Douglas Hofstadter's I Am a Strange Loop -Session 1 [Cosmos Café 2022-02-17]

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 ( (2.3 MB)

Session 1; Preface, Prologue and Chapters 1-4

Seed Questions

  • Q1; When you state your “I” how is it identified? (Spirit, soul, mind, passion, sentience, consciousness, body, biology, etc.)
  • Q2; From the Socratic method: What is true life? Can “true life” be described?
  • Q3; Can “I” be measured? On what scale or scope?
  • Q4; How has preference or aversion affected your “I”?
  • Q5; Which aspects dominate your sense of “I”: Brain, Heart or Nervous System?
  • Q6; From Langer’s method: At which point do we enter the abstract when in discourse with another, especially regarding your “I”?
  • Q7; When thinking of your “I” within a systemic environment, can you describe a means or method by which “Progress” could be defined?

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

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

Excerpt taken from a review of “I am a Strange Loop” by Klaas Landsman for Physics Today (Oct 2007)

“Hofstadter continues his analysis by claiming that the “I” conceived as a strange loop is actually a “hallucination hallucinated by a hallucination”. His claim hinges on the fact that the dance of symbols, and hence its self-reference, is a collective effect (philosophically an epiphenomenon, like temperature) that evaporates down at the neuronal level. In a similar vein, the high-level world of classical physics could be said to be a mirage created by the underlying low-level world of quantum physics. But it is hard to see what one gains by regarding epiphenomena as illusory. In any case, with that stance Hofstadter especially challenges Cartesian and modern dualism, and he insists on a monistic, purely physical description of consciousness.”

The full article can be read here.


I agree, Ewere, about challenging the usefulness of this insistence upon consciousness as mere epiphenomena . We gain nothing, we lose everything and everyone. How can you look into the face of child and say," You are just epiphenomena?" And epiphenomena according to whom exactly? This appears to be a performative contradiction that most of us have learned to ignore and act as if 'I" is real. The paradoxes of the “I” are of great interest to Hofstader and the great thinkers of the last century. But there is arising an antithesis that we have been actively exploring over many readings. We have done Bernardo Kastrup and Federico Faggin who resist the physicalist siren song of ephemera going nowhere.There is in the materialist monist paradigm a problem known as the hard problem. And what was problem before “hard problem”? For me, this reading is an exercise in unravelling the dominant, isolated, left brained, physicalist weaved up folly. Our reading of McLuhan might help us re-orient our meta-attentions to the resonant structure of this " hard problem" and the ways to unravel it using his four laws of media. Among the materialists I find Hofstader to be the most human, for he has a strong aesthetic sense, which most materialists do not. Hofstader is holding onto his favorite materialist teddy bear for as long as he can. And I don’t blame him. What is on the other side of the magic mirror is even weirder.


A Early Morning Visual Response:


I want to say that I love these questions. All of them. I can barely begin to answer them, but they buzz with the vibrancy of indicated insight. They are good questions.

Q2 in particular reminded me of the opening lines to the second section of Don DeLillo’s Point Omega,

The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not be anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware, the submicroscopic moments.

Now, these are the words of a character named Richard Elster, who, like Robert McNamara with Vietnam, in the book is one of the intellectual architects of a more recent war. He has retreated to the remote desert to contemplate the empty space and silence, and now a young filmmaker has come wanting to make him the subject of a brooding art film. Then his daughter, a very weird character, arrives for her own strange reasons, and the situation soon unravels.

The notion of “true life” recurs throughout the novel, though not with the intellectual pep of Socrates. Rather, this is a man who is burned out on the world, who is probably at least partially responsible for countless deaths in distant countries, which some part of him still justifies with bitter wisdom. Now he feels called to embrace the death space in a final arc of silent tragedy.

The True Life is not an abstract ideal but rather the “submicrospic moments,” which are not necessarily the highlights or most dramatic episodes of life, but those transitional blurs when we are strangely in touch with ourselves, there is a feeling to how we are, and we may be doing nothing in particular. I feel this sense of my life sometimes when I am up in the middle of the night, going to the bathroom, or in the hypnagogic state between waking and sleep, or when we’re out for a walk and perhaps I’m just watching my daughters play in a playground, and I am noticing the clouds, sunshine, birds, and the whole scene is kind of hazy and layered. And there is a feeling, too, of everythingness and the faint sense of a secret pact one has made with oblivion.

It seems there will be a lot regarding “I” in this book. I am curious how intersubjectivity will be honored. There can be no “I,” I would say, without “We,” not to mention “You” and “It.” There is deeper grammar involved here. We never encounter a brain that doesn’t already belong to a group of brains. Brains come from other brains. I have barely read Hofstadter before (just some of GEB), and just glancing at his acknowledgements he is obviously writing out of a different tradition than I am versed in, much more slanted to computational models. It all sounds very interesting. We have explored idealist, consciousness-first, anti-physicalist, spiritualist, and integral approaches in the Café. Why not see where a purely physical description of consciousness takes us?

