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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!

Originally posted to plf515 on Sun May 03, 2009 at 03:45 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  oops! this diary is not complete (6+ / 0-)

    I will revise momentarily

  •  Do you give out frequent reader pts... (5+ / 0-) lurkers? fellow blotistan PIer? Mathphobes? friends of reason and rational discourse? over users of the letter K?*

    (for explanation, see "Special K feature")

  •  English for "borscht" (11+ / 0-) borscht. Other languages borrow words; English knocks other languages out, drags them into alleys, and empties their pockets.

    Veni, vidi, farinuxi.

    by Ahianne on Sun May 03, 2009 at 04:27:48 AM PDT

  •  I disagree (7+ / 0-)

    with your take.
    Lots of writers look back on things they wrote and don't even recognize themselves.  If you haven't spent your entire life writing this might not affect you as you claimed which is understandable.

    I agree with him that there are semantic networks of "human brains".  Language, be it English or some other language is understood by those that speak it.  We wouldn't be able to communicate if this wasn't the case.

    Translating poetry is tough but there is an underlying essence that can be recognized even if the words are not identical.  Most translators explain this in the foreword.
    The Jabberwocky translations of the word
    slithy toves, toves lubricilleux,schlichten Toven don't have a ring of the same underlying essence?  I think they do.
    It is the underlying common essence he is directing you to try and understand.  The thread that ties us all together.

    If you are looking for complete unity in all things we experience that is not what he is trying to convey.

    He points out the common sub systems that thread through our humanity and how they are connected at that level.

    When you ask the question about intelligent dolphins etc. you miss his point.  He is describing earth bound humans and the symbols they have in common.
    I really totally disagree with your entire take on this chapter.  I won't be able to respond because I'm leaving to cheer on some triatheletes but I will look back later this afternoon!

    •  While we're being disagreeable... (5+ / 0-)

      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.

      The number of possible brain states is irrelevant. The number of possible states in a personal computer blew past the number of particles in the universe decades ago. A meager 8 bytes of memory has 10^154 possible memory states. Fortunately with computers and brains alike we don't need to enumerate all potential states to fully capture them, the one current state is sufficient.

      DH was in his 20s when he wrote GEB

      Ouch! Did anyone else feel a slight sting of inadequacy when reading that?

      We hope your rules and wisdom choke you / Now we are one in everlasting peace
      -6.63, -6.97

      by amRadioHed on Sun May 03, 2009 at 05:14:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think the number of possible brain (4+ / 0-)

        states is highly relevant, because a mapping of the brain to various thoughts would have to account for this.  As DH points out, there are various levels within the brain, so we don't need to map every combination.  But (as I was musing a couple weeks ago) maybe the chunks are differently tied to different states in different people, and what we think of as "concepts" are related to how close we are to a particular state.

        As to DH writing this in his 20s ... yeah.  Sheesh.  

  •  Translations..;) can go wrong (4+ / 0-)

    "Yes, I'm a fucking idealist because without ideals we are lost." LaFeminista 04/25/2009 [-4.88. -6.97]

    by LaFeminista on Sun May 03, 2009 at 05:08:39 AM PDT

  •  Universal human symbols (5+ / 0-)

    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?

    Brought to mind the problems they are dealing with for nuclear waste dump sites - how to come up with a "Danger" symbol that will have significance to the human mind for tens of thousands of years to come.

    The following link is to a document too long for a diary post, but is the Sandia National Laboratories Executive Summary for the problem of transmitting the idea of "Danger - Keep Out" for 10,000 years.

    Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

    I just thought that time itself can be the greatest deterrence to translation.

    Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc

    by mydailydrunk on Sun May 03, 2009 at 05:54:58 AM PDT

  •  Sense of self (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plf515, Joffan, ArthurPoet, Larsstephens

    I get a feel for my own self-consciousness when I think about my dreams. The dreams could be "my" interpretation of a random firing of symbols -- a symbol goes off and "I" take it a certain way and in a certain direction. But it doesn't feel that way. My dreams feel like movies with "me" both watching and playing a part. But someone else -- another "me", I guess -- is the director/projectionist. And that "other" knows more than "I" do and is one step ahead of "me". That's why dreams often surprise "me" and almost every time are out of "my" control.

    For a dream example: I get on a bus expecting to go to a particular place. But a road sign tells me we're heading the wrong way. I call to the bus driver. He turns and it's not a person, it's a lizard. I've been fooled twice. The director has put me on the wrong bus and (he, she, it) knew that a lizard would scare the hell out of me.

    Another example: I'm shooting foul shots. "I" want to make every one. But one after another, they clank. If "I" were controlling the dream, every one would swish. Who is the sadistic SOB who's making "me" miss every shot?

    Well, the idea of subsystems kind of helps me think about this. Could be a few subsystems working in there.

    (Don't know anything about dream interpretations but figure you all are going to know everything about me now.)      

  •  Chicago, an anecdote (6+ / 0-)

    So I'm in Africa, decades ago, and tell a native I'm from Chicago. He says, "Chicago? Al Capone! Ak, ak, ak," while holding his hands as if he's grasping a Thompson machine gun and shaking his hands in time to the ak, ak, ak.  

