Book report: “The Mind’s I” by Hofstadter and Dennett

The nature of the thing called “I” is something I frequently ponder. It’s an important question to me as someone interested in uploading, artificial intelligence and immortality in general. For these reasons I’m always eager to tackle a philosophy book on the subject of the nature of consciousness.

This one is a collection of essays and excerpts from other works, followed by comments and analyses by Hofstadter and Dennett. Since publication, I’m given to understand that some of the essays have been soundly criticized by others in the field, but that doesn’t apply to all of them, and they still make an interesting read.

There are some insightful stabs in various directions, some nice thought experiments, and some decent arguments that minds like ours do not necessarily have to be implemented in meat.There’s also an entertaining dialog with God by Raymond Smullyan that gesticulates at my feelings on determinism versus free will, perhaps better than I can.

I didn’t really gain any deeper insight into the core question of consciousness though. What I really gained from reading this is an appreciation that philosophers tend to pick a direction of argument and run with it a ways, and collectively they’re sketching out a big circle around the problem. In other words, there’s a lot of collective tail-chasing going on.

Recent viddies

Between reading books and playing games I occasionally get a chance to sneak in some movie watching. I’ve been doing more of this than usual lately, and here are my comments on what I’ve seen.

Barbarian Queen – A pretty thin excuse to get as much female nudity as possible on the screen. Cookie cutter plot: Warlord raids village, survivors (all women in this case) vow revenge and proceed to kick ass until the big showdown with the warlord at the end. Ho hum.

Barbarian Queen 2 – Not a direct sequel, surprisingly. I didn’t notice any characters or settings in common with the first movie. This one is again mostly about getting bare breasts on the screen, but actually attempts to have more of a plot than the first. This time it’s about betrayal and backstabbing in a castle following the death of the king. There’s even some humor and canned tragedy. Also some of the worst swordplay I’ve ever seen.

Time Barbarians – Yes, I had a day of movies with the word “Barbarian” in the title. As you might expect, this one also has boobs out, but the protagonist is a muscular and scantily-clad male this time. As hereditary leader of a tribe of largely incompetent barbarians, he’s supposed to protect them AND a magical trinket entrusted to him by the local sorceress.  He fails on all counts, as the villain slaughters his comrades, most of the women and steals the bauble, which he uses to jump himself and a henchman into the future – present-day when the movie was made, of course. The sorceress sends our hero in pursuit and they have a swords versus guns showdown, to the amazement of the local news crew.  Incredibly cheesy.

The Unearthly – I’m a big fan of mad-scientist movies, and while this one was based more on character interaction than on action or effects, it was somewhat enjoyable. Unfortunately, like so many movies involving the concept of immortality, it sends the wrong message.  The scientist in this case thought he had a way to instill immortality through surgery and artificial organs, but he was experimenting on unwilling abductees.  Furthermore, his jealous assistant/lover was secretly sabotaging his experiments, producing monsters and comatose people.  A new arrival helps unravel the whole plot and the doctor gets killed by one of his victims.  At the end, someone expresses the sentiment that it would be awful if some of the victims actually did end up living forever.  Less heavy-handed in its misguided moralizing than many such stories, but still a disappointment.

After Life – This was a new twist on undertaker horror.  The story centers on a funeral director who can converse with the dead while he’s preparing them for burial.  As the story progresses, contradictory things crop up and it starts to look like he may be drugging and burying live people.  The ambiguity is unresolved, which is good, and the idea is interesting, but the ending is rather predictable.

Humanoids from the Deep – I love this sort of movie, but I watched this one in particular in the hope that it might be a movie I’ve been searching for for many years.  There were three bits of film that really scared me when I was a kid.  Two have been dealt with, and based on the plot outline I was certain this was the third one, but it wasn’t.  Oh well, back to searching.  Anyway, this is pretty typical Black Lagoon-derived schlock.  Fishing village suffers disappearances and mutilations.  Villagers turn on scapegoat, but soon discovered that mutated monsters are behind it all.  Big showdown with monsters, shocker ending.  There’s a mildly interesting tidbit about the production here – female director, which is unusual, but without her knowledge they added a bunch of nudity and sex scenes afterwards to reach the target audience, namely horny teenagers. It worked.

Kick-Ass – I started reading the comic book of the same title when it first hit the shelves, but I dropped it after a few issues.  It’s an idea that has been done before, and the execution of this instance just didn’t grab me.  Later I saw the trailers for this movie movie and was turned off even more; they made me want to not see it.  But I thought I should give it a chance.  Now I’ve watched it, and it was pretty darn good.  Decent “super”-hero action flick, a bit on the gory side, with an acceptable amount of story for the subject matter.  I may have to give the comic a second chance.

Moon – I enjoyed this as a character piece, but it was hugely flawed.  It’s basically about a guy working in isolation in a moon base, eventually figuring how how badly he’s been fucked over by his employers.  But the nature of that fucking over is the flaw – it’s completely unreasonable that could happen.  The “victory” scene at the end loses all its meaning because it’s really hard to believe the core situation could arise in the first place, and the fact that he’s now going to bring it crashing down implies a gigantic net loss for humanity as a result.  No agency with the capability to put him in that situation would have put him in that situation without widespread consent, in which case his big reveal at the end would have surprised nobody.

The Wizard – It is truly a crime I haven’t seen this movie until now.  This is now my canonical 80s kid-power flick, supplanting such classics as Explorers, Wargames and Flight of the Navigator.  Gotta love a 100-minute Nintendo commercial about exploiting underage savants for fun and profit! Also: Powerglove!

Outing: Manning Park 2

As you may recall from an earlier post, I’ve been spotting places in Manning Park that I want to go back to explore and  photograph. My first return trip was a partial bust – I got some nice snow pictures but I wasn’t able to get up the mountain road I wanted to explore because it was closed.

Now I’ve gone back a second time. The snow was gone, and the road was open. Here’s part of my GPS log showing just what road I mean:

The first 5 miles of the road, leading up to the viewpoint are paved but narrow, with no guard rails. It was a little tense going up and down this road for someone like me who gets vertigo on dropoffs and is afraid of falling off.

The viewpoint was nice but nothing special relative to other mountain viewpoints; you could still see a lot of buildings and hear the road below.

Continuing on to the end of the road, another four miles on a rough, washboarded gravel road, brings you to the Alpine Meadows recreation area. There are lots of open meadows at the top of the mountain here, with delicate wildflowers that bloom in the summer. There are easy hiking trails all around, as well as longer trails heading off into the wilderness for overnight hikers.

I arrived too late in the season for most of the flowers though there were still some left. The meadows were still quite nice as were the views. I found a bench to sit on and eat the picnic lunch I had brought. I had a great view to the east with only miles of empty air in front of me, no signs of human presence, and a profound silence. The breeze would occasionally sigh through the trees, but when it was still it was the quietest place I’ve ever been. Not even the rural area in Manitoba where I once lived ever got this quiet.

You can’t get true silence in the city. It’s amazingly relaxing when you do find it. I must make a point of seeking it out more often.

Photo gallery here.