Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Bryant and Cogburn chime in + a Buddhist Remix of Self-Reference
Jon Cogburn and Levi Bryant have each posted fascinating responses to the Gödel post, each one far more rigorously done than my running up of a flag to see who salutes.
Levi taks about strange loops (a feature of Hofstadter's landscape, starting with the Epimenides paradox) and withdrawal. I really think he's on to something there. Yet I have a little more time for the strange loop than him, perhaps. It's exciting in the sense that for Hofstadter, strange loopiness is what characterizes intelligence (artificial or otherwise). Hence his I Am a Strange Loop.
Levi, however, raises the possibility of extending this loopiness to all objects. I find this very attractive.
Levi also observes that strange loopiness might tend towards pathology. I disagree on this. Sure, it might. But saying so risks sounding a little bit like Hegel's critique of Buddhism (I wrote on this here)—that it's navel gazing (meditation as putting yourself into a strange loop).
Hegel actually cites a Hindu picture of baby Krishna sucking his toe but Hegel is also thinking of the ouroboros, the snake swallowing its own tail. I'm off to suck my own tail in a few days (in Crestone CO)... This stuff has a bad rap in the West where it's dismissed as narcissism.
I think this dismissal unnecessarily carries on the heresy-hunting mission of the anti-Gnostic early Christians, who basically stamped out anything like meditation and the kind of do-it-yourself vibe common to esoteric groups. I don't think we should continue this mission unconsciously. In fact, thinking about it some more would get us back to a lot of what is extraordinary about Plato and so on.
Narcissism is also highly functional, in the sense that you need a good feedback to yourself to do things like brush your teeth and make cups of tea. It's only when that narcissism is wounded that you start acting funny. The closest thing to narcissism in Buddhist thinking is maitri, which means loving-kindness, and it starts with yourself.
Monks in Tibet are still trained to practice generosity, first by passing a ball between one hand and the other...you have to start somewhere...
Much more excitingly, a thoroughgoing reworking of strange loopiness would also help us decisively to break with the humans (and more generally subjects) vs. objects, non-humans etc. regime...
Two final thoughts. Derrida (gasp) is on record for a good argument about narcissism. Narcissism is everywhere, he argues, and it can be extended or narrow, and the lack of extension is the problem, not the self-reference. I like this argument.
Two: Derrida is also responsible for carrying on the mission of separating the human from the non-human.