Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop - Session 4 [Cosmos Café 2022-03-31]

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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 4: Chapters 16-20

Seed Questions

  • Q1: How has suffering / trauma coloured your “I”?
  • Q2: How does “I” remember loved ones?
  • Q3: Is self or “I” transportable to another person?
  • Q4: How do you represent another person’s “I” in your mind?
  • Q5: If you acknowledge an “I” within, is it fluid or rigid?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

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

The Cybernetic Dream of the Twenty-First Century by Morris Berman (1986) (2.7 MB)


An interesting discussion on the Metamodern Spirituality podcast with Nish Dubashia.

This snippet is ten minutes in length ending at 49:50, some of you may find the whole conversation of interest.


After watching the video of our last session, I noted, ironically, that two different but overlapping configurations performed a theme and variations upon the strange loop of Hofstader’s “I”. As there was confusion about real time, there was a strange transition that occurred as the triadic first group ( Marco, Michael, Doug,) transitioned into the tetrad, ( Marco, Ewere, Ed, John). Our usual two hours turned into three hours. I watched the entire series of transmigrations that happened in the three hour video and made notes. I watched myself, performing within the group, on a video.In a sense “I” became the group watching itself, as a trans-individual . This is a logic of otherness.

This I/we/self/ world happened through a digital technology that re-orders sensory ratios. This becomes “ironic” because I presented a model of Triads with three diagrams which attempted to map the triadic loop of identity while using a tripod, three video tapes, and an image of a man. The map became a performance by the territory. But I didn’t know that then. I know it now and attempt to find words to liberate as I triangulate from the margins. But where is the boundary of the object?

The tech is a collection of tools that are intermediaries between bodies of the operators and the things that they decide to act upon ( keyboards, cameras, microphones, icons, etc). The humans think and feel and share a purpose. The machines do not think, feel or share a purpose. This is a belief shared by Hofstader, Turing and myself. Those who claim otherwise are in a mythic/magical domain. They have projected onto a machine capabilites that they do not have. They have created an idol. There is a very long history of such delusional confusion.

A social dream I had last night. I was playing soccer on a wide playing field. A bouncing ball came towards me and my body prepared to kick it but a strange tug held my right foot so that it didn’t move properly. My body in bed was lying on the left side. The right foot of the physical body ( asleep) moved beyond the boundary of the bed and kicked the stool next to the bed. The dream body and the physical body for a few seconds shared the same “I”. The body of the man in bed felt a pain in his shin. This communication between different kinds of body has a similar pattern as does the model of Peirce’s triads. These are different kinds of attentional stances to take upon different kinds of phenomena.

Description OR explanation? Description AND explanation? Neither description nor explanation? It depends upon what position ( not perspective) that one takes. That is why I consider Peirce to be pointing out features of our symbolic landscape that Gebser labeled a-perspectival. And positions have less baggage than perspectives to carry across dissociated boundaries. The “I” is a symbol of and for itself. And there is no definite there. And there is no definite is. I am a hyperobject, I contain multitudes. And without you I can neither speak nor think.

And what does this have to do with suffering/ trauma?

Have you built your ship of death? O have you? O build your ship of death for you will need it.


Body Surfing

Jesus Surfing

Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy Hardcover – November 18, 2014

by [Evan Thompson]( Evan Thompson: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

“Although some Illusions are constructions,not all constructions are
Illusions” Evan Thompson


Would this be personality over “I”?

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If we follow the progression of a Strange Loop, which we all could be:

We exist.

We engage with the world and learn of ourselves in Nature.
We define what we perceive to be accurate, connect to, and hold on to.
We suffer, become aware of what we are opposed to, let go of the trauma, and develop theories of meaning in existence.
We attribute theories of meaning to “I”, categories of importance to aspects “I” values, pattern recognition of the systems “I” inhabits.

At this point, I believe you have an Existential form of self.

A self-constructed “I” expressed into a myriad of systems, with many labels used to convey each aspect of your engagement within these systems and relations (intersectionality). Hofstadter does not take us beyond this point. He focuses on the reflective process “I” continues to undergo in a limited contextual space & time (finite).

