In Percival Everett’s “re:f (gesture)”, there is a section of poems titled “Logic”, which contains a series of poems that are seemingly unrelated. However, one of the poems that caught the eye of my group was the poem titled “6”. In this poem, the idea is brought up that seven men can be killed, but the concept of ‘seven’ can’t be destroyed in any way. This got me wondering as to whether or not a concept actually exists outside of the perception of humans, or even sentient life in general, and I’ve concluded that concepts continue to exist even if nothing is around to perceive them.
On the Merriam Webster Dictionary website, the word ‘concept’ is given two different definitions, both with different implications. The second one defines a concept as “an abstract or generic idea generalized from particular instances.” This simply implies that a concept is just a pattern viewed after several matching occurrences that exist on their own, without anything claiming to be their creator. However, the first definition struck me as being very interesting. It defines a concept as “something conceived in the mind.” This definition implies that a concept is created when it is thought; that it requires a being with cognitive thought to observe an abstract pattern and put a name to it. And yet, though this is the given definition, I don’t believe this to be the case.
For example, a commonly known concept is ‘time’. Everyone is aware of time, one way or another. However, the actual concept of time, at some point, was invented. According to Richard Rudgely, a British author and television presenter, the use of the moon was used to measure the passing of time up to 6,000 years ago. And even before that, it is likely that humans and animals have used their knowledge of time in order to survive. But what about before that? Before humans with cognitive thought and animals aware enough to understand time roamed the earth, did time still exist? I believe it did. Even if nothing is aware of times passage, it still occurs. The sun still rises and falls at the start and end of each day without someone to act as witness. The tree will still change with the seasons when no one is there to observe it. And this idea extends to all concepts. Even if no one is there to perceive the concept, the concept will continue to exist. Not in a physical sense, as concepts like time are not something that can be interacted with. But nevertheless, they will keep on existing.
And with this theory applying to all concepts, it nonetheless applies to the concept of ‘seven’. The poem itself makes it clear that ‘seven’ has an unchangeable presence, as evidenced by the line, “All men will die, but not seven”. This line can be interpreted to say that the major distinction between the life of a single person and the life of a concept is their length. A human life, no matter how many tactics are used to extend it, will end eventually; at least, with the current technology in the medical field. A concept, however, cannot die. While it is true that a concept is practically useless if there are none around to observe it, concepts cannot really die. If there is a row of seven apples in a row, the amount of apples doesn’t change even if no one knows what seven is. Concepts are immortal, and so is seven.
However, there is one antithesis to this theory, and that is literature. Books are similar to concepts in the sense that they present ideas to their viewers in a lasting way. However, while a concept will continue after all life has passed, the stories told by books will not. The stories spun and the emotions stirred by novels can’t exist without viewers to witness them, even if the ink from which they are born is still living within the abandoned pages of the book itself. Even the poems presented in “re:f (gesture)”, which presents the idea of these immortal concepts, will die if there is no one there to read and understand them. And because of their finite lifespan, books deserve to be appreciated. Just as one tries to experience a once in a lifetime moment to their fullest since they know it will eventually end, books should inspire awe and admiration because of their mortality. The contents of even the most moving piece of fiction or the most important biography can be forgotten if no one who read it is left. Books can die just like us. We needn’t worry about the health and welfare of concepts, but the life of a book depends entirely on us.