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3/14/07


Mind Shadows      Milan Kundera & Loren Eiseley: Consciousness & The Scientific Model

While I was sitting one night with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors. “He doesn’t know,” my friend whispered excitedly. “He’s passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He’s in another play; he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t know. Maybe it’s happening right now to us.” Loren Eiseley, The Immense Journey

Living in an age dominated by science, we have come more and more to believe in an objective, empirical reality and in the goal of reaching a complete understanding of that reality. Part of the thrill that came with the announcement that the human genome had been mapped or with the idea that we are close to understanding the big bang rests in our desire for completeness.

But we’re fooling ourselves. . . . . We are like Loren Eiseley's moth, blundering from light to light, unable to discern the great play that blazes under the opera tent. More

The link above deals with a viewpoint familiar to this blog; I've argued here that despite Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained and other neuro-scientific faith, a wholly satisfactory model for consciousness will never happen.

Eiseley's remark reminds me of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. At the end of the novel, Tomas and his wife are about to die. Their truck's brakes will fail on a mountain road. On the last night of their lives they dance together in a dingy Soviet-era hotel. Tomas, promiscuous, has finally surrendered to her, long suffering and faithful to him. "I have no mission," he says.

They go to bed. The book ends on these sentences: "Up out of the lamp shade, startled by the overhead light, flew a large nocturnal butterfly that began circling the room. The strains of the piano and violin rose up weakly from below." Another parabola intersects with their decline into death, and the nocturnal butterfly does not even know it is night.

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