Hofstadter Docudrama: "Victim of the Brain"

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Douglas Hofstadter is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, a now-classic work on how the mind arises from mechanical parts. While I'll admit I haven't gotten through the entire book, I recently enjoyed Victim of the Brain, a 1988 docudrama featuring interviews with Hofstadter.

It's a strange little film, following Dutch director Piet Hoenderdos as he struggles to understand philosophical questions about consciousness through interviews as well as (slightly cheesy) adaptations of stories from The Mind's I, a book which Hofstadter wrote with philosopher Daniel Dennett (who also appears in the film).

The film's title comes from an interview with Hofstadter featured in the film (starting around three minutes in), in which he says:

"I watch my own decisions and I feel, sometimes, as if decisions come from parts of me that I realize are not under what I would call my control. I realize that my own self is really not under my control. I look at what I prefer in life -- my tastes, my interests, my aesthetic preferences -- and I know that those things come from places that I certainly don't decide upon. I am just a victim of my brain. [smiles] But I have to live with that. And, I mean I'm a victim of my brain in that I can't play music as well as I would like to be able to. But I don't know, it's a very complex thing. I think being a good human being seems to be the much more deep thing in life than being able to explain human beings. But still, trying to explain them is a fascinating thing."

Victim of the Brain is available in its entirely via Google Video. If you're into philosophical issues of human consciousness (or awesome 80's fashion), you'll probably enjoy it. I do warn you -- it's dated and nerdy, but if you're like me you'll appreciate both of those supposed shortcomings.

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March 18, 2008 - 12:41pm
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