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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
Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:
A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.
Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”
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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.”