Me, My Soul, and I

Me, My Soul, and I: “Writer Douglas Hofstadter elaborates on his more mind-bending ideas. By Kevin Kelly from Wired Magazine.”

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

.. a few brief excerpts..

WIRED: How is your new book different from Gödel, which touched on physics, genetics, mathematics, and computer science?

HOFSTADTER: This time I’m only trying to figure out “What am I?”

Well, given the book’s title, you seem to have found out. But what is a strange loop?

One good prototype is the Escher drawing of two hands sketching each other. A more abstract one is the sentence I am lying. Such loops are, I think anyone would agree, strange. They seem paradoxical and even strike some people as dangerous. I argue that such a strange loop, paradoxical or not, is at the core of each human being. It is an abstract pattern that gives each of us an “I,” or, if you don’t mind the term, a soul.

Does this insight increase your understanding of yourself?

Of course. I believe that a soul is an abstract pattern, and we can therefore internalize in our brain the souls of other people.

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.

One of the attractions of your writing is the wordplay, a fascination with the kind of recursions that appeal to programmers and nerds.

It is ironic because my whole life I have felt uncomfortable with the nerd culture that centers on computers. I always hope my writings will resonate with people who love literature, art, and music. But instead, a large fraction of my audience seems to be those who are fascinated by technology and who assume that I am, too.

(Via Wired News.)


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