UFO Conjectures

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Douglas R Hofstadter: Metamagical Themas…


A favorite author of ours is Douglas Hofstadter, whose Godel, Escher, Bach and Metamagical Themas (a compilation of his Scientific American columns from the 1980s).


While Mr. Hofstadter is moderate and limited about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – he thinks it is misinterpreted by almost everyone – and that the principle doesn’t state that an observer interferes with the observed but “rather hat a very fine grain size, the wave duality of the measuring tool becomes relevant.” [Page 464, MT].

Heisenberg’s principle may be extrapolated to include such things as how the measurement (the observation) of individuals or UFOs is affected by the observation of either.

For instance, if a group of people, at a party are intruded upon by a person with a camera, the group will alter their behavior, to accommodate the picture or video being taken, since it will record a moment by which the group and individuals will be remembered for posterity.


And there is anecdotal information that UFOs often seem to be affected by an observer, with a camera, radar, or just a visual encounter.

The measurement (observation) of things alter those things in various ways, some subtle, some not so subtle.


Mr. Hofstadter, in writing about electromagnetic waves, points out that “as a black body heats up, it begins to glow: first dull red, then bright red, then orange, eventually white, and then, surprisingly enough, bluish!” [Page 458 MT].


Isn’t that what UFO observers often report?


Mr. Hofstadter makes it a major point to support the cautions of physicists who tell laypersons that quantum microcosm can’t be extended to explain the macrocosmic events.

We think that is an error in judgment and theoretical hypothesizing, and have addressed the issue here at this blog and the RRRGroup blog, early on.

Applying quantum thinking to the UFO phenomenon provides an interesting patina to the UFO mystery, almost explaining some behavior and sightings.

Bruce Duensing deals with such things, rather more brilliantly than we, at his blog, Intangible Materiality, which can be accessed by clicking here:

Intangible Materiality

Also, Mr. Hofstadter is not inimical to mathematics as the lingua franca of science, which we think is detrimental to human thought, and a contrivance that is unreal, a concoction that gives scientists a mantle of authority that it doesn’t really deserve.

Math is bogus, and used by science to make hypothetical thinking obscure to laypersons and to create a priest-like order for science that co-opts religion, philosophy, and thought in general.

So, while it seems that we think that Mr. Hofstadter is off the mark on the items listed above, why do we find him so fascinating, and intelligent?

That goes to his views about how we think or should and is addressed in his Metamagical Themas chapters, World Views in Collision (which deals with the Skeptical Inquirer – he likes it) and On Number Numbness (about how people don’t comprehend the reality of numbers that affect their lives).

And in Section VII, Sanity and Survival, Hofstadter tackles irrationality itself, which is rampant in the UFO community and “ufology” particularly.

We don’t expect visitors to this blog to read or understand the bulk of Metamagical Themas, but we’d hope they might give it a try.

Moreover, since most of the UFO crowd are hobbyists, who work on the UFO mystery when it is convenient and not during their weekend down-time, we are not holding our collective breaths for any to try and enlighten themselves beyond their myopic attention to the UFO phenomenon, Bruce Duensing as the stand-out exception.



  • Interesting post. However, I've often (not so secretly) held a different viewpoint on UFO phenomena. Such hypothesizing often only serves to obfuscate one glaring conclusion: UFO's (in any sense other than misidentification) don't exist. A similar thing happens to those who research Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. In time, with no "proof" at hand, they begin fashioning outlandish theories to explain just why it is nobody has found one.

    Are UFOlogists "thinking outside the box" when it comes to such avant garde theories, or are they grasping at straws? That's the dilemma that has plagued this field for quite some time.

    The problem is, chiefly, a lack of an observable phenomenon; sightings are made up of too many disparate characteristics. Moreover, they are completely unreliable in making appearances--even if you could whittle sightings down to those most genuine. Then add to this field researchers who are often under or wholly unprepared to truly evaluate a sighting, AND can only do so, as you said, in a part-time fashion.

    Quite the pickle.

    By Blogger Cullan Hudson, at Monday, January 31, 2011  

  • A sweet pickle or dill pickle, Cullan?

    There is, as you note, no real methodology in ufology.

    It's a "throw everything at the board and see what sticks."

    Unfortunately nothing has stuck, ever.

    Pursuing UFOs is a foolish endeavor, especially when other things in the world demand, or should, attention.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, January 31, 2011  

  • I have not read "Metamagical Themas" but I do have a few of Hofstadter's articles from the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN including the one on 'number numbness' (May 1982). Yes people can learn a lot from this, although its relevance to ufology is zero. It makes you think, in terms of what figures, statistics and numbers are really about, and how so many go terribly astray when estimating numerical things, and the probabilities of occurrences.

    We all know the oft-repeated argument: "So many people (e.g. witnesses to Roswell) cannot be wrong. The odds against so many being wrong are astronomical". Hofstadter does not discuss this, but he hints at this type of numerical reasoning, and the fallacies therein.

    He succeeded Martin Gardner, who was a very strong UFO skeptic. I always enjoyed Gardner's books & writings, but his anti-UFO stance was a bit too biased. He once described the whole of the 'Roswell-was-ET' idea as 'ufological baloney'. And yet, I wonder if he was right after all?

    By Blogger cda, at Monday, January 31, 2011  

  • Christopher,

    My point in citing Hofstadter was and is to show how one should think.

    The problem with the UFO crowd, you, Gilles and me excluded, is the sloppy reasoning involved.

    Richard Hall, bless his soul, always harped on the illogical prattle he encountered, especially at UFO UpDates.