We may note the additional attributes that make up our lives, relationships, environments, interests, passions, desires, enemies, weaknesses, etc. I think for Hofstadter, these attributes are there. Still, his theory relies prominently on the self-reflective capacity to allow “I” to come into Being with a significant level of complexity and the Nature by which it keeps itself manifest within these systems & relations.

I would claim that the manifestation of health conditions and mental health issues remove our “I” from these systems & relations. Our removal compounds our expression of depression and destresses we encounter when our “I” is unable to engage or communicate in a manner it would deem needed to sustain itself within those systems & relations.

Over the weekend, several other people have put forward their theories of consciousness in existence; some labelled it soul, mind, spirit, intellect, etc., all feature within an ecosystem. Some rely on the epigenetic, others on the epiphenomena; the issue I noticed is their example of “I” exists in a communal relationship with others, and we must teach (a new form of pedagogy) to the less fortunate on how to live with us (those already with an “I”).


“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso
Or the “I”,

a term that gives a “Sense of Orientation” ?!

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I’m not sure, Ewere, whether we agree or disagree. And it is okay as we may be in a holding pattern, that may split, divide, polarize, re-form and make sense briefly until the next wave of possibilites attracts attention. Probabilites, maybe. Predictabilites, very unlikely.

.I do not assume that I understand what you mean by personality (a noun) or what you mean by over ( a preposition). These are categories that may shift as we move from speech to writing. These two ways of organizing communication( analogue/digital) are not evenly distributed amongst us. I have to refer to dictionaries as I get older as I can no longer assume that others are using words the way I do. Words nor concepts sit still.

" I " without Other makes no sense to me and this is when I lose Hofstader’s signal as his way of identifying pattern is different from my own . If I am in a dream then there are others I communicate with. I have rarely had a dream in which I was alone although there is a great deal in a dream that is invisible. If I am in a waking state there are others I communicate with ( even when I am alone.) I can dance in the dark. Touch gives me much more grounding than sight or sound. I have never made love to anyone objectively. I have heard much about the male gaze but I find this perhaps a hetero cultural norm. Men with men are very attuned somatically and share silently across great hazards. We learned to read minds and gestures, tones, nods. The purpose of sex was never driven by pleasure. Coming out in my youth was a life/death struggle. If I made a mistake I ended up dead in a ditch. For many this is still true.

Because men with men share lots more testosterone we understand each other too well. Men with women are often complaining about miscommunications. As a therapist I noticed how different orientations bring forth different cultural worlds. It is not what you say but how you say it and also what you never say. Men with men have high sexual rapport but may experience other kinds of disconnects than hetero couples do. I have also worked with trans and lesbians with different kinds of attractors and resistances.

That is perhaps why when you say you have a representation of the other I feel kind of weird. I have no clear cut representations in my brain of the other. I have a sense of the touch of the other even at a distance and before anyone speaks. And after touch, the touch lives on, in the scent, in the breeze. This otherness is not to be compressed in a zip file and decoded by my brain . The search for an ultimate algorithm is alien to me.

And we can touch with our minds by developing certain ways of tuning into our sensoriums . We have more than five senses. Turing thought that the evidence for telepathy was pretty solid which would make a lot of current AI theory about consciousness as epihenomena quite bogus. At least incomplete.

Relationships with others who have loved me keeps me aware of an " I" as important to sustain those relationships. Without those relationships and the love there would be no self reflexive movement and no forward or backward or up or down. Relational ciruits such as I tried to diagram ( I don’t use power point and prefer old fashioned drawing on paper with a crayon as it catches original gesture which power point can’t) and I appreciate that I may appear vague. I appreciate the vague, the uncontained, the not quite here, yet. Subject and Object are not clear cut for me. Where do you make the cut? Who makes the cut? Over reliance on the use of the Internet can stunt our social intelligence as it skews our senses. There is plenty of evidence for this.

