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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”.

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Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

For me, an erstwhile physicist and ever a faithful lover of the beautiful concepts of physics, the word “medium” has a special aura to it. It evokes dozens of rich images, among them these: a wrist-flick pulse snaking its way down the twisty coils of a horizontally suspended Slinky; glittering circular patterns of ripples passing silently through each other on the windless surface of a pond; sound waves emanating from a sharp snap of the fingers and propagating through the air as ever-growing spheres;…

A medium is a vehicle for patterns, a propagator of distortions, a transmitter of disturbances.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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Douglas Hofstadter – Le ton beau de Marot (1997)

The image Searle wishes to project places the human front and center and downplays the rest nearly completely. In such a case, what else could one wish to map oneself onto but the human?

When, however, one realizes that the human being plays but an inconsequential role–that of dronelike bookkeeper–in a fantastically large and intricate system the interesting aspects of whose behavior take place on a slow-as-molasses time scale far more stretched-out than one can easily identify with, one starts to realize how ingenuous and wrong-headed it is to insist on mapping oneself solely onto the tiny human lost in the middle of it, because doing so completely leaves out of the picture the true source of the system’s complexity and interest.

(of Searle’s Chinese room argument)