Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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gavesako
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by gavesako »

There is a good review of his book by Martin Gardner here (mainly the last page):
http://www.ams.org/notices/200707/tx070700852p.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

And this reviewer writes:
It focuses on the "I" - the sense we all have of our own personal identity in relation to the rest of the world. Hofstadter's view is that this notion of "I", so fundamental to us all, is substantially an illusion and emergent from the material substrate. It is a brain created symbol, he argues, one of an indefinitely extensible set of symbols the brain creates from the input it receives. "I" is a consequence of the brain's ability to monitor itself, together with its computational inability to process fully detailed descriptions of itself. In other words, how does one resolve the "mind-body problem"? He firmly plumps for scientific materialism of the currently fashionable variety, but finally admits that there remain "troubling issues" in understanding how the "strange loop" in the brain (or the "strange loop" pattern implemented by the brain) can explain the primacy of our experience of "I". After all, ALL we experience, know and feel is by way of "I". But for Hofstadter the alternative of some mysterious non-material essence that exists in addition to the material world raises far too many problems to be seriously considered. He regards it as "a non-scientific belief in magic". He does not even mention mentalism.
Often the book reads as a personal credo. Hofstadter essentially equates the "I" with self, consciousness, and with soul. And, importantly, he sees levels of soul. Some people have lots of soul, others rather less, dogs still less, and mosquitoes pretty well none. (Hofstadter reveals that he really doesn't think much of mosquitoes nor, perhaps more surprisingly, of John Searle or Dylan Thomas's poems)
http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/10/3/reviews/doran.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

And this one is pretty hard on Hofstadter:
“Do dreads and dreams, hopes and griefs, ideas and beliefs, interests and doubts, infatuations and envies, memories and ambitions, bouts of nostalgia and floods of empathy, flashes of guilt and sparks of genius, play any role in the world of physical objects? Do such pure abstractions have causal powers? Can they shove massive things around, or are they just impotent fictions? Can a blurry, intangible ‘I’ dictate to concrete physical objects such as electrons or muscles (or for that matter, books) what to do?”

The rococo verbosity here is as annoying as it is deceitful, and it’s easily stripped bare. All the paired things in the first part of the passage, regardless of their varied vocabulary, are thoughts. As such they are not “pure abstractions” or “impotent fictions” … they’re thoughts, flashing across the neural network of the human brain. They don’t occur in stones or steel girders or supermodels, because those things don’t have neural networks. Underneath the dorm-room-wowing trickery of his verbiage, Hofstadter is asking this frankly stupid question: “do thoughts cause people to do things?” Since the answer to such a question is evident to anyone over the age of five (including, we presume with perhaps a touch too much confidence, Hofstadter), it’s entirely warranted to assume the author knows its answer and entirely fair to wonder why, then, he would ask it in the first place.
What bears pointing out here (aside from the author’s somewhat pugnacious attitude toward mosquitoes) is that Hofstadter is rigging the jury to bring in a guilty verdict. He writes an entire book about the nature of consciousness and then glibly dismisses all forms of consciousness that don’t have credit cards. Flush toilets and thermostats are inanimate machines, serving mechanical purposes when activated; mosquitoes choose mates, invent hunting strategies, and make judgment calls about possible dangers in their immediate environment. Because their neural networks are virtually nonexistent, their awareness of self is no doubt equally nonexistent; but their individual selfhood is demonstrated beyond question, and a serious inquiry into it would be a worthy intellectual exercise. That Hofstadter would miss this opportunity in order to be blithe is criminally lazy, but it goes further than that. It suggests that he equates individuality with the ability to conceptualize (and vocalize) individuality.
http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/a-tin ... able-mind/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

And in this interview with Hofstadter, he presents an alternative view on "rebirth":
One of the most surprising arguments in the book (it has in fact appeared in his previous book, Le Ton beau de Marot) is the idea that the soul outlives the body by having its copies, or “soul-shards”, exist in many brains — the brains of other people, who have known the deceased; perhaps a stronger variation of the idea that a person lives so long as others remember him.

