Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

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Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby ntietz » Mon Dec 28, 2009 5:43 am UTC

I was flipping through Godel, Escher, Bach, as I acquired it recently and I'm working through a lot of reading material at the moment, so I haven't started reading it very much. However, I noticed something very interesting: there is a little snippet of text in a foreign alphabet, right on the last page of the List of Illustrations. I checked online, and I couldn't find any information about this, so I set to attempting to figure it out on my own.

From my searching around, it seemed to be Samaritan or a similar script -- it's the closest I could find. When "translated" to a Latin alphabet for my convenience, the two most common runs of characters are RM'YW and MYHL', which, when searched, show up in translations of old Hebrew religious texts. However, I can't find the whole thing in any one of them, nor can I find what the specific parts mean. Here's all of what I "translated" it into, spoliered:
Spoiler:
:RM'YW:MYHL':'RB:TYS'RB:MYHL'RM'YW:RW':YHY:MYHL':WW'Y:MYHL':RM'YW:'Y'RYHY:'SDT:MYHL':RM'YW:MYMH


Does anyone know what this cryptic passage means, where it's from, or where I've gone wrong here? It's one of those things that's going to gnaw away at me if I don't figure out...

Edit: I'm not sure if this is where this belongs. I hate to say that, but I put it in books because it's about the book. But, I could equally well see it belonging in linguistics, or even somewhere else. So, I apologize if this is the wrong place.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Selentic » Mon Dec 28, 2009 8:59 am UTC

Hofstadter layered and hid so many different puzzles and meanings into GEB that it could mean just about anything, if not multiple things. Beats me.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Clumpy » Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:08 am UTC

Selentic wrote:Hofstadter layered and hid so many different puzzles and meanings into GEB that it could mean just about anything, if not multiple things. Beats me.


If I know Hofstadter the "meaning" of the piece is more about discovering its meaning. I've never been great at this type of research but I do get a little vicarious thrill from finding these things out.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Six Fingers » Wed Mar 10, 2010 9:02 am UTC

Hmmm...Sounds interesting! I grabbed my copy of GEB and I couldn't find it, different publicacion maybe? Anyhow, I fiddled around with the phoenician alphabet for awhile, and I believe it has a common ancestry with the Samaratin language. If you want, take a look at the similarities here: http://kolbrin.com/articles/phoenicians/phoenicians.gif

Phoenecian, Aramaic, and Hebrew sentances (probably Samaritan too) were written right to left, and without vowels. Like the word for "God" in Hebrew was Yahweh, so it would be written, HWHY...

I'm totally interested, let me know if you get any farther! :D
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Sheikh al-Majaneen » Tue Mar 30, 2010 5:15 pm UTC

Hint: MYHL' should be read as "Elohim." Through my google skills, I'd say RM'YW is "said" or "and said."

Anyways, here's what your words mean if its (as I am pretty certain it is) Hebrew.

MYMH: adj. warm, tepid, snug, warmhearted, warmish, cozy

I think Y'RYHY is proud or haughty. It depends on if that final 'Y' is part of the word or is an inflection.

As for the rest, finding out what I did gave me a headache. Most of those words don't turn up in a hebrew dictionary, but none turn up in aramaic or phoenician.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby ATCG » Wed Mar 31, 2010 4:57 am UTC

Hofstadter himself gives the "puzzle" away on p. xiv. It is the second in his List of Illustrations, just below the cover and just above the illustrations for Part I:
Facing Words of Thanks: The beginning of Genesis, in ancient Hebrew. xviii

Six Fingers wrote:Hmmm...Sounds interesting! I grabbed my copy of GEB and I couldn't find it, different publicacion maybe?
Now that is indeed a mystery, if you truly can't find the cited illustration in your text (assuming it's in the original English). The only change that Hofstadter made in the book's 20th-anniversary Edition was the addition of a preface. All the typos and errors present in the original text were allowed to stand uncorrected - for reasons given toward the end of the new preface. If your English-language copy of GEB doesn't display four lines of odd hand-written characters in the center of p. xviii, then you are in possession of a rarity.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Perqill » Wed Apr 28, 2010 1:33 am UTC

ATCG wrote:Hofstadter himself gives the "puzzle" away on p. xiv. It is the second in his List of Illustrations, just below the cover and just above the illustrations for Part I:
Facing Words of Thanks: The beginning of Genesis, in ancient Hebrew. xviii


Sorry for the bump. But in my copy of the book (twentieth-anniversary edition, with new preface) Hofstadter says:

Facing Preface: The beginning of Genesis, in ancient Samaritan. xviii


Different language?