    A dose of Hofstadter could cure some of that.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Monday, January 31, 2011  

  • I would have been interested in checking this guy out had it not been for this statement, which really makes me suspect of this blog in general:

    "Math is bogus, and used by science to make hypothetical thinking obscure to laypersons and to create a priest-like order for science that co-opts religion, philosophy, and thought in general."

    Really? You've got plenty of sensationalist and inaccurate articles in science publications all over the place (Scientific American, Wired, etc.) because they gloss over or misrepresent the math (or other key details) so that the average reader can feel like they get the concept described, even when leaving out these key details can totally change what some discovery or study found.

    But, even if it were a good layman's source for science, such as blogs like Ars Technica, you'll find math keeps no one from grasping well explained topics, but it provides an actual logic and framework to work in scientifically (something you lament about ufology not having only a couple comments up). See, its not science if it can't be proven, and mathematically is probably the best known way of "proving" something.

    Even all that aside: how about computers, the Internet, or any electronic device we carry around these days? Only made possible through advanced mathematics and quantum mechanics (you don't want to know what kind of math goes into that...). So I would argue, no, math is by no means "bogus," and it only keeps you out if you don't get it. Perhaps instead of asking science to dumb down its work for us, we should be striving to be more educated so we can understand what certain discoveries truly mean, rather than the cliff's notes version.

    By Blogger Armakan, at Tuesday, February 01, 2011  

  • Armakan,

    Math is symbolism.

    To invoke it as the quintessential method for conveying truth is elitism of a very stringent kind.

    Even though we pretend to be elitist here, we find the obscurant methodology of science to be fraudulent as the alchemists of old indicated.

    Don't, however, be put off by our obtuse opinions, and check out the Hofstadter oeuvre for yourself.

    You'll like it, being the science advocate you are.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Tuesday, February 01, 2011  

  • Algebra has variables, which are used to symbolize a number (or equation), but math is by no means symbolic. Science has given us quite a few tangible things (vaccination, modern medicine, computers, Internet, and lets not forget: McDonalds), while alchemy has given us...nothing (except of course, showing us you can't make gold from whatever they were trying to chemically turn into gold). Ufology has given us...nothing (except more questions). I think before we're so quick to judge entire disciplines such as science and math, perhaps we can first look at how the fruits of their labor have affected us, and given us a better world.

    Math is now being used to help us understand the fundamental world of quantum physics, which all of known reality is based upon. You cannot even BEGIN to talk about quantum physics without using math. You can try, but most quantum physicists say that any type of analogy is quite crude, and usually promotes misunderstandings (which are lept upon by New Agey types to validate their theories, incorrectly). This isn't to keep people out: it's a necessity of specificity, so that everyone can tell EXACTLY what we're talking about. Surely you wouldn't argue that this is incorrect. Think about how that would apply in the medical profession: Doctor: "eh, they got something wrong with their stomach." instead of being specific and stating: "The patient has achlorhydria." See my point?

    By Blogger Armakan, at Wednesday, February 02, 2011  

  • Armakan,

    You're arguing from within the discipline.

    Math has become the substitute for prose.

    Logic, as Aristotle showed, does not require mathematics, and is a replacement (even shorthand, I admit) for solving problems, but only in an abstract way.

    If abstraction is your thing, then enjoy your mathematic milieu.

    In the "Overture" of the Philip J.
    Davis and Reuben Hersh book, The Mathematical Experience [Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1981, Page 4] you'll find this:

    "I started to talk to other mathematicians about proof, knowledge, and reality in mathematics and I found that my situation of confused uncertainty was typical...

    ...mathematics is the science of quantity and space...One might add that mathematics also deals with the symbolism relating to quantity and space." [Page 6]

    Then for 440 pages, including the Index, the authors show that mathematics is not philosophy, or science itself, but an adjunct or tool for science, and other mechanisms of the mind.

    It is not the "ecce signum" of anything, as I've noted.

    I suggest you get your hands on the book, or the three volume set, Mathematical Thought by Morris Kline [Oxford University Press, NY and Oxford, 1972] and then we can debate.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 02, 2011  

  • Ha! I love the condescension, I'm used to it from other friends, so know you're in good company.

    My argument was beautifully elucidated in a documentary I coincidentally just watched after my last post, totally unbeknownst to me of its contents (very vague title): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4Z8CqAiYI8&feature=player_embedded

    It's a very interesting video, I highly recommend the whole thing, but the part I'm specifically mentioning starts at 43:50 and runs through 52:55. Watch that, and you'll get my argument entirely for why mathematics is so important, and NOT symbolic. I especially like how they say math is like archaeology, it's not a language we're inventing, it's rules we're uncovering about how the universe works.

    Sure, I believe a really smart, well educated mathematician might have viewed it that way, along with some of his peers, but not all of them have the same point of view regarding the subject.

    Though it does sound like an interesting read, I'll have to check it out.

    By Blogger Armakan, at Wednesday, February 02, 2011  

  • Armakan:

    Math is interesting, and we have a thing at the RRRGroup blog which even purports to say that God is pi.

    My point, here, was that math does not tell us what UFOs are, or what the color red is, for example.

    Math isn't philosophy and it isn't able to even explain quantum reality.

    It merely provides theorems and procedures for leading us to some truths; truths that are the essence of reality.

    Math is a patina, and one that science often uses to be obscurant and elitist....the so-called ivory tower.

    We have a plethora of mathematical tomes here, allowing us to eschew the web and YouTube or even Wikipedia, where errors of judgment and fact are possible, even probable.


    By Blogger RRRGroup, at Wednesday, February 02, 2011  

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