What’s up with all these GEB posts? If you missed what we’re doing, read here. Remember, I’m no expert on all this, I’m just helping facilitate. I’m trying to read along with the rest of you!

Current Assignment: For Monday, September 28
Read: Little Harmonic Labyrinth and Chapter V: Recursive Structures and Processes
Listen: The Little Harmonic Labyrinth by Johann David Heinichen. Waltz #2 by Billy Joel.

I think the Fall semester has hit most of us and our schedules are slipping away from our control (did we ever really have control??). But, in case someone is still interested in this, I’ll continue to post for a bit more.

red pill or blue pill?

When Justin Curry (MIT) taught this course, he quoted the following at this point in the book:
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. – Morpheus

Since some of you probably haven’t had the time to read the assignment, so just I’m going to post a series of questions that walks you through the dialogue. These questions originally were from one of the discussion groups at MIT, and I think they are helpful (in case you think you might get lost and not know what to pay attention to). I also hope they kind of whet your appetite to go back and read the dialogue in case you haven’t been reading along yet. Just jump in. It’s ok. You won’t drown.

  1. On the first page the Tortoise says “This is my favorite ride. One seems to move so far, and yet in reality one gets nowhere.” In what ways is this like recursion, fractals, strange loops?
  2. When Hexachlorophene J. Goodfortune introduces himself, there are a lot of Random Capitalizations. Can you detect any patterns?
  3. Define “djinn.”
  4. Define “tonic.”
  5. What would it be like to live in a perfectly consistent world? How about an inconsistent one? What is our world like?
  6. What do you think happened to the Weasel (pp. 106) who took the popping-potion in our reality? Why did Hofstadter choose a weasel? What connotations does the weasel have?
  7. Both in the Matrix and the Little Harmonic Labyrinth, blue and red are used as archetypal colors for chemical escapism. What is the deal?
  8. What is the “Tunnel of Love” (pp. 108)? Why is it sinister?
  9. The Tortoise claims that once you’re in one Escher drawing you can access them all (pp. 108). What does this have to do with the idea that in formal logic any well-formed formula is derivable from a contradiction?
  10. Why does the lamp have an “L” on it? What role does it end up serving in the story?
  11. Relate what happens with wishes and the genies to pushing and popping stacks in a computer program.
  12. How does the dialogue illustrate the object-language/meta-language divide?
  13. What is GOD? What is its gender?
  14. Why does each Meta-Genie perform its task “twice as quickly” as the Genie before it?
  15. Detail the “meta-agnostic” position.
  16. What did Achilles typeless wish do (pp. 115)?
  17. Carry out the metaphor between the version of the Little Harmonic Labyrinth that Achilles and the Tortoise are listening to on page 122. What’s wrong with it? How does it talk about itself?
  18. How is the Majotaur like Goodfortune? How is this like a strange loop?

Why should you persevere through this reading? So that we can get to the really “good” stuff to talk about! Think about these questions as you read (if you haven’t already) the assigned chapter: Recursive Structures and Processes.

Thoughts on Intelligence

  1. Do you think that recursion can explain creativity?
  2. If intelligence seems to depend on recursion, why are humans so bad at it? (For example, Kasparov vs. Machine)


  1. What is a better investigation of sameness? Is it probabilistic? To what degree can we abstract parts of something, and still have a meaningful equivalence relation?

Metaphysics and Theology

  1. Is Hofstadter’s analogy for God a serious one? Something which is unattainable, or stands outside the system? If God is the universe, and part of the universe prays to God, then is God recursive?

Up Next: For Thursday, October 1 (Yes, October!!)
Read: Canon by Intervallic Augmentation and Chapter VI: The Location of Meaning
Listen: Bach never multiplied the intervals of a theme by 3 1/3. He did multiply them by -1 in this canon by exact inversion, the Canon Perpetuus from the Musical Offering. An effect of the exact inversion is that the piece has to oscillate constantly between major and minor chords, and technically it can’t end.