Thanks, Ewere, John, and Doug for sponsoring this series of events.


Let All Senses Come Alive As Rumi Says:

I am A Strange Loop Walking the Labyrinth with Good Friends
to the Center and Back, A Changed Loop?


And when “I” am thinking " I " am in the crease between my eyes.

And when within a systemic enviornment, what happens next?

I close my eyes…

And can you describe a means or method by which “Progress” could be made?*

“I” am a twist between figure and ground, enveloped within a cloud of unknowing. A twist like a hanged man turning in a breeze.

And within a systemic enviornment…

Like Alan Turing, who cracked the Nazi Code and saved Great Britain, but was harrassed by the UK culture code to commit suicide because he would not deny he was homosexual. He drank hemlock instead. Like that. Trapped in a system that will take from you and then leave you out in the cold.

This is not progress???!!!

And when this is not progress…what would " I " like to have happen?

A transition…an adequate translation between scales…

“I” have noticed more and more, that what exceeds me and my understanding is getting bigger and closer, bigger and closer and brighter/darker." I" try to tease them apart but can’t. How can one be divided into two? When did we become digitized? This is a triple bind.

And the persons I loved the most, living and dead, are not always the ones I loved the best. I have always been kinder to strangers. We, the Strangers, are enfolded within each other, with that man’s art and that man’s scope, and the cloud of unknowing seems to come from the margins, backgrounds, skyscrapers, dark alleys, the homeless, sirens, flashing green, yellow, red, seen through the windshield of the limo, dashed with rain. I am the driver and the rich bitch and the CEO big shot are drinking champayne and making out in the back seat while I worry about the mean streets for I can’t see clearly. I become lucid. This is a dream. I stop the limo, take off my hat, and turn to the couple and say, " Who are you?" They are silent. “I created you.” I say, " I dissolve you." The couple melt into thin air. I get out of the limo. I sing in the rain, like Gene Kelly. Eveything gets brighter…lighter.

Progress is like having a nightmare of living in Texas as gay boy and waking up in my bed in Manhattan as a gay senior, and having the ability to share different styles of access to different kinds of codes from different kinds of memory archives.

And with all of this…does “I” have any expectations about how the rest of you might feel?


And when maybe…then what happens to crease between the eyes?

The crease softens and then “I " feel a soft, warm, belly sensation. And this soft, warm, belly sensation becomes a " me”. And he lives in a backyard with a swing set and merry go round and “we” create magic shows and circuses to entertain the other kids.

The method would be anology, metaphor, narrative.

Progress would be to know the analogue from the digital and to know both at the same time. This could be a definition and a progress. “I” have many eyes through which to see and many hands through which to touch.

From bit to pixel to dot to the shiver of a memory…as close to you as the next keystroke.


Music is the Strange Loop we All Need to Slide Into…
Here’s To A Cafe’ ; to Feeling the Heat of the Sun & Coolness of
the Water,Plus the Sand between our Toes/bottom of our Feet.
Whole Making Time!!!

Body Surfing


And when in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…

“I “make a u-turn to Brian Eno’s ambient music…a music that goes nowhere and never becomes anything but has a soothing quality that” I” can rest into…return at the edge before one becomes two…and let the music take me somewhere in between…a pleasant liminal zone…" I" let go of my opposable thumbs…relax…even as “we” drift into the jaws of a bigger fish…


Music Plays in the Jaws of Death TOO! In Fact some Would Say It Intensifies
Life , Giving-Making Preciousness of the Gift?

Rihanna Swimming with Sharks


The “I” Maybe goes back to Dimension ZERO AND?

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Yes, the contrasts between fast and slow are intensified in music, movies, poetry, dance and snake kissing. What a sexy idea!

That’s a really strange loop. How kinky can you get?

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I like John the Snake Kiss…maybe Eve Kissed the Snake instead of biting the Apple?
Thanks for the Call/Response & playing with Sexy Ideas


Fun conversation today! Here is the article on the history of objectivity that I mentioned.
Daston History of Objectivity.pdf (1.0 MB)


Thanks for the Campfire Everyone:

The Magical Mystery Tour is the Hole we can sit at the Edge
and Maybe Begin to Participate with the Wholeness of the
Mystery of being A Strange Loop of “I”?


Some day I hope we get a chance to do a Platonic dialogue. The Timeus would be a lot of fun. In the meantime this short video on the allegory of the Cave, narrated by Orson Welles, has a lot of charm.


I’m with you here, Johnny, I’ve always found cloud-like atmospheric music a way to slip out of the fray into the “fields of May”, as the Irish ballad goes…which means into the timeless but not placeless. I find it necessary for my sanity…and my “art”… to leave in this way, without leaving. Even as a child I did this through various means…staring at things, looking at them upsidedown, humming with my eyes closed… listening and feeling into things. When I first heard what was in the beginning called “space music”, it was during an experiment in college as part of a class on extra sensory perception. We needed some music and one of us was an avant garde composer on synth keyboard, and voila! I fell in love with this music-species I never knew existed.
More to say, but gotta go…