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Monday, May 17, 2010

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


Anonymous Henry said...


The book doesn't strike me as something I will add to my "to read" list but I would like to know what you get out of it once you've read it / or listened to it on audio.

M. C. Escher and René Magritte are amazing! In fact, I am going to give a talk on Magritte to my School of Community in a few weeks.

Thanks for letting us know about the book though!



3:49 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Psh. You would be fine, especially if you just skimmed over the chapters that didn't interest you. I think you should give GEB a shot.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Stephen C. Carlson said...

I read that book when it first came when I was 12 or 13. I loved it, but I wish it came with a soundtrack!

8:07 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Henry, what's a school of community?

12:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Ha :) I can count on you having read all the books I find difficult - at least we both liked The Road.

12:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Says Stephen, the child genius .... no pressure! :)

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Oops, sorry Crystal - a description of School of Community (SoC) is below. In my SoC we often have cultural presentations – e.g., presentations on movies, books, music and/or trips to museums.

What is School of Community?

School of Community (SoC) is a weekly moment of Adult Faith Formation and fellowship offered to the public by Communion and Liberation, an ecclesial lay movement in the Catholic Church. SoC aims at being a true school which, through the reading and discussion of texts, helps participants develop the awareness that the Catholic Christian faith is a personal encounter with the Risen and Living Christ; and that it is this ongoing, continuous, “encounter with Christ” which enriches and gives new meaning to every aspect of life.

Communion and Liberation (CL) - which was recognized as an authentic charism by the Holy See in 1982 - was founded in Italy in 1954 by Msgr. Luigi Giussani and is currently present in 80 countries throughout the world and 100 cities in the United States. The name, Communion and Liberation, denotes the conviction that “communion” with Christ brings “liberation” of the human person.

The essence of the CL charism is twofold: 1) the proclamation that God became Man and the affirmation that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose again, is a present reality whose visible sign is communion - that is to say, a united people led by the vicar of Christ - and 2) the awareness that it is only in Jesus Christ that the deepest needs of the human heart are fulfilled. CL’s mission is thus the education of its members toward Christian maturity and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all spheres of contemporary life.

Information about Communion and Liberation can be found on the CL website:

1:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the information :)

2:21 AM  

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