This is a series on the book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid by Douglas Hofstadter.
Earlier diaries are here
Today we will discuss Minds and thoughts p. p 369-390.
From the overview
The preceding poems bring up in a forceful way the question of whether languages, or indeed minds, can be "mapped" onto each other. How is communication possible between two separate physical brains? What do all human brains have in common? A geographical analogy is used to suggest an answer. The question arises: "Can a brain be understood, in some objective sense, by an outsider?"
On p. 369 DH (shorter than Hofstadter) writes: "When you look back on things you wrote a few years ago, you think 'how awful!' and smile with amusement at the person you once were".... do you do this? Perhaps this is truer of people younger than I (I am nearly 50; DH was in his 20s when he wrote GEB). He then goes on to say that this feeling, or a similar one over a shorter time frame "shows that you do not fully understand the person you once were" - I do not see how it shows anything like this.
On p. 371, DH discusses "semantic networks" of human brains (see p. 370). I doubt this is possible, even in theory.
On p. 372 DH discusses translations of Jabberwocky I'll quote Nabokov:
Reading poetry in translation is like kissing through a veil
No translation is ever 100% accurate; indeed, even in a single language, no two people read a book the same way. Even if we have the denotations of the words in common (which seems unlikely to be completely true), they will have different connotations
On p. 374, DH talks about his USA-ASU translation - I would have a hard time here, as I do not drive.
More importantly, 'same' vs. 'different' gets (again) at one of my favorite topics: False dichotomies. Things aren't the 'same' or 'different', they are more or less the same, along some continuum.
On p 375, DH says that a lot of human symbols are universal. What about intelligent aliens? Dolphins? What about intelligent computers? How about people from the distant past?
Also on 375, he says that for a person to be missing Chicago from his/her map of the ASU is "almost unimaginable" - now, he is talking just about Americans, but, still "almost unimaginable"? Surely there are people who do not know that the USA has a Chicago! What about kids?
On ways of speaking English on p. 376, not only do foreigners often sound different (even if there English is quite good) but foreigners from different countries sound different; not just accent, but the sorts of grammatical errors they make. Even people who are fluent native speakers may have quite different vocabularies. Once, I was playing Pictionary with some friends. It happened that all the men were drawing and all the women guessing and the word was "depth charge" - it turned out that none of the women (all intelligent, native speakers) knew that phrase.
On 379, DH talks about translating novels. What is English for "borscht"? Soup? Beet soup? Maybe chicken soup? Maybe 'borscht' but with a footnote. Is translation possible?
On 382, DH statees that a superbeing could surely look at our brains and see our thoughts. I don't know that this is so. Again, the sheer number of possible brain states (even in ONE brain) is greater than the number of atoms in the universe.
On 385, he talks about what accounts for a sense of self. This is a big topic!