Another I Wish I’d Read Sooner

Just started Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid” – A metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll. So far, I’m reading his 1999 Preface to the 20th Anniversary Edition of his 1979 original Pullitzer prize winner.

It’s a book about life, mind, and the evolving psychology of “I” in self-referential loops, crossing multi-level patterns in systems of sufficient complexity. His preface is mainly frustration that despite his earlier prize-winning success, few people writing about his book seem to have got the message amongst all his artistic and musical metaphors.

His bio leading up to the book is intriguing and reminiscent of many others, Pirsig for one, and perhaps myself too in a small way at least, so I’m already sympathetic to the message.

After being struck by the self-referential beauty of Godel’s theorem in refuting Russell and Whitehead’s “Principia Mathematica” – he set out thinking mathematical / formal logic was the subject that excited him, but dropped out of Maths in Berkeley after just one year of “dead” logic.

Doing Physics from 1967 onwards at Eugene Oregon, he was just off Pirsig’s ZMM Oregon trail in July 1968. But, it was 1972 before Hofstadter set off on his own trek across Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alberta, pitching his tent in forests beside lakes and the like. In his case rolling not on a Honda, but cruisin’ in a ’56 Mercury – cue refrain “My baby crazy ’bout a Mercury …” (K C Douglas, 1949) Understanding the Godelian matters ever more clearly. After then going back south he continued East and he too ended up the Big Apple’s Manhattan, albeit 20 years after Kerouac, but beating Pirsig by two years, taking in Zen and “voguish” anti-scientific, hippie-irrationality (wot, no drugs Douglas?) with Molecular Biology, not to mention Escher and his Illusory Loops and Bach and his Fugues along the way. He eventually returned to Oregon to complete graduate studies, but by the time he settled on his PhD and was moving towards AI, he had already seen the subject matter shift from mathematics and logic, to philosophy and linguistics.

That same fine line between rejecting exclusively objective logic, without being branded anti-scientific. Will we find some link between the logical paradoxes of self referential loops and the blurring of objectivity with … something else. That self-referential problem and the bootstrapping of metaphysics must be the same issue at core.

ALso love the story of creating his own printed book for publication, using traditional techniques, only to have his efforts hit the buffers at the finishing line. Very reminiscent of T E Lawrence.

Time to stop speculating, and read on.

5 thoughts on “Another I Wish I’d Read Sooner”

  1. Someone gifted me with a copy of geb not long after it first came out. I was flattered and stupefied at the text–at first. Through the years I re-read it periodically, and each time it gets easier, more understandable. Must be time to tackle it again, although I no longer have my piano on which to play Bach’s fugues while gazing at an Escher print and pondering Godel’s theorem. I hope existence is an endlessly rising canon.

  2. So you’ve given up cervantes for a while. It sounds like this book is one i could maybe “get”. I like bach and escher both. Did you know escher was a draftsman?

    All of these references to leaving the city and suburbia. I am going to be doing that soon. I’m a little scared. I have wanted it for ten years, maybe more. but now that it is imminent…

    I am beginning to fear disappointment.

    Actually i see lots of time for reading and sitting and thinking and being pleased that we accomplished this great feat of building our own home, having a dream and seeing it through. It’s been hard enough to expect something great from it.

  3. Just taking advantage of a natural break in Cervantes.

    Hey another connection Alice; Tonight’s band (doing mainly Rory Gallagher tribute covers, see comment on the “proud parent” post) did a cover of K C Douglas’ “Mercury BLues”, only the second context I can ever recall hearing it.

    Actually, with Hofstadter’s GEB I’m making almost as many notes as the text itself, almost impossible to blog every impression or significant thought. Suffice to say I’m taken with it almost as much as the Deutsch book. As Georganna hints, one or two sections are quite tough technically, but I’m not letting that hold me back yet, if I can keep the reading flow going.

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