24 November 2007

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.


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.