Note to Self

20111217-121831.jpgI came upon a terse description of ‘identity’ this week in a longer piece by neuroscientist Terrence W. Deacon of USC Berkeley:

An intrinsic tendency to maintain a distinctive integrity against the ravages of increasing entropy as well as disturbances imposed by the surroundings.

He was describing the way molecules come together in sympathetic, then symbiotic relationships to form ‘auto-catalytic’ processes – where one chemical reaction feeds, and is fed by another. But deliberately he was defining ‘self’ in a way which embraces chemicals, bodies and minds.

I watched a chilling piece on the news last night about Alzheimer’s, with an awareness raising TV ad portrays sufferers fading through transparency to invisibility. Another of Deacon’s definitions – intended for chemicals, is as true of minds:

To be truly self-maintaining, a system must contain within it some means to ‘remember’ and regenerate those constraints determining its integrity which would otherwise tend to dissipate spontaneously.

Which leads me to the conclusion that:

After Aristotle, as moral animals, we are what we repeatedly do.

After Aquinas and McCabe, as linguistic animals, we are what we think, say and write.

And after Deacon, as forgetful animals – sometimes helpfully, sometimes tragically – we are what we can remember against the ravages of entropy, the environment and time.

All the more reason to write the odd reminder I think.