Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop - Session 2 [Cosmos Café 2022-03-03]


Book Description

Deep down, your brain is a chaotic seething soup of particles. On a higher level, it is a jungle of neurons, and on a yet higher level, it is a network of abstractions that we call “symbols.” The most central and complex symbol you call “I”. An “I” is a strange loop where the brain’s symbolic and physical levels feedback into each other and flip causality upside down so that symbols seem to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.

For each human being, this “I” seems to be the realest thing in the world. But how can such a mysterious abstraction be real–or is our “I” merely a convenient fiction? Does an “I” exert genuine power over the particles in our brain, or is it helplessly pushed around by the all-powerful laws of physics? These are the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas R. Hofstadter’s first book-length journey into philosophy since Godel, Escher, Bach. Compulsively readable and endlessly thought-provoking, this is the book Hofstadter’s many readers have long been waiting for."

Reading / Watching / Listening

I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter.epub (2.1 MB)

Session 2: Chapters 5-9

Seed Questions

  • Q1: In our pursuit to convey meaning, when do we acknowledge our current use of language is not enough?
  • Q2: When reminiscing on your “I”, how many distinct selves can you remember?
  • Q3: Which things that I perceive are the most real of all to me?
  • Q4: How do you represent “I” beyond thought & feeling?
  • Q5: Can “I” be categorised?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

  • Other relevant links or topics, e.g., leading up to this talk
  • Links to additional reading, viewing, listening

"Whatever aspect we wish to understand the rational faculty through, in Book 1, Chapter 1, of the Discourses, Epictetus points out that, unlike other faculties or capacities, it is reflexive - that is, it applies to itself, not only by being self-contemplating but even by taking positions of value upon itself. It also, in some sense, calls the shots for all of the other faculties, capacities, or skills of the human being. It is the highest part of a human person, really the core of who one is. "

An excerpt taken from " What Epictetus Really Thinks Is in Our Power" [2017] by Greg Sadler


The word is falling apart and coming together all at once, and simultaneously, like Marshall McLuhan’s vortexes and maelstroms.

I am in a Flow State of Looping in Different In- Betweens?


The more aware I become of the complexity, the more people I learn of who experience the same level of complexity. Which can be said to be serendipitous and universal for the experiencer but not for all. Between abstraction & matter… we exist.

I enclose a snippet (approx 6 mins) from a recent podcast for the Metamodern Spirituality platform; Brian Dempsey discusses Process Philosophy with Matt Segall:

A great introduction to the hard problem of consciousness, “I” as experiencer and the Metanarrative. This section is intended to end at 15:08, but the remaining podcast may be of interest to some of you.


Thank you for posting this, it’s mesmerizing! A wonderful resource to share with friends exploring related aspects of this topic-domain.


I quite enjoyed the last few chapters of this text we’re reading together, and am looking forward to the next talk! Hofsteder’s bypassing, or at best hand waving, of the ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness, was a stone in my shoe that I just couldn’t ignore (even though I wanted to) for the first few chapters. Now, my attention has been captured by the paradoxical, playful, and down right fascinating nature of these self referencing systems we are exploring. The stone is no longer a burning distraction! Besides, my Dad told me about an eccentric podiatrist he knows from work that believes putting a couple stones in your shoe can be beneficial for problems with the foot, as they break up the artificial uniformity of our super soft, super smooth, foot cushions.

Reading this book is continually bringing up many things from my childhood. I forgot how much of a loopy kid I was. Last session I mentioned a bit about the philosophical endeavours I would get tangled in as a kid of 5 or 6. I would think about thinking, (at the time I equated thinking with consciousness) and conclude due to this self referential nature that consciousness must be some kind of loop. Upon further meditation on this book, I am remembering some probably even earlier proto-hofstadter type adventures.

At an age no older than 5 I would often try to create perpetual motion machines, having no idea about physics or ‘perpetual motion’. There are three that I can remember vividly (I’ve attached a diagram to illustrate these humorous attempts). The first was a car built of lego (actually it was connex which is the stick version of lego). After observing the force between two magnet’s opposing poles, I thought that I could house this opposition on board a car and it would, in turn, move the car. Another attempt was an infinite river. I noticed that when I dug a moat in my sandbox, and gave it some slope, the water I poured from my bucket would rush down. I thought, maybe I will dig this moat around and loop it to the top of the little mound. Of course, I thought there would be enough momentum to reach the top of the mound again and the water would run around forever. Getting bolder, I thought of an embodied way to try out my self propelling drive. I noticed that if I placed a skipping rope under my feet and pulled up, I could feel an upward force. It felt obvious that this would never get me off the ground, but for some reason I thought; If I just jumped down the flight of 3 stairs in my backyard, it would allow for this force to keep me off the ground, and I would hover. How my parents didn’t erupt into laughter, I don’t know. Maybe they did, but I was too caught in my own loop to notice.

