Double edged sword

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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Sun Jan 22, 2023 4:31 am

Captive (embodied) audience doesn’t have to requite anything. :)

Love your enemy.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Sun Jan 22, 2023 2:52 pm

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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Sun Jan 22, 2023 3:17 pm

Meno_ wrote:They say all roads lead to Rome…

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/all_roads_lead_to_Rome




Even Iraneus was quoted here, but the idiom became really popularized by Jeffry Chaucer.




Nevertheless, the singular vision of Christ was really more of a breathtaking , passionate event of unprecedented breath and hope, and the prophetic literature, became the appearent foundation of belief which is used in sermons the world over, to reconcile man’s animate nature with his spiritual one, that sans Jesus’ Conceotion, immaculate and developmentally conceived, through various agencies in His Life; ultimately conceived the necessity of such conception through The Father and The a Holy Spirit.

These conceptions need not occur between moments of eigenblick, and modern philosophers starting with a Hume, inspired later ones like Heidegger realize the diminishing qualitative duration of temporal succession over the quantifiable suceeding events, which appeared to form a logical succession preshadowing that conception by the Three airiental Kings’ following the star to an expected event.

The time became imminent that the transcendental spirit of the reason and objective was about to necessarily occur, because the aFather so lived His Creation, as to sacrifice his only begotten Son.

H the mind of man could never experience this event as a singular event, only much later could he in turn concierge and reduce the event with conjunction with his two sphered brain and grow belief through tradition.

The double edges of this singular slice have since been interpreted as a privileged offering by God to the few who can fit and align this formed duality into the informed trinity of timeless iccurance, and then referred to Revelation as the Spirit of Hod through and in him It was pronounced.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Sun Jan 22, 2023 6:11 pm

Is it weird I think of the brain as 3 instead of 2? The two hemispheres, plus the parts in between & below them. (I also think of the heart as 3 instead of 4, but anyway.)

Did you know the number of magi (mayhaps Persian Zoroastrians) was unspecified (probably considered 3 due to bringing 3 gifts)? And Matthew means “gift of Yahweh”…and he was def into numbers.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Sun Jan 22, 2023 10:05 pm

Hey Meno_, all that eigen stuff & yada yada. The New Heavens/Earth (place being prepared) could be coeternal just like the current one, but —for us— not starting from zero (skipping ahead to a certain level of variance). Is that where you were going with that? I no do math.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:16 pm

Precisevaly, to the word(Word), it makes far greater sense than not.

I think without advanced derivation, a sequence of
Multi-variable integrations must set the same cceedng stages.

There is no quantifiable deconstruction going on between n near symmetric, parallel universes, if that’s conceivable, or not.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Sun Jan 22, 2023 11:26 pm

makes sense
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Mon Jan 23, 2023 10:24 am

If it doesn’t mean the good, beautiful, true end is to be and do self/us as other/them, & vice versa…then I don’t care what it means.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Mon Jan 23, 2023 4:16 pm

Thanks for that, but there is no most complex math which can not be explained in terms which makes the ideas from which they were derived become more widely available.

I really know the shirt comings of I programmed people into the detail, for which they are unprepared for.


The question of the logical basis of mathematical analysis is obvious where wide audiences using high tech/math are befuddled as to what it took to develop a simple iPhone.



It’s incredible to look back and remember that the early UNIVAC processors took a space of a huge warehouse that could fit into a small iPhone. And the math developed through ages to achieve such a feat.

The interesting thing about learning math nowadays, is short cutter by suceeding assumptions whose derivation depends on the Asunción being assumed and so on, quite the reverse of a meta-analysis reduction. Whose limit can no longer be assumed to be further enerertained due to absurd, non conclusive inferences.

In the construction , such inferences are not stumped by the sudden appearance of improbability.

Going backwards, deconstructing, the road leads to more and more uncertainty, ironically, as the ‘tree of knowledge’s trunk becomes a matter of perceptive duality. Or somethin’
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Sculptor » Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:34 pm

Ichthus77 wrote:I told you math is bad.

https://www.ams.org/journals/proc/2012- ... 1301-7.pdf



If anyone ever wanted an example to show how Maths is not empirical nor natural.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Mon Jan 23, 2023 6:36 pm

Sculptor,

Please raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me hypersurface.”

The hypersurface cannot help you.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799626/
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Mon Jan 23, 2023 8:51 pm

CHAPTER TWO

The Cognitive Scientist:
Strange Loops All the Way Down

By the time I flew to Indiana to meet Douglas Hofstadter, I was so steeped in his writings that I found myself thinking like him, or like I like to think he thinks. I thought, I’m looking out the plane at a plain, which is also a plane. In my notebook I jotted, Indiana, the Blank State. But the landscape wasn’t blank. It was an Escher print, a recursive geometric puzzle receding to a blurred horizon, a metaphor for infinity.

My feeble punning efforts made me appreciate punny-man Hofstadter all the more. For him, the world is a cosmic, multidimensional pun seething with meanings. His writings, especially his first book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, dwell on deep isomorphisms, or resemblances, between patterns in nature and in mathematics, art, music.

Gödel, Escher and Bach, the mathematician, artist and musician, are isomorphs of each other and projections of a deeper structure. An image at the beginning of the book illustrates this idea. An odd geometric object, a three-dimensional rune, hovers in a cube. Light shining through it casts shadows on the walls of the cube: G, E, B. What is the object? Hofstadter’s book? His mind? His God? Hofstadter calls Gödel, Escher, Bach “a statement of my religion.”

He is obsessed with self-reference and recursion, with things that do things to themselves, repeatedly.[1] These concepts are embedded in what he calls the “strange loop.” This is Hofstadter’s big idea, which winds through and binds all his work. A strange loop is something that does something to itself, that defines, reflects, restricts, contradicts, plays with and creates itself. Like Gödel’s theorem about the limits of theorems. Escher’s drawing of hands drawing each other. Bach’s fugues, which curl back upon themselves like Mobius strips. Language, which consists of words defined by other words, is a gigantic strange loop, and so are music, art, mathematics, science and all of human culture. Human minds are the strangest, loopiest loops of all.

Gödel, Escher, Bach is a strange loop too. It has a fugue-like structure, with recurrent themes and motifs, and it constantly talks about itself. Every other chapter is a Lewis Carroll-esque dialogue between Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other mythical and real characters, about what Hofstadter just talked about. Hofstadter joins Tortoise and Achilles in the final dialogue, along with Charles Babbage and Alan Turing.

Martin Gardner, the mathematics columnist for Scientific American (whom Hofstadter replaced after Gardner retired), said of Gödel, Escher, Bach: “Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event. [This] is such a work.” Only re-reading it before flying to Indiana did I appreciate that Gödel, Escher, Bach is a 777-page assault on the mind-body problem. Strange loops serve, for Hofstadter, as a general principle of cognition, whatever form it takes. Intelligent machines, if we ever build them, and aliens, if we ever encounter them, must have loopy minds, as we do.

Hofstadter explains, in painstaking detail, how purely physical processes generate minds and meaning. His answer is that loops at the level of particles, of electrons and quarks, give rise to loops at the level of biology, genes and neurons, and eventually at the level of symbols, concepts and meaning. Our minds are symbol-processing strange loops that are generated by and exert influence over matter. Weave all these loops together and you get the “eternal golden braid” of existence.
gebegb-1024-768x801.png
Gödel, Escher, Bach is at once highly technical—with detailed digressions on physics, mathematical logic, computer languages and DNA transcription—and trippy. Psychedelics, at their best, reveal reality as an endless play of forms, a joyous dance that transcends bad and good, that is simply beautiful, so beautiful your brain melts and leaks out your ears, as an acid head might put it. Hofstadter is one of those rare souls who dwells permanently in that sublime, magical realm. Or so I imagined when I first encountered his work long ago, before I became a science writer. He is also blessed with the talent to give us glimpses of his world.

Hofstadter’s detractors dismiss him as “clever.” That is grossly unfair, but I know what they mean. His playfulness can be relentless, exhausting. You can’t just read Gödel, Escher, Bach, you have to study it. Hofstadter assigns exercises, which he assures you will be lots of fun. “Try it!” he orders. At times, he resembles a too-enthusiastic camp counselor exhorting you to play a super cool game. If you skip his exercises (as I usually do), you feel lazy and guilty, and start to resent the counselor.

There is something chilly, almost inhuman, about Gödel, Escher, Bach. It delves so deeply into the machine code of meaning that it leaves ordinary human meaning behind. Hofstadter also feared after writing the book that many readers missed its central point. He had solved the mind-body problem, the mystery of who we really are. Hofstadter wrote I Am a Strange Loop, published in 2007, to spell out this theme more clearly, to explain “what an ‘I’ is.” He writes, “I hope this book will make you reflect in fresh ways on what being human is all about—in fact, on what just-plain being is all about.”

Strange Loop is warmer than Gödel, Escher, Bach. It is not just a book about meaning, it is a meaningful book, because it grapples with grief. Hofstadter says as much in the preface. Referring to himself, as he often does, in the third person, he notes that the author of Strange Loop “has known considerably more suffering, sadness and soul-searching” than the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

In 1993, Hofstader’s wife Carol died “very suddenly, essentially without warning, of a brain tumor.” Not all deaths are tragic. This one was. Carol was 42, and she left her husband with two children, two and five years old. How do you make sense of such a death if you don’t believe in God? Souls? Heaven? Hofstadter couldn’t make sense of it, but he tried.

One chapter of Strange Loop consists of email exchanges between Hofstadter and his friend Daniel Dennett, in which Hofstadter vents his grief. Although his wife’s body is gone, Hofstadter writes, her “consciousness, her interiority, remains on this planet.” Just as the Sun is ringed by a radiant solar corona, still visible even when it is eclipsed, so do we, when eclipsed by death, endure in the minds of those who knew and loved us. We live on as “soular coronas.”[2]

I resist envy, as a matter of principle, but it was hard not to envy Hofstadter. From the perspective of my dim, halting self, he seemed blessed with the ideal scientific-artistic-mystical mind, a marvelous, frictionless machine for generating epiphanies. Yes, he has endured tribulations, like all mortals, but his intellect helped him see existence as sublime, in spite of everything. Again, so I imagined. I also owed Hofstadter a debt. Reading Gödel, Escher, Bach and “Metamagical Themas,” his column for Scientific American, in the early 1980s made me want to become a science journalist.

I was mulling all this over as I flew south over the flatlands of Indiana. I scanned my sheet of questions. How Hofstadter became interested in music, mathematics, the mind-body problem. How he was affected by the death of his wife, and the disability of a sister. The famous lines popped into my head: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” This could be Hofstadter’s motto. At the top of my question sheet I scribbled: “Keats: Beauty = Truth?” Yeah, ask about that.

* * * * *

After landing in Indianapolis, I drove a rental car south on Route 37. As I approached Bloomington, the landscape began undulating, sprouting groves and rocky knolls, like premonitions. As I pulled into the driveway behind Hofstadter’s two-story brick home, he emerged from his house to greet me, wearing a topologically and chromatically complicated sweater-jacket. His smile seemed forced, more like a grimace. His head looked too large for the stalk of his body, and he appeared younger and older than his age, boyish and wizened. He peered at me warily from beneath dark eyebrows.

Entering the house, we stepped over an ancient golden retriever. The dog strained to lift his white-muzzled head, and his rheumy eyes took us in with a bewildered expression. I trailed Hofstadter into a living room crammed with books, vinyl records, sheet music, concert posters, busts of composers, a piano and other musical instruments. Pale light fell through filmy, curtained windows. I offered a pleasantry about how “lived in” his home felt.

“What do you mean?” Hofstadter asked sharply.

The house felt filled with memories, I said carefully, with things accumulated over the course of a long, well-lived life.

It is filled with memories, he said, with things that date back to his childhood, like books and records that belonged to his parents. He fetched a scrapbook and showed me a telegram that congratulated his father, Robert, on winning the 1961 Nobel Prize in physics. The telegram was signed by President John F. Kennedy. “I am a person who is very deeply connected to the past,” Hofstadter said. His second wife, whom he married in 2012, doesn’t share his fondness for old things. She lives in a different house, newer, cleaner.

I settled on one couch, Hofstadter on another perpendicular to mine. He occasionally smiled or chuckled, but his default expression was grim, inward-looking. He sat slightly hunched over, head tipped forward, as if steeled for a blow. He became animated when I asked how he got interested in the mind-body problem. His fascination with the mind had emotional as well as intellectual roots. His younger sister Molly was born with a neurological disorder, and she never learned to speak. His parents considered but did not pursue brain surgery to search for the cause of the disability.

The prospect of the operation “was very, very eerie to me, anxiety-provoking and scary. And it was the first time that I actually thought about the idea that what goes on inside one’s skull is what is giving rise to one’s so-called consciousness. And I use ‘so-called’ because I think of it as an illusion.” Hofstadter might have meant to provoke me with this assertion, but I let it pass (and I’ll examine it later).

He consumed books on the brain, including one by Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon who performed experiments on epileptics. After cutting away their skulls, Penfield stuck wires in the epileptics’ brains and zapped them with electricity. Patients stimulated in this way had visions and recalled long-forgotten scenes from their childhoods.

“I realized that if you look at a brain, it would just look like an ordinary lump of stuff. And you couldn’t see anything related to thought, whatsoever. It was just some kind of meat, you could eat, a brain. How did that give rise to all of these colors and sensations inside? That was a scary but fascinating issue.”

Hofstadter was also entranced as a child by things that do things to themselves. He dwelled on the strangeness of multiplying 3 times 3 times 3, or of finding two identical numbers that when multiplied produced 2. (His father, after young Douglas mentioned the latter puzzle, told him he had discovered something called a “square root.”) “And of course I loved paradoxical things, like ‘This sentence is false.’ The twistiness of such things was very interesting to me.”[3]

Browsing in a bookstore in his mid-teens, Hofstadter came across a book that explained Gödel’s theorem, one of the most momentous advances in the history of ideas. In 1930 Kurt Gödel, a 24-year-old Austrian logician, proved that any axiomatic system powerful enough to describe the natural numbers (0, 1, 2, 3,...) is “incomplete.” That is, it will generate infinitely many true statements that it cannot prove.

“It was magical!” Hofstadter exclaimed, as if reliving the thrill of his youthful discovery. Gödel provided deep insights into “the nature of symbols and language and meaning,” and he showed that a formal system, which “looked on the surface to be a completely inert structure,” could refer to and yield insights into itself. “A sentence could say, ‘This sentence cannot be proven in this system.’”

Hofstadter suspected that similar self-referential processes transform neural operations into mental ones. “A brain doesn’t look like anything that a priori can support consciousness,” he said. “It just looks like a piece of flesh. But because of the looping around that can take place, because of the perceptual processes, because of the way that the neurons can respond, you get a self-referential structure built up in it, and things can happen.”

Hofstadter plunged into mathematics and logic in order to pursue his ideas further. He gained access to a computer at Stanford University, where his father worked, and programmed it to generate sentences based on recursive rules. He delighted in feeding punch cards to the mainframe, which ground through the program, lights flashing, and spewed out reams of paper covered with symbols. If a brain can become self-conscious through self-referential processes, he thought, perhaps a computer can too.
Hofstadter and friend, Eugene, Oregon, 1972.
Hofstadter and friend, Eugene, Oregon, 1972.

Recalling these childhood adventures, Hofstadter was transported by the same enthusiasm that animates his writings. I expected that. What I did not expect was the intensity of his antipathies. Take, for example, his response to my question about Buddhism. I assumed that Hofstadter had an affinity for it, because he, like Buddhists, sees the self as illusory. Gödel, Escher, Bach also riffs repeatedly on Zen.

“I hated Zen,” Hofstadter replied. Zen was “the antithesis of everything I believed in.” The Zen riddles called koans, like what is the sound of one hand clapping or what did your face look like before your parents were born, were “self-contradictory pieces of nonsense, absolute nonsense.” Precisely because they were so ridiculous, koans became a “pet peeve that I played around with.” That is how they ended up in Gödel, Escher, Bach.

When I asked if he ever considered becoming a philosopher, Hofstadter said he disliked philosophers. He found them obscure, simple-minded, shallow, dogmatic. “They fell for all the obvious ideas and then latched onto them with a fury or fervor that I couldn't understand.” Bertrand Russell “was the quintessence of that for me. Gödel was deep, and Russell was shallow.” There are exceptions, such as his old friend Daniel Dennett, but most philosopher are “players with words.”

He hated philosophical jargon, like metaphysics and ontology, and Latin terms like qua and cetiris paribus. “I just found it pompous, pretentious, show off-y, and empty.” Philosophers of mind were the worst. “Reductionism, functionalism, everything was an ism.” Many philosophers, he suspected, “would have liked to be scientists but weren’t good enough.” He brooded a moment. “I don’t mean to be too harsh, because we all have our limitations. We all have things we would have loved to do and couldn’t. But…”

A question about computer science provoked another outburst. Hofstadter assured me that he never considered becoming a computer scientist. “I hated nerds, and to me the world of computers was filled with very nerdy people,” he said. “I didn't want to hang around people who were going to do nothing but talk about computers.” Young Hofstadter aspired to be a mathematician, but he hit a ceiling toward the end of college. By that time, he had decided mathematicians were as “weird and nerdy” as computer scientists, so he happily switched to physics, his father’s field. “This could be sour grapes, but I could say, ‘Phew! I’m glad to be out of math,’” he said.

