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The philosopher instrument is sentient; he’s at the same time the musician and the instrument. Sentient, he has a momentary consciousness of the sound he is rendering; animal, he remembers it; memory, the organic faculty, by connecting the sounds inside itself, at the same time produces and retains the melody. Imagine that the harpsichord possesses both sentience and memory, and tell me if it won’t know and replay by itself the tunes you have played on its keys. We are instruments endowed with sentience and memory. Our senses are like keys plucked by the environment which surrounds us, and that often pluck themselves; and there, in my judgment, you have everything that takes place in a harpsichord constructed like you and me.
–Denis Diderot, Entretien entre D’Alembert et Diderot (Le rêve de D’Alembert) (1769) in: Œuvres (Pléiade ed. 1951), p. 880 (S.H./E.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Percentage increase in the annual number of polio cases in Pakistan since 2005:
A bowl of 4,000-year-old noodles was found in northwestern China; and a spokesman for the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that “this is the earliest empirical evidence of noodles ever found.”
A federal judge sentenced the journalist Barrett Brown to 63 months in prison for sharing a link to information stolen from the private-intelligence firm Stratfor by a hacker in 2011. “Good news!” Brown said in a statement. “They’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.”
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”