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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.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”