Physics seemed, initially, like the perfect fit. As a boy, he loved listening to his father talk to his fellow physicists, using terms like angular momentum, wave mechanics, electron scattering, klystron tubes. Unlike computer scientists and mathematicians, physicists weren’t nerdy. Physicists “loved the mountains, they loved nature, they loved music, they loved art, they loved words, they loved history.” Physicists were “the most cultured people in the whole world,” he said. “That was the kind of company I wanted to keep.”

Hofstadter cherished stories about the pioneers of particle physics, such as Wolfgang Pauli. In the 1930s, observations of radioactive decay didn’t make any sense. They seemed to violate the laws of conservation of energy and momentum. Pauli proposed the existence of a new particle, the neutrino, to salvage these conservation laws, but he did so with reluctance, even “shame,” Hofstadter said. “One particle, to save three of the most fundamental laws of physics!” Experiments have confirmed the existence of neutrinos.

Hofstadter entered particle physics, which seeks the fundamental stuff of reality, but he came to loathe that field too. “I became more and more lost and repelled by the ugliness of theories that I was seeing. I just could not stomach any of it.” By the early 1970s, when he was a graduate student at the University of Oregon, physicists were proposing new particles left and right with little or no justification. In a seminar, Hofstadter savagely criticized a paper that postulated the existence of 156 new particles. He finished his presentation by declaring that proponents of the theory “have no sense of shame.” He shouted, “I quit!” and stomped out of the room.

Hofstadter switched to solid-state physics, although he had disdained it as glorified engineering. In 1974, studying the behavior of a crystal immersed in a magnetic field, he made an unexpected discovery. The energy values of electrons in the crystal formed a “wispy” graph with remarkable properties. The term “fractal” hadn't been invented yet, but the graph is a fractal. When you examine a fractal at smaller scales, the same pattern recurs with slight variations. Hofstadter called the graph “Gplot,” but others have dubbed it “Hofstadter’s butterfly.”
Hofstadter’s graph of the Gplot.
Hofstadter’s graph of the Gplot.

I was struck, listening to Hofstadter, by his aesthetic sensitivity. Beauty, it seemed, is at least as important to him as truth. I remembered the question I had scribbled down in the plane. Your work, I said, reminds me of the old Keats aphorism, Beauty is truth…He snorted. “That’s nonsense. Absolute junk. That’s the opposite of what’s true. I hate that phrase.” He was so vehement that I started laughing. “Germany killed six million Jews,” he said, scowling. “That's true. Does that make it beautiful? Come on. Nonsense.” I wasn’t laughing now. But your writing is so beautiful, I said, to mollify him, and because it is true.

“I think we should try to bring as much beauty into the world as we can,” he said, “since the world is so non-beautiful!” He seemed genuinely furious. But, but, I sputtered. Your writing draws attention to these beautiful, deep structures—in music, mathematics, in our selves.

“Hitler had a self, but not a beautiful one,” he retorted. Not every strange loop “is a beautiful thing that gives rise to beauty in the world. It can give rise to mass murderers and serial killers and rapists.” Hofstadter saw the world as “filled with anguish." During the course of evolution, “trillions of creatures have suffered at the hands and claws of others. I don’t think of that as beautiful in any way, shape or form, I think of it as horrible.” He called evolution “horrendous,” “ruthless,” “violent.”

Fortunately, some humans are capable of recognizing and overcoming this natural violence and cruelty. He chose at an early age not to eat animals or wear pieces of them, and he strives to be kind to people. “I see the world as being the site of tremendous pain. But for that very reason I think it’s very important to try to be gentle and kind and empathetic and compassionate, and to help suffering people. Because the world is so cruel and merciless.”

Even as a child, Hofstadter said, he was “very, very aware of the sad sides of life.” He clipped out articles about murders and kidnappings, “horrible events that wrenched my gut,” to honor the victims. “I felt that out of respect to these people, I would clip the article, so in some sense that little shred of them remained alive.” Hofstadter still had the clippings.

From adolescence on, he was also tormented by yearnings for “romance.” He loved romantic films and music. Songs by Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter and George Gershwin were favorites. These “permeated me and gave me an extremely romantic vision of life.” He desired a specific kind of female beauty, which unfortunately also attracted other males. This “narrow resonance curve” meant that he was “almost doomed to be a failure, to not find a girlfriend I wanted.” As a young man he had moments of happiness, even joy, composing music on a piano, swapping “bon mots” with friends. But his longing for love gnawed at him.

“I don't want to say that if you had met me at that age that you would have said, ‘That’s the unhappiest person I’ve ever seen.’ You’d probably say, ‘That’s a funny guy. He’s got a good sense of humor, but he’s sad. He’s a sad guy. He’s very fun, he has a bright, chipper side, and he’s the first to come to your aid if you are sad. He’ll try to cheer you up, and he’s never one to make you feel sad, or to say that life is unhappy. But he has suffered, he has been striving and struggling constantly. He has had bad luck with romances, and it really hurts him.’ That’s what you’d say. ‘Poor guy, he’s struck out.’”

Hofstadter didn’t have his first serious relationship until his mid-30s, after Gödel, Escher, Bach was published. When I asked if he struggled to keep his melancholy out of the book, Hofstadter scowled. “Why would I even think of bringing in melancholy,” he said. “It was irrelevant.”

But as time went on, he revealed more of himself in his writing, “happy things but also a lot of sad things.” He realized that “first-person stories are very, very powerful ways of getting ideas across.” That was why in I Am a Strange Loop he wrote about the death of Carol, the woman with whom he finally found love. They married in 1985, and she died eight years later. After her death Hofstadter felt “infinite sadness,” but sadness wasn’t new to him. He had always carried it within him.

* * * * *

Some of Hofstadter’s philosophical positions seem self-punishing. Although his work strikes me as one long argument against the reduction of minds to physics, he calls himself a reductionist. “We should remember,” he writes in Gödel, Escher, Bach, “that physical law is what makes it all happen, way, way down in neural nooks and crannies which are too remote for us to reach with our high level introspective probes.”

Hofstadter asserts that consciousness is “not as deep a mystery as it seems.” It is a pseudo-problem, because consciousness is an “illusion.” By this, Hofstadter seems to mean that our conscious thoughts and perceptions are often misleading, and they are trivial compared to all the computation going on below the level of our awareness.[4]

Hofstadter also contends that free will is an illusion. I told him that simple introspection made me believe in free will. At key times in my life, I have all-too-consciously faced choices, agonized over them, and made decisions, for example about my career and love life.

“I don’t feel as though I have made any decisions,” he replied. “I feel like decisions are made for me by the forces inside my brain.” He paused. “I don’t object to the notion that there is will, and a battle of wills, but there is nothing free.” If he stops to buy gas and spots potato chips in the gas station, he is subject to competing forces. One, he is hungry. Two, he’s worried about his weight. The stronger force prevails. “There is no freedom. There’s a conflict, a tussle, battle free-for-all.” He paused. “An un-free for all, combat, where the stronger force wins.”

What about the moral reasoning that led him to become a vegetarian? As a child, he replied, he saw “carcasses being unloaded from trucks into the back of grocery stores. I asked my parents what meat was and found out.” Eventually his horror at the slaughter of animals overcame his desire to eat meat and to conform, to do what most people do. “At that point, I snapped, and became a vegetarian.”
Hofstadter in Beijing, China, 2018.
Hofstadter in Beijing, China, 2018.

Hofstadter is, in most respects, a hard-core skeptic, who denies himself beliefs that comfort others. He rejects God, the afterlife, the soul and free will. He seems to derive comfort, however, from his faith in a Platonic realm of sublime forms. The forms exist independently of us, but if we are lucky, we can discern them.

His Platonism emerged when he talked about the quantum fractal that bears his name, Hofstadter’s butterfly. He compared it to a shell on the beach, half-buried, waiting for him to stroll past. “It was partly covered, mostly covered, but I happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time, because I had had preparation to recognize it.”

Many scientists and philosophers would agree with Hofstadter about the Platonic nature of mathematical and scientific truths like the Pythagorean theorem or general relativity. His more radical claim is that works of music, poetry and art are also discovered. His conviction, again, comes from personal experience. When working on a book, Hofstadter writes, deletes, re-writes, revises. “I keep doing it over and over again until I produce something I am happy with,” he said. “It’s not like I’m really inventing anything. I’m sort of just discovering things that work. And there’s a lot of chance involved.”

Hofstadter’s Platonic view of his work is, from one perspective, arrogant, because it implies that his ideas and their formulations are transcendent and timeless, like pi. But it is also humble, even self-negating, and consistent with his rejection of free will. Hofstadter didn’t create Gödel, Escher, Bach. He just happened to notice it peeking from the sand while he was strolling along the shore of Platonic forms.

Hofstadter believes that even our responses to art have a Platonic quality, and that there is an objectively true, “correct” way to respond to a painting, poem or passage of music. This perspective implies that a beauty-meter and meaning-meter, which render objective aesthetic judgments, might be possible. To illustrate his view, Hofstadter told me a story. He was teaching a seminar, “Fugues, Canons and Inventions,” in the music school of Indiana University. One day, he played a snippet from a Handel overture and asked if the students heard any “sadness,” or “wistfulness.” They didn’t. “They just heard it as happy.”

The next day, Hofstadter played the piece again. This time, he said he would raise his hand when he heard sadness, and he asked the students to raise their hands if they heard it, too. Many of the students raised their hands when Hofstadter did. “One student said something I liked: ‘Now that I listen carefully, I can hear the sadness throughout.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what a revolution.’ They were all saying it was happy at the beginning. And at the end, they hear that pervading the happiness—sort of under, hidden inside it—is unhappiness.”

I’m a teacher, too, and I have a different take on this incident. Some students might have genuinely heard the sadness the second time around, but only because they succumbed to Hofstadter’s power of suggestion. Others might have pretended to hear the sadness because they wanted to curry favor with their grade-giver. Or they felt sorry for him. Or all of the above. Students are complicated creatures. I could listen to the Handel piece and judge it for myself, but there’s no point. I’ll remember Hofstadter and feel the undertow of melancholy.

* * * * *

My most serious bout of melancholy dates back to the early 1980s, around the time I discovered Hofstadter’s writings. After a woman broke up with me, I tumbled into acute depression. Her name was Faith, which somehow made it worse. Sometimes, with effort, I could go meta. That is, I could stand apart from myself and see my condition as something exotic, like a black hole in my head. I would observe the event horizon, its distortion of time and space, and think, Hmm, interesting.

Meta-ness, jumping out of a system and seeing it from the outside, is a major theme of Hoftstadter’s work. And yet going meta does not seem to mitigate his melancholy much. For intellectual and temperamental reasons, he confronts the darkness squarely. In spite of what I implied above, I don’t think Hofstadter’s vision of the world as “filled with anguish” is pathological, a projection of his tormented self. It is accurate. That makes it all the more remarkable that he has produced works brimming with beauty and joy.

Among the many striking images in his work, my favorite is a photograph in Strange Loop of Hofstadter and a bunch of students. Each sits on the lap of the person behind her, who sits on the lap of the person behind him, and so on. Pull one person from the circle and it collapses. It’s a self-sustaining, virtuous circle, a lovely loop, a lovely metaphor for humanity. Hofstadter, whose face is half-turned toward the photographer, is beaming. He looks truly happy.

Hofstadter’s riffs on the mind-body problem make me feel exhilarated when I get them and inadequate when I don’t, which is often. Trying to wrap my loopy mind around his loopy model, I always end up baffled, my mind twisted into knots. The model moves and eludes me in the same way a great but difficult poem does. I know I am in the presence of something deep and beautiful, even though I don’t quite get it. I feel like I’m missing something.

With trepidation, I told Hofstadter that he seems to straddle the realms of science and art. To my relief, he nodded. “I have one foot in science and one foot in art—where art can be taken as music, visual art, literature, those things—and another foot in physics, math and a little tiny bit in biology. And then of course psychology, cognitive science. I am a completely and totally hybrid person.”

And yet Hofstadter thinks he has solved the mind-body problem. The strange loop is the “correct” answer, he said, to the question, “What is a soul, or self, or I?” He wished more people shared his view. “I would have liked it if people had said, ‘That is the answer, that is right, that is the correct way of looking at things.’ I don't think people have said that.”

Many mind-body theorists—again, his friend Daniel Dennett is an exception—don’t like his loop model because they “don't like the idea that consciousness is an illusion.” Philosophers disrespect him because he disrespects them. “I don't cite philosophy,” he said. “I don’t use their ism words, I avoid them like plague. I don't use any jargon of theirs, and so they just ignore me. I guess that’s the price I pay.”

Trying to cheer him up, I said that his work is too original and idiosyncratic to serve as the foundation for a school of thought. It is an outlier, like all great works of art. Hofstadter nodded. One of his favorite books is Lexicon of Musical Invective, a collection of vicious reviews of great composers. “It’s extremely funny to read,” he said. “It makes you realize that no matter who you are, how much genius you have, there are going to be people who hate you.”

I don’t know any mind-body theorists who hate Hofstadter. Nor do I know any who think he has solved the mind-body problem, or even pointed in the direction of a solution. Christof Koch, although he loved Gödel, Escher, Bach, said that Hofstadter’s strange-loop model doesn’t yield testable predictions, and it’s more about self-consciousness than consciousness. David Chalmers, who earned his doctorate in philosophy under Hofstadter, never saw the strange-loop model as a solution to the hard problem of consciousness.

Hofstadter’s adamant belief in his strange-loop model explains his disbelief in consciousness, the self and free will. If we are really strange loops, then that explanation supersedes other, more traditional views of the mind-body problem, which assume that we are these things called “selves” that possess other things called “consciousness” and “free will.”

The irony is that Hofstadter has shown that mind-body stories can take many forms. They can be works of mathematics, science, philosophy, theology or art. Or, like Gödel, Escher, Bach, they can be a chimerical blend of all the above. Hofstadter might not like what I’m going to say next. But when he calls his theory correct, he’s making a category error, like calling an Escher woodcut or Virginia Woolf novel correct.[5]

Loop theory makes my loop thrum, perhaps because I share Hofstadter’s fascination with self-reference and a closely related concept, recursion. And I too suspect that at the bottom of everything, something is doing something to itself. Hofstadter explores a corollary theme in Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, which he co-wrote with Emmanuel Sander, a French psychologist and friend. The book argues that we can never know reality, whatever that is. Our knowledge of the world consists entirely of analogies, things that resemble other things. There is no “correct” view.

Although less artful than Gödel or Loop, Surfaces fascinated me, in part because it triggered a flashback to “reading” Finnegans Wake in college. I say “reading” because I didn’t understand Finnegans Wake in any conventional sense. It is even more packed with puns and meta-meanings than Hofstadter’s work, but it moved me, the way music moves me. The narrative consists of dreams within dreams within dreams. There isn’t any reality, or ground of being, it’s dreams all the way down, a river of dreams, that whirls and eddies endlessly before circling back to its beginning. A strange loop indeed.

The mind-body problem coils like an ouroboros at the heart of philosophy, science, mathematics, art. Some experts, notably Hofstadter’s pal Dennett, strain to explain away the problem, but Hofstadter, perhaps inadvertently, makes it more mysterious. In I Am a Strange Loop, he calls the strange loop a “closed cycle.” He writes that “despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origins, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out.” A paradigmatic strange loop is Escher’s staircase, which goes up and up and up but never gets anywhere.

Jorge Luis Borges offers another example of a strange loop in his creepy fable “Borges and I.” He describes how he, the real Borges, is oppressed by his authorial persona, Borges. Whatever he does, whatever he creates, the other Borges coopts it. “Thus is my life a flight, and I lose everything, and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him,” “Borges” writes. “I don’t know which of the two of us is writing this page.” This is the nightmarish converse of Escher’s drawing of two hands chummily bringing each other into existence. If Borges could draw, he might show two hands frantically trying to erase each other.
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In 1981 I emerged from a psychedelic trance convinced that I had stumbled onto the secret of existence.[6] Creation stems from—or is—God’s identity crisis. Think of the responsibility! Being God! If God has free will, He could choose to kill Himself, and everything would vanish. Freaked out by His own omnipotence, and the possibility of His own death, God desperately flees from Himself, from the terror He feels contemplating his own divinity. He creates us, this whole crazy, cosmic human adventure, this eternal (we hope) golden braid, as a distraction.

Eventually I talked myself out of this delusion. I persuaded myself that the anxious God I had encountered, or become, during my trip was just a projection of my anxious self. But since meeting Hofstadter, that vision has been haunting me again. If there is a God, He must be a strange loop. It’s strange loops all the way down.

* * * * *

Niceness, I like to think, is my default behavior. When I’m interviewing someone, I have an extra incentive to be nice. I want subjects to like me, trust me, because they are more likely to tell me things. But often I simply like the person, and want him to like me. Sometimes I’m extra nice because I feel compassion for the subject. That’s how I felt about Hofstadter by the end of my day with him. I wanted to protect him from the world, from predators like me. His voice was hoarse. He seemed exhausted, more frail than ever.

