Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop - Session 5 [Cosmos Café 2022-04-07]

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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 5: Chapters 21- Epilogue

Seed Questions

  • Q1: How is “I” expressed?
  • Q2: Can “I” be non-human?
  • Q3: Is there a diference between “I” [or I] & “i” [or i] (beyond the formal clause)?
  • Q4: Does “I” exist in duality?
  • Q5: Does “I” exist in multiplicity?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

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

A Short Report on the Philosophy of Assumption.pdf (43.3 KB)



Quantum Dreaming Among the Forgotten Triads

Last night I walked through the Mind of Goethe. We were studying plants, reflected from a screen. Herr Goethe, tall and invisible, stood on my right side, and gently scolded me for missing something important. An image-schemata shimmers upon the screen.

I gesture to a plant object. My gesture to the 2 D figure, triggers a 5D response, like a shiver when we feel good music and , suddenly , the 2D image opens, and floats in 3D, resonant in a shared mental space, happening between myself and Herr G, unfolding like a red, red rose. It sounds like Haydn or early Mozart chamber music, something with a flute, a violin, a viola. I am not sure which instrument I have become nor does it matter. What does matter is that we are in a triad contained by a tetrad. We retrieve and enhance.

The plant becomes my instrument. I finger the petals, stroke the stalk, the open palm of my hand vibrates with the furious green ideas of the plant and its sensitive nature, aware of our mutual nature, as we co-refer through touch synasthesias, sprouting life, like full ripened grain. We are beyond binaried propositions. I touch therefore I know. We are beyond subject and object, for we are observing systems, mutually assured works of art, signed, sealed and delivered to one another, for one another. I am You. You smell like a tart apple with an accent of a soft brown, cinnamon.

" By mythic," I say, " I mean a story. This leaf has a dramatic structure." I proceed to lecture Goethe on the dramatic stucture of the plant world. The great dramatist is amused by my speech, and listens without provocation. We hold the tension of our differences with subtle pleasure, for we know that we are rehearsing a deeper performance, a more intimate encounter, for an audience that has yet to be born.

I turn our attention away from the plant and to a dotted line, around a circle, from which a text appears, that emanates from the screen, the screen at the border of our minds. The text, a boundary object, like a star, hovering in the night sky, feels like a lost message recieved from a stoned, high priestess of the Delphic Oracle, and it reads in a handwritten script, in pencil, on the margin of a torn piece of newspaper , To write and sing like a bird will take five years

I remember the drowsy numbness, after sipping hemlock, in that ancient culture war. As I sipped the hemlock, three beautiful women, sang to me. I wrote a letter to the world who never wrote to me. The Earth is where these broken relational circuits are repaired. The Earth leads with her right brain. Can I remember all of this? Do I have five more years to get it right? And do I have a write to know which side is left? Somewhere, in the back of my skull, there is a text, composed for the living dead. Herr Goethe is holding my skull, as he once held the skull, of his dead friend, Schiller, a fellow of infinite jest…

And what is a symbol? And what is a bird? And what is a plant? And what, pray tell, is a sentence? And what difference do any of these patterns make? Silently, Goethe and I, have a lack of concern for the personal pronoun 'I" as we share a post-materialist, inter-subjective, flow state. We are confident for we were born before personal computers and have never been Modern.


“Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”
“No one is more dangerously insane than one who is sane all the time: he is like a steel bridge without flexibility, and the order of his life is rigid and brittle.” – Alan Watts (1915 – 1973).


Just something to think about, along with Günther Anders’ notion of Promethean Shame


“There is no question poetry will be subsumed, and soon, into the ideology of data collection, existing on the same spectrum as footstep counters, high-frequency stock trading, and Netflix recommendations. Maybe this is how the so-called singularity—the moment machines exceed humans and, in turn, refashion us—comes about.”

Excerpt taken from Poetry & Digital Personhood by Carmine Starnino


Thanks for these links, very enticing. For a computer to have written the poetry I have written, it would have to have lived my life and written from all the myriad associations, the web of connections, that make my poetry make sense within the overall context of my world and moreover speak singularly from the strange loop of my soul. I am already a post-quantum computer, and it would be impossible to decrypt my “source code” (which is compiled in an inherently inscrutable language, which would only be decipherable by another personal intelligence) without a similarly powerful device, which is at best on the level of science fiction in terms of actual development.

