Hofstadter and this last week

This week has been good. To explain it, I’m going to have to start with my college days. During my undergrad years in El Paso, I was in an extremely conservative congregation. My desire to know God had been subverted, as it is with so many of us, to know “about” God, or more accurately, to know the teachings of a single religious perspective about God and become ever more deeply immersed in it, distrusting everything else.

However, I discovered a wonderful book that kept my mind from being completely nailed shut: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by the mathematician Douglas Hofstadter. Hofstadter’s book was written for the layman, and was entertaining. funny, and delightful. True to the title, he referred frequently to the works of mathematician Kurt Gödel, artist M.C. Escher, and Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The theme was the principle of what Hofstadter called “strange loopiness”—patterns that turn themselves inside out or strangely embed themselves within themselves, and this was years before the first popular books on chaos theory or fractals would appear.

Hofstadter explained not only what Gödel’s theorem was, but how its principle applied to the world at large. The theorem was a mathematical proof (and when something’s proven in math, it’s proven like nobody’s business) that it is impossible for any arithmetical system to be completely free of contradiction. For instance, in the set of positive integers, 5 – 7 is contradiction. To deal with it, negative numbers had to be created. (Remember when you were a kid how weird negative numbers seemed at first?) Taking it farther, in the realm of real numbers, the square root of a negative number was a contradiction. So enter the imaginaries, as if all numbers weren’t imaginary.


Hofstadter playfully, lovingly, danced open invitations to a universe of contradiction, containing itself and looping back on itself; Möbius strips and Klein pitchers, Escher’s hands drawing themselves into existence, Carroll’s Jabberwockies gyring and gimbling in the wabe of Bach’s cancrizan canons inverting and reversing themselves, Zen koans turning assumptions inside out until there’s no-thing left to know.

After reading G,E,B, I continued as a zealous Fundamentalist for quite some time (before many spiritual morphings), but one thing had changed forever, and that was that I would never be able to fall for the idea that everything could be explained by reason.

Let’s fast forward a couple of decades: On January 22, 2006, I had a glimpse of the nature of the world. Yes, it was unsettling at first, but strangely empowering as well. But it didn’t last long: The actual glimpse was just that—a second or two—and the knowing (as opposed to thinking) of the “empty holodeck” lasted only a few days.

I Am a Strange LoopLast Sunday, I found myself missing it. I prayed to be able to see it again, to have a spiritual refresher. Thursday, I saw that Dr. Hofstadter has published a new book: I Am a Strange Loop. I sat down with it a while and saw, to my delight, that he’s taken it to the next logical level: ego, consciousness, identity, and what’s beyond. Like Steve Pavlina, Hofstadter is one of those gifted with using non-mystical and even non-religious language to teach some of the most sublime realizations.

That night, I dreamt I was on a planet called Cascadia, abundant with mountains, waterfalls and snow. I stayed there a while, but eventually decided to leave, and booked passage on a spaceship. The spaceship somehow became an elevator, and then I realized that Cascadia was inside the Earth, and that all the planets were inside Earth, like nested concentric spheres.

Then I awoke. And I knew that all the worlds are within. Within me, as Thomas Traherne wrote centuries ago, “it’s less that I am in the world, than that the world is within me.”

Let’s talk about it.

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7 thoughts on “Hofstadter and this last week

  1. It’s not at all odd that I’ve started a blog entry about The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of mathematician of Paul Erdos. Ever read it?

  2. Sounds like I need to read Goedel Escher Bach. I’ve an Escher print hanging in my office — a fish beneath the surface of a pond, sprinkled with fallen leaves, interrupting the reflection of the barren trees.

    I’d be interested to hear about your travels from the early days you describe to these, sometime.

  3. My friend Fred brought “I Am a Strange Loop” to my attention a few months back. I added it to my wish list on amazon so that I could take a look at it again later. Since then the book has come up in conversation on a half dozen blogs that I read (all of which are very different from each other). I’m starting to feel like the universe is sending me a message. 😉

  4. Kay, I’d think you’ll like it.

    Greenfrog, it’s a long story, but you might find some short descriptions of it on the “about” pages of this site.

    All, what about the main point of the post… anybody have any experience with or thoughts on discovering that the world is inside?

  5. I genuinely like that you’re saying, hey what about what I wanted to talk about here?

    there?s no-thing left to know

    That’s about all I know anymore.

    For myself, I’ve no experience with discovering that the world/universe/cosmoverse is inside. I’ve only found that it’s one. I wish that conclusion would have any implications of what to do, because what naturally follows is “here I am, now what?” but it hasn’t.

  6. Hey, thanks, Julie. Ordinarily, I just let it slide when the comments are on the incidentals rather than the “meat,” but this was significant to me.

    It’s not like a strong, existential awareness… it’s more intellectual, but when I stop to consider where I am in the world, I can see that the world in me, more so, than I’m in the world.

    As for the problem of “what to do,” well, I definitely understand that. If all is one, there’s no other to tell you what to do. You are free. (Unexpected consequence, eh? Perhaps that’s why so many people really fear freedom.)

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