Imagine scanning your Grandma’s brain in sufficient detail to build a mental duplicate. When she passes away, the duplicate is turned on and lives in a simulated video-game universe, a digital Elysium complete with Bingo, TV soaps, and knitting needles to keep the simulacrum happy. You could talk to her by phone just like always. She could join Christmas dinner by Skype. E-Granny would think of herself as the same person that she always was, with the same memories and personality—the same consciousness—transferred to a well regulated nursing home and able to offer her wisdom to her offspring forever after.
And why stop with Granny? You could have the same afterlife for yourself in any simulated environment you like. But even if that kind of technology is possible, and even if that digital entity thought of itself as existing in continuity with your previous self, would you really be the same person?
“The first thing to do in beginning a journal,” an 1878 article in the popular American children’s magazine St. Nicholas counsels its readers, “is to resolve to stick to it … A journal, or diary, should be written in every day, if possible.” I applied myself to VOLUME I as if a copy of that article had been Scotch taped to the inside cover. “Set down the date at the head of the first page, thus: ‘Tuesday, October 1, 1878,’ ” St. Nicholas says. “Then begin the record of the day, endeavoring as far as possible to mention the events in the correct order of time—morning, afternoon and evening.” And here we have the basic structure of a VOLUME I entry. There was, I am sure I felt, something virtuous about this daily, orderly accounting.
Not surprisingly, the discipline of the diary is rooted in Protestantism. In the sixteenth century, English Puritans were beginning to use paper manuscripts to document their behavior for the eyes of God. While Catholics could unburden themselves of their sins with a trip to the confessional, the Puritans, having no such recourse, recorded their trespasses on paper. One sixteenth-century preacher’s diary consists of little more than daily lists of his sins (oddly enough, the specificity and comprehensiveness of each list almost takes the shape of an entire day). Notably, this preacher lists among his sins the days that he has neglected to record his sins in his diary.
As various immigrant groups have arrived in significant numbers on American shores, one of two fates has tended to befall the culinary knowledge they’ve brought with them: Their recipes have either been granted admission to high-end, white-tablecloth establishments or relegated to lower-status eateries, often taking on the label of “ethnic” food.
Consider the cases of steak frites and carne asada. They both involve cooking a fairly high-quality cut of meat over high heat, and they’re both dishes whose origins are foreign to America. But they’re often listed on American menus at vastly different prices. Why?