If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Poetry

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Every task involves constraint,
Solve the thing without complaint;
There are magic links and chains
Forged to loose our rigid brains.
Structures, strictures, though they bind,
Strangely liberate the mind.

James Falen’s “odelet in praise of constraints”, quoted in DRH’s book

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Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

All readings are partial and approximate, and we must content ourselves with whatever joy and insight we can derive from deep ideas rendered clearly in beautiful language, knowing that our derivative response and the author’s original vision will never be perfectly aligned.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

…the nice thing about having a brain is that one can learn, that ignorance can be supplanted by knowledge, and that small bits of knowledge can gradually pile up into substantial heaps.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

I could not conclude my anecdotes about dictionary look-up without sharing one special moment of delight, which was when, trying to decode “pad a slang”, I looked up “slang”, found the very promising-seeming meaning of “traveling show”, and noted, with much amusement, that this meaning was classified as, of all things, “archaic slang”.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

In any case, the imposition of any reasonably sharp set of constraints will force a writer to explore and discover pathways in semantic space that would otherwise have been left entirely unexplored, and that is a very simple but very deep truth about language and thought.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

One lesson we can learn from Sagoff’s and Varaldo’s laudable poetic accomplishments is the deceptiveness of the power of selection: If you do a good job in selecting what you need in order to accommodate your self-imposed constraints, you will appear to be in control of your medium, rather than the reverse.

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

…I would simply point out that the field of MT takes for granted a philosophy that seems the antithesis of common sense–indeed, the apotheosis of utter silliness–in the translation of a work such as Perec’s La disparition, where respect for form is clearly just as important as respect for content, and where failing to carry over the lipogrammatic quality from the input text to the output text would be a huge slap in the face to the author–in fact, far more disrespectful than would be the act of inventing from scratch a completely new, plotwise-unrelated novel in the target language, as long as this new novel involved no “e”.

(MT = machine translation)

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Can you believe the audacity it took to do this? One wolf has become several chipmunks?!

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Gibson clearly likes Andrault’s stuff–he just doesn’t consider it art. I find this absurd. In a sense I agree that art has to “voice a human intention”, but the act of selection by Andrault is a deep human intention, just as deep as a photographer’s selection of a scene or an event to capture.

(of Jean-Claude Andrault)

Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

Today’s AI and cognitive science are still a long ways from explicating the mystery of what a human mind is and does, and this, in my opinion, is just fine. I would hate to think that our minds are so simple as to yield up all their secrets in but a few decades. On the other hand, we are making slow and steady progress, and that too is just fine by me. I would hate to think that our minds are so simple as to be constitutionally incapable of piercing the shroud of fog surrounding what it is that they themselves do.