I had no more questions for him, but I wanted to say something nice before I left, so I told him his writings had inspired me to become a science writer. He seemed pleased. I added that I loved the phrase soular corona, which Hofstadter coined in Strange Loop to describe how someone’s soul persists after death, and I had been moved by his story about Jim, the father of a friend, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Hofstadter didn't recall the details of that passage, but now that I mentioned it, he remembered being pretty proud of it. Did I have Strange Loop with me? I dug the book out of my backpack, and Hofstadter located and read the passage:

Even before Jim’s body physically dies, his soul will have become so foggy and dim that it might as well not exist at all—the soular eclipse will be in full force—and yet despite the eclipse, his soul will still exist, in partial, low-resolution copies, scattered across the globe… Where will Jim be? Not very much anywhere, admittedly, but to some extent he will be in many places at once, and to different degrees. Though terribly reduced, he will be wherever his soular corona is. Is it very sad, but it is also beautiful. In any case, it is our only consolation.

Hofstadter looked up with a sad smile. He walked me out of the house, past the ancient golden retriever, who didn’t raise his head this time. As we stopped beside my car, I wanted to hug Hofstadter, but that was out of the question. I extended my hand. Hofstadter thrust his arms out, smiling broadly, and hugged me.

* * * * *

In moments of weakness, I suspect that Hofstadter is right, free will is a fiction, a story that makes the world more meaningful. After I returned from Indiana, my girlfriend, “Emily,” dragged me to an art exhibit. I vaguely recall being irritated with her, so I was sullen and silent as we waited in a lobby outside the exhibit. I forgot whatever had been bugging me as soon as we entered the room containing the art.

A huge marionette, which looked like Howdy Doody, dangled from the ceiling of an enormous white room. His big blue eyes were eerily animated. They blinked and swiveled back and forth, as though scanning the crowd. He was attached by chains to a large black box affixed to the ceiling, which was in turn affixed to a rectangular track.

With a mechanical clacking, the box began moving slowly along the track, gathering in and expelling chains with a loud rattling noise. Howdy moved too, his limbs and head rising and falling as the chains fed into and out of the box. He seemed in control only of his eyes, which were, somehow, expressive. He looked alternately enraged, mischievous, sad, despairing.

I thought, Okay, I get it, we’re all in chains, we have no free will, except perhaps over our emotions. We can choose to enjoy, rage at, despair over our destiny, but we can’t alter it. Ho hum. I don’t buy it. Abruptly music blared, so loudly that it startled me, and the black box violently dashed Howdy Doody against the floor, yanked him up and hurled him down again, over and over. During this ordeal Howdy Doody looked ecstatic and anguished. I laughed at him and felt sorry for him without knowing why. Only gradually did I realize that the loudspeakers were blaring the old rhythm-and-blues classic “When A Man Loves a Woman.”[7]

Colored sculpture draw association to pop culture icons like Howdy Doody and the mascot of Mad magazine. The sculpture's eyes use facial recognition technolo...

Love is the supreme, sublime human emotion and experience. And we are never so lacking in free will, so enslaved by desire, as when we are in love, and only love can break your heart, etc. So what’s the solution? Buddha said we can make ourselves immune to heartbreak by eradicating or at least detaching ourselves from desire, but that is not an option for me. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to, because without desire we become inhuman. Hofstadter didn’t shake my faith in free will, but Howdy Doody did.

Then I rallied, reminding myself of my reasons for believing in free will.[8] For starters, free will underpins our ethics and morality. It forces us to take responsibility for ourselves rather than consigning our fate to our genes or a divine plan. To have free will means to have choices, and choices, freely made, are what make life meaningful. Try telling a man locked in solitary confinement or a soldier who had his legs blown off that choices are illusory. “Let’s change places,” they might respond, “since you have nothing to lose.”

Yes, my choices are constrained, by the laws of physics, my genetic inheritance, upbringing and education, the social, cultural, political, and intellectual context of my existence. Also, I didn't choose to be born into this universe, to my parents, in this nation, in this era, and I don’t choose to grow old and die. But just because my choices are limited doesn't mean they don't exist. Just because I don't have absolute freedom doesn't mean I have none. Saying free will doesn't exist because it isn't absolutely free is like saying truth doesn't exist because we can't achieve absolute, perfect knowledge.

Free-will deniers contend that all causes are ultimately physical, and that to hold otherwise puts you in the company of believers in souls, ghosts, gods and other supernatural nonsense. But our minds, while subject to physical laws, are influenced by non-physical factors, including ideas produced by other minds, that alter the trajectory of our bodies through the world. Hofstadter’s loopy ideas nudged me onto the path of science writing in the early 1980s, and they drew me to Bloomington, Indiana, in the winter of 2016. That’s reason enough for me to believe in free will.

Listen to Hofstadter talk about beauty in his home in Bloomington, Indiana, March 18, 2016.
Douglas Hofstadter
The Cognitive Scientist: Strange Loops All The Way Down | Mind-Body Problems

[1] I’m fascinated by recursion too, although “fascinated” is perhaps too benign a term. When I was nine or ten, I became struck by the oddity of thinking about thinking. I would think, “I’m thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking…” The sequence amused me at first, then it tormented me, because I couldn’t stop thinking about thinking about thinking… It was like an earworm, a song I couldn’t get out of my head. (In the early 1970s the whiny Rolling Stones song “Angie” played in my head for months. Sheer torture.) At first I would literally think the words, “thinking about thinking about thinking…” Then I abstracted it to the basic idea, this thing I couldn’t stop thinking about. It was like “The Zahir” of Borges, something that, once seen, cannot be forgotten. It would afflict me for hours. At some point I'd think happily, “Hey! I wasn’t thinking about the thing!” Then, “Oh no!” And it would start all over again.

[2] Hofstadter’s riff on how we leave traces of ourselves behind made me reflect on my obsessive digital behavior. Many times a day, I check my three email accounts plus Twitter and Facebook. A little less often I check my money-related accounts and my comments and traffic stats for my blog, and I also self-Google. By the time I’m done it’s time to start over. Somebody could have sent me another email or said something mean about me! So I have two selves. One is this Physical Self, bounded by a sack of skin, sitting here on a couch alone. The other is my unbounded Digital Self, which is out there even now mingling with the world, ranting and being ranted at, swapping flattery, witticisms and pomposities, accruing traffic and comments, or not, making or losing money. Digital Self should be a mere extension of Physical Self, but sometimes I fear the hierarchy has flipped. Physical Self is a slave, existing merely to serve Digital Self. Physical Self is not consoled at the thought that, after it dies, Digital Self will endure.

[3] I once had a file in which I jotted down examples of twisty things. Here are a few: Trying to meditate without thinking about the fact that I am meditating. Waking up at night in a house with no power and needing a flashlight to find a flashlight. Needing glasses to find glasses. Needing gas to get to a gas station. Writing about writing, reading about reading, scientifically studying science, philosophizing about philosophy, being skeptical about skepticism. I thought about this last example while writing Rational Mysticism. I began regarding my skepticism as a spiritual practice, which clears the mind of garbage, until my handling of actual garbage gave me pause. I use plastic garbage bags that come in a box. After I yank the last bag from the box, the box becomes trash, which I put in the bag. I sensed a riddle in the ritual, and eventually I got it: Every garbage-removal system generates garbage, and that includes skepticism and meditation.

[4] Daniel Dennett, who shares Hofstadter’s view of consciousness as an illusion, defended that position in his 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Dennett gets huffy when accused of claiming that consciousness does not exist. He claims, rather, that consciousness is so insignificant, especially compared to our exalted notions of it, that it might as well not exist. Dennett's articulation of this position, unlike Hofstadter's, annoys me. After much conscious deliberation, I chose to criticize Dennett's stance in a blog post, “Is Consciousness Real?” Another perhaps more effective response would have been hurling one of Dennett’s own books at him.

[5] I mention Virginia Woolf so I can insert this note on a strikingly loopy passage in her stream-of-consciousness work The Waves. Rhoda, Woolf’s alter ego, is in a math class, staring at a problem written on the blackboard by the teacher, and she thinks: “Now the terror is beginning. . . . What is the answer? . . . I see only figures. The others are handing in their answers, one by one. Now it is my turn. But I have no answer. . . . I am left alone to find an answer. The figures mean nothing to me. Meaning has gone. . . . Look, the loop of the figure is beginning to fill with time; it holds the world in it. I begin to draw a figure and the world is looped in it, and I myself am outside the loop; which I now join – so – and seal up, and make entire. The world is entire, and I am outside of it, crying, ‘Oh, save me, from being blown for ever outside the loop of time!’"

[6] I describe this trip in The End of Science, Rational Mysticism and a blog post, “What Should We Do with Our Visions of Heaven and Hell?”

[7] The artist was Jordan Wolfson, the exhibit “Colored sculpture” and the gallery David Zwirner. In an interview, Wolfson says he based the marionette on Huckleberry Finn and Alfred E. Neuman as well as Howdy Doody.

[8] I have cited these reasons in posts such as “Will This Post Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?” and “Why New Year Resolutionaries Should Believe in Free Will.”
Table of Contents

HOME
About Mind-Body Problems

INTRODUCTION
The Weirdness

CHAPTER ONE
The Neuroscientist: Beyond the Brain

CHAPTER TWO
The Cognitive Scientist: Strange Loops All the Way Down

CHAPTER THREE
The Child Psychologist: The Hedgehog in the Garden

CHAPTER FOUR
The Complexologist: Tragedy and Telepathy

CHAPTER FIVE
The Freudian Lawyer: The Meaning of Madness

CHAPTER SIX
The Philosopher: Bullet Proof

CHAPTER SEVEN
The Novelist: Gladsadness

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Evolutionary Biologist: He-Town

CHAPTER NINE
The Economist: A Pretty Good Utopia

WRAP-UP
So What?

THANKS

DISCUSSION

The Neuroscientist:
Beyond the Brain


JOHN HORGAN is the author of seven science-y books: The End of Science, The Undiscovered Mind, Rational Mysticism, The End of War, Mind-Body Problems, Pay Attention (a lightly fictionalized memoir) and My Quantum Experiment (to be published on this site soon). He directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology and is a long-time contributor

Copyright © John Horgan. All rights reserved.
Meno_
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Mon Jan 23, 2023 8:51 pm

CHAPTER TWO

The Cognitive Scientist:
Strange Loops All the Way Down

By the time I flew to Indiana to meet Douglas Hofstadter, I was so steeped in his writings that I found myself thinking like him, or like I like to think he thinks. I thought, I’m looking out the plane at a plain, which is also a plane. In my notebook I jotted, Indiana, the Blank State. But the landscape wasn’t blank. It was an Escher print, a recursive geometric puzzle receding to a blurred horizon, a metaphor for infinity.

My feeble punning efforts made me appreciate punny-man Hofstadter all the more. For him, the world is a cosmic, multidimensional pun seething with meanings. His writings, especially his first book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, dwell on deep isomorphisms, or resemblances, between patterns in nature and in mathematics, art, music.

Gödel, Escher and Bach, the mathematician, artist and musician, are isomorphs of each other and projections of a deeper structure. An image at the beginning of the book illustrates this idea. An odd geometric object, a three-dimensional rune, hovers in a cube. Light shining through it casts shadows on the walls of the cube: G, E, B. What is the object? Hofstadter’s book? His mind? His God? Hofstadter calls Gödel, Escher, Bach “a statement of my religion.”

He is obsessed with self-reference and recursion, with things that do things to themselves, repeatedly.[1] These concepts are embedded in what he calls the “strange loop.” This is Hofstadter’s big idea, which winds through and binds all his work. A strange loop is something that does something to itself, that defines, reflects, restricts, contradicts, plays with and creates itself. Like Gödel’s theorem about the limits of theorems. Escher’s drawing of hands drawing each other. Bach’s fugues, which curl back upon themselves like Mobius strips. Language, which consists of words defined by other words, is a gigantic strange loop, and so are music, art, mathematics, science and all of human culture. Human minds are the strangest, loopiest loops of all.

Gödel, Escher, Bach is a strange loop too. It has a fugue-like structure, with recurrent themes and motifs, and it constantly talks about itself. Every other chapter is a Lewis Carroll-esque dialogue between Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other mythical and real characters, about what Hofstadter just talked about. Hofstadter joins Tortoise and Achilles in the final dialogue, along with Charles Babbage and Alan Turing.

Martin Gardner, the mathematics columnist for Scientific American (whom Hofstadter replaced after Gardner retired), said of Gödel, Escher, Bach: “Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event. [This] is such a work.” Only re-reading it before flying to Indiana did I appreciate that Gödel, Escher, Bach is a 777-page assault on the mind-body problem. Strange loops serve, for Hofstadter, as a general principle of cognition, whatever form it takes. Intelligent machines, if we ever build them, and aliens, if we ever encounter them, must have loopy minds, as we do.

Hofstadter explains, in painstaking detail, how purely physical processes generate minds and meaning. His answer is that loops at the level of particles, of electrons and quarks, give rise to loops at the level of biology, genes and neurons, and eventually at the level of symbols, concepts and meaning. Our minds are symbol-processing strange loops that are generated by and exert influence over matter. Weave all these loops together and you get the “eternal golden braid” of existence.
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Gödel, Escher, Bach is at once highly technical—with detailed digressions on physics, mathematical logic, computer languages and DNA transcription—and trippy. Psychedelics, at their best, reveal reality as an endless play of forms, a joyous dance that transcends bad and good, that is simply beautiful, so beautiful your brain melts and leaks out your ears, as an acid head might put it. Hofstadter is one of those rare souls who dwells permanently in that sublime, magical realm. Or so I imagined when I first encountered his work long ago, before I became a science writer. He is also blessed with the talent to give us glimpses of his world.

Hofstadter’s detractors dismiss him as “clever.” That is grossly unfair, but I know what they mean. His playfulness can be relentless, exhausting. You can’t just read Gödel, Escher, Bach, you have to study it. Hofstadter assigns exercises, which he assures you will be lots of fun. “Try it!” he orders. At times, he resembles a too-enthusiastic camp counselor exhorting you to play a super cool game. If you skip his exercises (as I usually do), you feel lazy and guilty, and start to resent the counselor.

There is something chilly, almost inhuman, about Gödel, Escher, Bach. It delves so deeply into the machine code of meaning that it leaves ordinary human meaning behind. Hofstadter also feared after writing the book that many readers missed its central point. He had solved the mind-body problem, the mystery of who we really are. Hofstadter wrote I Am a Strange Loop, published in 2007, to spell out this theme more clearly, to explain “what an ‘I’ is.” He writes, “I hope this book will make you reflect in fresh ways on what being human is all about—in fact, on what just-plain being is all about.”

Strange Loop is warmer than Gödel, Escher, Bach. It is not just a book about meaning, it is a meaningful book, because it grapples with grief. Hofstadter says as much in the preface. Referring to himself, as he often does, in the third person, he notes that the author of Strange Loop “has known considerably more suffering, sadness and soul-searching” than the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

In 1993, Hofstader’s wife Carol died “very suddenly, essentially without warning, of a brain tumor.” Not all deaths are tragic. This one was. Carol was 42, and she left her husband with two children, two and five years old. How do you make sense of such a death if you don’t believe in God? Souls? Heaven? Hofstadter couldn’t make sense of it, but he tried.

One chapter of Strange Loop consists of email exchanges between Hofstadter and his friend Daniel Dennett, in which Hofstadter vents his grief. Although his wife’s body is gone, Hofstadter writes, her “consciousness, her interiority, remains on this planet.” Just as the Sun is ringed by a radiant solar corona, still visible even when it is eclipsed, so do we, when eclipsed by death, endure in the minds of those who knew and loved us. We live on as “soular coronas.”[2]

I resist envy, as a matter of principle, but it was hard not to envy Hofstadter. From the perspective of my dim, halting self, he seemed blessed with the ideal scientific-artistic-mystical mind, a marvelous, frictionless machine for generating epiphanies. Yes, he has endured tribulations, like all mortals, but his intellect helped him see existence as sublime, in spite of everything. Again, so I imagined. I also owed Hofstadter a debt. Reading Gödel, Escher, Bach and “Metamagical Themas,” his column for Scientific American, in the early 1980s made me want to become a science journalist.

I was mulling all this over as I flew south over the flatlands of Indiana. I scanned my sheet of questions. How Hofstadter became interested in music, mathematics, the mind-body problem. How he was affected by the death of his wife, and the disability of a sister. The famous lines popped into my head: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.” This could be Hofstadter’s motto. At the top of my question sheet I scribbled: “Keats: Beauty = Truth?” Yeah, ask about that.

* * * * *

After landing in Indianapolis, I drove a rental car south on Route 37. As I approached Bloomington, the landscape began undulating, sprouting groves and rocky knolls, like premonitions. As I pulled into the driveway behind Hofstadter’s two-story brick home, he emerged from his house to greet me, wearing a topologically and chromatically complicated sweater-jacket. His smile seemed forced, more like a grimace. His head looked too large for the stalk of his body, and he appeared younger and older than his age, boyish and wizened. He peered at me warily from beneath dark eyebrows.

