A Moving Scene that We are Continually Copying

‘Our mental state is one thing; our rendition of it – whether to ourselves or to others – is quite another. The complete and instantaneous perception of such a state is one thing; the detailed and continuous effort of attention we are forced to make in order to analyze it, express it, and explain it to others is quite another. Our soul is a moving scene that we are continually copying. We spend a great deal of time in rendering it faithfully, but the original exists in a completed whole, for the mind does not proceed step by step, like expression.’

Denis Diderot, Lettre sur les sourds et muets, quoted in Styles of Enlightenment: Taste, Politics and Authorship in Eighteenth-Century France by Elena Russo.

‘A man awakens, or is waked; from a simulation – as from a dream. The personality counts for little in light of these properties. The past and the future are forms of simulation. Deliberate, intentional imitation is a trifle compared with unconscious simulation or identification. Even our own self, so far as we are conscious of it, is a simulation. We end up being more “ourselves” than we ever really were. We glimpse ourselves in a single flash, summarized, and see in ourselves the results of the external acts which have culled these traits from us – and made of us a portrait.’

Paul Valéry, Analects, Collected Works.


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