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.

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.

Google Is Being Evil

I think that Google, whose informal motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” has been failing to live up to that motto.

They’ve been trying to use the government to force Microsoft to make it more convenient and practical for users of Microsoft’s Vista operating system to replace the built-in desktop search functionality with Google’s own (free) alternative software.

Critics of antitrust enforcement, such as that against Microsoft, have warned that it would be used as a weapon to protect competitors, rather than consumers; and Google is proving them correct. There’s been no outcry for this redundant functionality from consumers. And, while I suspect Microsoft would have improved the ease of replacement of search software if enough consumers asked for it, it’s perfectly understandable that they didn’t make it a priority when pushing to complete their initial version of the operating system.

I don’t have a problem with Google trying to encourage Microsoft to open this area up to competition. I do have a problem with them using the force of government to do it for them.

Also, I think Google should be careful about getting into this game. Their dominance of web-search, and financial success, has made them a potential target of others (competitors and politicians) who would exploit antitrust laws for their own benefit.