Entering the house, we stepped over an ancient golden retriever. The dog strained to lift his white-muzzled head, and his rheumy eyes took us in with a bewildered expression. I trailed Hofstadter into a living room crammed with books, vinyl records, sheet music, concert posters, busts of composers, a piano and other musical instruments. Pale light fell through filmy, curtained windows. I offered a pleasantry about how “lived in” his home felt.

“What do you mean?” Hofstadter asked sharply.

The house felt filled with memories, I said carefully, with things accumulated over the course of a long, well-lived life.

It is filled with memories, he said, with things that date back to his childhood, like books and records that belonged to his parents. He fetched a scrapbook and showed me a telegram that congratulated his father, Robert, on winning the 1961 Nobel Prize in physics. The telegram was signed by President John F. Kennedy. “I am a person who is very deeply connected to the past,” Hofstadter said. His second wife, whom he married in 2012, doesn’t share his fondness for old things. She lives in a different house, newer, cleaner.

I settled on one couch, Hofstadter on another perpendicular to mine. He occasionally smiled or chuckled, but his default expression was grim, inward-looking. He sat slightly hunched over, head tipped forward, as if steeled for a blow. He became animated when I asked how he got interested in the mind-body problem. His fascination with the mind had emotional as well as intellectual roots. His younger sister Molly was born with a neurological disorder, and she never learned to speak. His parents considered but did not pursue brain surgery to search for the cause of the disability.

The prospect of the operation “was very, very eerie to me, anxiety-provoking and scary. And it was the first time that I actually thought about the idea that what goes on inside one’s skull is what is giving rise to one’s so-called consciousness. And I use ‘so-called’ because I think of it as an illusion.” Hofstadter might have meant to provoke me with this assertion, but I let it pass (and I’ll examine it later).

He consumed books on the brain, including one by Wilder Penfield, a neurosurgeon who performed experiments on epileptics. After cutting away their skulls, Penfield stuck wires in the epileptics’ brains and zapped them with electricity. Patients stimulated in this way had visions and recalled long-forgotten scenes from their childhoods.

“I realized that if you look at a brain, it would just look like an ordinary lump of stuff. And you couldn’t see anything related to thought, whatsoever. It was just some kind of meat, you could eat, a brain. How did that give rise to all of these colors and sensations inside? That was a scary but fascinating issue.”

Hofstadter was also entranced as a child by things that do things to themselves. He dwelled on the strangeness of multiplying 3 times 3 times 3, or of finding two identical numbers that when multiplied produced 2. (His father, after young Douglas mentioned the latter puzzle, told him he had discovered something called a “square root.”) “And of course I loved paradoxical things, like ‘This sentence is false.’ The twistiness of such things was very interesting to me.”[3]

Browsing in a bookstore in his mid-teens, Hofstadter came across a book that explained Gödel’s theorem, one of the most momentous advances in the history of ideas. In 1930 Kurt Gödel, a 24-year-old Austrian logician, proved that any axiomatic system powerful enough to describe the natural numbers (0, 1, 2, 3,...) is “incomplete.” That is, it will generate infinitely many true statements that it cannot prove.

“It was magical!” Hofstadter exclaimed, as if reliving the thrill of his youthful discovery. Gödel provided deep insights into “the nature of symbols and language and meaning,” and he showed that a formal system, which “looked on the surface to be a completely inert structure,” could refer to and yield insights into itself. “A sentence could say, ‘This sentence cannot be proven in this system.’”

Hofstadter suspected that similar self-referential processes transform neural operations into mental ones. “A brain doesn’t look like anything that a priori can support consciousness,” he said. “It just looks like a piece of flesh. But because of the looping around that can take place, because of the perceptual processes, because of the way that the neurons can respond, you get a self-referential structure built up in it, and things can happen.”

Hofstadter plunged into mathematics and logic in order to pursue his ideas further. He gained access to a computer at Stanford University, where his father worked, and programmed it to generate sentences based on recursive rules. He delighted in feeding punch cards to the mainframe, which ground through the program, lights flashing, and spewed out reams of paper covered with symbols. If a brain can become self-conscious through self-referential processes, he thought, perhaps a computer can too.
Hofstadter and friend, Eugene, Oregon, 1972.
Hofstadter and friend, Eugene, Oregon, 1972.

Recalling these childhood adventures, Hofstadter was transported by the same enthusiasm that animates his writings. I expected that. What I did not expect was the intensity of his antipathies. Take, for example, his response to my question about Buddhism. I assumed that Hofstadter had an affinity for it, because he, like Buddhists, sees the self as illusory. Gödel, Escher, Bach also riffs repeatedly on Zen.

“I hated Zen,” Hofstadter replied. Zen was “the antithesis of everything I believed in.” The Zen riddles called koans, like what is the sound of one hand clapping or what did your face look like before your parents were born, were “self-contradictory pieces of nonsense, absolute nonsense.” Precisely because they were so ridiculous, koans became a “pet peeve that I played around with.” That is how they ended up in Gödel, Escher, Bach.

When I asked if he ever considered becoming a philosopher, Hofstadter said he disliked philosophers. He found them obscure, simple-minded, shallow, dogmatic. “They fell for all the obvious ideas and then latched onto them with a fury or fervor that I couldn't understand.” Bertrand Russell “was the quintessence of that for me. Gödel was deep, and Russell was shallow.” There are exceptions, such as his old friend Daniel Dennett, but most philosopher are “players with words.”

He hated philosophical jargon, like metaphysics and ontology, and Latin terms like qua and cetiris paribus. “I just found it pompous, pretentious, show off-y, and empty.” Philosophers of mind were the worst. “Reductionism, functionalism, everything was an ism.” Many philosophers, he suspected, “would have liked to be scientists but weren’t good enough.” He brooded a moment. “I don’t mean to be too harsh, because we all have our limitations. We all have things we would have loved to do and couldn’t. But…”

A question about computer science provoked another outburst. Hofstadter assured me that he never considered becoming a computer scientist. “I hated nerds, and to me the world of computers was filled with very nerdy people,” he said. “I didn't want to hang around people who were going to do nothing but talk about computers.” Young Hofstadter aspired to be a mathematician, but he hit a ceiling toward the end of college. By that time, he had decided mathematicians were as “weird and nerdy” as computer scientists, so he happily switched to physics, his father’s field. “This could be sour grapes, but I could say, ‘Phew! I’m glad to be out of math,’” he said.

Physics seemed, initially, like the perfect fit. As a boy, he loved listening to his father talk to his fellow physicists, using terms like angular momentum, wave mechanics, electron scattering, klystron tubes. Unlike computer scientists and mathematicians, physicists weren’t nerdy. Physicists “loved the mountains, they loved nature, they loved music, they loved art, they loved words, they loved history.” Physicists were “the most cultured people in the whole world,” he said. “That was the kind of company I wanted to keep.”

Hofstadter cherished stories about the pioneers of particle physics, such as Wolfgang Pauli. In the 1930s, observations of radioactive decay didn’t make any sense. They seemed to violate the laws of conservation of energy and momentum. Pauli proposed the existence of a new particle, the neutrino, to salvage these conservation laws, but he did so with reluctance, even “shame,” Hofstadter said. “One particle, to save three of the most fundamental laws of physics!” Experiments have confirmed the existence of neutrinos.

Hofstadter entered particle physics, which seeks the fundamental stuff of reality, but he came to loathe that field too. “I became more and more lost and repelled by the ugliness of theories that I was seeing. I just could not stomach any of it.” By the early 1970s, when he was a graduate student at the University of Oregon, physicists were proposing new particles left and right with little or no justification. In a seminar, Hofstadter savagely criticized a paper that postulated the existence of 156 new particles. He finished his presentation by declaring that proponents of the theory “have no sense of shame.” He shouted, “I quit!” and stomped out of the room.

Hofstadter switched to solid-state physics, although he had disdained it as glorified engineering. In 1974, studying the behavior of a crystal immersed in a magnetic field, he made an unexpected discovery. The energy values of electrons in the crystal formed a “wispy” graph with remarkable properties. The term “fractal” hadn't been invented yet, but the graph is a fractal. When you examine a fractal at smaller scales, the same pattern recurs with slight variations. Hofstadter called the graph “Gplot,” but others have dubbed it “Hofstadter’s butterfly.”
Hofstadter’s graph of the Gplot.
Hofstadter’s graph of the Gplot.

I was struck, listening to Hofstadter, by his aesthetic sensitivity. Beauty, it seemed, is at least as important to him as truth. I remembered the question I had scribbled down in the plane. Your work, I said, reminds me of the old Keats aphorism, Beauty is truth…He snorted. “That’s nonsense. Absolute junk. That’s the opposite of what’s true. I hate that phrase.” He was so vehement that I started laughing. “Germany killed six million Jews,” he said, scowling. “That's true. Does that make it beautiful? Come on. Nonsense.” I wasn’t laughing now. But your writing is so beautiful, I said, to mollify him, and because it is true.

“I think we should try to bring as much beauty into the world as we can,” he said, “since the world is so non-beautiful!” He seemed genuinely furious. But, but, I sputtered. Your writing draws attention to these beautiful, deep structures—in music, mathematics, in our selves.

“Hitler had a self, but not a beautiful one,” he retorted. Not every strange loop “is a beautiful thing that gives rise to beauty in the world. It can give rise to mass murderers and serial killers and rapists.” Hofstadter saw the world as “filled with anguish." During the course of evolution, “trillions of creatures have suffered at the hands and claws of others. I don’t think of that as beautiful in any way, shape or form, I think of it as horrible.” He called evolution “horrendous,” “ruthless,” “violent.”

Fortunately, some humans are capable of recognizing and overcoming this natural violence and cruelty. He chose at an early age not to eat animals or wear pieces of them, and he strives to be kind to people. “I see the world as being the site of tremendous pain. But for that very reason I think it’s very important to try to be gentle and kind and empathetic and compassionate, and to help suffering people. Because the world is so cruel and merciless.”

Even as a child, Hofstadter said, he was “very, very aware of the sad sides of life.” He clipped out articles about murders and kidnappings, “horrible events that wrenched my gut,” to honor the victims. “I felt that out of respect to these people, I would clip the article, so in some sense that little shred of them remained alive.” Hofstadter still had the clippings.

From adolescence on, he was also tormented by yearnings for “romance.” He loved romantic films and music. Songs by Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter and George Gershwin were favorites. These “permeated me and gave me an extremely romantic vision of life.” He desired a specific kind of female beauty, which unfortunately also attracted other males. This “narrow resonance curve” meant that he was “almost doomed to be a failure, to not find a girlfriend I wanted.” As a young man he had moments of happiness, even joy, composing music on a piano, swapping “bon mots” with friends. But his longing for love gnawed at him.

“I don't want to say that if you had met me at that age that you would have said, ‘That’s the unhappiest person I’ve ever seen.’ You’d probably say, ‘That’s a funny guy. He’s got a good sense of humor, but he’s sad. He’s a sad guy. He’s very fun, he has a bright, chipper side, and he’s the first to come to your aid if you are sad. He’ll try to cheer you up, and he’s never one to make you feel sad, or to say that life is unhappy. But he has suffered, he has been striving and struggling constantly. He has had bad luck with romances, and it really hurts him.’ That’s what you’d say. ‘Poor guy, he’s struck out.’”

Hofstadter didn’t have his first serious relationship until his mid-30s, after Gödel, Escher, Bach was published. When I asked if he struggled to keep his melancholy out of the book, Hofstadter scowled. “Why would I even think of bringing in melancholy,” he said. “It was irrelevant.”

But as time went on, he revealed more of himself in his writing, “happy things but also a lot of sad things.” He realized that “first-person stories are very, very powerful ways of getting ideas across.” That was why in I Am a Strange Loop he wrote about the death of Carol, the woman with whom he finally found love. They married in 1985, and she died eight years later. After her death Hofstadter felt “infinite sadness,” but sadness wasn’t new to him. He had always carried it within him.

* * * * *

Some of Hofstadter’s philosophical positions seem self-punishing. Although his work strikes me as one long argument against the reduction of minds to physics, he calls himself a reductionist. “We should remember,” he writes in Gödel, Escher, Bach, “that physical law is what makes it all happen, way, way down in neural nooks and crannies which are too remote for us to reach with our high level introspective probes.”

Hofstadter asserts that consciousness is “not as deep a mystery as it seems.” It is a pseudo-problem, because consciousness is an “illusion.” By this, Hofstadter seems to mean that our conscious thoughts and perceptions are often misleading, and they are trivial compared to all the computation going on below the level of our awareness.[4]

Hofstadter also contends that free will is an illusion. I told him that simple introspection made me believe in free will. At key times in my life, I have all-too-consciously faced choices, agonized over them, and made decisions, for example about my career and love life.

“I don’t feel as though I have made any decisions,” he replied. “I feel like decisions are made for me by the forces inside my brain.” He paused. “I don’t object to the notion that there is will, and a battle of wills, but there is nothing free.” If he stops to buy gas and spots potato chips in the gas station, he is subject to competing forces. One, he is hungry. Two, he’s worried about his weight. The stronger force prevails. “There is no freedom. There’s a conflict, a tussle, battle free-for-all.” He paused. “An un-free for all, combat, where the stronger force wins.”

What about the moral reasoning that led him to become a vegetarian? As a child, he replied, he saw “carcasses being unloaded from trucks into the back of grocery stores. I asked my parents what meat was and found out.” Eventually his horror at the slaughter of animals overcame his desire to eat meat and to conform, to do what most people do. “At that point, I snapped, and became a vegetarian.”
Hofstadter in Beijing, China, 2018.
Hofstadter in Beijing, China, 2018.

Hofstadter is, in most respects, a hard-core skeptic, who denies himself beliefs that comfort others. He rejects God, the afterlife, the soul and free will. He seems to derive comfort, however, from his faith in a Platonic realm of sublime forms. The forms exist independently of us, but if we are lucky, we can discern them.

His Platonism emerged when he talked about the quantum fractal that bears his name, Hofstadter’s butterfly. He compared it to a shell on the beach, half-buried, waiting for him to stroll past. “It was partly covered, mostly covered, but I happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time, because I had had preparation to recognize it.”

Many scientists and philosophers would agree with Hofstadter about the Platonic nature of mathematical and scientific truths like the Pythagorean theorem or general relativity. His more radical claim is that works of music, poetry and art are also discovered. His conviction, again, comes from personal experience. When working on a book, Hofstadter writes, deletes, re-writes, revises. “I keep doing it over and over again until I produce something I am happy with,” he said. “It’s not like I’m really inventing anything. I’m sort of just discovering things that work. And there’s a lot of chance involved.”

Hofstadter’s Platonic view of his work is, from one perspective, arrogant, because it implies that his ideas and their formulations are transcendent and timeless, like pi. But it is also humble, even self-negating, and consistent with his rejection of free will. Hofstadter didn’t create Gödel, Escher, Bach. He just happened to notice it peeking from the sand while he was strolling along the shore of Platonic forms.

Hofstadter believes that even our responses to art have a Platonic quality, and that there is an objectively true, “correct” way to respond to a painting, poem or passage of music. This perspective implies that a beauty-meter and meaning-meter, which render objective aesthetic judgments, might be possible. To illustrate his view, Hofstadter told me a story. He was teaching a seminar, “Fugues, Canons and Inventions,” in the music school of Indiana University. One day, he played a snippet from a Handel overture and asked if the students heard any “sadness,” or “wistfulness.” They didn’t. “They just heard it as happy.”

The next day, Hofstadter played the piece again. This time, he said he would raise his hand when he heard sadness, and he asked the students to raise their hands if they heard it, too. Many of the students raised their hands when Hofstadter did. “One student said something I liked: ‘Now that I listen carefully, I can hear the sadness throughout.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what a revolution.’ They were all saying it was happy at the beginning. And at the end, they hear that pervading the happiness—sort of under, hidden inside it—is unhappiness.”

I’m a teacher, too, and I have a different take on this incident. Some students might have genuinely heard the sadness the second time around, but only because they succumbed to Hofstadter’s power of suggestion. Others might have pretended to hear the sadness because they wanted to curry favor with their grade-giver. Or they felt sorry for him. Or all of the above. Students are complicated creatures. I could listen to the Handel piece and judge it for myself, but there’s no point. I’ll remember Hofstadter and feel the undertow of melancholy.

* * * * *

My most serious bout of melancholy dates back to the early 1980s, around the time I discovered Hofstadter’s writings. After a woman broke up with me, I tumbled into acute depression. Her name was Faith, which somehow made it worse. Sometimes, with effort, I could go meta. That is, I could stand apart from myself and see my condition as something exotic, like a black hole in my head. I would observe the event horizon, its distortion of time and space, and think, Hmm, interesting.

Meta-ness, jumping out of a system and seeing it from the outside, is a major theme of Hoftstadter’s work. And yet going meta does not seem to mitigate his melancholy much. For intellectual and temperamental reasons, he confronts the darkness squarely. In spite of what I implied above, I don’t think Hofstadter’s vision of the world as “filled with anguish” is pathological, a projection of his tormented self. It is accurate. That makes it all the more remarkable that he has produced works brimming with beauty and joy.

