Communion Of Dreams


The memory remains.

Just now, my good lady wife was through to tell me that she’s off to take a bit of a nap. Both of us are getting over a touch of something (which I had mentioned last weekend), and on a deeper level still recovering from the profound exhaustion of having been care-givers for her mom.

Anyway, as she was preparing to head off, one of our cats insisted on going through the door which leads from my office into my bindery. This is where the cat food is.

“She wants through.”

“She wants owwwwt.”

“Any door leads out, as far as a cat is concerned.”

“Well, that door did once actually lead out, decades ago.”

“She remembers.”

“She can’t remember.”

“Nonetheless, the memory lingers.”

* * * * * * *

Via TDG, a fascinating interview with Douglas Richard Hofstadter last year, now translated into English. I’d read his GEB some 25 years ago, and have more or less kept tabs on his work since. The interview was about his most recent book, and touched on a number of subjects of interest to me, including the nature of consciousness, writing, Artificial Intelligence, and the Singularity. It’s long, but well worth the effort.

In discussing consciousness (which Hofstadter calls ‘the soul’ for reasons he explains), and the survival of shards of a given ‘soul’, the topic of writing and music comes up. Discussing how Chopin’s music has enabled shards of the composer’s soul to persist, Hofstadter makes this comment about his own desire to write:

I am not shooting at immortality through my books, no. Nor do I think Chopin was shooting at immortality through his music. That strikes me as a very selfish goal, and I don’t think Chopin was particularly selfish. I would also say that I think that music comes much closer to capturing the essence of a composer’s soul than do a writer’s ideas capture the writer’s soul. Perhaps some very emotional ideas that I express in my books can get across a bit of the essence of my soul to some readers, but I think that Chopin’s music probably does a lot better job (and the same holds, of course, for many composers).

I personally don’t have any thoughts about “shooting for immortality” when I write. I try to write simply in order to get ideas out there that I believe in and find fascinating, because I’d like to let other people be able share those ideas. But intellectual ideas alone, no matter how fascinating they are, are not enough to transmit a soul across brains. Perhaps, as I say, my autobiographical passages — at least some of them — get tiny shards of my soul across to some people.

Exactly.

* * * * * * *

In April, I wrote this:

I’ve written only briefly about my thoughts on the so-called Singularity – that moment when our technological abilities converge to create a new transcendent artificial intelligence which encompasses humanity in a collective awareness. As envisioned by the Singularity Institute and a number of Science Fiction authors, I think that it is too simple – too utopian. Life is more complex than that. Society develops and copes with change in odd and unpredictable ways, with good and bad and a whole lot in the middle.

Here’s Hofstadter’s take from the interview, in responding to a question about Ray Kurzweil‘s notion of achieving effective immortality by ‘uploading’ a personality into a machine hardware:

Well, the problem is that a soul by itself would go crazy; it has to live in a vastly complex world, and it has to cohabit that world with many other souls, commingling with them just as we do here on earth. To be sure, Kurzweil sees those things as no problem, either — we’ll have virtual worlds galore, “up there” in Cyberheaven, and of course there will be souls by the barrelful all running on the same hardware. And Kurzweil sees the new software souls as intermingling in all sorts of unanticipated and unimaginable ways.

Well, to me, this “glorious” new world would be the end of humanity as we know it. If such a vision comes to pass, it certainly would spell the end of human life. Once again, I don’t want to be there if such a vision should ever come to pass. But I doubt that it will come to pass for a very long time. How long? I just don’t know. Centuries, at least. But I don’t know. I’m not a futurologist in the least. But Kurzweil is far more “optimistic” (i.e., depressingly pessimistic, from my perspective) about the pace at which all these world-shaking changes will take place.

Interesting.

* * * * * * *

Lastly, the interview is about the central theme of I am a Strange Loop: that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon which stems from vast and subtle physical mechanisms in the brain. This is also the core ‘meaning’ of GEB, though that was often missed by readers and reviewers who got hung up on the ostensible themes, topics, and playfulness of that book. Hofstadter calls this emergent consciousness a self-referential hallucination, and it reflects much of his interest in cognitive science over the years.

[Mild spoilers ahead.]

In Communion of Dreams I played with this idea and a number of related ones, particularly pertaining to the character of Seth. It is also why I decided that I needed to introduce a whole new technology – based on the superfluid tholin-gel found on Titan, as the basis for the AI systems at the heart of the story. Because the gel is not human-manufactured, but rather something a bit mysterious. Likewise, the use of this material requires another sophisticated computer to ‘boot it up’, and then it itself is responsible for sustaining the energy matrix necessary for continued operation. At the culmination of the story, this ‘self-referential hallucination’ frees itself from its initial containment.

Why did I do this?

Partly in homage to Hofstedter (though you will find no mention of him in the book, as far as I recall). Partly because it plays with other ideas I have about the nature of reality. If we (conscious beings) are an emergent phenomenon, arising from physical activity, then it seems to me that physical things can be impressed with our consciousness. This is why I find his comments about shards of a soul existing beyond the life of the body of the person to be so intriguing.

So I spent some 130,000 words exploring that idea in Communion. Not overtly – not often anyway – but that is part of the subtext of what is going on in that book.

* * * * * * *

“Any door leads out, as far as a cat is concerned.”

“Well, that door did once actually lead out, decades ago.”

“She remembers.”

“She can’t remember.”

“Nonetheless, the memory lingers,” I said, “impressed on the door itself. Maybe the cat understands that at a level we don’t.”

Jim Downey

(Related post at UTI.)


2 Comments so far
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I like that that. When we were talking recently, that is what I meant by Adam Caedman, primordial man, that is, the collective trans human of which we are all a part of. What is reality for the collective of all of us?

Richard Moss wrote a book many years ago called The I that is We.

Like your dor, in that collective, do memories linger?

Is this an aspect of Jung’s Collective Unconscious?

Comment by Craig Brown

[…] Science Fiction, Synesthesia, Titan, Writing stuff I’ve written previously about the emergence of consciousness and the role that the biochemical stew in our heads plays in awareness and cognition. But […]

Pingback by “Come on baby, light my fire.”* « Communion Of Dreams




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