“I think… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina


There are many places where where the singular quality of a phenomenon–of you, for example–is significant, emotionally satisfying … or frightening.  This is implicit at every level of organization, but most meaningfully (or poignantly) for our behavior–the actions of a particular self–particularly when we attempt to be creative.

History.  At the level of the history–the flow of events in the largest context we can envision: “eternal return” as in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:8-10 …”9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new “? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us.… New American Standard Bible.  (In the popular series, Battlestar Galactica, there was frequent reference to their “holy book,” the Chronicles of Kobol (as in episode Number Six: “All of this has happened before. All of this will happen again.”)

Art.  This is an issue: the uniqueness of your vision, unique ways of communicating, unique effects on an observer. 

Biology–this in an issue of categorizing and using the emergent patterns to suggest some inherent organization of nature that enables you to make better extrapolations or interpolations of a new observation in the body of what has come before.  This is the problem famous amongst taxonomists of “lumping and splitting”

Individuation and socialization:  We NEED our uniqueness–on the path to self-actualization our distinctiveness must be clear to (for example) prospective reproductive partners looking for a distinctive traits they want in their offspring …  but these traits can only be developed and assessed in the context of society;  eventually, they are at least part of us:  for example, we may hear the internalized voices of our “Listening Angels” ( https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-note-listening-angels/ )


“Every man (and woman)  is more than just himself (herself); he (she) also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again   Hermann Hesse, Demian (1919)


WE ARE certainly unique.  The complexity we –our perceptions, conceptions, and feelings about them , and way of expressing ourselves … almost certainly represents the source of all uniqueness– but HOW unique? unique enough to distinguish from another similar one?  Unique at one level of organization and not another?  More similar the deeper you go (“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”) and eventually identical at the core .  (It is said the gods of all religions are one and the same) 

“Starbucks on Forty-second and Sixth, even has a sign that reads, ‘Friends are like snowflakes: beautiful and different.’ … The sign in Starbucks should read, ‘Friends are like snowflakes: more different and more beautiful each time you cross their paths in our common descent.’ For the final truth about snowflakes is that they become more individual as they fall—that, buffeted by wind and time, they are translated, as if by magic, into ever more strange and complex patterns, until, at last, like us, they touch earth. Then, like us, they melt.” (Adam Gopnik “All Alike” comment in “The Talk of the  Town” – The New Yorker,  Jan 3, 2011 pp19-20)[i]



[i] “Wilson (Snowflake) Bentley, the great snowflake-ologist …In 1885, at the age of nineteen, he photographed his first snowflake, against a background made as dark as black velvet by long hours spent scraping the emulsion surrounding the snowflake images from the glass-plate negatives. … over his lifetime, took portraits of five thousand three hundred and eighty-one snow crystals (to give them their proper scientific name; flakes are crystals clumped together) and inserted into the world’s imagination the image of the stellar flower as the typical, “iconic” snowflake, along with the idea of a snowflake’s quiddity, its uniqueness. …  It turns out, however (a few more slips, a bit more Googling), that Bentley censored as much as he unveiled. … Most snow crystals—as he knew, and kept quiet about—are nothing like our stellar flower: they’re irregular, bluntly geometric. They are as plain and as misshapen as, well, people.  … In 1988, a cloud scientist named Nancy Knight (at the National Center for Atmospheric Research—let’s not defund it) took a plane up into the clouds over Wisconsin and found two simple but identical snow crystals, hexagonal prisms, each as like the other as one twin to another, as Cole Sprouse is like Dylan Sprouse. Snowflakes, it seems, are not only alike; they usually start out more or less the same.

Yet if this notion threatens to be depressing—with the suggestion that only the happy eye of nineteenth-century optimism saw special individuality here—one last burst of searching and learning puts a brighter seasonal spin on things. “As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments,” an Australian science writer named Karl Kruszelnicki explains. “So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way.” Snowflakes start off all alike; their different shapes are owed to their different lives. “

A new word helps us relate to these questions, these ideas: 

A&O – UNIQUENESS:  Vemödalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done One of John Koenig’s words for an inadequately described emotion:

“Vemödalen. You are unique. And there are seven billion others, just as unique as you. Each of us is different, with some new angle on the world. But what does it mean if the lives we’re busy shaping by hand, all end up looking the same—easily replaced by a thousand identical others? So we all spread out, looking for scraps of frontier, trying to capture something special, something personal. As if we’re afraid of being captured ourselves—so quickly pegged for exactly what we are—so easily mistaken for someone ordinary, just like everyone else. It should be a comfort that we’re not so different, that our perspectives so neatly align, that these same images keep showing up, again and again. It’s alright if we tell the same jokes we’ve all heard before, it’s alright if we keep remaking the same movies. it’s alright if we keep saying the same phrases to each other, as if they had never been said before. ‘The powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.’ You and I and seven billion others will leave our mark on this world we’ve inherited. But if, in the end, we find ourselves with nothing left to say, nothing new to add, idly tracing outlines left by others long ago, it will be as if we weren’t here at all. This too has been said many times before. ‘The powerful play goes on.’ But when you get your cue, you say your line.” 

Sounds like John Koenig is saying “why bother?” if there are countless other photos, postcards, etc.  “This idea came to me in Turkey. I was on a tour of this ancient underground city in Cappadocia, and after taking a few poorly lit photos of the haunting chambers, I decided I could skip the snapshots and just buy a book of postcards later. What’s the difference whether I took them, if the subject was the same? So then, a photo is basically like an IKEA product, a kind of prefabricated piece of art that you happened to have assembled yourself. But then I thought…suppose my camera fell into the ocean on the way home. How many photos from this trip could I replace with one of a thousand identical others I found online? I mean, is there any point in anyone taking another picture of the moon, or the Taj Mahal, or a sparrow? Really, the only irreplaceable photos would be of the faces of people I know—which means, for all their indulgences, selfies are at least pointed in the right direction.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ftDjebw8aA#t=148 (downloaded 4/20/2019)

Things may be unrecognizable — effectively invisible — if their uniqueness goes beyound our experience: read A&O notes on PREMATURITY AND UNIQUENESS.