Among the many striking images in his work, my favorite is a photograph in Strange Loop of Hofstadter and a bunch of students. Each sits on the lap of the person behind her, who sits on the lap of the person behind him, and so on. Pull one person from the circle and it collapses. It’s a self-sustaining, virtuous circle, a lovely loop, a lovely metaphor for humanity. Hofstadter, whose face is half-turned toward the photographer, is beaming. He looks truly happy.

Hofstadter’s riffs on the mind-body problem make me feel exhilarated when I get them and inadequate when I don’t, which is often. Trying to wrap my loopy mind around his loopy model, I always end up baffled, my mind twisted into knots. The model moves and eludes me in the same way a great but difficult poem does. I know I am in the presence of something deep and beautiful, even though I don’t quite get it. I feel like I’m missing something.

With trepidation, I told Hofstadter that he seems to straddle the realms of science and art. To my relief, he nodded. “I have one foot in science and one foot in art—where art can be taken as music, visual art, literature, those things—and another foot in physics, math and a little tiny bit in biology. And then of course psychology, cognitive science. I am a completely and totally hybrid person.”

And yet Hofstadter thinks he has solved the mind-body problem. The strange loop is the “correct” answer, he said, to the question, “What is a soul, or self, or I?” He wished more people shared his view. “I would have liked it if people had said, ‘That is the answer, that is right, that is the correct way of looking at things.’ I don't think people have said that.”

Many mind-body theorists—again, his friend Daniel Dennett is an exception—don’t like his loop model because they “don't like the idea that consciousness is an illusion.” Philosophers disrespect him because he disrespects them. “I don't cite philosophy,” he said. “I don’t use their ism words, I avoid them like plague. I don't use any jargon of theirs, and so they just ignore me. I guess that’s the price I pay.”

Trying to cheer him up, I said that his work is too original and idiosyncratic to serve as the foundation for a school of thought. It is an outlier, like all great works of art. Hofstadter nodded. One of his favorite books is Lexicon of Musical Invective, a collection of vicious reviews of great composers. “It’s extremely funny to read,” he said. “It makes you realize that no matter who you are, how much genius you have, there are going to be people who hate you.”

I don’t know any mind-body theorists who hate Hofstadter. Nor do I know any who think he has solved the mind-body problem, or even pointed in the direction of a solution. Christof Koch, although he loved Gödel, Escher, Bach, said that Hofstadter’s strange-loop model doesn’t yield testable predictions, and it’s more about self-consciousness than consciousness. David Chalmers, who earned his doctorate in philosophy under Hofstadter, never saw the strange-loop model as a solution to the hard problem of consciousness.

Hofstadter’s adamant belief in his strange-loop model explains his disbelief in consciousness, the self and free will. If we are really strange loops, then that explanation supersedes other, more traditional views of the mind-body problem, which assume that we are these things called “selves” that possess other things called “consciousness” and “free will.”

The irony is that Hofstadter has shown that mind-body stories can take many forms. They can be works of mathematics, science, philosophy, theology or art. Or, like Gödel, Escher, Bach, they can be a chimerical blend of all the above. Hofstadter might not like what I’m going to say next. But when he calls his theory correct, he’s making a category error, like calling an Escher woodcut or Virginia Woolf novel correct.[5]

Loop theory makes my loop thrum, perhaps because I share Hofstadter’s fascination with self-reference and a closely related concept, recursion. And I too suspect that at the bottom of everything, something is doing something to itself. Hofstadter explores a corollary theme in Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking, which he co-wrote with Emmanuel Sander, a French psychologist and friend. The book argues that we can never know reality, whatever that is. Our knowledge of the world consists entirely of analogies, things that resemble other things. There is no “correct” view.

Although less artful than Gödel or Loop, Surfaces fascinated me, in part because it triggered a flashback to “reading” Finnegans Wake in college. I say “reading” because I didn’t understand Finnegans Wake in any conventional sense. It is even more packed with puns and meta-meanings than Hofstadter’s work, but it moved me, the way music moves me. The narrative consists of dreams within dreams within dreams. There isn’t any reality, or ground of being, it’s dreams all the way down, a river of dreams, that whirls and eddies endlessly before circling back to its beginning. A strange loop indeed.

The mind-body problem coils like an ouroboros at the heart of philosophy, science, mathematics, art. Some experts, notably Hofstadter’s pal Dennett, strain to explain away the problem, but Hofstadter, perhaps inadvertently, makes it more mysterious. In I Am a Strange Loop, he calls the strange loop a “closed cycle.” He writes that “despite one’s sense of departing ever further from one’s origins, one winds up, to one’s shock, exactly where one had started out.” A paradigmatic strange loop is Escher’s staircase, which goes up and up and up but never gets anywhere.

Jorge Luis Borges offers another example of a strange loop in his creepy fable “Borges and I.” He describes how he, the real Borges, is oppressed by his authorial persona, Borges. Whatever he does, whatever he creates, the other Borges coopts it. “Thus is my life a flight, and I lose everything, and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him,” “Borges” writes. “I don’t know which of the two of us is writing this page.” This is the nightmarish converse of Escher’s drawing of two hands chummily bringing each other into existence. If Borges could draw, he might show two hands frantically trying to erase each other.
escher-768x432.png
In 1981 I emerged from a psychedelic trance convinced that I had stumbled onto the secret of existence.[6] Creation stems from—or is—God’s identity crisis. Think of the responsibility! Being God! If God has free will, He could choose to kill Himself, and everything would vanish. Freaked out by His own omnipotence, and the possibility of His own death, God desperately flees from Himself, from the terror He feels contemplating his own divinity. He creates us, this whole crazy, cosmic human adventure, this eternal (we hope) golden braid, as a distraction.

Eventually I talked myself out of this delusion. I persuaded myself that the anxious God I had encountered, or become, during my trip was just a projection of my anxious self. But since meeting Hofstadter, that vision has been haunting me again. If there is a God, He must be a strange loop. It’s strange loops all the way down.

* * * * *

Niceness, I like to think, is my default behavior. When I’m interviewing someone, I have an extra incentive to be nice. I want subjects to like me, trust me, because they are more likely to tell me things. But often I simply like the person, and want him to like me. Sometimes I’m extra nice because I feel compassion for the subject. That’s how I felt about Hofstadter by the end of my day with him. I wanted to protect him from the world, from predators like me. His voice was hoarse. He seemed exhausted, more frail than ever.

I had no more questions for him, but I wanted to say something nice before I left, so I told him his writings had inspired me to become a science writer. He seemed pleased. I added that I loved the phrase soular corona, which Hofstadter coined in Strange Loop to describe how someone’s soul persists after death, and I had been moved by his story about Jim, the father of a friend, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Hofstadter didn't recall the details of that passage, but now that I mentioned it, he remembered being pretty proud of it. Did I have Strange Loop with me? I dug the book out of my backpack, and Hofstadter located and read the passage:

Even before Jim’s body physically dies, his soul will have become so foggy and dim that it might as well not exist at all—the soular eclipse will be in full force—and yet despite the eclipse, his soul will still exist, in partial, low-resolution copies, scattered across the globe… Where will Jim be? Not very much anywhere, admittedly, but to some extent he will be in many places at once, and to different degrees. Though terribly reduced, he will be wherever his soular corona is. Is it very sad, but it is also beautiful. In any case, it is our only consolation.

Hofstadter looked up with a sad smile. He walked me out of the house, past the ancient golden retriever, who didn’t raise his head this time. As we stopped beside my car, I wanted to hug Hofstadter, but that was out of the question. I extended my hand. Hofstadter thrust his arms out, smiling broadly, and hugged me.

* * * * *

In moments of weakness, I suspect that Hofstadter is right, free will is a fiction, a story that makes the world more meaningful. After I returned from Indiana, my girlfriend, “Emily,” dragged me to an art exhibit. I vaguely recall being irritated with her, so I was sullen and silent as we waited in a lobby outside the exhibit. I forgot whatever had been bugging me as soon as we entered the room containing the art.

A huge marionette, which looked like Howdy Doody, dangled from the ceiling of an enormous white room. His big blue eyes were eerily animated. They blinked and swiveled back and forth, as though scanning the crowd. He was attached by chains to a large black box affixed to the ceiling, which was in turn affixed to a rectangular track.

With a mechanical clacking, the box began moving slowly along the track, gathering in and expelling chains with a loud rattling noise. Howdy moved too, his limbs and head rising and falling as the chains fed into and out of the box. He seemed in control only of his eyes, which were, somehow, expressive. He looked alternately enraged, mischievous, sad, despairing.

I thought, Okay, I get it, we’re all in chains, we have no free will, except perhaps over our emotions. We can choose to enjoy, rage at, despair over our destiny, but we can’t alter it. Ho hum. I don’t buy it. Abruptly music blared, so loudly that it startled me, and the black box violently dashed Howdy Doody against the floor, yanked him up and hurled him down again, over and over. During this ordeal Howdy Doody looked ecstatic and anguished. I laughed at him and felt sorry for him without knowing why. Only gradually did I realize that the loudspeakers were blaring the old rhythm-and-blues classic “When A Man Loves a Woman.”[7]

Colored sculpture draw association to pop culture icons like Howdy Doody and the mascot of Mad magazine. The sculpture's eyes use facial recognition technolo...

Love is the supreme, sublime human emotion and experience. And we are never so lacking in free will, so enslaved by desire, as when we are in love, and only love can break your heart, etc. So what’s the solution? Buddha said we can make ourselves immune to heartbreak by eradicating or at least detaching ourselves from desire, but that is not an option for me. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to, because without desire we become inhuman. Hofstadter didn’t shake my faith in free will, but Howdy Doody did.

Then I rallied, reminding myself of my reasons for believing in free will.[8] For starters, free will underpins our ethics and morality. It forces us to take responsibility for ourselves rather than consigning our fate to our genes or a divine plan. To have free will means to have choices, and choices, freely made, are what make life meaningful. Try telling a man locked in solitary confinement or a soldier who had his legs blown off that choices are illusory. “Let’s change places,” they might respond, “since you have nothing to lose.”

Yes, my choices are constrained, by the laws of physics, my genetic inheritance, upbringing and education, the social, cultural, political, and intellectual context of my existence. Also, I didn't choose to be born into this universe, to my parents, in this nation, in this era, and I don’t choose to grow old and die. But just because my choices are limited doesn't mean they don't exist. Just because I don't have absolute freedom doesn't mean I have none. Saying free will doesn't exist because it isn't absolutely free is like saying truth doesn't exist because we can't achieve absolute, perfect knowledge.

Free-will deniers contend that all causes are ultimately physical, and that to hold otherwise puts you in the company of believers in souls, ghosts, gods and other supernatural nonsense. But our minds, while subject to physical laws, are influenced by non-physical factors, including ideas produced by other minds, that alter the trajectory of our bodies through the world. Hofstadter’s loopy ideas nudged me onto the path of science writing in the early 1980s, and they drew me to Bloomington, Indiana, in the winter of 2016. That’s reason enough for me to believe in free will.

Listen to Hofstadter talk about beauty in his home in Bloomington, Indiana, March 18, 2016.
Douglas Hofstadter
The Cognitive Scientist: Strange Loops All The Way Down | Mind-Body Problems

[1] I’m fascinated by recursion too, although “fascinated” is perhaps too benign a term. When I was nine or ten, I became struck by the oddity of thinking about thinking. I would think, “I’m thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking…” The sequence amused me at first, then it tormented me, because I couldn’t stop thinking about thinking about thinking… It was like an earworm, a song I couldn’t get out of my head. (In the early 1970s the whiny Rolling Stones song “Angie” played in my head for months. Sheer torture.) At first I would literally think the words, “thinking about thinking about thinking…” Then I abstracted it to the basic idea, this thing I couldn’t stop thinking about. It was like “The Zahir” of Borges, something that, once seen, cannot be forgotten. It would afflict me for hours. At some point I'd think happily, “Hey! I wasn’t thinking about the thing!” Then, “Oh no!” And it would start all over again.

[2] Hofstadter’s riff on how we leave traces of ourselves behind made me reflect on my obsessive digital behavior. Many times a day, I check my three email accounts plus Twitter and Facebook. A little less often I check my money-related accounts and my comments and traffic stats for my blog, and I also self-Google. By the time I’m done it’s time to start over. Somebody could have sent me another email or said something mean about me! So I have two selves. One is this Physical Self, bounded by a sack of skin, sitting here on a couch alone. The other is my unbounded Digital Self, which is out there even now mingling with the world, ranting and being ranted at, swapping flattery, witticisms and pomposities, accruing traffic and comments, or not, making or losing money. Digital Self should be a mere extension of Physical Self, but sometimes I fear the hierarchy has flipped. Physical Self is a slave, existing merely to serve Digital Self. Physical Self is not consoled at the thought that, after it dies, Digital Self will endure.

[3] I once had a file in which I jotted down examples of twisty things. Here are a few: Trying to meditate without thinking about the fact that I am meditating. Waking up at night in a house with no power and needing a flashlight to find a flashlight. Needing glasses to find glasses. Needing gas to get to a gas station. Writing about writing, reading about reading, scientifically studying science, philosophizing about philosophy, being skeptical about skepticism. I thought about this last example while writing Rational Mysticism. I began regarding my skepticism as a spiritual practice, which clears the mind of garbage, until my handling of actual garbage gave me pause. I use plastic garbage bags that come in a box. After I yank the last bag from the box, the box becomes trash, which I put in the bag. I sensed a riddle in the ritual, and eventually I got it: Every garbage-removal system generates garbage, and that includes skepticism and meditation.

[4] Daniel Dennett, who shares Hofstadter’s view of consciousness as an illusion, defended that position in his 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Dennett gets huffy when accused of claiming that consciousness does not exist. He claims, rather, that consciousness is so insignificant, especially compared to our exalted notions of it, that it might as well not exist. Dennett's articulation of this position, unlike Hofstadter's, annoys me. After much conscious deliberation, I chose to criticize Dennett's stance in a blog post, “Is Consciousness Real?” Another perhaps more effective response would have been hurling one of Dennett’s own books at him.

[5] I mention Virginia Woolf so I can insert this note on a strikingly loopy passage in her stream-of-consciousness work The Waves. Rhoda, Woolf’s alter ego, is in a math class, staring at a problem written on the blackboard by the teacher, and she thinks: “Now the terror is beginning. . . . What is the answer? . . . I see only figures. The others are handing in their answers, one by one. Now it is my turn. But I have no answer. . . . I am left alone to find an answer. The figures mean nothing to me. Meaning has gone. . . . Look, the loop of the figure is beginning to fill with time; it holds the world in it. I begin to draw a figure and the world is looped in it, and I myself am outside the loop; which I now join – so – and seal up, and make entire. The world is entire, and I am outside of it, crying, ‘Oh, save me, from being blown for ever outside the loop of time!’"

[6] I describe this trip in The End of Science, Rational Mysticism and a blog post, “What Should We Do with Our Visions of Heaven and Hell?”

[7] The artist was Jordan Wolfson, the exhibit “Colored sculpture” and the gallery David Zwirner. In an interview, Wolfson says he based the marionette on Huckleberry Finn and Alfred E. Neuman as well as Howdy Doody.

[8] I have cited these reasons in posts such as “Will This Post Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?” and “Why New Year Resolutionaries Should Believe in Free Will.”
Table of Contents

HOME
About Mind-Body Problems

INTRODUCTION
The Weirdness

CHAPTER ONE
The Neuroscientist: Beyond the Brain

CHAPTER TWO
The Cognitive Scientist: Strange Loops All the Way Down

CHAPTER THREE
The Child Psychologist: The Hedgehog in the Garden

CHAPTER FOUR
The Complexologist: Tragedy and Telepathy

CHAPTER FIVE
The Freudian Lawyer: The Meaning of Madness

CHAPTER SIX
The Philosopher: Bullet Proof

CHAPTER SEVEN
The Novelist: Gladsadness

CHAPTER EIGHT
The Evolutionary Biologist: He-Town

CHAPTER NINE
The Economist: A Pretty Good Utopia

WRAP-UP
So What?

THANKS

DISCUSSION

The Neuroscientist:
Beyond the Brain


JOHN HORGAN is the author of seven science-y books: The End of Science, The Undiscovered Mind, Rational Mysticism, The End of War, Mind-Body Problems, Pay Attention (a lightly fictionalized memoir) and My Quantum Experiment (to be published on this site soon). He directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology and is a long-time contributor

Copyright © John Horgan. All rights reserved.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Sculptor » Tue Jan 24, 2023 12:27 am

Ichthus77 wrote:Sculptor,

Please raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me hypersurface.”
/


Raise your right hand and stick it up your arse.
With your hand up your arse please show the forum how empirical and natural is the maths in the article you linked above, showing a practical application and how such concepts were derived from observations of nature.