Despite being a fairly philosophical kid, I have an intuition that I was not the only one trying to create these types of self propelling objects as a small child. Where would a kid get such an idea? As Hofstader points out, we feel as though we can generate our will from nothing but our will itself. We feel ourselves to be a force in itself. It seems to me that I was trying to externalize this innate feeling within me. I’m interested, do any of you have similar experiences, be it from your own childhood, or observation? This has also got me thinking much about the archetype of self-creation, that’s at the core of my metaphysical pondering.

Or as Spinoza states in his first Definition in Ethics: “By cause of itself I understand that whose essence involves existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing”


Michael, listening to Liminality talk right now, finding it so deeply relevent to our human dilemma, personal and planetary, no emerging realms untouched by the co-optive forces of the old order, desperate to stave off its own dissolution/(death. *And…lucky me, I was once an in-person student of Gloria Anzaldua in Santa Cruz: we were on the beach one day, creating a Being (goddess) made of sand, seaweed, driftwood, shells, of improv singing and movement…all of this as a way of “resting” from long hours of writing/reading… sometime I’d like to talk about her and those two weeks that felt like two years!)

I love the way Anzaldua urges us to see ourselves as “assistants” in relation to this stormy navigation through the liminal strait, the interregnum, Coyolxuahqui 's spiral passage.


I am All Ears


In 1961, at the age of eight, I saw Jeffrey Hunter, play Jesus in the movie King of Kings The next day, I built a large cross with lumber that I found in the back yard. I went to the edge of the block where I lived and wearing a sheet, which I draped around my body, I walked with cross upon shoulder, all the way down the street, to my backyard and leaned it against a clothes line pole, and proceeded to climb up the the cross, and re-experienced the agony and the ecstasy. I can remember people watching me but no one mocked me. I guess they thought I was a queer child as indeed I was.

Decades later, during the AIDS epidemic, I had a series of de-stabilizing visions. One of them was a dream about the dreaming process and the fluid nature of the Imaginal Body. In the dreamstate I was in my backyard again as a young person. I heard a voice talk to me about the Isis and Osiris myth…and then I started to lift off the ground and became fully lucid. As I floated upwards, I looked down upon the suburb, the City, the State, the Nation, the Continent and then the Planet Earth as I moved towards a giant cloud of golden light. I was at the boundary of the golden light and the Imaginal Body.

The Body became a conduit through which a tremendous ecstatic force poured through me. The energy used my body as a conduit to refresh all Earth-Bodies.Then I descended back down slowly, floating, taking the shape of a young person again and ended upon a Cross. I called out." Mama! Mama! I had a vision!" My mother appeared at the kitchen door, wiping her hands on a towel. “It wasn’t just imagination. It was like a vision that ancient mystics have had through out the ages.” While I tried to speak I was overwhelmed by ecstasy. She looked stressed out.

" That sounds awful." She said, with disdain." Now it’s time for you to come inside and do your homework." I slowly awoke to my physical body in bed in my thirty something adult body, holding an awareness of all of these mystic rivers that flow through my sensorium at many different versions of Self, some old , some young, and some quite ancient.

The Imaginal Body has been an obsession of mine since an early age and it wasn’t until fairly recently that I have been able to articulate what this obsession comes from. The Journal published this story, which explores the strange loops, parodoxes and impasses of modern story tellers and mythmakers.


Which things that I perceive are the most real of all to me?

What is the function of play in the formation of reality?


I never skateboarded but your stories brought to mind a time when a friend and I were speaking with another classmate. This boy said he was a pro on the skateboard and could do any trick, easily performing the ollie and other challenging tricks. My friend told him that he probably had never tried the olly olly oxen free. We told him that it is an ollie that keeps going up by pressing back and forth on opposites of the board, lifting the board ever higher into the air. One of your “self propelling objects.” Clearly physically impossible, the boy confirmed that he had tried this and this too was easy. My friend drew an image much like one of yours with the board going back and forth higher into the air.

