Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop - Session 3 [Cosmos Café 2022-03-17]

Café (time springs forward)

Café (time stands still)


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 3: Chapters 10-15

Seed Questions

  • Q1: Is “I” an inherently logical creature?
  • Q2: Does “I” want one slice or two slices of cake?
  • Q3: How does “I” handle symbolic representational meaning?
  • Q4: Can “I” conceive of a world without itself?
  • Q5: When “I” encounters feedback, does it create a new “I”?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

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

The answer is yes. When " I " encounters feedback a new entity is formed when the feedback is structured through a triadic process. There would be a second and a third co-arising, as demonstrated in John’s performance of the Relational Circuit in our last zoom call. The second and the third would complete a relational circuit from which new firsts (" I" ) can be created. The First " I " is contained by You and We. This is a stranger loop than Hofstader develops but I sense there can be lots of updates as these models are contrasted and comparared. We could perhaps move towards a Third Order AI which focuses on Embodied Cognition rather than get lost in a first order, physicalist, capitalist, Cartesian, brain in vat. A Relational Circuit would be heterarachic formation rather than heirarchic. We can go meta and para and without words. We can then use language to model rather than to define and re-define words from within a vocabulary constrained by a 3D dictionary. (This favors the analogical which is where Hofstader is most convincing.) Every one would get a chance to embody all three positions ( 1-2-3 and a return to 1). The inbetween Imaginal Body is also necessery for the Triad to work. And when the Triad works, what happens to the Tetrad? We can go beyond without going outside of the system. An Immanent Transcendence!

Thanks for the meta-questions, Ewere, and I look forward to delving more deeply into the Hofstader materials as we tune into the commune. Meta-modeling is a performance art. Good show everyone!


At this point, I think we begin to enter into Wittgenstein paradoxes; how would one distinguish one identification of “I” from another? How great or substantial would the feedback need to be?

  • My thinking would be simular to distinguishing the colour blue from the colour green.

Your response reminds me of the Ship of Theseus; a large wooden ship is repaired regularly, the wooden panels rot with time and exposure, and are replaced with new panels to keep the whole ship seaworthy. Would the new entity be the same as the original?

This may be a stretch, as the ship & the person are changing in differing ways. The ship is rebuilt, fibre by fibre, like an augmented being with a pacemaker or prosthetic. Whereas the “I” exists cumulative of the experiences, all the feedbacks, reflections and insights build to a term I keep noticing recently… Prehension; that which comes before action, intuition or judgement.


Yes and no.

The physical ship is in fact “replaced”, but it is still the Theseus, is it not? We humans (and I guess all living creatures) replace all the cells in our bodies with new ones every seven years or so (a rhythm that has, unfortunately, fallen into forgetfulness in our modernity), but we are still the same person. The ship is the ship, even if the ship doesn’t know it, and we are still whoever we are, but “know” we are.


Hmmm… thank you for your contribution. I’m curious if we both believe the ship is still the ship, at which point would we agree its identity had become different?

  • Change of use/purpose?
  • Change of name?
  • Change of acknowledgement?

So the Ship is the Ship in the Storm/Day to Day of Change and is Changing as the Ship also/with/in the Dynamic of Stillness - Movement?


As long as I am replacing worn-out, no-longer-suitable pieces of the ship, the purpose and use of the ship will most likely remain constant. Let us say it is a transport ship: whether we transport apples or widgets or people, I would say it’s still the same ship. Perhaps we will modify it internally in order to make it more amenable to transporting widgets or construct cabins to house the people, though farther reaching, it is still the same ship. If we wanted to make it into, say, a battleship, then we would most likely be required to alter it structurally in very significant ways, at which point I would start thinking about it not being itself anymore.

It is still the same ship, but it is now simply being called something different. A rose by any other name …

This is a bit tricky for me, as I’m not quite clear on what “acknowledgement” means in this context, but based on my current understanding of the term, I’d say, no, it’s still the same ship.

Hope these responses are along the lines you were thinking.


