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A Scared Firefighter up in the Bucket, part two
You are the Crown of Creation. Or are you?
Our Story So Far, and Where We’re Headed
This post is continuation of A Scared Firefighter up in the Bucket, part one, in which, among many other things, I promised to tell you, by the end of this three-part series, about the only time, over my ten-year firefighting career, that I was ever scared during firefighting operations. A Scared firefighter up in the bucket, part two probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read part one.
Hofstadter & “I”
If you don’t know who Douglas Hofstadter is, or if you don’t remember the thrill of reading his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, if you don’t have several copies of GEB, each with its own set of annotations it doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means that you’re not me.
Which, by the way, why can’t you be me? What does it mean to be me? What does it mean to be you? What does it mean to be anyone? What does it mean to be oneself, and what is a “self,” anyway?
Questions like these are at the heart of Hofstadter’s life’s work. Dennett’s too. They’re both concerned with ‘the philosophy of mind,’ and definitions of ‘self,’ and what some people call ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.
But let’s put philosophizing on hold for a minute & catch up with me & Murphy. Last time you saw us it was before dawn on October 28th, 2011, and we were up in the Bronto’s bucket, waiting for water, with fire in our faces.
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The View from the Bucket
The MV Times article about that fire explains that the yard around the house was overgrown. What it doesn’t say is that at the front edge of the yard there was a thick hedge of arborvitae, and that the only passageway through the hedge, the driveway, was where the live electrical wire was.
Before firefighters in the bucket can start putting water on the fire, a second engine’s pump must be connected to a hydrant on one end and to 651 on the other. Making these connections only takes a few minutes but it can seem like a long time. Particularly if you’re looking a nasty fire right in the face & you’re getting hot.
Eventually the engine crew calls:
— 623 to Platform. Ready for water? — Platform answering. Ready. — Water coming. — Roger. Thanks.
The bucket shakes a bit as the water rushes up, then out of the nozzle of the water cannon, into the dormer window where the biggest flames are.
After the water began flowing all was going well. Until the urgent call came over the radio.
Mindful of Philosophy, part deux
Click on the tweet below to read a rather remarkable ‘conversation’ between Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot and Dr. Regina Rini, a professor of Philosophy of Moral and Social Cognition at York University, in Canada.
It is a bit ‘unnerving,’ isn’t it.
How does it do that?
Despite decades of effort by computer scientists, linguists, psychologists, and hackers, until quite recently, chatbots remained comically inept.
Now? Hmmm. . . Something seems to have changed. Where did this astounding leap in capability come from? This article by Stephan Wolfram explains it quite well, even if it’s not especially light reading.
Betty’s garden, redux
More pictures of that back porch garden I keep telling you about; the images that filled my mind as my heart was filled with terror.
Hofstadter and I
One of Hofstadter’s hobbyhorses is what he calls a strange loop, which he relates to notions of self. His 2007 I Am A Strange Loop further develops the ideas he first introduced in Gödel, Escher, Bach.
In Gödel, Escher, Bach, he gives an example of an ‘authorship strange loop’. Here’s my annotation:
“There are three authors, Z, T, and E. Now it so happens that Z exists only in a novel by T. Likewise, T exists only in a novel by E — by Z, of course. Now, is such an authorship triangle possible?”
My 2002 novella Cheap Complex Devices — about the inaugural “Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative” about a storytelling competition between two AIs — lie ChatGPT and Microsoft’s ‘Sydney’ — forms a strange loop with my earlier novel Acts of the Apostles.
I’ll have more to say about all of the foregoing in part three, in which we will look fear and dread right in the eye.
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