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 Gödel, 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 Gödel, 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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