Sunday, April 1, 2007

soul and essence

In today's New York Times magazine there's a brief interview with the scientist Douglas Hofstadter. In it he articulates one of the most beautiful explanations, regardless of whether or not you believe in an afterlife, of one way the people we love remain with us after they die. I wanted to share it. (His wife died of cancer in 1993.)

"You can imagine a soul as being a detailed, elaborate pattern that exists very clearly in one brain. When a person dies, the original is no longer aaround. But there are other versions of it in other people's brains. It's a less detailed copy, it's coarse grained...aproximate. Lower resolution.'s much more than memory. It's the fact that my wife and I, for example, became so intimately engaged that her essence was imported into my brain."

I like the idea (and it's certainly how I feel) of the people we love being inscribed within us. it gives me a way to understand my feeling that I carry people with, and within me. That their voices speak out of me (not in a "Sybil" kind of way). It's more geological -- creatures that live eons ago left their imprints in the ground and became, overtime, part of the ground as fossils. We can know them, imperfectly, and remake them through those imprints they made on the earth they lived on.

My best friend when I was thirteen spoke out of my mouth just the other day. I made a wisecrack and thought, that's Annemarie! My Father, my tart-tongued gay men friends who died of aids twenty years ago, even the grandfather who killed himself before I was born, go with me through my life, rising to the surface unexpectedly in my words, thoughts, ways of looking. It pleases me.

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