I’m well through Godel, Escher, Bach.
(Started it here.)
Hofstadter is almost apologetic in his introduction about his appparent espousing of Zen philosophy, almost distancing himself from it to maintain credibility with serious scientific peers. It’s actually pretty clear in the book that he is not ultimately sympatheic to it anyway, but he does provide a good summary of where it fits as a world view, which for me suggests he does really “get it”.
His baffling “MU Offering” dialogue does not itself actually provide much enlightenment on the Zen koan and string folding stuff, but the following chapter “Mumon and Godel” is excellent.
“Zen is holism, carried to its logical extreme. If holism says that things can only be understood in wholes, not as sums of their parts, Zen goes one further in maintaining that the world cannot be broken into parts at all” [by the duality of the words we subjects use to name distinct objects within it.] “Zen, eg in its koans, is trying to break the mind of logic.”
Zen breaks this logical comfort zone, but doesn’t itself provide any real alternative. To study it is to miss the point of it. The “way” is unattainable, to name it is to lose it.
As well as drawing parallels in subject matter and ways of looking at reality between Zen and Escher, he also draws on frequent examples of Magritte and I notice also that “The Mind’s I” has Magritte’s “The False Mirror” on the cover. Magritte is a recurring theme.
[Post-note : If M hade been a note in post-Bach musical notation, as is E, my guess is Hofstadter could just as easily have named his book Godel, Magritte, Bach with no loss of meaning. Ultimately, he makes almost as much reference to the work of Magritte as he does Escher.]
It’s becoming apparent that GEB is mainly about languages, mathematical and typographical, the communication of information, and the properties of encoding on multiple levels, patterns within and upon patterns. ‘There is no such thing as an uncoded message. There are only messages written in more or less familiar codes; when familiar it ceases to appear like a code.” Reminded me very strongly of all language being metaphors, just that some metaphors are so long established they are dead, are no more, ceased to be, fallen off their perch, pushing up the daisies, gone to meet their maker. (Pythons, with apologies to Lakoff)
[Post Note: Hofstadter takes his linguistic, syntactical, algorithmic ideas to the extreme in the creation of semantics here. Some things do get “created”. Recommended.]