March 19, 2007


Me, My Soul, and I (Kevin Kelly, 3/19/07, Wired)

In 1979, an unknown just out of grad school published his first book, using a then-exotic computer to do his own typesetting. The work was the inimitable Gödel, Escher, Bach, and its creator, Douglas Hofstadter, stunned the world with his zany, in-depth, and utterly brilliant investigation of self-reference in art and mathematics. Gödel earned him a Pulitzer Prize and inspired legions of youth to study computer science, but Hofstadter always felt readers didn't quite get it. So to make his point perfectly clear, he has expanded upon his original thesis in I Am a Strange Loop, due in March. Wired asked Hofstadter to elaborate on some of his more mind-bending ideas.
-- Kevin Kelly

You have a great line: "I am a mirage that perceives itself." If our fundamental sense of what is real -- our own existence -- is merely a self-reinforcing mirage, does that call into question the reality of the universe itself?

I don't think so. Even though subatomic particles engage in a deeply recursive process called renormalization, they don't contain a self-model, and everything I talk about in this book -- consciousness -- derives from a self-model.

Because, after all, while rationally I am a mirage, I can still know not only that the rest of the Universe exists but the properties of subatomic particles?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 19, 2007 12:00 AM

"Even though subatomic particles engage in a deeply recursive process called renormalization ..."

No, no, ... NO! Particles simply are, they are not "engaged" in anything else. Renormalization is an unexplained defect in the methodology of quantum mechanics where a sum over all histories results in infinite probabilities, requiring renormalization to bring them back to the range 0-1. It is the physicist who must renormalize his calculations, not the particles renormalizing themselves. QM seems to encourage this continual confusion between the description of a thing and the thing itself.

Hofstadter definitely is in a strange, though ultimately unproductive, loop, and he has ample company. Gödel, Escher, and Bach is over-rated -- it is a confusing catalog of the problems of self-reference and paradox, with no resolution. It merely left me with a new appreciation of the fugue and Bach, but little else.

Posted by: jd watson at March 19, 2007 12:28 PM


The point is that there is no rational resolution.

Posted by: oj at March 19, 2007 2:35 PM

Every object is a subject ... even those objects we cannot perceive.

Posted by: ghostcat at March 19, 2007 4:59 PM

Seem yer being just a tad obtuse. Don't tell me that particles don't wake up some mornings, yawn, stretch, look around, and say "Goshdarn, feels like deja vu all over again"!!

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 20, 2007 3:23 AM