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Monday, May 28, 2007


I'm reading Douglas Hofstadter's "I am a Strange Loop". He talks about how big of a soul a given creature has and mentions a measurement system proposed by James Huneker with which to quantify this idea (p. 22). He suggests that our level of reluctance to kill a given creature is roughly an accurate measure of the amount of souledness, or the number of Hunekers contained:

In short, I would here argue, echoing and generalizing the provocative statement by James Huneker, that "souledness" is by no means an off-on, black-and-white, discrete variable having just two possible states like a bit, a pixel, or a light bulb, but rather is a shaded, blurry numerical variable that ranges continuously across different species and varieties of object... I would also argue that most people's largely unconscious prejudices about whether to eat or not to eat this or that food, whether to buy or not to buy this or that article of clothing, whether to swat or not to swat this or that insect ... reflect precisely this kind of numerical continuum in their minds, whether they admit it or not.
Its one thing to claim that people have some kind of internal model like the above in mind -- this seems quite reasonable. Its another to claim that this internal model coresponds to something fundamental in the world -- remains to be shown.

Of course, I have to counter this with a quote from Elizabeth Costello (p. 67):

.. And the fact that animals, lacking reason, cannot understand the universe but have simply to follow its rules blindly, proves that, unlike man, they are part of it but not part of its being: that man is godlike, animals thinglike.

Even Immanuel Kant, of whom I would have expected better, has a failure of nerve at this point. Even Kant does not pursue, with regard to animals, the implications of his inuition that reason may be not the being of the universe but on the contrary merely the being of the human brain.

And that, you see, is my dilemma this afternoon. Both reason and seven decades of life experience tell me that reason is neither the being of the universe nor the being of God. On the contrary, reason looks to me suspiciously like the being of human thought; worse than that, like the being of one tendency in human thought. Reason is the being of a certain spectrum of human thinking. ...

I haven't yet fully gotten what Hoffstadter's concept of a strange loop is, but I wonder about this human-centrism. Haven't we learned again and again, how unspecial we are? Are we to find in the realm of consciousness we truly are the center of the universe? This process of taking our intuitions and assuming that there is something fundamental to them can be a bit dangerous.
Anyway, as usual, I'm impatient, and have to write something before I understand it... but isn't that the time its the most interesting? Before its all settled down and solidified?

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