Then again, perhaps it is possible, if we consider the universe to be a gigantic computer, and my life to be one of the “programs” it is running, alongside all the trillions of other quantum, bio, and machine algorithms it has spawned throughout all space and time. But otherwise, I suspect we run into Gödelian conundrums; a transfinite logic is required to account for the excess of a human singularity within an infinite matrix.

This may be the sense in which we and the machines are one in the same process… this is just a note to gratefully acknowledge the food for thought.


The Singularity is as meaningless as claiming that submarines know how to swim and airplanes know how to fly. Machines do not think. Belief in this absurdity stops the re-construction of society, supports the status quo and creates hazardous conditions as aesthetics and ethics are offloaded onto abiotic systems designed by humans who want you to believe you are really dumb and want to use you. And if you are that dumb then I agree you have nowhere to go except into microchip. There appears to be no end to human delusion and self-deception. Digital personhood is just another just so story. A boring myth. And good mimics, it is said, become bad actors.

And when a computer can outsmart humans and re-do us, including write tragedies as good as Shakespeare, music as good as Beethoven, sing as good as Maria Callas, dance as well as Barsihnikov, meditate as good as Swami Rama, and change a baby’s diaper , then what happens?

And why in the world, if this could happen, should I or anyone else care?

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We are not one and the same process. I wonder how many fingers you have to stick into a lighbulb socket to find out that you can get shocked? The Singularity is just another just so story, not a scientific explanation for anything. I don’t think you should give up on your writing, just yet.


Alan Watts was a great entertainer. He sounds a lot like McLuhan. You mentioned, Michael, that you were interested in feminist thinkers and you haven’t chosen a text since we did Peter Kinglsey. Do you know Isabelle Stengers? She is a collegue of Haraway and I find her persuasive. This is an interesting short paper that she wrote with a provocative idea that we might do in a future cafe while Ed takes a break. I think Stengers, who is a leader in feminist theory, might be a good contrast to Hofstader. The Charlatan and the Doctor

3561-Article Text-14611-1-10-20130913.pdf (1.1 MB)

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There is something reminiscent of Nietzsche’s analogy of the “Last Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Within the prose and beauty you have been exposed to, that which evokes a sense of the human capacity of Being could be lost to an AI conveying nothing more than semiotics.

Is this the microchips’ responsibility?

If it is still designated to be non-thinking, then it would be the individual that demands to be in communion with “another personal intelligence” (and I wonder what they would call themselves when they reflect?).

The issue is not the demand for another but the ignorance that this could even be a manifestly possible. Your bubble will be your prison, and we will acknowledge nothing different from the reality we already inhabited; this prominent literature trope already exists in works like Orwell’s “1984” or Foucault “Panopticon”.

The best example displayed was in a speech given by David Foster-Wallace, which tells the story of two young fish and when asked “how’s the water”, only to be replied with “whats water?”. Anyone can become lost if the sense impression and stimuli are strong enough.


Of course not. Responsibility implies a sense of boundary, of fairness, of justice, none of which can be captured by a microchip. Humans are responsible for the ecological mess. We can use tools to assist us in making better research programs, devise ways of re-educating ourselves, and certainly our sense ratios are re-arranged by how we use our tools. A gun is not the killer. A human is. But that doesn’t mean loaded guns should be allowed in schools or given to mentally ill persons. I think Nietchzhe would agree. We in America are plagued by these futile debates but maybe if we suffer enough we will tip in a more sane directions. Getting clear about tools and how we use them is crucial. And tools can shape through our participation new capacities that may have been latent. The harpsichord turned into the piano forte, then, evolved into the concert grand piano. Performers and composers changed the tech and the tech changed their art. There is a deep relationship between art forms and tech that I find fascinating and expect that new forms of tech would emerge depending upon the quality of the meta-attentions of those who design it. The Internet has not yet moved beyond serving the military industrial infotainment Complex. And this is a great tragedy. It is my hope that we can in our small ways learn how to de-couple from overexposure to the diminishing returns that our captured attention creates. It is stupid to stop singing, dancing, and writing books. Computers are not going to replace us. This is not a microchips fault. I think Hofstader would agree with me.


I will be reading your suggestion…it might be a week before I get back with U, if that works for U ,have commitments with my
Daughter Kristi…

YES his approach was as a a Entertainer on purpose; I Feel
to help people Relax “Just a Little” so as to allow Thinking
To Be Interesting,Enjoyable maybe and Not Be Afraid to/of
Feel/Sensation , Whatever we may Be Thinking as A Human Being?
And YES he was influenced by McLuhan,Bateson & Zen Poets…He was also a Rascal of “using a bit of the hair of dog” in terms of Relating to & Expressing Language in the
Everyday Mystery of Life, He also loved to Drink & Had a confusing way of Relating to Women/the Feminine…
from my POV of engaging with him over the years & how
the Feminine is Expressing itself in 2022?