I think the Dynamic of Stillness would relate to our human ability to sense or sense alignment, I’m not sure the ship could compete in this activity.


I agree, but you demonstrate the social nature of the confirmation of change.

Not the name, not the new planks, new features, it was not until another acknowledged the ship as other that it would become other.

We can define ourselves anew, but the need for the other’s acknowledgement of this change would make it so.

We are locked into this premise, making social conformity a paradox none can escape.


I respond through analogy. A human male usually awakens towards morning with an erection. This is not a sexual urge but is the organisms way of signalling to the Imaginal Body ( the inbetween) to return to the waking 3d orientation. If this did not occur we would be wandering around in the liminal zone without a capacity for working with the rough edges of a 3d orientation. What we were working upon in our Imaginal body during the last integrative phase of sleep would not be integrated into the biosocial networks we rely upon to deliver, recieve and conduct feedback forward. Alarm clocks are dangerous for your health. This technology interupt this delicate feedback, creating conditions for distortions and depression in the person. So many people wake up exhausted in our running upon faster treadmill existence.

I aadapt a psycho-cybernetic model which overlaps with models of the Imaginal Realm. We are complex beings, sensitive to the ratios between senses, both the physical five we rely on in physical bodies ( me-here, you-there) and the non-physical senses that are oriented to different ratios and tempos, some of which, we have no language for in our 3d networks. The erection is perhaps a symbol, a symbol for a unique configuration, just like finger prints or different shades of green among a different blades of grass.

So, you asked me about the abstracted third and if it is objective or subjective. I asked that we pause on your question as it is a definitional question and would require more attention than the zoom call could allow for. I said," I can demonstrate what I mean." And later in the zoom call, I re-represented in gestures and movements, what I meant. ( this is very Wittgenstienian) What cannot be said can be danced… This points to the richness of the analogue compared to the digital. An ojectivist third such as the materialists, like Hofastader and Dennet, are enchanted by, leaves out what most of us require ( including them) to make the measurements they claim are objective. Objective in the absolute sense could never be knowable by anyone as someone has to have a capacity of recording and sharing an observation. Every observation is made by someone. Everything that is said is said to someone ( even when they are absent). Language is not a private language. No one created it and yet we can use it in creative ways or destructive ways.

Peirce is called an objective idealist and he sings an idealist tune in a different key from Bernardo or Federico Faggin. As we, who are about to be aborted by Mother Nature ( I never got along with my biological mother) I would hope we can use our gifts to come up with some better metaphors for Self/World/ Others. I think Ludwig was doing some of this heavy intellectual lifting in the last century. He did not know Peirce but he did know and admire his close friend, William James. All of this is very rich intellectual history that we can draw upon. We can borrow from all of them.

You observed in one of your comments that these threads have a life of thier own. That is an accurate observation that is made by someone ( Ewere) to others ( we) and so around the relational circuit we go and where we stop nobody knows. Most important for me, in these threads between zoom calls, is that we create a sense of collaborative flow.

And so, Ewere, thanks for your willingness to shape this flow state. I will sit back and watch your firsts, seconds, and thirds. The third that is abstracted is like a boy contained by a mother, who came out of a grand mother/grandfather. This would be an example ( just made it up) of what thirding is about. If we learned to live without alarm clocks waking us up before we are ready, then we could begin to register the subtle effects of our nocturnal worlds. The last frontier is not outer space. The last frontier is sleep.


And thank you @johnnydavis54 for your contribution.

You force me to face my “I” and the philosophy by which I choose to exist. My concern with subjective/objective stems from a linguistic fallacy at play in society. Suppose I define a category, label, or aspect vital to your existence. In that case, it automatically becomes objective as you have never experienced it, many others have (assuringly), but you have not; it requires you to pay homage or allegiance to it.

Still, it is not a part of your experience. It is a part of the subjective other’s projection of belief unless empirically validated. Clarification of the perspective or challenge is always warranted, or we fall into another’s premise of belief for existence.

