In this post I briefly discuss the intriguing book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas R. Hofstadter (1979).
The author uses most of the 777 pages of the book to discuss logic and philosophy of mathematics (based mainly on Gödel), with the help of fable-like Dialogues involving crabs, tortoises and other imaginary beings (in the style of Lewis Carroll), as well as musical and visual analogies (via Bach and Escher, respectively).
I found special interest in the broader discussion about the relation between the internal processes of the human mind and the logic of the machines (specially on the second part of the book).
IRRATIONAL X COMPUTATIONAL
In my research I analyze the process of translating the poetics of an artist to the computer. One of the main discussions in this subject is the supposed contradiction that emerges from the use of such a logical and rational device to represent something as subjective and irrational as artistic expression.
Hofstadter explains that this contradiction is result of a confusion of levels:
[T]his notion that irrationality is incompatible with computers rests on a severe confusion of levels (…) [T]he idea that since computers are faultlessly functioning machines, they are therefore bound to be ‘logial’ on all levels
[A] brain, too, is a collection of faultlessly functioning elements – neurons. Whenever a neuron’s threshold is surpassed by the sum of the incomming signals, BANG! – it fires (…) Yet as we all know, neurons are perfectly capable of supporting high-level behavior that is wrong, on it’s own level, in the most amazing ways.
Creativity is the essence of that which is not mechanical. Yet every creative act is mechanical – it has its explanation no less than a case of hiccups.
There is no reason to believe that a computer’s faultlessly functioning hardware could not support high-level symbolic behavior which would represent such complex states as confusion, forgetting, or appreciation of beauty.
I should point out that the discussion of the computer as a thinking (or creative) machine goes beyond the scope of my research, in which I treat the machine as creator, but not creative.
The author also discusses the subject of authorship in the colaborative relationship between digital artist and machine:
What if an AI program comes up with an idea (…) which its programmer has never entertained – who should get the credit?
In such cases, the human can be referred to as the meta-author – the author of the author of the result, and the program as the (just plain) author.
See more theblog.
If and when (…) people develop programs which have [flexibility, perspective on what it is doing and sense of self], then I suggest that will be the appropriate time to start splitting one’s admiration: some to the programmer for creating such an amazing program, and some to the program itself for its [artistic sense].
But until then, I will not feel comfortable in saying ‘this piece was composed by a computer.