And why is the “I” always capitalized? And why is “you” never capitalized? I consider myself a consortium of intelligences. “i” as Other. “i” under, above, below, within, around, the Other.

What happens if “You” is capitalized and the " I " becomes “i”. Maybe one need not be" over" the other but with each other, side by side, facing an horizon. Or “i” could be under " You". This would be to operate withn a terrestrial biosemiotics for the " You" could become a lion, elephant, bird, amoeba. And having said that I also recognize the uncontained firstness that the artist, Virginia Woolf, sometimes finds herself alone with. Plotinus said something similar. Both of these brilliant persons seem to have found no containment in human relationships. Plotinus loathed the body and his was a journey of the alone to the Alone. Woolf drowned herself.

" We do not know our own souls, or the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest in each; a snow field where in the bird’s feet is unknown. Here we go alone, and like it better so. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable."-Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill.


I can elaborate:

“I” - a singular form or symbol used to reference a particular perspective with the capacity and agency to act on its behalf.

Personality - the “personal reality” of a persona; a construct of behavioural praxis, beliefs, compulsions, neurosis and aversions. The reasons’ to act in the way one is accustomed to. If you think of B.F Skinner’s work, this would be the lens through which he would see the individual.

Both can be considered illusionary, but our need for one or the other categorical vocabulary to make sense of ourselves in relation to others makes that difficult to avoid.


Agreed. And we both value agency. And illusionary and delusionary are close companions. The " I " has no stand alone existence, nor does the Other, in all her glory. So, agency is a by-product of what comes first. An agent among other agents. Baby in crib cries. Woman in white gown appears and nurses baby. She leave. Baby cries. She returns wearing makeup, earings, and a strong perfume and hums a song. Baby puts these fragments together, creates a pattern he later learns to call " Mama." And later he adds to his vocabulary. " I " love Mama. But I noticed watching my younger siblings as babies that they learned to kiss others before they learned to talk of love. And they crawled before they walked. The agent continues to develop in complexity throuh a wide range of cognitive and affective capacity.

My mother, at the age of ninety, in our last conversation, said," Get out you asshole." Okay. Illusion? Delusion? Trauma? Go figure.

Last night my younger brother, who died last year, came to me in a dream. I take his appearance in my dreams as real and living communication. Before he died he appeared in my dreams as did all of my family. Death is not the end of our relationship.

" The relation to the other is a relation of excess, surplus, an escape from objectifying thought, a release from the subject-object relation, making it impossible for the word to be the integral word."- Susan Petrilli


Does the baby have agency?

To me, the baby can’t have agency until they choose to do the act of their own volition. This can be equated to the choice to do the opposite.

The reason we encourage children is that they do not have complete autonomy, if you express a negative disposition to the child’s actions or curiousity, they will abandon the pursuit very quickly.


To me the baby has agency when he cries and some one appears. It may be a limited agency but it is agency. The " I" is a construct that only emerges later when the parents or caregivers recognize the child is ready for autonomy. That autonomy comes with privledges and rewards and responsiblities. Archaic, Magic, Mythic, Mental, Integral with lots of zig zags, regressions.

The movement in Piagetian terms is always from concrete, to abstract. High levels of cognition need not conform to high levels of moral or aesthetic development. I am not, however, a parent or a teacher and so agree to some terms but not sure of others. I have been with dying persons a lot and with those who lost the powers of speech. They still have a sense of agency even when the human infrastructure crumbles.

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I have been with the dying, too and think the loss of autonomy gives rise to the need and depends on others. I do not believe this is a bad aspect but illustrates the reduction to act on one’s behalf.

I can only talk from my experience; I acknowledge the capacity for the baby to become lost in the beliefs of caregivers for who/what the baby is and will be, an educational limitation for the ability the resolve issues on one’s behalf, the need for approval and acceptance socially.

At this point, is this agency or conformity?

To have agency can be listed as privileged, but without a striving to cultivate an “I” devoid of others can lead to a compromised state of Being, A chronic dependence on the others.