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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby ATCG » Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:30 am UTC

Perqill wrote:[I]n my copy of the book (twentieth-anniversary edition, with new preface) Hofstadter says . . .

This just keeps getting more interesting.

Curiosity inspired me to dig out my old hardbound original edition of GEB. I immediately turned to p. xviii and there were the four lines of ancient glyphs. I put them up next to Perqill's post and found that they didn't match. Different language indeed! It took me several moments to realize that the two figures were in fact the same, but rotated 180 degrees with respect to each other. (In my hardbound copy it looks as if the text ending the lower right-hand corner is "b:".) I was about to chide Perqill for posting the scan of his figure upside down, but decided to first check the figure in my 20th-anniversary Edition trade paperback. It matches Perqill's scan - including orientation.

Based on the OP's research, it appears that Perqill's printing of GEB gets right both the orientation of the figure and the identification of its script. It sounds like it also moves the Preface to immediately follow the List of Illustrations (then followed by the Words of Thanks?) This would fix the somewhat awkward placement of the Preface in my copy, which is just after the dedication and before the Contents leading to a third system of page numbers, P-1 through P-23, for the Preface.

It seems that Hofstadter is more flexible than he lets on when it comes to reworking the front matter of his book.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby poxic » Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:37 am UTC

Given how minutely DH manages every aspect of each book he writes -- physical page size, where the line breaks go, index, translation to other languages, to name the ones I'm aware of -- I would be somewhat disappointed if he didn't take advantage of a new version to twerk ... anything at all, really.

/still a huge fan of I Am a Strange Loop
//still not sure I really got all of it
///still quite sure there are long, deep swathes of GEB that I didn't get
////occasionally wonder if I didn't miss something deeper in Le Ton Beau de Marot, since I thought I understood it all
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Perqill » Wed Apr 28, 2010 11:54 am UTC

ATCG wrote: ...the two figures were in fact the same, but rotated 180 degrees with respect to each other...


That is quite amazing! Would you mind scanning the "old" text?
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby ATCG » Thu Apr 29, 2010 2:51 am UTC

Perqill wrote:Would you mind scanning the "old" text?

I'd be happy to:
Old Genesis.JPG

Here is the script in context:
Spoiler:
Illos.JPG
Given that the book was a true scissors-and-paste-pot production, it's easy to see how the text could have been pasted in upside down. I'm just wondering how many printings the book went through before someone caught the mistake.

Here are the ISBN and printer's key from the copyright page, which suggest that my copy is from the fifth printing of the original edition:
Spoiler:
Copyright.JPG

The only difference I have spotted in the body and end matter between the original and 20th-anniversary editions is the removal of the following colophon from the new edition:
Spoiler:
Typography.JPG
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby urobythos » Mon May 03, 2010 10:33 am UTC

I'd completely forgotten I purchased this book!
Had to find it to check out these wicked runes...
I actually think this was discussed in the Computer Science forum before, but I couldn't find it.
This book is totally not what I imagined it to be, at all.
It's like a sorcerers grimoire or something. AWESOME
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby Johannes Factotum » Sat May 08, 2010 3:45 pm UTC

This is tangential but I recently finished GEB (two months ago) and am still thinking about it. I was thinking about reading IAASL but I wasn't sure if it was just a riff on consciousness or did it include more than that.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby pradd » Wed Feb 16, 2011 1:47 pm UTC

This text is written in ancient Hebrew using Samaritan alphabet (which is still in use in certain part of modern Israel by a Samaritan sect).
The literal translation of this text is:

at the beginning : created : the God : and said :
the God : let there be : light : and said : the God :
let there be : firmament : and said : the God : be separated :
the water : and said : the God : [let the Earth] produce grass :
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby nestorius » Tue Mar 22, 2011 12:36 pm UTC

This is a pretty mutilated version of the first couple of verses of Genesis. It is in pure Hebrew. There are loads of words missing.
Very literal translation:
In a beginning created God and God said
let light be and God said
let an expanse be and God said let come together
the waters and God said let it sprout forth.

Note: it says "God" and not "the God".

I am not aware of any version, Samaritan, Peshitta or otherwise, that actually renders these verses in this way. I get the impression that the text was produced by almost randomly selecting words from the opening verses of the Bible.
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Re: Godel, Escher Bach: Foreign Language Puzzle

Postby wcressey » Mon Jan 16, 2012 1:04 pm UTC

I have the 20th anniversary edition. On the first page of the list of illustrations, it says what that is:

"Facing Word of Thanks: The beginning of Genesis, in ancient Hebrew xviii"
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