“I Am a Strange Loop is vintage Hofstadter: earnest, deep, overflowing with ideas, cognitive scientist and polymath Douglas Hofstadter has returned to his. Scott O’Reilly loops the loop with Douglas Hofstadter. So, a mirage that only exists because it perceives itself: this is an example of what Hofstadter calls a “strange loop”. He has an endearing.

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From hofstader Lacan episode and my comparison of Lacan with Sartreyou might oduglas that this “no self” deal was just a Continental idea. If you remember back to our Owen Flanagan interviewhowever, you’ll know that besides this being a doctrine in Buddhsim this is also one of the main positions within the analytic philosophy of mind, due perhaps largely to Derek Parfitthough the idea goes back to Hume at least.

One author I recently spent time studying through the Not School philosophy of mind group is Douglas Hofstadterwho I’m here going to call “Doug” so I don’t have to type and potentially misspell “Hofstadter” 30 times.

Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am a Strange Loop” on the Self

I Am a Strange Loopwhich is the one I read, is his more recent workmeant to expand upon the view of consciousness put forward in his earlier work. This part of the book, liop interesting, is not actually essential for making his point: So the idea is l the brain, too, works on the basis of symbols, and not in douglass sense of symbols that someone dpuglas reading and I’m just not clear whether this concept can be fruitfully connected to Lacan’s etrange of symbols in the unconsciousbut in the sense that, broadly speaking, if the environment acts on a substance and leaves marks, those marks symbolize that feature of the environment.

So in a brain–any brain–repeated stimuli give rise to structures that Doug wants to call “symbols,” and this structure is then reactivated douflas that stimulus comes back. For some very complex beings, one of these structures is “myself,” and once you add the ability to linguistically cognize to the brain, then the number and connections between these symbols get very elaborate, so that our “self” symbol is complicated, and constantly built upon, in that our every experience adds something to it, such that, e.

Now, quite a lot of this information that feeds the self is publicly observable, and the part that is not is mostly linguistically interpreted by ourselvessuch that we can and often do tell our intimate friends about it as for Lacan, much of the self is linguistic and thus transmissible.

It’s just that the “myself” symbol has a lot more data feeding into it, all the time though of course much of this is redundant in terms of real informational contentso that anyone else’s symbol for you will necessarily be “low-fidelity” compared to your own.

What’s interesting, and not to my mind fully spelled out, in the book is the relationship between consciousness and the self. Sartre, in the book we discussed Transcendence of the Egosharply distinguishes between these two: Doug, on the other hand, has a theory of the self, and thinks that this is just the same as talking about consciousness.

Note that this concern with consciousness is not the same concern as whether there is a “subject” that “has” experiences over and above the public self; you can believe that talk of consciousness is irreducible to talk of the built self without thereby positing some different, higher self that is the one that is conscious. As Sartre puts it, consciousness is a primary feature of our experience and the self is built later.

For Doug, we should consider an animal conscious only insofar as it’s built up this kind of self-symbol. So consciousness will be a matter of degree: One of the points of phenomenology Doug dwells on is how we experience people who have died. If you know someone really well, have a really developed sense of them, then you can, in effect, shift your perceptions so you’re thinking about the contents of your experience as you think they would. You know what they like, how they judge things, how they react, and the more you’re around them, the more you “absorb” them, the more you yourself not only might come to be like them altering your own self-structurebut moreover and even in the absence of your actually changing your self-structureyou find yourself able to shift gears and in a sense be that person, albeit the low-res version.

Douglas Hofstadter’s “I Am a Strange Loop” on the Self

By getting building up someone else’s self symbol, you get the “what it’s like to be” them part of it, i. And given the arguments from Parfit against robust personal identity, qualitative identity is all there really is. To stragne a self, according to this theory, is to have a set of knowledge about yourself, including the way you experience things, and then to have new experiences through those eyes, so to speak. What a personality is is a set of habits: If you’re teleported, your body at its original position being destroyed and then reconstituted at another location, with all the physical and memory details intact, most of us have the intuition that this describes the stramge person being moved.


Certainly the stranhe person would claim to the be same as the starting person, and with all the evidence on his side.

However, what if the original weren’t destroyed, and so we end up with two people, with all the same physical and mental characteristics. According to Doug, these would BOTH be the same person, at least at that moment before the two of them start having divergent experiences.

So the personality is portable: If it seems obvious that what I have is just a copy of you, then think about what the teleported has in relation to the starting dude, or for that matter what you have now in relation to what you had 10 years ago.

You switch out physical matter over time, but are called the “same person” not only for social reasons you look the samebut because we feel the same.

Doug was the dissertation adviser of David Chalmersand the book is in part a response to Dave’s The Conscious Mind which I discussed with the philosophy of mind Not School group; you can hear part of that here.

He doesn’t seem to buy what I take to be Chalmers’s claim that the non-scrutability of the mental from the physical is different than making a metaphysical claim about the difference between mind and body. Chalmers argues that given that the laws of nature are how they are, two identical physical systems will have the same consciousness or lack thereof.

Chalmers and Doug on that, and that this correlation is not belied by the fact that as a practical matter, one can’t translate mental talk into physical talk; they’re both functionalists that think that the essence of what determines consciousness is a pattern of elements, which could then theoretically play out on different hardware systems, so we could get AI, or maybe save someone’s consciousness to a computer and have them live on that way, or similar things.

