On Thought, Poetry and the Universe


What distinguishes us from animals?

Being aware of being aware of being. In other words, if I not only know that I am but also know that I know it, then I belong to the human species. All the rest follows – the glory of thought, poetry, a vision of the universe. In that respect, the gap between ape and man is immeasurably greater than the one between amoeba and ape. The difference between an ape’s memory and human memory is the difference between an ampersand and the British Museum library.

Judging from your own awakening consciousness as a child, do you think that the capacity to use language, syntax, relate ideas, is something we learn from adults, as if we were computers being programmed, or do we begin to use a unique, built-in capability of our own – call it imagination?

The stupidest person in the world is an all-round genius compared to the cleverest computer. How we learn to imagine and express things is a riddle with premises impossible to express and a solution impossible to imagine.

Vladimir Nabokov
Interview by James Mossman, BBC, 1969
Strong Opinions (1973)

Screenshots: HAL the computer and Bowman the astronaut in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Related:  When Siri Met HAL

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