And keep your hand up there until you do
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Tue Jan 24, 2023 1:23 am

This article? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799626/

This part stood out to me…it’s the Abstract… see the words I put in bold:

“Humans interact with their environment through sensory information and motor actions. These interactions may be understood via the underlying geometry of both perception and action. While the motor space is typically considered by default to be Euclidean, persistent behavioral observations point to a different underlying geometric structure. These observed regularities include the “two-thirds power law” which connects path curvature with velocity, and “local isochrony” which prescribes the relation between movement time and its extent. Starting with these empirical observations, we have developed a mathematical framework based on differential geometry, Lie group theory and Cartan’s moving frame method for the analysis of human hand trajectories. We also use this method to identify possible motion primitives, i.e., elementary building blocks from which more complicated movements are constructed. We show that a natural geometric description of continuous repetitive hand trajectories is not Euclidean but equi-affine. Specifically, equi-affine velocity is piecewise constant along movement segments, and movement execution time for a given segment is proportional to its equi-affine arc-length. Using this mathematical framework, we then analyze experimentally recorded drawing movements. To examine movement segmentation and classification, the two fundamental equi-affine differential invariants—equi-affine arc-length and curvature are calculated for the recorded movements. We also discuss the possible role of conic sections, i.e., curves with constant equi-affine curvature, as motor primitives and focus in more detail on parabolas, the equi-affine geodesics. Finally, we explore possible schemes for the internal neural coding of motor commands by showing that the equi-affine framework is compatible with the common model of population coding of the hand velocity vector when combined with a simple assumption on its dynamics. We then discuss several alternative explanations for the role that the equi-affine metric may play in internal representations of motion perception and production.

(Takes both hands out of Sculptor’s geodesics and walks away rapidly demonstrating primitive fine motor velocity of two middle digits.)
If it doesn’t mean the good, beautiful, true end is to be and do self/us as other/them, & vice versa…then I don’t care what it means.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Tue Jan 24, 2023 1:26 am

Ichthus77 wrote:Sculptor,

Please raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I do solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me hypersurface.”

The hypersurface cannot help you.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799626/




Ischthus, my reply had nothing to do with anything other than a general observation, nothing is inferred except an opinion I share, which has no significance to the theological argument you raised. The point is sustained that such parallels do have a functional, calculable coherency, that does not violate the contradictory opinion on the singular level, since they bifulcarate at a certain point toward a higher asuumable level-sharing both super and supranatural sources.

Moralism can not be spun from such elementary logic, without committing the error of ex-post -facto derivation. Mentioned with reconstructive versus constructive

https://youtu.be/evT0gGJ5Oms
Last edited by Meno_ on Tue Jan 24, 2023 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Tue Jan 24, 2023 1:36 am

Meno_, the recursive stuff reminds me of Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene theory on how a code began to 1. be a code, and 2. self-replicate.

So many things are irreducibly complex but we are like ostriches with heads in the sand… troglodytes returning to the cave… using our vision to blind ourselves.
If it doesn’t mean the good, beautiful, true end is to be and do self/us as other/them, & vice versa…then I don’t care what it means.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Tue Jan 24, 2023 2:22 am

Ichthus77 wrote:While I do think the Law & the Prophets are about the Son, and that the Godhead’s eternal (unchanging) love was demonstrated through the Son (love is not love without demonstration), we are only held responsible for the light we have been given — including what we did with the thought/feeling, “I know in my gut what I’m doing is wrong… I’m intentionally ignoring it… just like everything else that constitutes evidence I refuse to acknowledge as evidence, much less examine as such.”

Instead, they examine everything BUT *that* gut feeling.

Others cut to the chase and just go with their gut.

Then there’re the brainiacs.


costly grace is meaningful only if we are actually responsible. it only offends us if we know we could have done other than we did, and are not secure/confident we did as we should.

if we are not actually responsible (could not have done otherwise), or we are secure/confident we did as we should…why the protest?

grace is like a flaming sword. it can cauterize and heal, if we let it.
If it doesn’t mean the good, beautiful, true end is to be and do self/us as other/them, & vice versa…then I don’t care what it means.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 4:39 pm

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Erotic Representations of the Divinelocked

https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.

Published online: 22 December 2016
Summary

Erotic representations of the divine occupy a pivotal place in religious myths, poetry, liturgy, and theology. Reading eros as a category of religious love highlights its ubiquitous presence in sacred literary sources; moreover, it renders the nexus of erotic love and the divine critical to comprehending religiosity as an immanent and embodied phenomenon, rather than as an abstract idea. As an embodied phenomenon, religious love is subject to an investigation of topics such as gender and sexuality, and its multiple cultural meanings and contexts. Western philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, (Pseudo-)Dionysius, and the Neoplatonist renaissance thinker Leone Ebreo, delineate a hierarchy or a “ladder of love” differentiating lesser and higher subjects and objects of love from love of the particular, to the universal, cosmic, and divine. An interrelated distinction is ascertained between “desire” as a state of lack often seen as a lower state, and “love” as the higher state, in which fulfillment and joy of the union with the object of one’s love is achieved. Love and desire as marked yet interrelated emotions are contextualized in religious phenomena cross-culturally, most obviously in theistic frameworks in which a personal and intimate relationship with the divine is an ideal. Poetry and autobiography are the most common genre of depicting the intimate and passionate encounter of human and divine. Despite the prominence of male voices in the sources, the contributions of medieval Christian and Muslim women mystics to this literature are significant. Key base-texts from which mystics and philosophers are inspired and draw upon to elucidate their own personal experience of yearning for the divine, include the biblical Song of Songs, Bhagavata Purana (Book 10), and the Gitagovinda. Although the yearning for the divine, associated with an emotional, embodied state and therefore seen as problematic from a rational perspective, this yearning is also a cherished state, even for rationalists such as the medieval Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides. The significance of erotic love for the divine is confirmed, not only by Sufi and Hindu bhakti poets such as Rumi and Jayadeva, but also by philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Rupa-Goswami. The idiom of erotic desire and love for God is particularly poignant and integral not only in poetry but also in theology, as exemplified in Hindu bhakti and Christian theology. Exploring the meanings of erotic love in religious poetry, theology, liturgy, and the history of religion more broadly offers a rich scholarly and personal medium for contemplating the reality of human and divine nature.
Keywordsdivine lovedesireerosallegorypoetrySong of SongsGitagovindaembodimentbhaktiRumiSt. Theresa of Avila

SubjectsComparative ReligionsMysticism and Spirituality




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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 4:48 pm

Meno_ wrote:Advanced search











Bring this up in conjunction of ‘modeling’ between eschotologically successive frameworks, and the platonic - Teutonic models sourced from Platonic cross references,


Significant allusions to reconstructed images from the point of view of Heideggerian end of time notions, corresponding with the Book of arevelation. Yes such eigenblink is significant.





Erotic Representations of the Divinelocked

https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.

Published online: 22 December 2016
Summary

Erotic representations of the divine occupy a pivotal place in religious myths, poetry, liturgy, and theology. Reading eros as a category of religious love highlights its ubiquitous presence in sacred literary sources; moreover, it renders the nexus of erotic love and the divine critical to comprehending religiosity as an immanent and embodied phenomenon, rather than as an abstract idea. As an embodied phenomenon, religious love is subject to an investigation of topics such as gender and sexuality, and its multiple cultural meanings and contexts. Western philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, (Pseudo-)Dionysius, and the Neoplatonist renaissance thinker Leone Ebreo, delineate a hierarchy or a “ladder of love” differentiating lesser and higher subjects and objects of love from love of the particular, to the universal, cosmic, and divine. An interrelated distinction is ascertained between “desire” as a state of lack often seen as a lower state, and “love” as the higher state, in which fulfillment and joy of the union with the object of one’s love is achieved. Love and desire as marked yet interrelated emotions are contextualized in religious phenomena cross-culturally, most obviously in theistic frameworks in which a personal and intimate relationship with the divine is an ideal. Poetry and autobiography are the most common genre of depicting the intimate and passionate encounter of human and divine. Despite the prominence of male voices in the sources, the contributions of medieval Christian and Muslim women mystics to this literature are significant. Key base-texts from which mystics and philosophers are inspired and draw upon to elucidate their own personal experience of yearning for the divine, include the biblical Song of Songs, Bhagavata Purana (Book 10), and the Gitagovinda. Although the yearning for the divine, associated with an emotional, embodied state and therefore seen as problematic from a rational perspective, this yearning is also a cherished state, even for rationalists such as the medieval Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides. The significance of erotic love for the divine is confirmed, not only by Sufi and Hindu bhakti poets such as Rumi and Jayadeva, but also by philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Rupa-Goswami. The idiom of erotic desire and love for God is particularly poignant and integral not only in poetry but also in theology, as exemplified in Hindu bhakti and Christian theology. Exploring the meanings of erotic love in religious poetry, theology, liturgy, and the history of religion more broadly offers a rich scholarly and personal medium for contemplating the reality of human and divine nature.
Keywordsdivine lovedesireerosallegorypoetrySong of SongsGitagovindaembodimentbhaktiRumiSt. Theresa of Avila

SubjectsComparative ReligionsMysticism and Spirituality




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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Ichthus77 » Wed Jan 25, 2023 4:56 pm

I think the further we get from the beginning, the more difficult it is to understand the metaphor between marriage and union with the Original. But we all want to cling to this idea of family and kinship, and Jesus was the first to begin redefining it after he was informed his bio fam had come to get him away from what he was doing, …even after Peter (a friend/brother as Jesus defined it) did the same.
If it doesn’t mean the good, beautiful, true end is to be and do self/us as other/them, & vice versa…then I don’t care what it means.
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 5:44 pm

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The Phenomenon of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin




Abstract

During the first half of the twentieth century, famous geopaleontologist and controversial Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) tried to reconcile scientific evolutionism with his religious beliefs. A devoted spiritualist, he presented a mystical interpretation of cosmic evolution in his major work, The Phenomenon of Man, but he was silenced by the Roman Catholic Church for his unorthodox view of our species within dynamic reality. Nevertheless, Teilhard's bold vision of this evolving universe introduced the fact of evolution into modern theology and religion.
Introduction

Are science and theology reconcilable in terms of evolution? As both an eminent scientist and cosmic mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) presented a dynamic worldview. He argued that our species does occupy a special place within a spiritual universe, and that humankind is evolving toward an Omega Point as the end-goal of converging and involuting consciousness on this planet.

With his steadfast commitment to the fact of pervasive evolution, Teilhard as geopaleontologist and Jesuit priest became a very controversial figure within the Roman Catholic Church during the first half of this century. Actually, because of his bold interpretation of our species within earth history and this cosmos, he was silenced by his religious superiors for taking an evolutionary stance at a time when this scientific theory was a serious threat to an entrenched orthodox theology. Going beyond Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Teilhard even maintained that evolution discloses the meaning, purpose and destiny of our species within life, nature and this universe.

As a geopaleontologist, Teilhard was very familiar with the rock and fossil evidence that substantiates the fact of evolution. As a Jesuit priest, he was acutely aware of the need for a meta-Christianity that would contribute to the survival, enrichment and fulfillment of humankind on this planet in terms of both science and faith. Sensitive to the existential predicament of our species, with its awareness of endless space and certain death, Teilhard as visionary and futurist ultimately grounded his personal interpretation of evolution in a process philosophy, natural theology and cosmic mysticism that supported panentheism (the belief that God and the World are in a creative relationship of progressive evolution toward a future synthesis in terms of spirit).

Galileo Galilei had endured humiliation and was put under house arrest, as a result of his claiming that the earth does in fact move through the universe; a discovery that the aged astronomer was coerced into recanting by his dogmatic persecutor, Pope Urban VIII (formally Cardinal Maffeo Barberini), under the intolerant Jesuit inquisitor, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.

As a direct result of the conservative standpoint taken by his religious superiors, Teilhard would suffer alienation and discouragement because he rightly claimed that species (including our own) evolve throughout geological time, or they become extinct; his daring evolutionism discredited fixity and essentialism in biology and philosophy.

Discovering Evolution

As a child, Teilhard showed an interest in both natural science and religious mysticism. Sensitive to his beautiful Auvergne surroundings in France, and particularly drawn to the study of rocks, Teilhard found delight in a plowshare which he supposed was an enduring object free from change and imperfection. However, after a storm, the youth discovered that his ìgenie of ironî had rusted. Teilhard tells us that he then threw himself on the ground and cried with the bitterest tears of his life. As a result of this devastating experience, he would have to seek his ìone essential thingî beyond this imperfect world of matter and corruption.

To be ìmost perfectî (as he put it), Teilhard at the age of 17 entered the Jesuit society in order to serve God. Even so, he intensified his interest in geology on the channel island of Jersey. Throughout his entire life, the scientist-priest would never abandon his love for science, concern about human evolution, and devotion to mystical theology (especially eschatology).

In 1905, as part of his Jesuit training, Teilhard found himself teaching at the Holy Family College in Cairo, Egypt. This three-year experience offered him the unique opportunity to do research in both geology and paleontology, expanding his knowledge of earth history. It also exposed this priest to a rich multiplicity of cultures, both past and present, that surely jarred him from European ethnocentrism. Following this teaching obligation, he then finished his theology studies at Hastings in England.

It was during his stay in England that Teilhard read Henri Bergson's major book, Creative Evolution (1907). This metaphysical work had an enormous influence on the scientist-priest, since it resulted in his lifelong commitment to the brute fact of evolution. It is worth emphasizing that it was not Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) or The Descent of Man (1871) but rather Bergson's interpretation of evolution that convinced Teilhard that species are mutable, including our own, throughout organic history.

While on one of his field trips, Teilhard unfortunately became involved in the discovery of the controversial Piltdown skull (later determined to be a fraud). Although he had questioned the validity of this fossil evidence from the very beginning, one positive result was that the young geologist and seminarian now became particularly interested in paleoanthropology as the science of fossil hominids.

After his stay in England, Teilhard returned to France where, during World War I, he was a stretcher bearer at the front lines. It is remarkable that he emerged from his horrific experiences in the war trenches even more optimistic that evolution had been preparing the earth for a new direction and final goal in terms of the spiritualization of the human layer of this planet. In fact, during the global war, Teilhard had several mystical experiences which he recorded for posterity. It was this emerging mysticism that would eventually allow him to reconcile science and theology within an evolutionary vision of a converging and involuting spiritual reality (as he saw it).

In 1923, as a result of an invitation, Teilhard next found himself as a geologist participating in a scientific expedition into inner Mongolia. A year in China gave the Jesuit a splendid opportunity to begin his career as a specialist in Chinese geology. It was during this time, while in the Ordos Desert, that Teilhard essayed ìThe Mass on the Worldî (a mystical account of his offering up the entire world as a Eucharist to a Supreme Being as the creator, sustainer, and ultimate destiny of an evolving universe). He expresses his dynamic Christology when he writes: "I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world....You know how your creatures can come into being only, like shoot from stem, as part of an endlessly renewed process of evolution."1

It is to Teilhard's credit that he never took seriously a strict and literal interpretation of Genesis as presented in the Old Testament. Instead, he will continue to devote his life to synthesizing science and theology in terms of the indisputable fact of pervasive evolution.

Returning to France, Teilhard ran into serious problems with the Roman Catholic Church because of his unorthodox beliefs. In Paris, he began giving public lectures on and teaching about evolution. This priest was even bold enough to offer a personal interpretation of Original Sin in terms of cosmic evolution and the emergence of our own species in a dynamic but imperfect (unfinished) universe; he saw this cosmos as a cosmogenesis moving from chaos, multiplicity and evil to order, unity and perfection.

When a copy of his controversial essay fell into the hands of some Jesuits, Teilhard was immediately silenced by his superiors. They, of course, had a failure of nerve in not facing head-on the fact of evolution and its ramifications for understanding and appreciating the place of humankind within nature. Because his audacious vision challenged Christian dogma, Teilhard was censored by the Church: he could no longer teach or publish his own theological and philosophical views, and furthermore he was even exiled from France by the Jesuit order (finding himself back in China).

Nevertheless, the ostracized scientist-priest wrote his first book, The Divine Milieu (1927), a spiritual essay on the activities and passivities of the human being. In this work, he argues that a personal God is the divine Center of evolving Creation. His position is in sharp contrast to biblical fundamentalism or so-called scientific creationism: views that hold the creation of this entire universe to be a completed event that happened only about ten thousand years ago! Teilhard writes: "We may, perhaps, imagine that the creation was finished long ago. But that would be quite wrong. It continues still more magnificently, and at the highest levels of the world."2

Fortuitously, Teilhard now found himself a member of the Cenozoic Laboratory at the Peking Union Medical College. Starting in 1928, geologists and paleontologists excavated the sedimentary layers in the Western Hills near Zhoukoudian. At this site, the scientists discovered the so-called Peking man (Sinanthropus pekinensis), a fossil hominid dating back at least 350,000 years but now relegated to the Homo erectus phase of human evolution. Teilhard became world-known as a result of his popularizations of the Sinanthropus discovery, while he himself made major contributions to the geology of this site. Likewise, Teilhard's long stay in China gave him more time to think and write about evolution, as well as continue his scientific research.

The Phenomenon of Man

Bringing his scientific knowledge and religious commitments together, Teilhard now began writing a synthesis of facts and beliefs. He aimed to demonstrate the special place held by our species in this dynamic universe. After two years, writing several paragraphs each month, Teilhard completed his major work, The Phenomenon of Man (1938-1940, with a postscript and appendix added in 1948). For other religionists, his evolutionary synthesis was a threat to traditional theology and, consequently, the Vatican denied its publication. In retrospect, it is with bitter irony that this book was so controversial because it does offer an earth-bound, human-centered, and God-embraced interpretation of spiritual evolution that seems more-or-less conservative from today's perspective. The work is primarily an ultra-anthropology grounded in a phenomenology of evolution in terms of the structures and intentionality in emerging consciousness (spirit).

