Walter B., an affable, outgoing man of forty-nine, came to see me in 2006. As a teenager, following a head injury, he had developed epileptic seizures—these first took the form of attacks of déjà vu that might occur dozens of times a day. Sometimes he would hear music that no one else could hear. He had no idea what was happening to him and, fearing ridicule or worse, kept his strange experiences to himself.
Let me start with a proposition: the great social calamity of our time is that people are being replaced by machines. This is happening and it will go on happening. But we may want to stop or slow the process when we have a chance, in order to ask a large question. To what extent are the uniquely human elements of our lives, things not reproducible by mechanical or technical substitutes, the result of spontaneous or unplanned experience?