My copy of Douglas Hofstadter’s last book “I am a strange loop” arrived. I read his epic “Gödel, Esher and Bach” when I was in my twenties which was a true eyeopener. He also published, together with Daniël Dennett “The mind’s I“, a book of thought provoking short essays. As always, his works revolves around consciousness, being “alive”, the seat of the “I”, if there is a “light on” inside (where?), etcetera. I cannot even start to quote this book, cause I would end up quoting it entirely, so allow me to, next to recommending either of these 3 books, simply copy (fair use I hope) the first page and a half here, which comes so close to what I think is so true about “genes and memes”.
One gloomy day in early 1991, a couple of months after my father died, I was standing in the kitchen of my parent’s house, and my mother, looking at a sweet and touching picture of my father taken perhaps fifteen years earlier, said to me, with a note of despair, “What meaning does that picture have? None at all, it’s just a flat piece of paper with dark spots on it here and there. It’s useless.” The bleakness of my mother’s grief-drenched remark set my head spinning because I knew instictively that I disagreed with her, but I did not quite know how to express to her the way I felt the photograph should be considered.
After a few minutes of emotional pondering – soul-searching, quite literally – I hit upon an analogy that I felt could convey to my mother my point of view, and which I hoped might lend her at least a tiny degree of consolidation. What I said to her was along the following lines.
“In the living room we have a book of the Chopin études for piano. All of it’s pages are just pieces of paper with dark marks on them, just as two dimensional and flat and foldable as the photograph of Dad – and yet, think of the powerful effect that they have had on people all over the world for 150 years now. Thanks to those black marks on those flat sheets of paper, untold thousands of people have collectively spent millions of hours moving their fingers over the keyboards of piano’s in complicated patterns, producing sounds that give them indescribably pleasure and a sense of great meaning. Those pianists in turn have conveyed to many millions of listeners, including you and me, the profound emotions that churned in Frédéric Chopin’s heart, thus affording all of us some partial access to Chopin’s interiority – the the experience of living in the head, or rather the soul of Frédéric Chopin. The marks on those sheets of paper are no less than soul-shards – scattered remnants of the shattered soul of Frédéric Chopin. Each of those strange geometries of notes has a unique power to bring back to life, inside our brains, some tiny fragment of the internal experiences of another human being, and many people feel intense love for him. In just as potent a fashion, looking at that photograph of Dad brings back, to us who knew him immediately, the clearest memory of his smile and gentleness, activates inside our living brains some of the most central representations of him that survives in us, makes little fragments of his soul dance again, but in the medium of brains other than his own. Like the score of a Chopin étude that photograph is a soul-shard of someone departed, and it is something we should cherish as long as we live.”
The Butterfly, Etude Opus 25, No 9
This entry dedicated to Priscilla.