Knees, Fingers, and Are You a Machine?

When I push my knees out straight before me, I can see the familiar, endearing, pucker of skin right above my scarred kneecaps. I fell so much as an awkward, clumsy kid growing up. Wait, aren’t I still growing up? … Perhaps the scars are just internal now.

This silence hisses in my ears and my vision is faintly distorted. My hands in my lap appear unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. When I raise one hand and flex its fingers, it’s natural to wonder how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of my arm, came to be mine, entirely at my command. Or did it have some little life of its own?

I think I’ve bent my finger and straightened it several times by now.

The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when my intention took effect — It was like a wave breaking. It’s funny, I feel like if I could only find myself at the crest of this movement, this moment – I might find the secret of myself, that part of me that was really in charge.

I bring my forefinger closer to my face and stare at it, urging it to move. Of course, it remained still because I’ve just been pretending, not entirely serious (because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it). But when I did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of my mind. When did it know to move; when did I know to move it? This thought took the decision to cease pretending, and gave the final command. And my finger moves obediently.

Obedience.

These thoughts are as familiar to me, and as comforting, as the precise configuration of my knees. They’re matching but competing, symmetrical and reversible.

… Was everyone else really as alive as I am? For example, did the people crawling up and down the streets below really matter to themselves, feel as valuable to theirselves as I do? Is being you just as vivid an affair as being me? Did that old man crossing across 85th also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did he spend time thinking about it, with a frail hand held up spidering it’s fingers next to his face? Did everybody: including my father, mother, brother?

If the answer was yes, then the world was unbearably complicated. Two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique … when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance.

But if the answer was no…. then I am surrounded by machines. Intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling I just had, have had, will have. This is sinister and lonely — as well as unlikely. Though it offends my sense of order, I know it’s overwhelmingly probable that everyone else has thoughts like mine or better ones at that.

Now see, I know this, but only in a rather arid way; I don’t really feel it.

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