Making sense of complexity

At age 28, I came down with an illness that took months to diagnose. To distract myself from the scary possibilities I immersed myself in a book, Gödel, Escher and Bach by Douglas Hofstadter. Brilliant and challenging, it kept my conscious mind occupied through the whole, frightening episode.

Coincidentally, Hofstadter was only 27 when he wrote this Pulizer Prize-winning book, which appeared to examine patterns in maths, art and music.

Yet, it seems that his readers got it wrong. It was really about the way the mind works. Years later, this confusion inspired the author to write I Am a Strange Loop, a thought-provoking 400 pages on how the mind invents the soul.

But this post isn’t about philosophy. It’s about communication.

Once again, Hofstadter writes in lucid, engaging prose about head-bangingly complex ideas – such as advanced number theory and its relationship to the illusion of human consciousness. As the one my family has nicknamed the Queen of Analogy, I was delighted by this passage in his intro (emphasis mine):

“I specialize in thinking about thinking…. And one of my firmest conclusions is that we always think by seeking and drawing parallels to things we know from our past, and that we therefore communicate best when we exploit examples, analogies, and metaphors galore, when we avoid abstract generalities, when we use very down-to-earth, concrete, and simple language, and when we talk directly about our own experiences.

Bravo, Doug, if I may call you that after an acquaintance of 1,000 pages.

I’ll be mulling over your concept of the “I” as the hallucination of an hallucination for a long time. Meanwhile, to borrow a phrase from Charlotte Brontë, I applaud the spirit and expression of your words (though I might have punctuated them differently). Write on.