In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard writes:

Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow....The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderfulóthe arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life....The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow?....What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution....Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.3
For Teilhard, the Mosaic cosmogony is replaced by an emergent evolution within which the biblical Adam and Eve become fossil apelike forms! Not surprisingly, the evolutionary stance taken by this Jesuit priest in The Phenomenon of Man resulted in the condemnation of this unorthodox book by the dogmatic religionists of his time.

Teilhard argues that this universe is a cosmogenesis. Essentially, the unity of this universe is grounded not in matter or energy but in spirit (the within-of-things, or radial energy); thereby he gives priority to dynamic spirit rather than to atomic matter (the without-of-things, or tangential energy). Moreover, Teilhard was a vitalist who saw the personalizing and spiritualizing cosmos as a product of an inner driving force manifesting itself from material atoms, through life forms, to reflective beings. He discerned a direction in the sweeping epic of this evolving universe, particularly with the emergence of humankind. However, his alleged cosmology is merely a planetology, since the scientist-priest focuses his attention on this earth without any serious consideration of the billions of stars in those billions of galaxies that are strewn throughout sidereal reality.

Of primary significance, Teilhard argues that the assumed order in nature reveals a pre-established plan as a result of a divine Designer, who is the transcendent God as the Center of creation or Person of persons; the general direction in evolution is a result of the process law of complexity-consciousness. Teilhard was deeply interested in and concerned about the infinitely complex that would emerge in the distant future as a spiritual synthesis, rather than occupying himself with the infinitely great and the infinitely small.

For Teilhard, this cosmic law of increasing complexity and consciousness manifests itself from the inorganic atoms through organic species to the human person itself. Or, this process law has resulted in the appearance of matter, then life, and finally thought. Evolution is the result of ìdirected chanceî taking place on the finite sphericity of our earth. Teilhard emphasized that evolution is converging and involuting around this globe: first through geogenesis, then biogenesis, and now through noogenesis. The result is a geosphere surrounded by a biosphere, and now an emerging noosphere (or layer of human thought and its products) is enveloping the biosphere and geosphere. For this Jesuit priest, noogenesis is essentially a planetary and mystical Christogenesis, i.e., the evolution of Christ to God-Omega as the divine destiny of humankind.

Unlike the iconoclastic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who prophesied the coming of the superior overman as a creative intellect independent of society, Teilhard envisioned the emergence of a collective humankind that would advance to a spiritual union with a personal God in the distant future. Interestingly enough, several Marxist philosophers appreciated Teilhard's emphasis on the collective and directional evolution of our species; of course, as pervasive materialists, they could never accept Teilhard's spiritual and mystical interpretation of dynamic reality.

The idea of a developing noosphere was also explored in the writings of the Russian scientist Vladimir I. Vernadsky (1863-1945). Similar to Teilhard's comprehensive orientation, Vernadsky had presented a holistic view of life on earth in his major work, The Biosphere (1926). Even so, it was Teilhard who seriously considered the long-range ramifications of noogenesis.

Teilhard stressed that the process of evolution has not been a continuum: from time to time, evolution has crossed critical thresholds resulting in the uniqueness of both life over matter and thought over life; a person represents an incredible concentration of consciousness or spirit, resulting in the immortality of the human soul. Consequently, the Jesuit priest claimed that the human being is ontologically separated from the great apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, and bonobo).

For Teilhard, the ongoing spiritual evolution of our species is rapidly moving toward an Omega Point as the end-goal or divine destiny of human evolution on this planet. His theism maintains that God-Omega is one, personal, actual and transcendent. In the future, God-Omega and the Omega Point will unite, forming a mystical synthesis.

Grounded in agapology and centrology, Teilhard's interpretation of evolution claims that the human layer of consciousness engulfing our earth is becoming a collective brain and heart; in the future, as a single mind of persons, this layer will detach itself from the globe and, transcending space and time, immerse itself in God-Omega. As such, the end-goal of evolution is a final creative synthesis of the universal God-Omega with a spiritualized and united humankind. Thus, his panentheism becomes (at least in part) a mystical pantheism. Yet, the Jesuit priest did not take exobiology and exoevolution seriously, e.g., the possibility that Omega Point events have happened or will happen elsewhere in this universe.

Tragic Consequences

After The Phenomenon of Man was denied publication by his superiors, Teilhard then wrote Man's Place in Nature: The Human Zoological Group (1950). This book is a more scientific statement of his interpretation of evolution. With controlled enthusiasm but focusing on our species, he writes: "Man is, in appearance, a ëspecies,í no more than a twig, an offshoot from the branch of the primatesóbut one that we find to be endowed with absolutely prodigious biological properties....Without the earth could there be man?"4

Unfortunately, the publication of Teilhard's third book was also denied along with his request to teach in Paris. In fact, on August 12, 1950, Pope Pius XII issued the Encyclical Letter Humani generis; obviously, this Papal warning from the Vatican was (at least in part) a direct result of Teilhard's unsuccessful request for the publication of his slightly revised version of The Phenomenon of Man written in 1948, as well as his 1950 work on human evolution.

Leaving Paris for New York City, Teilhard spent the last years of his life reflecting on both human evolution and his mystical vision of a spiritual future for our species. Of particular interest is the fact that the secular humanist Sir Julian Huxley was sympathetic to Teilhard's religious humanism. However, Huxley the biologist could never accept Teilhard's overall commitment to spiritual transcendence rather than seeing evolution as a strictly naturalistic process.

While in New York City, Teilhard had the opportunity to visit twice the fossil hominid sites in South Africa. Unfortunately, at the end of his distinguished life, he became removed from the new developments in evolutionary science, e.g., the discovery of the DNA molecule and population genetics research. For the evolutionist as materialist, organic creativity is grounded in chance genetic variation, necessary natural selection, and historical contingency (not teleology and spiritualism). And even though he espoused a geological perspective and saw our species continuing to evolve for millions of years, Teilhard still held that humankind would never leave this planet. Instead, he offers a myopic vision in which our species is nailed to the earth and absolutely alone in this universe. Of course, this suffocating centrology was necessary in order for him to believe in the formation of an unique Omega Point at the end of human evolution on earth. If he were alive today, then what would Teilhard think about the far-reaching ramifications of space exploration and genetic engineering?

No doubt, one finds it very disconcerting that the aged Teilhard wept and was depressed about his pathetic ordeal within the Jesuit order. And, one may find it somewhat unsettling that, as a Jesuit priest, he spent considerable time traveling and communicating with several beautiful women whose friendship he encouraged, even though they could never find a lasting intimate relationship with this spiritual and mystical man who gave preference to a transcendent God over those individuals who loved him in this world. Of course, Teilhard was a man of flesh and blood who, struggling with his own beliefs and commitments within an intellectually hostile environment, no doubt needed that human companionship provided by those who found him attractive in every way.

On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955, Teilhard died of a sudden stroke in New York City. He was buried at Saint Andrew's on the Hudson, in the cemetery of the Jesuit novitiate for the New York Province (as such, his earthly remains are far removed from France). By the fall of that year, the first edition of The Phenomenon of Man was published in its author's native language.

In 1962, a Monitum decree issued by the Holy Office on Teilhard's works went as far as to warn bishops and heads of seminaries about those doctrinal errors that were held to be inherent in the Jesuit scientist's evolutionary and mystical interpretation of humankind within nature. In fact, as his writings were published posthumously, Teilhard became more controversial in death than he had been while he was alive.

Teilhard's hopefulness seems to have overlooked the extensive roll that extinction plays throughout organic evolution (not to mention the excessive evil in the world): those mass extinctions, that caused all the trilobites, ammonites and dinosaurs to vanish forever, should tarnish the unbridled optimism of any rigorous evolutionist. Furthermore, Teilhard's vision will not convince many serious thinkers that it was inevitable for our species to appear in this universe. An obvious expression of wishful thinking, the anthropic principle represents anthropocentrism in its most extreme form.

Claiming that everything that rises must converge, Teilhard grounds his philosophy of evolution in teleology and spiritualism: the movement of matter, then life, and finally thought is both forward and upward to a mystical union with God-Omega (the beginning and end of cosmic evolution). For the Jesuit priest, the chaos and probability throughout nature are giving way to order and certainty. But most scientists will not accept Teilhard's directional interpretation of this evolving universe.

Teilhard's severest critic was the British zoologist Sir Peter Medawar, a Nobel laureate who found the mystic's evolutionism to be not only preposterous but also an attempt at self-deception. Furthermore, the Harvard paleontologist Steven Jay Gould even claims that Teilhard was directly involved with the infamous Piltdown hoax. It is surprising and disappointing that Gould has besmirched the international reputation of a distinguished natural scientist and virtuous human being by suggesting that the Jesuit priest had been a conspirator in the Piltdown fraud, without there being a single thread of incontestable evidence to support such a damaging accusation. Invoking ìinnocent until proven guiltyî and in light of his reputation as a most commendable person, it seems only fair to assume that Teilhard is blameless of any wrongdoing in this singularly outrageous perpetration of a false discovery in human evolution research.

Some Final Thoughts

Teilhard was committed to science, evolution and optimism despite his daring speculations and mystical orientation. He was a religious humanist: a visionary and futurist who foresaw the collective consciousness of our global species increasing in terms of love, information and technology as a result of God's existence. Surely, Teilhard would be delighted with the Internet, seeing it as a planetary force that is uniting the consciousness and spirituality of humankind. It is to his lasting credit that he introduced into modern theology the fact of organic evolution at a time when this scientific theory was rejected by many who saw it as a threat to their religious beliefs and traditional values. Unfortunately for him, in trying to reconcile the natural with the supernatural, this Jesuit priest satisfied no intellectual community. Even today, although wisely not opposed to the fact of evolution, the Roman Catholic Church offers no comprehensive and detailed evolutionary explanation for the origin and history of life or the emergence and future of humankind.

Teilhard focused exclusively on the earth and gave special attention to our own species. In this respect, he was not in step with those modern thinkers who offer a truly cosmic perspective in which humankind is merely a fleeting event in this material universe.

Surprisingly, on October 23, 1996, Pope John Paul II issued a statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in which he endorsed evolution as being ìmore than just a theoryî; thereby both biblical fundamentalism and so-called scientific creationism were dealt yet another blow to their vacuous claims about the origin of this universe and the history of life forms on our earth. With bitter irony, it was the silenced Teilhard who had committed himself to the fact of evolution as well as the indisputable powers of science, reason and free inquiry (albeit within a theological framework).

Today, a rigorous evolutionist sees reality grounded in energy (not spirit) and manifesting no evidence of a divine plan unfolding throughout cosmic history. Our species is linked to material nature, and it is presumptuous to claim that a mystical destiny awaits it at the end of planetary time. Even so, through science and technology, humankind is more and more able to direct the future of organic evolution (including our own species) on earth and elsewhere.

Teilhard was a unique human being of intelligence, sensitivity and integrity. He experienced both the agony and ecstasy of time and change. His optimistic commitment to cosmic evolution flourished while he served on the blood-stained battlefield of a war-torn humanity, researched among the rocks and fossils of a remote past, and reflected in the deepest recesses of his profound soul on the meaning and purpose of human existence. As such, Teilhard himself exemplifies the phenomenon of man.

Notes

1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 19, 22.

2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968), p. 62.

3. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper Colophon, 1975), pp. 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.

4. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Man's Place in Nature: The Human Zoological Group (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 15, 25.

Further Readings

Barbour, George B. In the Field with Teilhard de Chardin. New York, Herder and Herder, 1965.

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution (1907). Mineola, Dover, 1998.

Birx, H. James. Interpreting Evolution: Darwin & Teilhard de Chardin. Amherst, Prometheus Books, 1991, esp. pp. 178-222.

CuÈnot, Claude. Teilhard de Chardin: A Biographical Study. Baltimore, Helicon, 1965.

Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man (1871). Amherst, Prometheus Books, 1998. Refer to the introduction by H. James Birx, pp. ix-xxviii.

Dawkins, Richard. Climbing Mount Improbable. New York, W.W. Norton, 1996.

Dawkins, Richard. ìThe Improbability of Godî in Free Inquiry 18(3):6-9, Summer 1998.

de Terra, Helmut. Memories of Teilhard de Chardin. New York, Harper & Row, 1964.

Dodson, Edward O. The Phenomenon of Man Revisited: A Biological Viewpoint on Teilhard de Chardin. New York, Columbia University Press, 1984.

King, Ursula. Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin. Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1996.

Kuvakin, Valerii A., ed. A History of Russian Philosophy: From the Tenth Through the Twentieth Centuries. 2 vols. Amherst, Prometheus Books, 1994, pp. 399-409, 521-534.

Lukas, Mary, and Ellen Lukas. Teilhard. rev. ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Mortier, Jeanne, and Marie-Louise Aboux, eds. Teilhard de Chardin Album. New York, Harper & Row, 1966.

Raven, Charles E. Teilhard de Chardin: Scientist and Seer. London, Collins, 1967.

Schmitz-Moormann, Nicole, and Karl Schmitz-Moormann. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Scientific Works (1905-1955). 11 vols. Olten und Freiburg im Breisgau, Walter-Verlag, 1971.

Speaight, Robert. Teilhard de Chardin: A Biography. London, Collins, 1967.

Vernadsky, Vladimir I. The Biosphere (1926). rev. ed. New York, Nevraumont/ Copernicus/Springer-Verlag, 1998.

Vernadsky, Vladimir I. ìThe Biosphere and the Noˆsphereî in American Scientist 33(1):1-12, 1945.

Walsh, John Evangelist. Unraveling Piltdown: The Science Fraud of the Century and Its Solution. New York, Random House, 1996, pp. 128-148.

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.

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Meno_
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 5:48 pm

Relevance to prior narrative regarding the position of pope Benedict with that of Pope Francis, re: the ‘gnostic’ interpretation.


Is it a matter of opinion or, that of a mystically iintrajected summa?



The redux from Omega to Alpha presents a complex image of appearent irreducibility, qua image, but then the singular vision is cut at a very critical point in interpretation, seeming like the objective intention is both: of physical intensive , while retaining it’s metaphysical transcendence.
Meno_
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 7:13 pm