When I say the “I” is not stand alone and is construct I do not want to imply that the " I " is not real. I believe it definitely is and our relationship to the “I” and to the Other changes depending upon how bound one is to the family unit, to culture, to bio-rythms of others who can catch your vibe. I am not suggesting that the rule based, procedural, step by step, is not important, too. I think math, science, art, ethics are often rule governed. But great performers often know the rules and can break them creatively. A novice who doesn’t know the rules are not able to break them and produce effective results. I believe we are in a transdisciplinay transition as the older ways don’t work and the new ways have not become a practice, yet. That is why I encourage live zoom calls followed by these sometimes fragile writing assignments. Speech and writing can get us tangled up unless we try to refine the vocabulary we are using. I sense that we both are practicing how to share and protect differences even as we are open to something that we have no way of knowing, yet. That’s why metaphor, analogy, are so important. I think Hofstader would agree. And we sometimes get stuck in the arrested development of our leaders, teachers, parents, lovers.


Anything can be considered significant, as the need for discipline benefits your categorical development. For Hofstadter, in this case, if you acknowledge a review of the discipline, for your own sake, to understand the relation to oneself, behaviours or actions, this act can be recorded, stored and used to predict what you will need or do tomorrow.

A cumulative reading of these recordings and analyses offer themes & narratives that speak to the “I”'s abstracted self.

Beyond this aspect, the rest would be up to our individual “I”.


It depends. Accidents, floods, earthquakes, illness, take us by surprise and statistics based on averages are not always useful, No one is an average. And data collection which is not warm means little. How much porn you watch or what route you get to work is not predictive. You can always do something different. If I had listened to what others predictions were for me I would have been dead a long time ago. I have a strong internal frame. Others do not. They have an external frame and crave certainty. Many want you to believe they know more about you than you know about yourself. BS. What’s most helpful can become a hindrance. Like antibiotics and fertilizers. I agree you can if you know enough patterns make some educated guesses and this can often be accurate. But DNA is not what it used to be in the days of Crick and Watson, and the Diagnostic Statistical Manual no longer lists masturbation as a mental disease. What is reversed, enhanced, retrieved and obsolesced will vary from year to year, and decade to decade, from observer to observer. The world teeters on the edge of an abyss. And who knows which seeds will grow in the womb of time? Adolescent boys often learn trigonometry and declare that everything is trigonometry. Then they grow up. Math dominates and prediction is highly valued but that may not always be the case. I am open to doubt.

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Doubt is your choice; I’m more cynical than most. If I drove one route last week, what is my probability of repeating that route? The paper I bought yesterday, will I read that title again? At this point, we enter meta-data. What does the newspaper say about your socio-demographic position or interests? What is located at the end of the route I drove? What does this add to the narrative I tell of myself?

Remember, we cannot measure expression, but a recording of the acts, interests, perspectives can be built into a narrative or theme of an abstracted “I”, an “I” you add to with each new like to a post or book read, election participated within, pinned location or credit card purchase. You and “I” are one and engage with the world as one; your google search will always respond directly to your needs or your search request.

We like to believe we are very unpredictable, but if you did it before and it worked for you, gave you pleasure or ratified a sense of self in you, you’re still repeating that act today.


The Miracle of the Universe!!..& this “I/You” gets to read/listen to the Many
…& Welcome It All…on A Good Day/In A Good Moment…Thank U for Sharing Your Interiors… !!!


Although Godel’s incompleteness theorum may only apply to arithmetical systems his findings should create some caution against the hubris of those who claim they can mathemitize and medicalize all of humanity, the semiosphere, and the biosphere from meta-data. If we have learned anything from the Pandemic it is that we are not becoming what we were becoming. Yes, we all have to eat and pooh and that is probably universal for most organic life but there are always strange creatures who live far from equilibrium, plants who prefer to live in the harsh desert, people who don’t want what is offered on the menu. If I predict what happens in an exchange with another I’m sure something has gone wrong. When people surprise me I am delighted.