We are not merely perishable at the end of our lives. Most parts of us perish during our lifetime only to be substitute by other perishable parts. The cycles of death and birth repeat themselves many times in a life span – some of the cells in our bodies survive for as little as one week, most for not more than one year; the exceptions are the precious neurons in our brains, the muscle cells of the heart, and the cells of the lens. Most of the components that do not get substituted – such as the neurons – get changed by learning. (In fact, nothing being sacred, even some neurons may get substituted). Life makes neurons behave differently by altering, for instance, the way they connect with others. No component remains the same for very long, and most of the cells and tissues that constitute our bodies today are not the same we owned when we entered college. What remains the same, in good part, is the construction plan for our organism structure and the set points for the operations of its parts. Call it the spirit of the form and the spirit of the function.
When we discover what we are made of and how we are put together, we discover a ceaseless process of building up and tearing down, and we realised that life is at the mercy of that never-ending process. Like the sand castles on the beaches of our childhood, it can be washed away. It is astonishing that we have a sense of self at all, that we have some continuity of structure and function that constitutes identity, some stable traits of behaviour we call a personality. Fabulous indeed, amazing for certain, that you are you and i am me.
But the problem goes beyond perishable and renewal. Just as death and life cycles reconstruct the organism and its parts according to a plan, the brain reconstructs the sense of self moment by moment. We do not have a self sculpted in stone and, like stone, resistant to the ravages of time. Our sense of self is a state of the organism, the result of certain components operating in a certain manner and interacting in a certain way, within certain parameters. It is another construction, a vulnerable pattern of integrated operations whose consequence is to generate the mental representation of a living individual being. The entire biological edifice, from cells, tissues, and organs to systems and images, is held alive by the constant execution of construction plans, always on the brink of partial or complete collapse should the process of rebuilding and renewal break down. The construction plans are all woven around the need to stay away from the brink…"
— ANTONIO DAMASIO; The feeling of what happens: Body and emotions in the making of consciousness, page 143 to 145.
As a preliminary manifestation of the powers that are breaking in play, the frog, coming up as it were by miracle, can be termed the “herald”; the crisis of his appearance is the “call to adventure”.
The herald’s summons may be to live, as in this fairy tale, or a later moment of the biography, to die. It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed “the awakening of the self”. In the case of the princess of this fairy tale, it signified no more than the coming of adolescence.
But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage of grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration - a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand."
The hero with a thousand faces; page 42-43
— Oscar Wilde