This short video explains the physics of an ollie. I like that the narrator says the ollie seems mystical to the uninitiated. I am reminded of what was discussed in session one in which Hofstadter explains the physical aspects of the brain and its workings, from the basic physical forces up to the “macroscopic forces.” He states all can be reduced to these four basic forces. Or when cinema was brought forth and the oncoming train or the shower scene murder gives rise to real emotional response. Voodoo has killed people. The placebo effect and prayer has saved many lives. Hofstadter and others would reduce this to the power of our beliefs; he might say that the fear and death arise from a complex weaving of the four forces into some impenetrable macroscopic force. My stance is that no matter where you place yourself on the spectrum of belief, if it produces results then have at it (along with a healthy dose of the golden rule).

I like your idea of the archetype of self-creation.

What happens when we reclaim our childhood mystical experiences? What self are we when memories resurface as we live in real time with new images and imaginings forming new memories? What happens when we tell our stories, these intimate subjective stories, and the other hears? Intersubjective realities are often objective realities in the imaginal realm. It is all around us ripe for the picking.


Unable to attend today,will be listening to a Playful Conversation


Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago, which I was inspired to revisit and spruce up a bit by our reading of I AM A STRANGE LOOP, and submit for publication in our imminent newsletter.

I find it especially interesting, since I for the past few years I have been writing a book of poetry called I AM THE SINGULARITY, and it occurred to me that the poem, “I AM THE SINGULARITY” is in fact a personal re-enactment of a strange loop.

Indeed, one could say that I AM THE SINGULARITY… IS A STRANGE LOOP—and that I (the poetic I) am both “the Singularity” and “a Strange Loop,” and one could loop through the linguistic possibilities in various ways.

Is Hofstadter inviting us to identify with the I that is a strange loop? And what does it mean to be “the Singularity”? Not just any singularity, but THE one being referred to. That may be a question for another time.

Inquiring minds are looking forward to the Café today to learn more…


A Delightful Kinesthetic sharing of Thinking (Dancing) within this Cafe’
of I am a Strange Loop. The Movement between & among the different
positions of (I)ndividuals & the Author was like a Seven Course Meal!
Thank You One & All , I enjoyed Listening to the Voices & the Breaking of Bread,the Fluidity of Expression!

Thinking Body-Dancing Mind


Hoping to find the right time, Michael! And

speaking of time, are we Labys meeting tomorrow Saturday?
(some confusion around SYIOD meeting dates in Metapsychosis jounal)
Cannot stay online much longer to find out.
I have it down in my calendar to meet at usual time tomorrow
how about you?


I will be unable to be there,meeting with some friends tomorrow
morning…Will miss Labys,next time for sure…

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“I” find this piece about the “Sense of Self” that this book
brings to our attention very interesting in a “Para” position?


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I like this, Michael. Remember our work using Clean Space with the Gebser Structures? I think that out of those para-dimensions that we explored through the body and with the zoom camera as a “remembered third” a new kind of performer will develop. A performer that is aware of herself as a performer-audience. We are moving out of TV and theater into something new in these zoom calls and we are developing a new kind of technique where perceptual learners like ourselves can evolve new organs of perception. An impossible dream is becoming real without getting caught in the tic-tac-toe 3D grid. I hope we can draw upon those para/meta experiences during this next phase of recursive participation. We convert the Self that defends by fight/ flee into a flowering Chi. I wonder what it was like for you when you saw me using your gesture in relationship with Lisa’s gesture? You may recall that you said you were interested in the Third. When you I saw that in the video I realized that we were resonating with a deeper structure. The same resonance occurred when we worked in the triad with Seth. All of this work is holding us in a together through the trials and tribulations of one of the worst of times. I feel that we are making a transition as we move through the junk yard of our western civilzation as it comes apart. We are creating conditions for what happens next.


Thanks John for the Resonance with your sharing, (this particular “I” with a “Ego” with a Survival function )…I am not sure if I remember your reference to my gestures & Lisa’s, please send me the reference?
I can say that my work with U around all this helped me find confidence & Get Back a Sense of
Play with the Unique Identity Named Michael…& especially within a/the Group of Other Identities.


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