For Chalmers, though, the correlation between the functional arrangement and consciousness still leaves something unexplained: The correlation itself would remain a mystery, and he characterizes that by saying that we can imagine, if the laws of nature were different, that you could have the functional arrangement and not have consciousness: Doug has no patience with this kind of hypothetical; it would leave room for a parallel world David Chalmers, arguing for the irreducibility of consciousness while still, himself, not being conscious as all.

Admitting that this is even a logical possibility is in essence denying the procedures that we use, right now, to determine that other people around us are conscious. I don’t feel like Doug has done justice to Chalmers’s position here, and I don’t entirely buy Doug’s idea that the phenomenal is sufficiently explained by the self-symbol.

A Critical Review of Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop | Adam Westra –

It may well be that growth in the self-symbol correlates to increased consciousness this seems a very plausible and highly useful result of this bookbut I also buy Chalmers’s charge that unless you’ve explained consciousness in the first place, then pointing to self-consciousness is not going to solve the problem.

This “higher order theory” of consciousness seemed to me as of our philosophy of mind episode to be the best bet to explain consciousness, but now Wes and Chalmers have just about convinced me otherwise. Putting aside the question of consciousness, though, I like Doug’s picture of the self as built in this semi-public way, which leaves it an open question how much of the matter of the self gets filled in by how other people treat us per Hegelwhat we figure out ourselves like during Lacan’s mirror stage, or Ayn Rand, who I’m reading now in preparation for a future episode, is all about this to a pretty silly degreeand what comes to us second-hand through the terms of our language itself the bulk of Lacan’s account.

I think, actually, Doug’s picture defuses some of these conflicts we see in Lacan and Sartre over self-deception.


True, I could douglaa course think something like “I’m a great tennis player,” and so thinking that would be part of my self-symbol even while I actually suck at tennis, but something like Sartre’s concern about playing at being a waiter becomes not so pressing. By actually having the job of being a waiter day after day, I either acquire certain habits or I don’t, and if I’m thinking about philosophy the whole time I’m zooming around with trays, then those habits will stick with me too. The self-symbol is not just a self-conception, not an ego-image, but it is actually what hofstadtfr self is.

I may not understand myself, and for all of these thinkers you as an observer may understand me better than I do myself, but such self-deception doesn’t seem entailed by the self-symbol idea itself.

While bad faith represents the prime ethical upshot of Sartre’s view, for Doug, the ethical comes in this ability to take in others’ selves: This theme is not the focus of the book, and could certainly use more development. For instance, even if I gain such a self-symbol and thus sympathy for many individuals, we’d have to say how and if this would play out into a sympathy hofstadtr humanity as a whole. Certainly my sympathy with and compassion for couglas suffering animal doesn’t mean I have a developed symbol for that particular animal.

Stranhe also had some issues with how this in Doug’s view played out in the aesthetic realm. For instance, he characterized Bach as large-soul music that only the large-souled can really understand and vibrate with. But it’s very clear that Doug has no tolerance for rock n’ roll of whatever brainy, emotionally developed variety. By his own theory, I think, this inability to sync with hofstsdter just some particular objectionable individuals one shouldn’t necessarily be going around trying to sync with serial killers but with a whole, quite prominent form of life, should point out some limitation in his soulfulness, starnge that he’s transcended such things or otherwise locked himself off from them by his sympathy with Bach.

Overall, the book, hofstadterr his more famous one, moves slowly but pleasantly, and to me reads like an introductory primer to a position than then needs more rigorous, systematic, and footnoted treatment in a more traditionally academic paper, which I of course would then probably not get around to reading.

I Am a Strange Loop

It’s fun and thought-provoking, and not dumbed down so as to leave out what appear to be the detailed limits of Doug’s thoughts on the subject. This really struck a chord with me. Not only do I find myself viewing an experience in the way I think members of my family might, but after reading a particular author enough I find myself speaking in sentences that sound like that author.

Likewise, if I listen to enough of a podcast, I find myself being able to think hofxtadter the people on the podcast. Often I find myself mulling something over and then realize that I sound like Seth. Surround yourself eouglas assholes and you might start seeing the world like an asshole. Hofstadter has a new book due out at the end of April after several postponements on Amazon: The subtitle of the new book indicates that it develops the the theme of his earlier essay ; on thought as analogy.

Thanks for alerting me to its publication. Your comments on Hofstadter and Bach vs.

Nick Mount say about T. Eliot in a lecture today. I think this is true. Hofstadter strikes me as an emergentist thinker more than a strict materialist, panpsychist, or dualist. Take for example the work of Terrence Deacon, e. The Symbolic Species and Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerges from Matter. Deacon is an anthropologist and neurologist at UC Berkeley. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Leave a Reply Cancel reply Your email address will not be published.

About The Partially Examined Life The Partially Examined Life is a philosophy podcast by some guys hofstadger were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it. Each episode, we pick a text and chat about it with some balance between insight and flippancy. Hofstatder a PEL Citizen! PEL Citizens also have free access to podcast transcripts, guided readings, episode guides, PEL music, and other citizen-exclusive material.

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