From undetached rabbit parts to Magritte and Escher
- Reptiles, Escher
I came upon mention of a book today - Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Here's a little about it from Wikipedia ...
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (commonly GEB) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Hofstadter, described by the author as "a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll".
On its surface, GEB examines logician Kurt Gödel, artist M. C. Escher and composer Johann Sebastian Bach, discussing common themes in their work and lives. At a deeper level, the book is a detailed and subtle exposition of concepts fundamental to mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence.
Through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of "meaningless" elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of "meaning" itself.
In response to confusion over the book's theme, Hofstadter has emphasized that GEB is not about mathematics, art, and music but rather about how cognition and thinking emerge from well-hidden neurological mechanisms. In the book, he presents an analogy about how the individual neurons of the brain coordinate to create a unified sense of a coherent mind by comparing it to the social organization displayed in a colony of ants ...
The book sounds really interesting but I get the sinking feeling I wouldn't be able to understand much of it. I saw mention of it at a page about self-referential quines. I didn't know what quines were, but remembered reading about Willard Van Orman Quine in philosophy classes, so took a look. When I say I remember Quine, actually all I really remember about him is his reference to undetached rabbit parts - stuff like that seems to stick with me :) ....
When words refer to abstract ideas, there can be a problem, because the meaning of words can be determined by an individual's mindset and experiences. Therefore, even when speaking the same language, two individuals can be speaking about the same thing but have a different idea of it in their minds and therefore not be able to fully communicate about it. Indeterminacy is something that can be seen even more apparently with differing languages. Quine uses the example of the foreign word "gavagai," which is uttered when a native speaker points at a rabbit. A linguist trying to understand the language has to decide whether the native speaker's utterance means "rabbit," "undetached rabbit parts," or "rabbit stages" (Quine 32).
- quine: terms in translation
See, just looking that up made my head hurt! But maybe there's hope for me yet in understanding some of the book - I do know of and like the work of M. C. Escher (and René Magritte, also mentioned in the book). Must see if the library has it in audio.
- The Son of Man, Magritte