THE LIBRARY
OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Paris, France 4,502 6 91
A NOTE ON PROGRESS
August 10, 1920
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Written in Paris and published posthumously in The Future of Man.
The conflict dates from the day when one man, flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature are no more unalterably fixed in their orbits than the stars themselves, but that their serene arrangement around us depicts the flow of a tremendous tide—the day on which a first voice rang out, crying to Mankind peacefully slumbering on the raft of Earth, “We are moving! We are going forward!” …
It is a pleasant and dramatic spectacle, that of Mankind divided to its very depths into two irrevocably opposed camps—one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming with all its newfound faith, “We are moving,” and the other, without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining, “Nothing changes. We are not moving at all.”
These latter, the “immobilists,” thought they lack passion (immobility has never inspired anyone with enthusiasm!)1, have commonsense on their side, habit of thought, inertia, pessimism, and also, to some extent, morality and religion. Nothing, they argue, appears to have changed since man began to hand down the memory of the past, not the undulations of the Earth, or the forms of life, or the genius of Man or even his goodness. Thus far practical experimentation has failed to modify the fundamental characteristics of even the most humble plant. Human suffering, vice, and war, although they may momentarily abate, recur from age to age with an increasing virulence. Even the striving after progress contributes to the sum of evil: to effect change is to undermine the painfully established traditional order whereby the distress of living creatures was reduced to a minimum. What innovator has not retapped the springs of blood and tears? For the sake of human tranquility, in the name of Fact, and in defense of the sacred Established Order, the immobilists forbid the Earth to move. Nothing changes, they say, or can change. The raft must drift purposelessly on a shoreless sea.
But the other half of mankind, startled by the lookout’s cry, has left the huddle where the rest of the crew sit with their heads together telling time-honored tales. Gazing out over the dark sea they study for themselves the lapping of waters along the hull of the craft that bears them, breathe the scents borne to them on the breeze, gaze at the shadows cast from pole to pole by a changeless eternity. And for these all things, while remaining separately the same—the ripple of water, the scent of the air, the lights in the sky—become linked together and acquire a new sense: the fixed and random Universe is seen to move.
No one in the world who has seen this vision can be restrained from guarding and proclaiming it. To testify my faith in it, and to show reasons, is my purpose here.
It is clear in the first place that the world in its present stat is the outcome of movement. Whether we consider the position of the rocky layers enveloping the Earth, the arrangement of the forms of life that inhabit it, the variety of civilizations to which it has given birth, or the structure of languages spoken upon it, we are forced to the same conclusion: that everything is the sum of the past and that nothing is comprehensible except through its (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/docu ... n-progress) history. “Nature” is the equivalent of “becoming,” self-creation: this is the view to which experience irresistibly leads us. What can it mean except that the Universe must, at least at some stage, have been in movement; that it has been malleable, acquiring by degrees, not only in their accidental details but in their very essence, the perfections which now adorn it? There is nothing, not even the human soul, the highest spiritual manifestation we know of, that does not come within this universal law. The soul, too, has its clearly defined place in the slow ascent of living creatures toward consciousness, and must therefore in one way or another have grown out of the general mobility of things. Those who look reality in the face cannot fail to perceive this progressive genesis of the Universe, and with a clarity which leaves no room for doubt. Whatever the other side may say, clinging to their imaginary world, the Cosmos did once move, the whole of it, not only locally but in its very being. This is undeniable and we shall not discuss it further. But is it still moving? Here we have the real question, the living, burning question of evolution.
It is the fundamental paradox of Nature as we see it now that its universal plasticity seems suddenly to have hardened. Like an ocean-wave caught in a snapshot, or a torrent of lava stiffened by cooling, the mountains and living things of the Earth wear the aspect, to those who study them, of a powerful momentum that has become petrified. Nature seen at a distance appears to be malleable and in motion; but seek to lay hands on it, to deflect by force even the least of Life’s directions, and you will encounter nothing but absolute rigidity, an unshakably stubborn refusal to depart from the preordained path.
But let us note that this present rigidity of Nature does not, as some people believe, in any way (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/docu ... n-progress) lessen the certainty of its past mobility. What we regard as the fixity of present organisms may be simply a state of very slow movement, or of rest between spells of movement. It is true that we have not yet succeeded in shaping life to our requirements in the laboratory; but who has shaped or witnessed the shaping of a geological stratum? The rock which we seek to compress crumbles because we work too fast or with over-small fragments. Calcareous matter, if it is to be made malleable, needs to be embedded in a vast mass, and perhaps its reshaping is a process of immense slowness. If we have not seen the upward thrust of mountain ranges it is because their rise was accomplished either in widely spaced jerks or with so slow a rhythm that since the coming of Man nothing of the kind has happened, or at least nothing that has been perceptible to us. Why should not Life, too, be mobile only in great masses, or through the slow action of time, or in brief stages? Who can positively affirm that at this moment, although we perceive nothing, new forms are not taking shape in the contours of the Earth and of Life? …
The plasticity of Nature in the past is an undeniable fact; its present rigidity is less capable of scientific proof. If we had to choose between transformism and fixism, that is to say between two absolutes—everything incestantly in motion, or everything for ever immovable—we should be bound to choose the first. But there is a third possible hypothesis, namely that everything was at one time fluid but is now irrevocably fixed. It is this third alternative that I wish to examine and dismiss.
The hypothesis of a definitive halt in terrestrial evolution is, to my mind, suggested less by the apparently unchanging nature of present forms than by a certain general aspect of the world coinciding with this appearance of cessation. It is most striking that the morphological change of living creatures seems to have slowed down at the precise moment when Thought appeared on Earth. If we relate this coincidence to the fact that the only general line taken by biological evolution has been in the direction of the largest brain—broadly speaking, of the highest state of consciousness—we are compelled to wonder whether the true fundamental impulse underlying the growth of animal forces has not been the “need” to know and to think; and whether, when this overriding impulse eventually found its outlet in the human species, the effect was not to produce an abrupt diminution of “vital pressure” in the other branches of the Tree of Life. This would explain the fact that “evolving Life,” from the end of the Tertiary era, has been confined to the little group of higher primates. We know of many forms that have disappeared since the Oligocene, but of no genuinely new species other than the anthropoids. This again may be explained by the extreme brevity of the Miocene as compared with other geological periods. But does it not lead us to surmise that the “phyla” possessing higher psychic attributes have absorbed all the forces at Life’s disposal?
If we are to find a definitive answer to the question of the entitative progress of the Universe we must do so by adopting the least favourable position—that is to say, by envisaging a world whose evolutionary capacity is concentrated upon and confined to the human soul. The question of whether the Universe is still developing then becomes a matter of deciding whether the human spirit is still in process of evolution. To this I reply unhesitatingly, “Yes, it is.” The nature of Man is in the full flood of entitative change. But to grasp this it is necessary (a) not to overlook the biological (morphogenic) value of moral action, and (b) to accept the organic nature of interindividual relationships. We shall then see that a vast evolutionary process is in ceaseless operation around us, but that it is situated within the sphere of consciousness (and collective consciousness).
What is the difference between ourselves, citizens of the twentieth century, and the earliest human beings whose soul is not entirely hidden from us? In what respects may we consider ourselves their superiors and more advanced than they?
Organically speaking, the faculties of those remote forebears were probably the equal of our own. By the middle of the last ice age, at the latest, some human groups had attained to the expression of aesthetic powers calling for intelligence and sensibility developed to a point which we have not surpassed. To all appearance the ultimate perfection of the human element was achieved many thousands of years ago, which is to say that the individual instrument of thought and action may be considered to have been finalized. But there is fortunately another dimension in which variation is still possible, and in which we continue to evolve.
The great superiority over Primitive Man which we have acquired and which will be enhanced by our descendants in a degree perhaps undreamed-of by ourselves, is in the realm of self-knowledge: in our growing capacity to situate ourselves in space and time, to the point of becoming conscious of our place and responsibility in relation to the Universe.
Surmounting in turn the illusions of terrestrial flatness, immobility, and autocentricity, we have taken the unhopeful surface of the Earth and “rolled it like a little ball”; we have set it on a course among the stars; we have grasped the fact that it is no more than a grain of cosmic dust; and we have discovered that a process without limit has brought into being the realms of substance and essence. Our fathers supposed themselves to go back no further than yesterday, each man containing within himself the ultimate value of his existence. They held themselves to be confined within the limits of their years on Earth and their corporeal frame. We have blown asunder this narrow compass and those beliefs. At once humbled and ennobled by our discoveries, we are gradually coming to see ourselves as a part of vast and continuing processes; as though awakening from a dream, we are beginning to realize that our nobility consists in serving, like intelligent atoms, the work proceeding in the Universe. We have discovered that there is a Whole, of which we are the elements. We have found the world in our own souls.
What does this conquest signify? Does it merely denote the establishment, in worldly terms, of an idealized system of logical, extrinsic relationships? Is it no more than an intellectual luxury, as is commonly supposed—the mere satisfaction of curiosity? No. The consciousness which we are gradually acquiring of our physical relationship with all parts of the Universe represents a genuine enlarging of our separate personalities. It is truly a progressive realization of the universality of the things surrounding each of us. And it means that in the domain external to our flesh our real and whole body is continuing to take shape.
That is in no way a “sentimental” affirmation.
The proof that the growing coextension of our soul and the world, through the consciousness of our relationship with all things, is not simply a matter of logic or idealization, but is part of an organic process, the natural outcome of the impulse which caused the germination of life and the growth of the brain—the proof is that it expresses itself in a specific evolution of the moral value of our actions (that is to say, by the modification of what is most living within us).
No doubt it is true that the scope of individual human action, as commonly envisaged in the abstract theory of moral and meritorious acts, is not greatly enhanced by the growth of human knowledge. Inasmuch as the willpower of contemporary man is not in itself more vigorous or unswerving than that of a Plato or an Augustine, and individual moral (Text sourced from https://www.organism.earth/library/docu ... n-progress) perfection is still to be measured by steadfastness in pursuance of the known good (and therefore relative) we cannot claim as individuals to be more moral or saintly than our fathers.
Yet this must be said, to our own honor and that of those who have toiled to make us what we are: that between the behavior of men in the first century A.D. and our own, the difference is as great, or greater, than that between the behavior of a fifteen-year-old boy and a man of forty. Why is this so? Because, owing to the progress of science and of thought, our actions today, whether for good or ill, proceed from an incomparably higher point of departure than those of the men who paved the way for us toward enlightenment. When Plato acted it was probably in the belief that his freedom to act could only affect a small fragment of the world, narrowly circumscribed in space and time; but the man of today acts in the knowledge that the choice he makes will have its repercussions through countless centuries and upon countless human beings. He feels in himself the responsibilities and the power of an entire Universe. Progress has not caused the action of Man (Man himself) to change in each separate individual; but because of it the action of human nature (Mankind) has acquired, in every thinking man, a fullness that is wholly new. Moreover, how are we to compare or contrast our acts with those of Plato or Augustine? All such acts are linked, and Plato and Augustine are still expressing, through me, the whole extent of their personalities. There is a kind of human action that gradually matures through a multitude of human acts. The human monad has long been constituted. What is now proceeding is the animation (assimilation) of the Universe by that monad; that is to say, the realization of a consummated human Thought.
There are philosophers who, accepting this progressive animation of the concrete by the power of thought, of Matter by Spirit, seek to build upon it the hope of a terrestrial liberation, as though the soul, become mistress of all determinisms and intertias, may someday be capable of overcoming harsh probability and vanquishing suffering and evil here on Earth. Alas, it is a forlorn hope; for it seems certain that any outward upheaval or internal renovation which might suffice to transform the Universe as it is could only be a kind of death—death of the individual, death of the race, death of the Cosmos. A more realistic and more Christian view shows us Earth evolving toward a state in which Man, having come into the full possession of his sphere of action, his strength, his maturity and his unity, will at last have become an adult being; and having reached this apogee of his responsibility and freedom, holding in his hands all his future and all his past, will make the choice between arrogant autonomy and loving excentration.
This will be the final choice: whether a world is to revolt or to adore.2 And then, on an act which will summarize the toil of centuries, on this act (finally and for the first time completely human) justice will set its seal and all things be renewed.
The truth can now be seen: Progress is not what the popular mind looks for, finding with exasperation that it never comes. Progress is not immediate ease, well-being, and peace. It is not rest. It is not even, directly, virtue. Essentially Progress is a force, and the most dangerous of forces. It is the Consciousness of all that is and all that can be. Though it may encounter every kind of prejudice and resentment, this must be asserted because it is the true: to be more is in the first place to know more.
Hence the mysterious attraction which, regardless of all setbacks and a priori condemnations, has drawn men irresistibly toward science as to the source of Life. Stronger than every obstacle and counterargument is the instinct which tells us that, to be faithful to Life, we must know; we must know more and still more; we must tirelessly and unceasingly search for Something, we know not what, which will appear in the end to those who have penetrated to the very heart of reality.
I maintain that it is possible, by following this road, to find substantial reasons for belief in Progress.
The world of human thought today presents a very remarkable spectacle, if we choose to take note of it. Joined in an inexplicable unifying movement men who are utterly opposed in education and in faith find themselves brought together, intermingled, in their common passion for a double truth; namely, that there exists a physical Unity of beings, and that they themselves are living and active parts of it. It is as though a new and formidable mountain chain had arisen in the landscape of the soul, causing ancient categories to be reshuffled and uniting higgledy-piggledy on every slope the friends and enemies of yesterday: on one side the inflexible and sterile vision of a Universe composed of unalterable, juxtaposed parts, and on the other side the ardor, the faith, the contagion of a living truth emerging from all action and exercise of will. Here we have a group of men joined simply by the weight of the past and their resolve to defend it; there a gathering of neophytes confident of their truth and strong in their mutual understanding, which they feel to be final and complete.
There seem to be only two kinds of mind left; and—it is a disturbing thought—all natural mystical power and all human religious impulse seem to be concentrated on one side. What does this mean?
There are people who will claim that it is no more than a mode, a momentary ripple of the spirit—at the most the passing exaggeration of a force that has always contributed to the balance of human thinking. But I believe we must look for something more. This impulse which in our time is so irresistibly attracting all open minds toward a philosophy that comprises at once a theoretical system, a rule of action, a religion, and a presentiment, heralds and denotes, in my view, the effective, physical fulfillment of all living beings.
We have said that progress is designed to enable considered action to proceed from the willpower of mankind, a wholly human exercise of choice. But this natural conclusion of the vital effort, as we can now see, is not to be regarded as something consummated separately in the secret heart of each monad. If we are to perceive and measure the extent of Progress we must look resolutely beyond the individual viewpoint. It is Mankind as a whole, collective humanity, which is called upon to perform the definitive act whereby the total force of terrestrial evolution will be released and flourish; an act in which the full consciousness of each individual man will be sustained by that of every other man, not only the living but the dead. And so it follows that the opus humanum, laboriously and gradually achieved within us by the growth of knowledge and in the face of evil, is something quite other than an act of higher morality: it is a living organism. We cannot distinctly view its progress because the organism encloses us, and to know a thing synthetically one has to be able to see it as a whole. Yet is there any part of ourselves which does not glow and responsively vibrate with the measure of our growth?
We need only to look about us at the multitude of disjointed forces neutralizing each other and losing themselves in the confusion of human society—the huge realities (broad currents of love or hatred animating people and classes) which represent consciousness in potency but have not yet found a consciousness sufficiently vast to encompass them all. We need only recall those moments in time of war when, wrested out of ourselves by the force of a collective passion, we have a sense of rising to a higher level of human existence. All these spiritual reserves, guessed at and faintly apprehended, what are they but the sure evidence that creation is still on the move, but that we are not yet capable of expressing all the natural grandeur of the human mission?
Vistas such as these, I know, do not appear to come within the Christian perspective; and because of this most of those who point to them and welcome them seem, at least by implication, to be heralding the appearance of a religion destined to supplant all earlier creeds. But how does it all arise—the challenge on the one hand, and the mistrust on the other—except out of the fact that neither we nor our adversaries have sufficiently measured the powers of growth with which Christ endowed his Church?
For my own part I accept the reality of the movement which tends to segregate, within the bosom of Mankind, a congregation of the faithful dedicated to the great task, “Advance in unity!” Moreover, I believe in its truth; I consider the fact that it contains in its ranks a great number of sinners, of “the maimed, and the halt, and the blind,” to be evidence of this truth. But this does not cause me to believe that the eager multitude crying out today for guidance is in search of any Shepherd other than He who has already brought it bread.
Christ, as we know, fulfills Himself gradually,3 through the ages in the sum of our individual endeavors. Why should we treat this fulfillment as though it possessed none but a metaphorical significance, confining it entirely within the abstract domain of purely supernatural action? Without the process of biological evolution, which produced the human brain, there would be no sanctified souls; and similarly, without the evolution of collective thought, through which alone the plenitude of human consciousness can be attained on Earth, how can there be a consummated Christ? In other words, without the constant striving of every human cell to unite with all the others, would the Parousia be physically possible? I doubt it.
That is why I believe that this coming together, from all four corners of the intellectual world, of a great mass of naturally religious spirits, does not portend the building of a new temple on the ruins of all others but the laying of new foundations to which the old Church is gradually being moved.
Little by little the idea is coming to light in Christian consciousness that the “phylogenesis” of the whole man, and not merely the “ontogenesis” of his moral virtues, is hallowed, in the sense that the charity of the believer may more resemble an impulse of constructive energy and his self-detachment be more in the nature of a positive effort.
In response to the cry of a world trembling with the desire for unity, and already equipped, through the workings of material progress, with the external links of this unity, Christ is already revealing himself, in the depths of men’s hearts, as the Shepherd (the Animator) of the Universe. We may indeed believe that the time is approaching when many men, old and new believers, having understood that from the depths of Matter to the highest peak of the Spirit there is only one evolution, will seek the fullness of their strength and their peace in the assured certainty that the whole of the world’s industrial, aesthetic, scientific, and moral endeavor serves physically to complete the Body of Christ, whose charity animates and re-creates all things.
Fulfilling the profound need for unity which pervades the world, and crowning it with renewed faith in Christ the Physical Center of Creation; finding in this need the natural energy required for the renewal of the world’s life; thus do I see the New Jerusalem, descending from Heaven and rising from the Earth.
He who speaks these words before the Tribunal of the Elders will be laughed at and dismissed as a dreamer.
“Nothing moves,” a first Sage will say. “The eye of common sense sees it and science confirms it.”
“Philosophy shows that nothing can move,” says a second.
“Religion forbids it—nothing must move,” says a third.
Disregarding this triple verdict the Seer leaves the public place and returns to the firm, deep bosom of Nature. Gazing into the depths of the immense complex of which he is a part, whose roots extend far below him to be lost in the obscurity of the past, he again fortifies his spirit with the contemplation and the feeling of a universal, stubborn movement depicted in the successive layers of dead matter and the present spread of the living. Gazing upward, toward the space held in readiness for new creation, he dedicates himself body and soul, with faith reaffirmed, to a Progress which will bear with it or else sweep away all those who will not hear. His whole being seized with religious fervor he looks toward a Christ already risen but sill unimaginably great, invoking, in the supreme homage of faith and adoration, “Deo Ignoto.”
FOOTNOTES
For the status quo of life as it exists: the “immobility” of the Christian, or of the Stoic, may arouse fervor because it is a withdrawal, that is to say an individual anticipation (more or less fictitious) of consummated progress. ↩
My purpose is not to show that a necessary or infallible line of progress exists, but simply to establish that, for Mankind as a whole, a way of progress is offered and awaits us, analogous to that which the individual cannot reject without falling into sin and damnation. ↩
In his Mystical Body: cf. the last paragraph of Comic Life. ↩
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Meno_
The Invisible One
 
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Re: Double edged sword

Postby Meno_ » Wed Jan 25, 2023 7:26 pm

Meno_
The Invisible One
 
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