You present a compelling argument for the notion of a soul surviving its physical body by being spread across multiple brains; the more a person is familiar to others, the better his soul is “present” in their brain, too. How will you respond to the claim that the “presence” of one soul in another soul's brain is merely a simulation mechanism, developed by the evolution process as a means to improve survival? (Being able to predict what members of your clan are about to do can certainly be a powerful survival tool.)

My argument in I Am a Strange Loop is spelled out clearly. If a person's soul is truly a pattern, then it can be realized in different media. Wherever that pattern exists in a sufficiently fine-grained way, then it is, by my definition, the soul itself and not some kind of “mere simulation” of it.
http://tal.forum2.org/hofstadter_interview" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;


Although this discussion of strange loops and patterns is interesting, it is also -- alas -- based on an unjustified belief in physicalism which leads the author into some blind alleys. Thus from a Buddhist point of view, it does not contribute much to an understanding of consciousness (which it does not "explain") and ethics based on that. The Buddha takes the opposite approach:

Cittena niyati loko
cittena parikissati
cittassa ekadhammassa
sabb'eva vasam anvagu. - S. I, 39

The world is led around by mind,
by mind the world is plagued.
Mind is itself the single thing
which brings all else beneath its sway.
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
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Kim OHara
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by Kim OHara »

Digity wrote:GEB [is] a heavy, heavy read!
Hi, Digity,
It's years since I read it but what I remember most is the opposite of this: it's incredibly playful. Playful in brain-stretching ways, maybe, but funny and whimsical and stimulating.
Give it another go :smile:

:namaste:
Kim
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Kim OHara
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by Kim OHara »

Thank you for these reviews and insights, bhante.
gavesako wrote: Although this discussion of strange loops and patterns is interesting, it is also -- alas -- based on an unjustified belief in physicalism which leads the author into some blind alleys. Thus from a Buddhist point of view, it does not contribute much to an understanding of consciousness (which it does not "explain") and ethics based on that. The Buddha takes the opposite approach:

Cittena niyati loko
cittena parikissati
cittassa ekadhammassa
sabb'eva vasam anvagu. - S. I, 39

The world is led around by mind,
by mind the world is plagued.
Mind is itself the single thing
which brings all else beneath its sway.
So it seems we can base our understanding of the world either on the mind or on the physical body, but we still haven't got a solid bridge between the two? No wonder it is called 'the hard problem'!

:namaste:
Kim
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BubbaBuddhist
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by BubbaBuddhist »

I hope my future existence doesn't rely on how others remember me, because so very many people have and still do misunderstand me, so it wouldn't be "me" they remember. Possibly they misunderstand me because I've deliberately set out to make sure they do. But I'm not certain because I'm fairly sure I've always misunderstood myself. And there's a Strange Loop for you. My brain just melted. :tongue:

BB
Author of Redneck Buddhism: or Will You Reincarnate as Your Own Cousin?
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gavesako
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by gavesako »

Perhaps we can get some clues about afterlife from here:

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=14433" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Bhikkhu Gavesako
Kiṃkusalagavesī anuttaraṃ santivarapadaṃ pariyesamāno... (MN 26)

Access to Insight - Theravada texts
Ancient Buddhist Texts - Translations and history of Pali texts
Dhammatalks.org - Sutta translations
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drifting cloud
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Re: Godel, Escher, Bach ...and Buddha

Post by drifting cloud »

Moth wrote:This strikes me because the formula for the five aggregates appears to be recursive as well. This is how I understand it: Form, feeling, perception, and volitional formations are all necessary for consciousness as the fifth aggregate to arise. However, consciousness is necessary for the first four aggregates to arise. This creates an infinite loop, which completely ties into the notion of Samara being a type of infinite loop. The entire structure of experience, as the Buddha describes it, seems to have a lot to do with recursion and escaping recursion.

I'm hoping someone else has contemplated this interesting correspondence between mathematics, computer science, and the Dhamma and would share their understandings. The Buddha presents his teaching in the language of logic, and the Dhamma is in many ways a formal system. I think it would be a very beneficial study to look at the Dhamma from the angle of logic and mathematics.
You might check out Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The Dhamma of Natural Systems which touches on some of these issues.
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