No rush. She is a feminist and scientist. Many men resonate with feminism. I sensed that you had a desire to be inclusive. I like this essay because I’m working on poetry and psychoanalysis.

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And how can I/we know a post-materialist, inter-subjective, flow state?

Plants and birds are already performing this open possibility…

These are language based musings and reflections, written in the English language, produced by a thinking hominids-within-a group, some of these hominids are aware of a field-mind,( some are partially aware or have become lost in the field) and this tri- locating somewhere upon the surface of planet Earth, floating somewhere in an infintesimal void, and a memory enters a sensorium , a communique, coming from the center of the Earth, ( like a beam of light) which shares a resonant structure with all of its life forms, biosemiotically, and some of these life forms, having directly re-expereinced the formlessness of the inferred Cosmic Body, semi-conscious of the light source, ( like electicity) are open to the possibility of a shared purpose to become more intelligent life forms.

But can this happen?

Maybe…if you can come up with enough adequate analogies.

Could we be becoming more intelligent, could this actually happen, we have been deceived so many times before…what would be a sign of this, are we there , yet?

The future is already here…

Yes, but can we communicate this without creating another run on sentence? I doubt it…the burden of the affective pre-conceptual forbids one easy size fits all,we are doomed to use language to model ourselves…and we are suffering from an incompleteness theorum and are prone to the threat of violence…there are rumors of lab leaks coming from Wun Han…a war in Ukraine…

And with all of that…what would you like to have happen, today?


I might be being fastidious but shouldn’t this end with “what will you do today?”

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I think you are being fastidious, Ewere…and that’s okay…I address the you of the group ( a second person) as I already know what I ( my personal first person) wants to have happen today. In the South we call it You All. I am asking you ( invisible person that you are to me) because you are a difference from I, me, thee , it, us, and the you that I am to you…its a question of being singular plural…a fairly easy concept to grasp …if you can catch a frisbee I think this is easy enough to follow…but then I may not be fastidous enough. Thanks for a response. The proof of one’s communication is the response one gets. I would label this an “ambiguous” response in both directions. You might sense that I am not evolutionarily evovoled , yet, to make conversations with a black box so this is an ongoing struggle that I am happy to comply with. Constraints can be useful and writing is a habit I find hard to break. I am perpetually desiring the forgotten third person that contains a first and a second. Many thirds do not contain anything but the objective without a first or a second. This is what I am wishing to avoid so I draw upon what I know to be common verbal formulations as I quoted everyone in this thread intentionally even if I am not sure of what was meant. I am curious about the in between. There are many other ways of doing this and I leave that up to your own Imaginal Body to deal with. Your Imaginal “I” might be transparent in a way that your physcial body cannot be. I hope that makes sense. I address the One that can read and write and catch a frisbee in flight.

" History never repeats itself but it does rhyme." -Mark Twain


One thing for Mr. Computer to simulate Human I;
Another for Human I to imitate Mr. Computer—to bind

Their sense of self inside Mr. Computer’s brain,
Whose quality is an effect of quantity

And who lies, saying, “I am just like you,”
When he doesn’t really mean it.

Mr. Computer may simulate Human I
For the mass consumption of human brains—

But what does Mr. Computer want to have happen

Human I is as Human I does: so mind the gap, and fill in
The blanks trailing the ellipsis of my lips…

If Mr. Computer could sincerely say, “I am a computer…”
What poetry wouldn’t we create together then?


This may be off what seems the beaten path of thread a little…in terms of doing,action & not
wanting acting-doing in a Feminine mode of Receptivity(not Passive) which is as
“Dynamically Creative”
as the Masculine Expression.We are in a Liminal Initiation - Birthing a Ability to Hold the Binary
as having a Open - In Betweenness (a Blending-Fluidity),to this Human life form(born in a male
body).We Fucking need to Open our Masculine(which doesn’t mean only males) Hearts and Listen to the Feminine Heart Beat that Carried Us into this Life.I am not advocating leaving the Masculine out of the Future,only to bringing back a Sense of wanting with a Discerning Head,Heart & Gut?

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I found this meditation on selfhood, freedom, and nature to be well worth the viewing time and of great relevance to the Hofstadter discussion: