not a past episode but is psychosomatic actuality also in our later cycles of life including adulthood.
In terms of human biology and psychology the embryo functions in a way that differs essentially from the ‘way of life’ of an adult or a child (or even of a fetus). This in particular regards the functioning of the brain and senses. Nowadays it is widely believed that the nervous system in general and the human brain in particular have been proven to be the core of the human mind and human consciousness, of the human psyche or soul so to say. ”Like a kidney produces urine, so the brain produces consciousness” is a widespread notion nowadays. In this typically Cartesian image of man the brain is considered as the origin, the cause of human behavior and psyche and therefore psyche, soul, mind and spirit are reduced to purely physiological i.e. material processes. Within the paradigm of natural science the view prevails that soul or psyche (belonging to the Cartesian realm of res cogitans) should be considered as nothing but a matter of brain action and therefore actually as belonging to the realm of res extensa. This view challenges the moral status of a human embryo: How could an embryo possess mind or soul if it does not even exhibit the shape of an actively functioning brain or nervous system? For most people therefore, the embryo has become a kind of half existence, a phase where man is not yet ‘complete’ or not yet entirely ‘there’. As in the case of brain death the embryo is considered as mindless, which very often in the current moral and ethical debate is regarded as not (yet) human.
The questions at stake could be paraphrased as “What do we actually do when we are an embryo?” Or “Are we actually doing something?”
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