The capacity for us to flourish is a sentiment favoured in Stoicism (a wisdom practice I’m well versed in). The Stoics taught three aspects that they believed led to the correct character to achieve some form of wisdom within their society; this included Ethics, Physics & Logic.

In the modern incarnation of Stoicism, they have disavowed Physics and reduced Logic to a reduced rationale for ethical behaviour. It was not until we read Langer, McLuhan and Hofstadter that I realised the view’s value from a physicist/analytical perspective; I would never state this should be your only view like scientism or reductionism. That level of rigidity of thought is detrimental, especially for any creative expression. I mean, even Nature cannot be accounted for at the level of Physics enquiry.


So for the moment can we bring a “Para” to this “Ethical Behavior”,since a come from for this " I" is “Feeling & Doing”
are separate in function and yet are connected in terms of (Unity within Diversity)Wholeness of Experience of Existence?


I agree with Hofstader that categories are packets of analogies that the makers of the categories forget about. Categories come and go, like phlogiston and the ether, and homosexuality as mental illness. Category, like all thought, rides piggy back on analogy, metaphor, and a body with a bias.

If we were in the same room together there would be no need to establish where the ceiling, walls, and floor were located. We could carry on our communication without much ado, taking for granted a tacit knowing, that two or more humans share as they come out of a similar ( not the same) neurology. There are some neurologically atypical persons for whom this is not true. It takes a few minutes for a room to settle down and for a sense of a shared background from which a tacit knowedge comes that the atypical person can communicate out of. There are some who have a condition called mirror touch. They can actually feel the pain of others directly. This is not empathy it is a visceral pain that is felt not from out there but from in here. When I was a body worker I could walk into a room look at my client and without a word touch where it hurt. I could feel it. I could successfully diagnose whether it was cancer or not. My intuitions were medically verified with x-rays and biopsies. I stopped doing that work because it created too much cognitive distance.

Boundaries between Self/Other are not obvious and conditioning by culture hardens these categories. There is no yardstick to measure most of our experience with. When it comes to consiousness and mind we have to use consciousness and mind to create the instruments of measurement. How can we do this objectively? Measuring mind is not like making a bow and arrow. Mind as relational circuit, rather than an equation, makes sense to me.

You acknowledged this, Ewere, in one of our calls and said," It would be difficult to measure these kinds of expressive experiences." I would say it is impossible. That doesn’t mean that all measurement is useless but an approximation at best. The tools we measure with are made by us, for us, as extensions of our senses, from which we put together cognitive blends which are patched together with intentions to prove something. And so I find the reductive move rather odd. Why reduce something as ephemeral as mind to something even more ephemeral such as matter? No one knows what matter is. How could Dennet and Hofstader not notice this?They end up in a naive realism. Evidently, they are in social space that confirms that accepts this bias but this is changing rapidly as the discourse events we are engaged in through our current digital social choreographies are radically altering our living arrangements and our perceptions of the Real.


Would para & ethical behaviour = para-social; The aspect of one’s ethical behaviour concerning the collective conscious well being. As this may bring a few of us peace, this reminds me of the critique of Maslow’s sixth step of actualisation by the Blackfoot tribe; ethical behaviour is the given as you grow within the shared communal space, not because you conform because it feels right for you.

If this felt right for your “I”, why would you act in any other way? Feedback or resistance?


As with everything, we have precedent for acknowledging the pitfall of adherence to another’s belief. You mentioned when Homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and we also have a condition called Drapetomania which I use to hold psychiatry in criticism even now. Another’s category of belief can be your prison if only we believe hard enough.

With regards to Hofstadter, I’m still unsure he is a materialist.

Has he offered us a psychists framework to measure (probabilistically) “I” within; yes.

Does that make your “I” matter based; I’m still undecided.

At this point, your “I” is as much abstracted as your view of the sunset, we all saw it, and we all saw it happen differently.


