July 2007

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Strange Loops 

I recently read Douglas Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop.

If, like me, you enjoyed his classic book: Gödel, Escher, Bach, I think you'll probably enjoy this one as well. It's not as ambitious a work, but it shares a lot of the marvelously clever features; it's fun to read, has brilliant analogies and word-play, etc (take a look at the last two footnotes, or his insanely elaborate index). Hofstadter writes that the book is to elaborate on the central theme of GEB (which was missed by many readers): "GEB is a very personal attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter. What is a self, and how can a self come out of stuff that is as selfless as a stone or a puddle?"

The book also has a different character, being a lot more personal, with many of the anecdotes coming from his own life. I probably didn't appreciate this aspect as much as many others will. I love riding along with him in the world of scientific ideas, and thinking about thinking. It became less fun for me to see glimpses of his political leftism or his musical snobbery. But these were very short detours along a most enjoyable journey.

One thing that occured to me as I was completing the book was that it should probably be added to the recent spate of books challenging theism (including: Breaking the Spell, The God Delusion, God Is Not Great). But, unlike the latter two, rather than being antagonistic towards religion and the religious, it offers compelling natural explanations that help to address some of the deepest mysteries that tend to motivate religious thinking.

Addressing religious arguments head-on has its place and can be valuable. But, I suspect that Hofstadter's enjoyable explanations will prove more effective at bringing people around to his way of thinking about souls and consciousness and life.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day 

Will Wilkinson has chosen to today to "Cast aspersion on unthinking patriotism."

Unthinking patriotism is, indeed, a bad thing. But, I think many celebrate the great principles that America was founded upon, some of which were expressed in the Declaration of Independence, rather than a blind allegiance to this government, or this place.

As Will writes:

Indepedence Day ought not be a celebration of this place, America, its imaginary history, and the imaginary solidarity of its people. It ought to be a celebration of the universal ideal of a society in which all are equally without right to rule one another and equally invested with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — a celebration of the ideals of the Declaration.

So, let's not celebrate tribalism.

Let's celebrate the great political ideals that America represents. Ideals that form a necessary foundation for general human flourishing. Let's honor those who have defended those ideals. And, let's recognize that people everywhere should benefit from those ideals; no matter where they were born or where they live.