24 November 2007

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

Letter to Douglas Hofstadter, author of "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid"

Dear Mr. Hofstadter -

Thank you so much for an excellent book. I could spend a long time (for it was a long book read over a very long period of time) talking about the number of times where my view of self-awareness, consciousness, intelligence, etc. were all changed forever. I will simply let the above reference suffice to tell you how much I revere your work as the purpose of my letter is the discussion of a particular conclusion that you made.

In the hopes of furthering our mutual understanding of what it means to be intelligent or conscious, I'd like to offer and alternative conclusion to one that you made when you were talking about the symbols that our brain held together, particularly the self-symbol. This was one of my favorite points in the book, mostly because I had never considered the idea of self as a very sophisticated symbol inside the neural net that makes up our brain. The most intriguing part was that, while I had never before imagined such a concept, it seemed to fit nicely with how I currently viewed consciousness.

At one point in the chapter, you mentioned that "soulists" will stop here and say that this is the soul, while your point, if I'm not simplifying it too much, is that it is a very sophisticated symbol. While I understood what you were saying, I was mildly surprised that this particular point was brought up because I personally do not see them as conflicting, and this is the alternative conclusion that I would like to offer about what consciousness means.

There are some very eye-opening verses that, while some may consider them to be philosophy, I consider them to be scripture. It addresses the question: What is Intelligence?
The entire passage is long; consider looking particularly at verses 20 through 38. These verses immediately came to my mind when I read your point regarding the "soul" being a symbol, or a sophisticated formulation of intelligence.

Indeed, as the passage intimates, if "intelligence" is a physical material and that our "spirit" is a sophisticated constitution of this "intelligence", then perhaps the idea of the soul that these verses propose and your principle of soul as a self-symbol in an intelligent being are the same thing. Much like non-euclidean geometry where the word POINT is merely redefined, but the underlying concepts are the same, as you also talked about in your book. I appreciate this idea because one can see a clean isomorphism between garnering intelligence in the scientific world and the spiritual.

(One meta-point regarding this passage is that it was written in 1833. It truly is fascinating how we find our own ideas that we consider to be novel over actually hundreds of years old. Additionally, there is, to use your word, a feeling of 'mysticism' that such a sophisticated idea is not new, but was recognized by supposedly less learned people than ourselves centuries ago.)

While I could go on with respect to the implications of such a position, including a potential answer to the question you posed regarding what caused this complex process of DNA replication to begin, I'll not bother you more than just to mention such an interpretation of the ideas you proposed.

Fascinating book. I hope that it has caused as much introspection and philosophy in others as it has in me, for I believe that we are empowered as we better understand who we really are.

Sincerely,

Josh Cummings

P.S.: And now for a meta-point regarding this letter that I'm sure has occurred to you, but I hope that it is not distracting you from the original intent of this letter. It is that there is a fascinating discussion to be had, I'm sure, regarding the fact that my brain has sought consolidation between these two points which you appeared to posit as mutually exclusive. It reminds me of your discussion about how our brains will constantly house contradictory ideas and seek to reconcile them or simply bounce in between them.

06 November 2007

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Posted in Arrangement, Art, Business

The Voucher Issue

I know; the gripping title has you welded to your seat.

Actually, if you live in Utah and happen to be reading this at about the time of it's authorship, the mention of the word voucher was probably enough to stop you. The issue of vouchers has been a red-hot topic in political discussions for a number of years and it seems to have come to a head in just the last few weeks. There was even one official that sent a memo to her staff saying that she felt that those people who were pro-vouchers were led by Satan. Wow.

The vote was tonight. The polls have already closed, but I wanted to give my two cents here before biasing my opinion with the final results. So, I have purposely refrained from looking at them.

Before I tell you my position I want to make a couple of things clear:

First, I am a registered Republican, and I am what one would consider a "values voter" to some extent. From this standpoint, I am a pretty average Utah citizen. Utah has often been stamped as the reddest state in America, so I am one of many. In general, I think that I am a Republican because I believe in free markets, small and local governments, fiscal responsibility, and personal choice. However, I may be a Republican just because everyone else is a Republican around here. :)

Second, the public school system has been very good to me in preparing me for college, which then led me to success in the workforce. I think that a good education (which obviously comes from many more arenas than just the classroom) is invaluable. This also makes me the average Utahn since education is always one of the biggest issues on the table; we have more kids per household than any other state and our average age is much lower.

Starting from the second point first, I believe that I was very lucky to fit into the public school mold. My parents never had to consider a private school. While they did place me in the I.B. program at West High, my high school experience was pretty average. Because I fit the mold very well, I excelled very easily, almost effortlessly. I have one of my tutor students who was not so lucky. He struggled with math. Sadly, the school had so many students in each classroom that it was obvious that even the best teacher wasn't going to be able to help every student. His parents turned to a private school, and he quickly made great strides forward. Was the public school doing anything wrong? No! Of course, this young man just needed specialized attention, which couldn't be given with so many other students to educate.

Now, the first point. Here is why I like the free market and personal choice: The free market enables me to enter the arena as a small business owner. I would like to ask the question of the small business owners out there: How quickly do you adjust to your customers' needs? How capable are you of meeting your customers' needs? If you don't address your customers' needs? Better be fast. Better be capable. Or you're going out of business.

Here is why I like small government: Big entities have to provide generic solutions while small entities can be more flexible. Consider an ocean liner vs. a motorboat. The ocean liner can carry more people, but they better all be going to the same destination and heaven forbid they need to turn around or dodge a bullet! The motorboat carries fewer people, but it can maneuver around its problems easily.

Here is why I like fiscal responsibility: Ask any lottery winner how quickly they went bankrupt, and three out of five will tell you within a year! Why? Because they didn't earn their money! The more money someone is given without effort on their part, the less effort is put forward.

Great. Now with all of that, I state a truth which I hold to be self-evident: Giving my kids a knock-out education is invaluable. I will do whatever I can to make sure that my kids are given the appropriate opportunities to excel. I recognize that all of my children won't be as lucky as I was. Some of them may need tutors, private schooling, charter schooling, home schooling, etc. I think that our Utah teachers do a fantastic job, and so I don't feel bad in saying that public school is simply not the "one-stop-shop" for education. I think that we all would like to see our kids go to the school that is most suited for their needs, and I think that we can afford it.

My family just got home, so I am out of time. I voted in favor of the vouchers to both give families the opportunity to get their child into the school where they can excel and to encourage more competition (read: free market) in the school system. Generally, I am surprised that so many Republicans are against the voucher program when the very idea of public schools is socialist as opposed to free market. Many of them say that we are taking money away from public schools, and I say that they are absolutely right. It is incorrect to suppose that social education can be the solution for every student. Diverting some of that money that is no longer being used on that pupil in the public school system into the hands of a private school so they can better address that individual's needs is focusing on the individual student and not a system that was never designed to meet his needs.