Maybe because the Collective /Community needs some
Freshness that challenge a Borg mentality…which by the way also
happens within the Individual as a result of the particular
Group…a Paradox of the One/Many(whether its a individual
or group…isn’t this the problem at Present in the world!!!
Is there a Third option to this? This is what I am working with…
Moving off the stuckness of Binary Thinking,which doesn’t
Mean leaving it behind…of grounding in a less Reductiionist
Pit of Hell?


Please read the article; it has the explanation you’re seeking.


Thank U ,I still Feel something is being left out in a very concrete way.And to be Honest I am having difficult skillfulness to express it.


This is one of a wide variety of societal-organizational approaches that Graeber & Wengrow reflect upon in their The Dawn of Everything. What is striking is just how widespread socially (as opposed to individually) oriented organization appears to have been before we Westerners “discovered” individuality and started idolizing it. A similar approach, however, is found underlying (moreso in their esoteric than exoteric expressions) many religio-spiritual traditions.

This is, of course, not a cut-and-dried matter: anyone who grew up in, say, more rural compared to urban environments most likely experienced more situations of this nature as recently as half-a-century ago. It is strikingly evident here in Germany, for example, how much this has been expunged over that stretch of time and how individualistic thinking here has become.

We haven’t done ourselves any favors.


Elon Musk would whole-heartedly agree with Third Order AI, Embodied Cognition, heterarchic formation and “without words” . . . and he also is getting lost in the brain in the vat and capital gain (brain implants and VR contact lens with telepathic technology; FalconHeavy roadster launch; etc.). Maybe he is more anarchic (see the GameStop stock games he played last year) and wouldn’t mind seeing the hierarchy tumble. His “we” would be a strange loop of a “me” . . . he often fights with the little “i” at the expense of the larger “we”. His transcendence is the exponential AI “I” that doesn’t quite grasp immanence.

(I seem to navigate around many popular culture references at the moment, so bear with me)

Your response reminds me of this:

And this:

Just to keep going with Musk: imagine our body is replaced piece by piece. Skin becomes enviro-resistant material that prevents infection and disease; brain has slices removed and replaced with implants, altering our thinking or allowing for telepathic communication; organs and other parts removed one-by-one and replaced with a mechanical lung, artificial heart, bionic knee.

I never watched The Six-Million Dollar Man. An astronaut in a severe accident has parts replaced with the latest technology, making him super powerful. The show seems to be based in masculine fantasy (essentially James Bond but with technology inside rather than outside). But this guy still runs around as himself rather than a terminator-type character. There probably isn’t much philosophical reflection in the script.

Personally, I would remain myself as long as I still knew that I was myself. I could be like Joe Bonham in Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun stuck on a strange loop inside my thoughts, unaware of where I was or who was around me or what happened, but I still would remain me because I could think. Throughout the book, Joe has memories and dreams surface. In some ways he is completely himself, even able to communicate with the nurse with morse code through head movement. In other ways he is not himself. @Michael_Stumpf 's posted article on interoception is quite relevant to Joe’s condition. Having shit for a body, his mind feels like shit too; he wants to die. The one thing in present reality that would give him meaning, his request to be a reminder for others of the atrocity of war, is denied. I forget how the book ends, but I imagine it is not happily ever after, little chance for self-actualization. So now I conclude, I would not fully remain myself without my body.

If a brain implant altered my thinking just enough in which I could still reflect upon my previous modes of thinking, then I would realize that these thoughts are not mine. If the implant crossed that fine line, I would be unaware of the changes and assume that I was still myself. Or I would proceed into madness, battling with some voice in my head. It would not be too far off from pills or psychedelics. Musk’s implants would not eventually wear off and would never pass through our system.

Maybe the question to ask is how am I my best self? How are we our best selves?

I like Marco’s response on his recent post Landing Cosmos -

Let Cosmos be home many voices and many songs, and may all the songs, however discrete and distinctive, in the widest possible horizon, make one song, and may that one song sing to the limit-function of the universe, make zero howl and make the void weep! And may I open up the strange loop of my ears, and may the world open its meta-ears to hear your song, our collaborative songs, our secret joys and silent rages, our universal ideals made undefeated flesh, forged in realities bespeaking the unspeakable.