Saturday, July 22, 2006

What's in my mind today

I'm in the office now. I have a bunch of projects I need to complete before we leave for vacation on Tuesday. But I had a bunch of thoughts while I was getting dressed to leave the house, and I just have to get them out of me.

There are a couple of theories on what distinguishes the human experience from all others: the use of language, and the ability to appreciate one's own consciousness. Each of these theories has some flaws (dolphins use something similar to language to communicate, and how can we actually determine whether other species can appreciate their consciousness), but I must say that the two fields of study are intriguing to me. I loved linguistics in college, particularly linguistic anthropology, and I just finished a good book on language loss. But today's essay is (more or less) about human consciousness.

Last night we watched "Man on the Moon." Paul Giamatti was in it, and I remarked to Stan how much more I liked his performance in this movie than in "Sideways." Then this morning, I had all these scenes from "Sideways" running through my head. That got me to thinking about the way the mind (in particular the memory) works. For example, when I was in high school, I had a dream (I think) about running naked through the field behind my uncle's house. I don't think I ever actually did that (the basic reason I don't break laws: fear of getting caught), but the memory of the dream is so strong (much stronger than any memory of actual experience at my uncle's farm) that twenty years later I really can't say for sure whether it was just a dream or whether I actually worked up the guts to act on this desire.

There's been a lot on those "true crime" TV shows lately about the unreliability of eyewitness evidence, which has been particularly subject to scrutiny now in the face of DNA testing. How is it that we remember things, and how are those things ordered?

This is a particularly salient question for me in view of last night's movie-viewing experience. At the beginning of the film, Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman says something to the effect that scenes you will see are spliced together from different points of time in the comic's life. But when you watch the movie, it appears to flow in a fairly straightforward, chronological manner. Then when you click on the biography of Kaufman on the DVD extras, it becomes obvious that, in fact, the sequence of events you just "witnessed" could NOT have occurred in that order in "real life." Fascinating... I wonder if I could reorder my own life to make a better movie.

Speaking of Kaufman (and back to language): On my drive into the office, I was trying to remember whether Kaufman's name was spelled with one f or two. Instantly, phrases from my high school German class started flooding back into my mind. Again, strange how the memory works.

Okay, don't know where I was going with any of this; I guess I just think it's cool to be able to think about one's own thoughts.


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