Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lacan's "The Mirror Stage" and Hofstader's "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid"

I think it was the 3rd or 4th time that we met for our "Language" class...

We were talking about the specific realm/adaptation of language that humans have that no other living creature has. That is, namely, reflection and reference to past/future events rather than just copying or mimicking. Scott brought up the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and his concept of “The Mirror Stage”. I thought it was so fascinating. It reminded me of the ideas in a book that my friend gave to me last Christmas called “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid”, written by a man named Douglas Hofstader (he won a Pulitzer Prize for it). I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Last night I decided to make a post on this blog about it, but I was having a hard time explaining the similarities that I saw. Then I thought “there is no possible way that I am the only person who sees this connection”, so I started searching online and found an article called “Towards a Theory of Conscious Art” by Robert Pepperell. I started to read the article and found this:

(Which appears in Technoetic Arts: A Journal of Speculative Research (“Towards a Theory of Conscious Art” by Robert Pepperell) Volume 1:2, p. 117-134, 2003 Edited by Roy Ascott)

“8. Reflexive theories of consciousness:
Reflexive, self-reflecting or feedback-based models of self-consciousness, of course, are nothing especially novel in recent Occidental theories of mind. For Lacanian psychoanalysis the 'mirror stage' in childhood development is formative of the self-referential I; a theory based on observation of the pleasurable reactions of small children and certain apes when presented with their own mirror image (Lacan 1977). In Godel, Escher, Bach; Douglas Hofstadter (1980) discusses the application of what he terms 'Strange Loops' or 'Tangled Hierarchies' in modelling human thought and consciousness. Speaking from a position deeply rooted in AI research, Hofstadter draws analogies between the modes of recursion, self-reference and emergent complexity found in the works of Godel, Escher and Bach and the symbolic interaction of 'subsystems' or 'subbrains' in the production of mind. He concludes: My belief is that the explanations of "emergent" phenomena in our brains —for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will —are based on a kind of Strange Loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being itself determined by the bottom level. In other words, a self-reinforcing "resonance" between different levels—quite like the Henkin sentence which, by merely asserting its own provability, actually becomes provable. The self comes into being the moment it has the power to reflect itself. (Hofstadter 1980 p. 709)”

That is just the first two paragraphs of the eighth section of his article. There are twelve sections in his article which is about twenty pages long. The whole article is interesting, but those two paragraphs (and the whole eighth section) really applied to our in class discussions.

If you want to read the article or look at it more in depth here is a direct link to the .pdf file:

And here is the link to his (Robert Pepperell’s) general website (which gives access to many other articles written by him):

(cover of Hofstader's book)
(cool drawing of Lacan)

-Travis Low-"grabloid"-


Scott Abbott said...

I like this connection very much. For years "Godel, Esher, Bach" has stood on my shelf unread. I'll have to take a look.

Paula said...

It is now 2011 and I'm both in Lacanian analysis and doing research for an assignment in my Master's program on Lacan's mirror stage. I found this blog post while doing that research, and took a nontraditional "math" class my sophomore year of college (1997) in which our primary text was GEB. I got Hofstadter to come visit our campus, and even drove with friends to pick him up from Indiana U, as he wasn't driving. I've wondered about the connections between the two, but haven't seen it manifested anywhere prior to this blog post. Amazing. I haven't read Hofstadter's newest book, but I would dare say that I, too, am a strange loop.