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.

Poetry in Motion

A few weeks ago, newly enamoured of poetry, I wrote a short ditty to capture what I think increasingly drives my life. It came out quite easily so I guessed it might be quite close. But then I forgot about it. Sat in traffic in the rain today, the last two lines came back to me unbidden. It has clearly lodged in my subconscious. So here it is:

Pay attention to life with bright eyes and keen ears.
Helped by poets and thinkers, refine hopes; master fears.

Embroider each minute and day of my years
with friendship and love and knowledge and ideas.

And the main credits are: for line 1) Montaigne and Aristotle; line 2) Aristotle, Kay, Csikszentmihalyi, Nietzsche, Homer, Armitage, Aquinas, McCabe, Socrates, Stoics, Sceptics; line 3) Me latterly; and line 4) Aristotle, Aquinas, my Friends in Contemplation, my family, reading, writing, work.

I’m not sure I’ll get a poster on the subway for these lines of rhyme, but they are pretty much where Eudaimonia lies for me I think.