    I've had similar encounters with natives of Brazil, Thailand, Russia, Okinawa. Granted, the people I spoke to were all city dwellers rather than agrarian villagers, so they were exposed to movie houses, television broadcasts and other talismans of world pop culture. Still, the meme gets around.

    Now, they may not know Chicago is next to one of the Great Lakes, or is in the state of Illinois, or was a major immigrant destination, or be able to locate it on a map, but they will know it is a significant American city.

    "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

    by Orinoco on Sun May 03, 2009 at 08:03:16 AM PDT

  •  first, let's start with blueberries ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in RI, plf515

    Eat more blueberries ...

    Now, having gotten that important public service announcement out of the way, I want to discuss the possibility of an inexplicable mind-body-spirit connection that is, I suggest, at the root of the true nature of our existence in this realm --- and therefore, it is also at the root of true communication between people ...
    ie, What is the nature of two beings communing?

    In other words, I want to comment on this ...

    On 382, DH states 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.

    Hmmm, now, what I am gonna say here is of the mystical domain, maybe, and so it is, yes, somewhat born of conjecture, but, from my perspective, there is an inexplicable (non-quantifiable) non-physical aspect of our consciousness that traverses the very vibration as the sounds cross space and impact our ears ... and further, the (written) symbols, as archetypal patterns, also provide a medium, upon which, consciousness can traverse, ... and sure, mistakes can be made, and yes, mistakes often are made, when we cloud our perception of what another is communication/intending by our own thoughts or intentions, and therefore, the challenge to really listen with an "open ear" a "clear mind" is core to effective communication ... and this is, I would further suggest, an art, that one sometimes must develop and hone ... and the "superbeing" is a "superbeing" because he has mastery over his own thoughts, so that he can quiet them, and thus hear/see/grasp/drink-of/grok your thoughts, unclouded, ... with an unclouded mind ... with an unclouded consciousness ... the ancient Japanese term for this, is ...


    "to see through the mind and eyes of god"

    to see things truly,

    to see things, not as we want them to be,
    to see things, not as we would have them be,

    but to see things, as the truly are,

    to see people, as they truly are,
    to see one's own self, as one truly is,

    to hear listen and feel, the pure essence of another soul,

    now, is this possible? is this real?

    hmmm, who knows, but many of the ancient teachings and ancient schools of thought, ancient schools of discipline, have this goal as one of their pinnacle challenges,

    they say ...


    many mystical rites are focused on this ability/craft,

    the occult speak of this as "THE THIRD EYE"
    the mystics call this "SECOND SIGHT"

    they call those who can do this, "A SEER"

    There are countless and numerous incidents of psychic foretelling of events, or seeing what is in the mind of another, but is this real? I don't know, or rather, I cannot prove to you that this is real, but yes, I have had my own fair share of uncanny experiences. So, no, I am not trying to sell you on the veracity of this ability or phenomenon, since many have been debunked, but, however, some have not, and that is the point ... namely, IT MIGHT BE REAL ... So, what I do want to simply say is that IF this phenomenon is real, then the only way it could be real, is if it is possible for a person to see with their mind's eye, the true inner heart-soul-mind of another being ~ and in that brief moment, when the two beings are communing, for that breath of time, they are actually one~single~unified~being ~

    ~we study the old to understand the new~from one thing know ten thousand~to see things truly one must see what is in the light and what lies hidden in shadow~

    by ArthurPoet on Sun May 03, 2009 at 12:59:13 PM PDT

    •  Cool, I have someone to talk about this with (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dave in RI, ArthurPoet, Larsstephens

      I, personally, am very unmystical.  But I do think we are missing something when we say everything is physical.  I think what we miss is that we think "mind" is a thing.  I think it is an action.  Mind is what the brain does, in interacting with the world.

      Further confusing things is the idea that the thing the mind does its thing with is so enormously complex that we have no real conception of it.

      •  okay, well, you can say that i am ... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        slightly barely "a touch" mystical,

        now, if you knew me,
        you would laugh at that statement,

        since, that would be, dare i say,
        a profound understatement, lol,

        hmmm, okay,

        as i have shared in previous diaries in this series,

        in the martial traditions,
        we speak of MIND-BODY-SPIRIT,

        these 3 aspects, being that which comprises the "trinity" whole of who we are,

        or, may i suggest,
        the nature of who we are,

        or, a key for glimpsing or awakening
        a true awareness of who we are,

        i like your comment ...

