“There’s a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler’s mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can’t find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.
But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.
Puzzle-solving is frustrated by a lack of information. By contrast, mysteries often grow out of too much information.
Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries.
No matter how much patients may seek the clarity of a puzzle, healthcare, too, is largely a mystery. The goal of medicine, like that of counterterrorism, is an absence—of illness and disease.
Research into the phenomenon of déjà vu in patients with epilepsy showed that their feelings of déjà vu
were likely linked to seizure activity in the medial temporal lobe, the part of the brain associated with sensory perception, speech production and memory association. During a seizure, neurons misfire, sending mixed-up messages to different parts of the body. For these patients, déjà vu is a result of getting their wires crossed. When some patients undergo brain surgery to stop the seizures, they wake up to a world free of the phenomenon.
Some scientists posit that similar neural misfiring—a glitch in the system—also causes healthy, seizure-free brains to experience a sense of familiarity when there’s no reason to.
A second hypothesis involves another brain error; this time, the problem is with our memory, says Anne Cleary, a cognitive psychology professor at Colorado State University. Something about a new situation or setting activates a memory of a similar past experience, but our brains fail to recall it. Cleary offers this scenario to help explain: Imagine you’re visiting Paris for the first time, and you have arrived at the Louvre. Your gaze lands on the giant glass pyramid jutting out of the museum’s main courtyard, and you get that strange feeling.
At that moment, your brain is failing to retrieve a memory that could explain it away: A few months ago, you watched The Da Vinci Code, a film that provides an up-close look at the Louvre Pyramid. “In the absence of recalling that specific experience,” Cleary says. “You’re left only with this feeling of familiarity with the current situation.”
“When retrieval does fail, our memories still have a way of alerting us to the fact that there’s something relevant in there,” she says. “There’s something there that maybe we want to keep searching for.”
“Copies have been dethroned; the economic model built on them is collapsing. In a regime of superabundant free copies, copies are no longer the basis of wealth. Now relationships, links, connections, and sharing are. Value has shifted away from a copy toward the many ways to recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work. Art is a conversation, not a patent office. The citation of sources belongs to the realms of journalism and scholarship, not art. Reality can’t be copyrighted.”
― David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto
Copies don’t count anymore; copies of isolated books, bound between inert covers, soon won’t mean much. Copies of their texts, however, will gain in meaning as they multiply by the millions and are flung around the world, indexed, and copied again. What counts are the ways in which these common copies of a creative work can be linked, manipulated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, enlivened by other media, and sewn together in the universal library.