Actually we are a vulgar, pushing mob whose passions are easily mobilized by demagogues, newspaper men, religious quacks, agitators and such like. To call this a society of free peoples is blasphemous. What have we to offer the world besides the superabundant loot which we recklessly plunder from the earth under the maniacal delusion that this insane activity represents progress and enlightenment?

–Henry Miller

Chapter 5. It was a story told by my mother to Paul that grabbed…

It was a story told by my mother to Paul over tea and cook­ies and I believe some inel­e­gant cheese that grabbed me by the Saskatchewans, pitch­ing me into a fever dossier and a full count I am prob­a­bly still suf­fer­ing con­sec­u­tively this very day, nearly sev­eral thou­sand dawns of Cool­ing Earth later. Why had she never men­tioned this before. Why had she strug­gled with my pangs of sen­si­tiv­ity all these years? Why did she strike us in urgency when we only begged for some greater under­stand­ing of the way the uni­verse worked than she did?

Paul said noth­ing. I made a small speech upon hear­ing what I con­sid­ered a rev­e­la­tion of some blind­ing mag­ni­tude. Paul was an ana­lyt­i­cal alco­holic from Utah. A free­lance CPU who lived in squat houses, and a cou­ple of changes of suits, ties, and white shirts whose clients knew what they were get­ting and got what they knew they had com­ing. he didn’t work every­day, but he did drink every­day. In his late 40s at the time. Matric­u­lated at Brigham Young. A failed Mor­mon. I was in my mid-20s, charm­ing no one but myself with long back-length hair I wore in a braid, and funny britches to boot. I met Paul at a bar, and we breezed in and out of each other’s tes­ti­mo­ni­als in half-lives for about a month.

These were also the hack­neyed days of Teresa. I met her in an air­port. She was pass­ing out pam­phlets. She was attrac­tive, but rather hairy, and uniquely over­dressed for the sum­mer with long woolen skirts and sweaters.

At the time, I had just left Cor­pus Christi TX, after find­ing a book called ¶del, Escher, Bach: An Eter­nal Golden Braid by Dou­glas Hof­s­tadter on the cof­fee table of the brother of my brother’s brother-in-law, who had gone over to check the igni­tion and tires on the old 1966 Mer­cedes his brother owned. His brother was some­where in the Mid­dle East, work­ing as a con­trac­tor. I have no idea what he was doing over there. It was top secret, and this was the early 80s. It paid well, and thus his older brother, a chef-in-training peri­od­i­cally kept a solemn eye on his younger brother’s more exotic acqui­si­tions. The Mer­cedes didn’t inter­est me, but this book caught my eye imme­di­ately. I picked it up, han­dling it like cush­ioned gold. Then sat down, switch­ing on the lamp.
Described by the author in the tagline as “a metaphor­i­cal fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Car­roll” I was imme­di­ately hooked.

On its sur­face, the book exam­ines logi­cian Kurt ¶del, artist M. C. Escher and com­poser Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach, dis­cussing com­mon themes in their work and lives. At a deeper level, the book is an expo­si­tion of con­cepts fun­da­men­tal to math­e­mat­ics, sym­me­try, and intelligence.

Through illus­tra­tion and analy­sis, the book dis­cusses how self-reference and for­mal rules allow sys­tems to acquire mean­ing despite being made of “mean­ing­less” ele­ments. It also dis­cusses what it means to com­mu­ni­cate, how knowl­edge can be rep­re­sented and stored, the meth­ods and lim­i­ta­tions of sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and even the fun­da­men­tal notion of “mean­ing” itself.

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