        Mind is what the brain does, in interacting with the world.

        now, to clarify the "trinity" ~

        when i speak of the mind,
        or MIND-BODY-SPIRIT,

        this is the PASSIVE/YIN aspect,

        but the ACTIVE/YANG aspect is ...

        so, your comment is, i would say, right on,

        because, you are making note of the quality of
        a mind, which DOES SOMETHING, namely, it THINKS,

        mind --> thought
        body --> deed
        spirit --> word/breath

        and the "thoughts" are (shall we say) the
        actualized focusing of our essence into
        this realm, into this physical realm,

        and, thoughts, in-and-of-themselves, do have
        a measure of power / realness / substance,

        but, if we align that thought with a deed,
        ie, movement,

        and add to that, breath/word,

        then the realness takes on greater substance,

        ie, the application of the trinity principle
        brings greater life to the affair,

        now, today, there are many "self help" books
        that promote the benefits of affirmations as
        well as, vocalized affirmations,

        and, further, in the meditation arts, or yoga,
        people's breathing and chanting of certain
        sounds, helps people in many ways,

        some of these are tangible, in the calming, etc,

        and some are intangible,

        but, in any case, the point is this,

        if one accepts the notion that there is a non-physical
        aspect to who we are, and if we use the word "spirit"
        to speak of this essence, then the mind/thoughts might
        be said to be the "pathway", by which, we can connect
        or align our spirit with our body,

        and the greater, or the more harmonious the alignment,
        (the more "attuned" the alignment,)
        then the more fluid and effective is one's efforts,

        now, in the most basic of terms, "spirit" might be
        said to simply be "emotion",

        it is often rather evident that people walk around
        with internal conflicts, ...

        ie, their emotions are in conflict with their thoughts,

        or, they have conflicting emotions,

        ie, conflicting spirits,

        as opposed to, being of one emotion or "spirit",

        this is the actual real meaning of "NAVEL GAZING"

        which was actually a mistranslation of the ancient
        word, which was not really "NAVEL" but rather,

        ie, to gaze at one's "center"

        now, of course, this begs the question,

        "what is 'center' ?"

        well, center is the heart of one's intent,
        or purpose in life,

        now, of course, i am relying upon the word "heart"

        to convey a deeper aspect,

        "heart" is an archetype, right?

        so when i use this word "heart"

        which is, in one breath, one's physical beating heart,

        but in another breath, it has the connotation of
        referring to LOVE, to what one loves,

        it further, in fact, speaks to us "CENTER",

        what is the "heart" of a thing?
        what is the "center" of a thing?

        a beating heart is the way we determine if one is alive,

        the beating heart is life itself,

        breath is also life, yes, but one can hold one's breath
        for many minutes, sometimes,

        but one's beating heart, that one cannot stop for minutes

        and if it does stop, then one dies within seconds,

        without blood to the brain, the brain dies,

        heart is pumping blood which is life,

        blood is the food of life being fed to the body,

        blood carries oxygen, even,

        the heart is the organ that drives all others,

        it is the prime source of life,

        so, these "patterns" or "systems" or "symbols"
        have an embedded meaning and substance that is

        if i say to you, "heart", this conveys,
        or evokes, a visceral response, or message,

        a meaning,

        so, a better term for that ancient meditation
        really should have been "HEART GAZING"

        not "navel gazing,"

        because if i say "navel gazing" you probably
        immediately get the image of a person looking
        down at their own belly button, which has zero
        to do with the ancient practice,

        they were trying to speak to the aspect of "source"

        the navel is where a baby is fed from when the child
        was in the womb,

        so they were trying to speak to a whole host
        of things, with ancient symbolism, that assumed
        one would see the deeper and broader symbolism,

        but this message usally got lost on the western
        mind which all-too-often looked at the simplistic
        and superficial practice, with no appreciation for
        the deeper intent of the discipline,

        which was, for the student to contemplate the
        center of who they are,

        to contemplate who they were as an infant in
        the womb,

        to ignite a spark of their memory of being
        conceived .... in the mother's womb when
        the sperm entered the egg,

        to awaken, maybe, genetic memory,

        an ancient KOAN, (question designed to awaken),




        the notion of


        to gaze, within your mind's eye,
        at the very consciousness that is gazing,

        in simplistic/simple terms,


        self awareness,

        now, if we reintroduce/insert the AI discussion
        into this discourse,


        what is "sentience" ???

        true sentience?

        hmmm ....

        my preferred meditation for "AWAKENING CENTER"
        is with a sword (a wooden one, usually, a "BOKKEN")
        (BOKKEN ==> a japanese wooden practice sword)

        and we do a SHO-MEN cut,
        which is a simple basic cut straight down
        one's center,

        from directly above one's head,
        cutting straight down,

        ending with the BOKKEN parallel to the earth
        at the level of one's navel,

        or, rather, approx. 2 inches below navel,

        this "POINT" 2 inches below navel is called ...
        ... TAN-DIEN (chinese)
        ... I-TEN (japanese)


        the exact location is measured with your
        3 fingers, the width of your 3 fingers
        below navel, (excluding the pinky),

        now, when you do this "CUT" of the sword,

        one is contemplating "CENTER"

        center of (body) balance,
        center of (mind) focus,
        center of (spirit) harmony,

        hmmm ....

        ~we study the old to understand the new~from one thing know ten thousand~to see things truly one must see what is in the light and what lies hidden in shadow~

        by ArthurPoet on Sun May 03, 2009 at 06:13:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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