Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lilith, The Mirror, and the Strange Loops of Consciousness

I want to take a break today from technical and economic subjects to discuss something really interesting in the topic of mythology and consciousness.
While listening to the audio book of "Don't Know Much About Mythology,"  I learned that in some forms of Jewish history/mythology, there's the story about Lilith, Adam's first wife. In one creation story, Lilith was made from the earth like Adam. But she would not be subservient to him, so she left him and went to Red Sea to hang out with devils. This left Adam all alone, so God decided to create Eve from Adam's side, so that she would be subservient to him.
I never learned that story growing up, but sort of wish that I had. What's interesting is that this seems like an eternal theme...should the guy chose to marry the girl with whom he could be best friends/lovers or should he chose the girl who will obey his wishes? I could see this being turned into a Hollywood move set in modern times.

Also, it turns out that, in some of these extended stories, Lilith is associated with being able to control women who look in the mirror for too long. This makes me think to what extent has human consciousness developed because of mirrors. This seems like an interesting theme because I've always thought about the question: when in history did primates evolve the capability of recognizing themselves in a mirror. There are many species that 'pass the mirror test.'
These include all of the great apes (chimps, orangutans, humans and gorillas), bottle nose dolphins, orcas, elephants and supposedly the european magpie. How did these species evolve the capability to recognize themselves in a mirror? What surface acted as a mirror for them?



This also reminds me about a story that Douglas Hofstadter includes in his book, I am a Strange Loop. He tells the story of when he went to an electronics store, and tried pointing a video camera back onto the TV screen that was showing the images from the video camera. A sales person told him not to do that, and asked him to leave. (There's more to the story that I forget, so I encourage you to read the book and also to point a video camera back onto a screen while in a dark room. And while you're at it, bring with you a laser pointer and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. I had way too much fun doing when I was still in school.)

I think that there's a subconscious fear in some people about pointing the video camera back on the TV screen, and it might be related to the fear in some people about staring to look into the mirror, of becoming too self-centered. What is it about self-feedback that some people fear?
It's almost as if people subconsciously understand that consciousness it just a series of strange feedback loops, of ever greater size and complexity. It's like the mirror is a reminder of our 'oh so mortal' and fleeting existence. Does the mirror make us more self-centered or more self-conscious? And what is the difference between self-centered and self-conscious?

I'd love to hear what you think about the story of Lilith and Adam, and if you're read either Godel, Escher, Bach or I am Strange Loop, let me know what you think about Douglas Hofstadter's belief that consciousness is nothing more than self-referential, feedback/strange loops.

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