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Mary George, as I understand conception my father’s sperm that carried half my DNA did function to fight its way up a stream against some resistance to fertilize my mother’s egg. And then the molecular engines inside the egg followed their programming to assimilate the sperm to complete my DNA. Then more molecular engines caused the cell with my DNA to replicate to 2 cells, 4 cells… etc. Eventually some of these cells specialized to form my brain. The sugars and oils in the brain caused the brain engine to start running. This caused my awareness and sensations and thoughts to emerge. I would say this emergence of awareness is when “I” began. So my consciousness and free will (to the extent I have free will) did not precede my existence but rather followed afterwards. As such I don’t think my existence is a choice I was capable of making.

You mentioned your belief in a collective soul. I think you’re implying that something non-physical about me preceded my life and so chose it. I have no sense that this is true so I don’t believe in it. While I can’t tangibly refute an intangible idea like an eternal soul, the fact of its intangibility means that it’s merely guessed at, so the idea doesn’t carry much weight with me. It sounds to me like an idea that’s often believed in because it works for some people. As I mentioned before, I don’t believe the convenience of an idea compels the truth of it.