Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Conciousness like an onion (layers that sometimes make you cry)

Book: I Am a Strong Loop
Author: Douglas Hofstadter
Published: 2007 (Basic)
Pages: 363

At a certain point, I thought the nicest thing I'd have to say about this book is that I got a decent poem out of the title. I'm introduced to the abstract concepts of how our metaphysical thought construction looks at itself and tries to force patterns into the endless spiraling reflections it sees when it points at itself by metaphors that are more difficult to understand than what they're trying to illustrate. Cool, right?

 Well, hang on. We're going to pretend there's this world where everybody's born an identical twin and they think in pairs about everything because this makes it easier to grasp the concept of...what? I've forgotten already, because it's stupid and doesn't work as explanation because as well as being a double hurtle of abstraction to leap over now instead of just one, the author also does so much backtracking like "of course, in the real world, this wouldn't work at all, so imagine that it did!" SO WHY ARE YOU USING IT TO EXPLAIN THE REAL WORLD METAPHORS ARE NOT TO BE THROWN ABOUT WILLY-NILLY JUST BECAUSE THEY SOUND COOL SPIT IT OUT AND CLEARLY JESUS CHRIST. He has literally hundreds of examples of this back-tracking confusion-making pseudo-proof all over the friggin' place.

 And in the intro he also talks about how he believes that every living thing has a soul, just, like, stretched to fit depending on its place in the natural hierarchy, and I was all kinds of hating on that until the last part of the book when he ends up explaining it thoroughly. Oh.

 So let me get to that, because a little more than halfway through, he suddenly starts talking about his wife and how he felt like they shared souls in the sense of they knew each other really well so their personality patterns were sort of saved in each other's consciousness, albeit in loose grainy spotty copies of the real things. Yeah. I can dig that. We carry each other around as patterns weaved into our own consciousness because our interactions with each other change our own patterns.

 And then his wife DIES and he finds himself not as sad (although still devastated) as he expected because he's all, "But I still remember her and have my copy of her saved in my consciousness, and so do all the other people who know her, so the stuff that made her her is still floating around, just not in the flawless and contained detail as when her body was alive." 

 ...I had to get a tissue. That was some profound shit that went straight to where my heart wrings out through my eyes right there.

So and then that leads into him spending the last good chunk arguing against people who think that our self-awareness and sophistication of thought HAVE to, like, mean something deeper than holy shit, look at the by-products of such evolved levels of consciousness! Our mental capabilities come from how complex our mechanics have become, and ISN'T THAT SO COOL? Why do we need a higher meaning when neuroscience is waving its own peculiar magic at us and going, "Look, guys, take this. Just take it, I technically don't need it and you'll have so much fun with it you won't even believe until you try."

 YES. EXACTLY. And note that he doesn't use dumb metaphors here - this part is all laid out pretty straightforwardly, even if too much of it is first detailed in the most unrealistic dialogue (as in the ancient philosophers' kind) ever that needs a whole other chapter to explain what the hell they were arguing about - that's where the clarity came in and yes, I agree.

 Taking that logic, everything does have a level of what we think of as "soul," but since it comes as a result from cognitive ability, the simpler the cognitive ability the smaller the soul. Okay. I still don't like the designation of "small" as opposed to, I dunno, maybe "less aware" or something, but whatever. I get it.

 And, ultimately, for those two points of utter sense, I will keep this book on my bookshelf. I still don't have to like his methods of explanation, though.

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