‘This is not a post’ post

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Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” painting is one of Douglas Hofstadter’s obsessions in Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. It may be a Treachery of images like the title suggests, but it is also about the treachery of language, the self-referential nature that Hofstadter calls ‘a strange loop’. For example, the famous “This sentence is not true”, a variant of liar’s paradox. If the statement is true, then it’s “not true”. If the statement is false, then it’s negated so that the falsity is “not true”. It is something that continues to endlessly boggle the mind. One might think it is a philosopher’s fancy – that, it may be – but consider that Gödel’s incompleteness theorems need that self-reference as a foundation. I concede that it is not something that may affect our daily lives, but, you know, it can make one ponder about computability, the nature of consciousness, and stuff.

Now, I have observed this self-reference in some objects, though I don’t suppose the manufacturers have the nature of consciousness in mind. Behold, the “this is not a safety barrier” safety barricade and the “this is not a lifesaving device” kickboard. You can see that these two things do not have identity crises: it’s actually the very opposite; ‘they’ are certainly sure about their functions. The safety barricade: I can function as a safety barrier, but not 100% of the time. Similarly, the kickboard: I can function as a lifesaving device, but not 100% of the time. You can almost hear the echoes of the underlying subtext (so don’t sue me), can’t you?

You can ponder this more while looking at my terrible drawing:

NB: I found it highly amusing that the safety barricade is embossed/printed/stenciled/stickered with “This is not a safety barrier”, but spray-painted with “SB”. That is one way to solve the linguistic and legalistic quandary I suppose: “It’s not a safety barrier; it is just, you know, SB”.

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