If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Language

Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene (1976)

Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like “living” does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world.

excerpt appears in The Mind’s I, ed. Daniel Dennett and Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1981

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Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

Speaking of rigidity versus fluidity, when I gave a lecture on analogies in the Physics Department at the California Institute of Technology several years ago, one Richard Feynman sat in the front row and bantered with me all the way through the lecture. I considered him a “benevolent heckler”, in the sense that he would reliably answer each question “What is to X as 4 is to A?” with the answer, “4!”, and insist that it was a good answer, probably the best.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

I received this anonymous letter in the mail: “I received this anonymous letter in the mail so I can’t credit the author.”—so I can’t credit the author.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

And Lou McIntosh, who works at a rehabilitation center for formerly schizophrenic patients, had a question connecting personal identity with self-referential sentences: “If I were you, who would be reading this sentence?” She then added, “That’s what I get for working with schizophrenics.” This brings me to Peter M. Bringham, M.D., who in his work ran across a severe case of literary schizophrenia: “You have, of course, just begun reading the sentence that you have just finished reading.” It’s one of my favorites.

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

…That is good, but the gold medal in the category is reserved for Lee Sallows, who submitted the following tour de force:

Only the fool would take trouble to verify that his sentence was composed of ten a’s, three b’s, four c’s, four d’s, forty-six e’s, sixteen f’s, four g’s, thirteen h’s, fifteen i’s, two k’s, nine l’s, four m’s, twenty-five n’s, twenty-four o’s, five p’s, sixteen r’s, forty-one s’s, thirty-seven t’s, ten u’s, eight v’s, eight w’s, four x’s, eleven y’s, twenty-seven commas, twenty-three apostrophes, seven hyphens, and, last but not least, a single !

…It strikes me as weird (and wonderful) how, in certain situations, the verification of a tiny percentage of a theory can serve to powerfully strengthen your belief in the full theory. And perhaps that’s the whole point of the sentence!

Douglas Hofstadter – Metamagical Themas (1985)

As January has rolled around again, I thought I’d give a follow-up to my column of a year ago on self-referential sentences, and that is what this column is; however, before we get any further, I would like to take advantage of this opening paragraph to warn those readers whose sensibilities are offended by explicit self-referential material that they probably will want to quit reading before they reach the end of this paragraph, or for that matter, this sentence—in fact, this clause—even this noun phrase—in short, this.