“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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You can read four articles free per month. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please. Today, more than two thousand years after Heraclitus wrote those words, science has shrunk the boundaries of the soul considerably. As the brain goes, so goes the hofsstadter, they say. This leads him to some very fruitful ways of looking at consciousness.

I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter | Issue 78 | Philosophy Now

Certainly there is a world of difference between the Old Master himself and a folio of his sheet music lying waiting to be played.

Poetically speaking, Bach, Mozart, Shakespeare, Plato, Socrates and our loved ones can live on through us insofar as we can see the world through their eyes.

Immortality by proxy may not be what most of us have in mind when we think about life after death, but it seems to me Hofstadter is on to something very profound. Hofstadter subscribes to the concept known as the narrative self: We are all like Scheherazade, hosftadter queen narrating the Arabian Nightswho postponed her execution by seducing the king with one fantastic tale after another.

Yet who — or what — is doing this storytelling? For instance, we experience an object — we see a flower, for example — which causes a pattern of neuronal firings douglzs symbolize or represent the external object. Our concepts are built up this way: Our enormous craniums each contain a hundred million neurons, with each individual neuron making thousands of potential connections, making our horstadter the most complex information processors in the known universe. Moreover, the concepts we can create steange infinitely extensible — meaning, we can pile concept upon concept to generate ever increasing levels of generalization and abstraction.

The individual leopard belongs to the genus felinepart of the category mammalwhich falls under the heading life-formwhich is itself subsumed in the more encompassing class of being. Concepts are also extensible in that we can map analogies between seemingly dissimilar concepts.


For example, one might say that writing an original philosophical article is a lot like trying to cut a trail through the jungle: No two concepts could seem more dissimilar on the surface as writing philosophy and trailing through the jungle.

Yet thanks to the infinite extensibility of concepts we perpetually manage to make useful comparisons between seemingly disparate ideas. Hofstadter argues that the psychological self arises out of a similar kind of paradox. A perspective a mind is therefore a consequence of a unique pattern of symbolic activity hofxtadter our nervous systems.

I Am a Strange Loop

That is, if their logical activity was organized in an equivalent way, silicon chips could support consciousness just as neurons do. Hofstadter also believes that the pattern of symbolic activity that makes me who I am, that constitutes my specific subjectivity, can be instantiated within the brains of others. This notion may seem far out at first, but I believe Hofstadter is onto something.

As he observes, each of us is a more than just a self; we are a collection of selves. These patterns of symbolic activity have a certain degree of autonomy in so far as they really do simulate the perspective of our significant others. Hofstadter contends that if we have lived and loved someone long and deeply enough, our symbol models will come to mirror their perspective ever more closely.

We will essentially be able to see the world through their eyes. Hofstadter acknowledges that the simulated subjectivity of another in us will not be as robust as the subjectivity that arises in the cranium of its owner.

The Cartesian prison of isolated and monadic selves is demolished, in favor of selves that are deeply enriched and entwined by their relationships to other points of view. Hofstadter is a natural phenomenologist and a first rate scientist a pretty good combination, by the way. Yet his forays into the philosophical implications of his ideas, though often provocative, are the most frustrating part of his book. For instance, he argues that concepts like free will make no sense in terms of scientific explanations of matter at the most fundamental level.


Yet Hofstadter readily acknowledges that when we shift our attention to the macroscopic everyday world, invoking free will or the intention of an agent is frequently the most expeditious and justified way of arriving at an explanation of the behavior in question. To understand this, Hofstadter asks us to consider two very different levels at which we might view the Mona Lisa:. Which is more real? There are several problems here, however. If the self is a narrative fiction, then how does it pull the levers which initiate free action?

How does a hypothetical construct exercise causal powers? Second, when push comes to shove, Hofstadter, dyed in the wool scientist that he is, opts for the lawful, deterministic, and in principle entirely predictable universe of matter and physical forces as the most appropriate candidate for Ultimate Reality.

When you get down to it, as far as Hofstadter is concerned, the self is the Ultimate Illusion hofstater or even a hallucination, as he puts it. Hofstadter is certainly right in exorcising the ghosts of Cartesian dualism. The self is not, and cannot be, some indivisible, indissoluble and immaterial phantom that nonetheless inhabits the physical body. He is also correct in expanding the frontiers of the soul, I believe — in illustrating how the phenomenon of subjectivity is much more open-ended, permeable and relational than we imagined.

When we lool our perspective with a receptive other, we are implanting a part of our self in rouglas other, and vice versa. We can live in others, just as others can live in us. The boundaries of our souls are indeed beyond dougkas measure.

He is working on a book exploring the philosophical dimensions of the music of the band Yes. This site uses cookies to recognize users and allow us to analyse site usage. By continuing to browse the site with cookies enabled in your browser, you douglqs to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.