What are the main ideas and highlights of Gödel, Escher, Bach?

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter describes and defines the concept of recursion, and discusses its applications in computer science, consciousness, art, music, biology and various other fields.

Recursion is crucial to writing computer programs in a compact, elegant way, but it also opens the door to infinite loops and irreconcilable logical contradictions.

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Visual remixes

Long before I got interested in electronic music, I was a fine arts guy. It bothers me that unauthorized appropriation of a music recording will get you sued, but visual artists who appropriate pop cultural materials get into museums and art history textbooks.

Marcel Duchamp

In ancient times and more traditional societies, there was never much importance attached to the concept of sole authorship or ownership of creative works. Widespread belief in the lone Byronic genius didn’t take hold until the eighteenth century in Europe. Duchamp signaled the beginning of the end of the Byronic genius with his readymades, like the infamous urinal, or this bicycle wheel:

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Is Richard Dawkins helping science through his attacks on religion?

I would wish for Dawkins to use more emotional sensitivity and compassion when dealing with religious people, because his hostile tone gets in the way of his invaluable message. His condescending attitude toward believers, epitomized by calling atheists “brights,” is seriously counterproductive. I’m concerned that he’s unnecessarily confrontational and inflammatory in his TV appearances, op-eds and so on. He’d benefit from taking a page from Jesus and turning the other cheek when religious people attack or misrepresent him.

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Building a better dopamine awareness campaign

I’ve been intrigued by Charles Lyell‘s self-described “dopamine awareness campaign,” trying to show how all of our social behaviors boil down to a desire for gratifying dopamine shots. The campaign doesn’t seem to be going so well; see, for example, the collapsing of his recent answer to Why do people contribute reviews of restaurants/theatres/events etc? what is the human motivation to do this? I voted it back up, but gently satirized him in a comment:

I appreciate your awareness campaign, but it does seem like all of your answers boil down to one word. “Why does anyone do anything?” “DOPAMINE!”

Charles wrote me back:

I’m not trying to annoy or bore people, but part of my awareness campaign is to help spread the word that everything we do we do for dopamine. 

Imagine a world where the fear/power/esteem addicts wreaking havoc and destroying the planet are revealed to be desperate addicts who need treatment for the same brain disease plaguing heroin addicts. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that everything comes down to dopamine appeal and that trying to explain dopamine appeal has zero dopamine appeal. As a result, I’m working a couple of new approaches. 

If you can think of a way to make explaining dopamine appeal more appealing, please let me know.

That’s such a good question that rather than respond in a comment, I thought it merited my first-ever Quora post.

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What are some possible innovations for Delicious going forward?

This is a melancholy topic for me. There was a time when my Delicious network feed was the first site I looked at in the morning, my favorite source of news and serendipitous new knowledge, and the primary repository for my short-form writing. Now I barely ever use it.

I started out using Delicious for its intended purpose, bookmarking. Then I discovered that between the tags and the notes field, it was a spectacular notetaking tool. Over time, I built up a network of around a hundred other people. My Delicious use became 10% archiving and annotating links I planned to refer to later, and 90% social linkblogging. The experience became almost Quora-like.

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How can you give an effective talk on a depressing topic without depressing your audience?

Here’s what works for me.

  • Focus on solutions. What immediate steps can people take right now? What are bigger steps that governments and corporations need to take, and what can we do to push them in the right direction?
  • Don’t judge. Assigning blame is gratifying but counterproductive; it heightens tensions and closes minds. Instead, take a the thousand-mile-distant Buddhist perspective. In the longest time scales, nothing matters; the sun will explode and destroy the earth in five billion years one way or the other. Meanwhile, we’re in this situation, it’s not good, but it’s no one’s fault (or everyone’s fault, same thing.) Now what’s the most practical way out?
  • Be funny. You can take the subject matter seriously without taking yourself seriously. Gallows humor is the best kind. See: Stewart and Colbert, South Park, hip-hop lyrics and Mark Twain for inspiration.

Humans are adaptive and full of surprises. We do stupid, self-destructive, narrow-minded and short-sighted things, but we’re also capable of imagination, optimism, compassion and even self-sacrifice. Which feelings do you want to stir in your audience?

Original post on Quora

WordPress is why I love the internet

If anyone comes to me wanting a personal web site, I try to convince them they should have a blog, specifically, a WordPress blog. I’m doing several web sites for clients that use WordPress. The more I work with this platform, the more I come to love it. WordPress is free, hacker-friendly and supported by an enthusiastic community. It represents everything good about the web right now.

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How to get web traffic from Google

If you want to get your web page noticed but don’t want to spend a lot of money on advertising, your best bet is search engine optimization, or SEO. As of this writing, that mostly means understanding how Google ranks search hits, and adapting your web presence accordingly.

Historically, search engine results were ranked based on the frequency and proximity of keywords in the page text. But as the web grows, there are tons and tons of pages out there with the same or similar keywords. Any Google search on any remotely mainstream topic is going to return thousands and thousands of hits, most of which are useless to you. Another problem is that the keyword system is easy to game. Unscrupulous web designers can load up a page with invisible keywords repeated over and over, by putting them in the same color as the background off to the side of the page.

To make its results more useful, Google tries to rank its keyword-based search results in the order of their relevance. They do this using a complex proprietary algorithm called PageRank, the real heart of their search engine. One of PageRank’s most heavily weighted factors is the number of links pointing to a page. If more people link to your site, presumably that’s because it’s more useful or authoritative. PageRank also recursively factors in the number of links going into those pages that link to you.

So the key to a higher Google rank is getting other pages to link to you. The question is, how do you get those precious inbound links?

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