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Self-Representation

While I've been putting this site together, a strange and unexpected purpose has emerged: you can think of this site as an experiment, an attempt to create a physical representation of my mind.

The reason it's an experiment is that I'm not sure it can be done. Right now, for every essay I write, I am reminded of several others that I haven't yet gotten to. I can imagine, though, that I will gradually begin to find that more and more of the essays have already been written, so that the site as a whole will acquire a kind of referential completeness. I have no idea how large the site would have to be, to be complete; maybe once I'm past the painful bootstrap phase, I will make an estimate by measuring what fraction of essays I find I've already written.

I don't actually intend to write essays about everything I know. In terms of my classification of knowledge, the thing I am really interested in is the glue, the self-referential core of memes that holds it all together. As far as the various domains are concerned, I don't plan to include anything that falls into a well-known domain of knowledge, except in so far as such things have influenced the core. So, for example, I'm not going to write a physics textbook, but I will probably say a few words about the scientific worldview. I will also include some things from the tiny domains that are attached to the well-known domains, including some frivolous cultural stuff.

If I'm able to capture my entire core of memes, then in so far as I believe that the self is defined by its ideas, it would be a kind of immortality. However, I don't really believe it, so the best I can hope for is the kind of immortality familiar to writers.

Actually, I do hope to do a little better than that. As you're reading the essays on this site and following the links from one essay to another, you're traversing a large (well, maybe one day) associative net with a structure similar to part of my mind. (Yet another reason the site name is appropriate.) Stretching the truth a little, you could be said to be computing a series of states my brain might occupy. This leads to all kinds of interesting thoughts about consciousness, computation, and artificial intelligence, but here I will defer to the master, Douglas Hofstadter, who discusses these very thoughts in most or all of his works. I'd also like to point out that Greg Egan has a nice slant on the computational aspects, notably in Permutation City and Diaspora.

Basically, the idea is that by traversing this site, you are in effect using my mind to free-associate may you enjoy it as much as I do. It's not immortality, or even life or artificial intelligence, but I hope you'll agree it is at least interesting.

Speaking of Hofstadter, I wanted to mention a theory I have. My theory (ahem) is that the reason Gödel, Escher, Bach was (and is) so profound is that it was actually a substantial part of Hofstadter's mind at the time, and that having assimilated it, I am now carrying that part around with me. You could say the same thing about any biography, of course; the important difference is that what Hofstadter captured was not biographical and historical facts, but rather was part of the self-referential core.

 

  See Also

  Day in the Life, A
  Not Enough Time
  Notes on the History Block
  Notes on the Index
  Stories
  Understand
  Well-Known Domains

@ March (2000)