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LECTURE WITH DR. DOUGLAS HOFSTADTER

Monday, January 26, 2015
Auditorium of the School of Science and Mathematics, 202 Calhoun Street

The College of Charleston’s Friends of the Library, Department of Philosophy, School of Sciences and Mathematics, and the Halsey Institute will present a lecture by the internationally celebrated cognitive scientist Dr. Douglas Hofstadter. The lecture is in conjunction with the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition Patterns of Place: Isomorphic Map Tables featuring the work of Patricia Boinest Potter. The event will take place on Monday, January 26 at 6:00pm in the first floor auditorium of the School of Sciences and Mathematics building at 202 Calhoun Street on the College of Charleston campus. The event is free with the public encouraged to attend. There will be a reception following the lecture.

ABOUT DOUGLAS HOFSTADTER

Born in New York in 1945, Dr. Douglas Hofstadter is College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Comparative Literature at Indiana University, Bloomington. His best-known book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and the National Book Award for Science. It, along with some of his other books, addresses perennial philosophical questions about the nature of the human mind and language. His 2007 book I Am a Strange Loop won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Science. Hofstadter is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In his early teens, Hofstadter spent a year in Geneva, Switzerland with his family, which he credits for his mastery of French and his love for other cultures and languages (he calls himself “pilingual”, meaning that he speaks an irrational number of languages, somewhere between 3 and 4). In 1965 he received a B.S. in mathematics from Stanford University, and ten years later a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Oregon, which was for his discovery of the Hofstadter butterfly, the first fractal ever found in physics.

As a cognitive science professor, he has focused for the past several decades on getting computers to approximate the effortless, fluid analogy-making that constitutes the core of human thought and oddly enough, he is delighted that he and his students have fallen far short of that goal. On the artistic side of his personality, Hofstadter has composed numerous short pieces for piano, mixing romanticism with counterpoint and humor, has translated many poems as well as a couple of novels into English, and he has been one of the pioneers of the art form known as “ambigrams”, a word he coined in 1984.

ABSTRACT OF LECTURE

Dr. Hofstadter writes, “For some reason, as I was growing up, my genes and my surroundings instilled in me an insatiable thirst for pattern. I cannot explain this thirst, but it was to define my entire life.

In this regard, the year 1961 was a magical year for me (and pattern-questers, please take note that “1961” reads the same when flipped). On my 16th birthday (and pattern-questers, please take note that 16 = 24 = 42), my mother gave me a recording of Bach preludes and fugues that set me on fire; thanks to that record, I fell under the spell of classical music and found that in it there were patterns under every stone. Years later, I composed a number of small piano pieces brimming with patterns of many sorts, which remain among my most creative efforts. Just a few days after my 16th birthday, I discovered some new patterns in mathematics (number theory, in particular) and fell in love with them, starting a mad pattern-searching math-adventure that lasted several years and was studded with spectacular surprises. In a remarkable twist of fate, this math-intoxication wound up leading me, a baker’s dozen years later, to make a lovely discovery in physics, at whose core was an intricate visual pattern of a type no one had ever seen before.

Also at age 16, I was exposed to the amazingly alluring arabesque alphabets of India, which sparked in me a wider wonderment at alphabets and typefaces, which oozed yet further outwards to become a fascination with symmetrical calligraphic letter-patterns having more than one reading. Such patterns, decades later, would metamorphose into a full-fledged art form called “ambigrams”, practiced by people all around the world. On top of it all, still at age 16, I stumbled by sheer chance across a petite but pattern-pervaded poem in French by Clément Marot that so mesmerized me that I couldn’t keep myself from returning the favor and memorizing it. That minor mental act led, several decades later, to another pattern-based binge, this one centered on translating Marot’s petit poème over and over again into English, always anew yet always preserving its unique pattern-rich structure. After some years, these exuberant explorations of poetic translation gave rise to one of my life’s most bountiful bubbling brooks — a tome called Le Ton beau de Marot (and pattern-questers, please take note that “ton beau”, meaning “lovely tone”, sounds exactly the same as “tombeau”, meaning “tomb”).

My entire life, in short, has been a relentless quest for pattern and beauty, in fields ranging from number theory and theoretical physics to visual art, musical composition, and poetry translation. This irrepressible, unquenchable, unsnuffable inner pattern-seeking fire has immeasurably enriched — indeed, defined — my life’s course, and I will seek to share some of its most magical moments with you, showing how similar were the sublime subliminal sparks that spurred my scientific side to come up with novel notions in math and physics, while also spurring my artistic side to concoct novel alphabets, create novel poems, and compose novel piano pieces.

An intoxication with pattern is far from unique to me, of course; it lies at the core of much of science and art, and giant genii as deep and diverse as Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin, Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, Indian number-wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Swiss physicist Albert Einstein were all driven by their own personal love for, and belief in, the beauty and power of patterns (and pattern-questers, please take note that all of their last names end in the letter “n”).”

LECTURE WITH DR. DOUGLAS HOFSTADTER

Monday, January 26, 2015
Auditorium of the School of Science and Mathematics, 202 Calhoun Street
Free For All
GALLERY HOURS (during exhibitions)
Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm
Open until 7pm on Thursdays
843.953.4422


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