Definitions[ edit ] A strange loop is a hierarchy of levels, each of which is linked to at least one other by some type of relationship. A strange loop hierarchy is "tangled" Hofstadter refers to this as a " heterarchy " , in that there is no well defined highest or lowest level; moving through the levels, one eventually returns to the starting point, i. Examples of strange loops that Hofstadter offers include: many of the works of M. Escher , the Canon 5. In I Am a Strange Loop , Hofstadter defines strange loops as follows: And yet when I say "strange loop", I have something else in mind — a less concrete, more elusive notion.
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As the brain goes, so goes the mind, they say. This leads him to some very fruitful ways of looking at consciousness. Certainly there is a world of difference between the Old Master himself and a folio of his sheet music lying waiting to be played.
Poetically speaking, Bach, Mozart, Shakespeare, Plato, Socrates and our loved ones can live on through us insofar as we can see the world through their eyes. Immortality by proxy may not be what most of us have in mind when we think about life after death, but it seems to me Hofstadter is on to something very profound. We are all like Scheherazade, the queen narrating the Arabian Nights, who postponed her execution by seducing the king with one fantastic tale after another.
Yet who — or what — is doing this storytelling? For instance, we experience an object — we see a flower, for example — which causes a pattern of neuronal firings that symbolize or represent the external object. Our concepts are built up this way: for example, the fast-moving furry critter in our visual field with whiskers and spots, triggers a complex pattern of neuronal activity that once stored as a memory symbolizes a leopard.
Our enormous craniums each contain a hundred million neurons, with each individual neuron making thousands of potential connections, making our brains the most complex information processors in the known universe.
Moreover, the concepts we can create are infinitely extensible — meaning, we can pile concept upon concept to generate ever increasing levels of generalization and abstraction.
The individual leopard belongs to the genus feline, part of the category mammal, which falls under the heading life-form, which is itself subsumed in the more encompassing class of being. Concepts are also extensible in that we can map analogies between seemingly dissimilar concepts. For example, one might say that writing an original philosophical article is a lot like trying to cut a trail through the jungle: they are both arduous processes where the destination is uncertain, but the possible thrill of new vistas and discoveries provides motivation.
No two concepts could seem more dissimilar on the surface as writing philosophy and trailing through the jungle. Yet thanks to the infinite extensibility of concepts we perpetually manage to make useful comparisons between seemingly disparate ideas.
Hofstadter argues that the psychological self arises out of a similar kind of paradox. A perspective a mind is therefore a consequence of a unique pattern of symbolic activity in our nervous systems.
That is, if their logical activity was organized in an equivalent way, silicon chips could support consciousness just as neurons do. Hofstadter also believes that the pattern of symbolic activity that makes me who I am, that constitutes my specific subjectivity, can be instantiated within the brains of others. This notion may seem far out at first, but I believe Hofstadter is onto something. As he observes, each of us is a more than just a self; we are a collection of selves.
These patterns of symbolic activity have a certain degree of autonomy in so far as they really do simulate the perspective of our significant others. Hofstadter contends that if we have lived and loved someone long and deeply enough, our symbol models will come to mirror their perspective ever more closely. We will essentially be able to see the world through their eyes. Hofstadter acknowledges that the simulated subjectivity of another in us will not be as robust as the subjectivity that arises in the cranium of its owner.
The Cartesian prison of isolated and monadic selves is demolished, in favor of selves that are deeply enriched and entwined by their relationships to other points of view. The Boundaries of Reality Hofstadter is a natural phenomenologist and a first rate scientist a pretty good combination, by the way.
Yet his forays into the philosophical implications of his ideas, though often provocative, are the most frustrating part of his book. For instance, he argues that concepts like free will make no sense in terms of scientific explanations of matter at the most fundamental level. Yet Hofstadter readily acknowledges that when we shift our attention to the macroscopic everyday world, invoking free will or the intention of an agent is frequently the most expeditious and justified way of arriving at an explanation of the behavior in question.
To understand this, Hofstadter asks us to consider two very different levels at which we might view the Mona Lisa: 1 At the micro level, observed reality will consist of subatomic particles combining together to create pigments which reflect light of a certain wavelength; 2 At the macro or everyday level, however, we experience an entirely different reality: a gal with an enigmatic smile.
Which is more real? There are several problems here, however. If the self is a narrative fiction, then how does it pull the levers which initiate free action? How does a hypothetical construct exercise causal powers? Second, when push comes to shove, Hofstadter, dyed in the wool scientist that he is, opts for the lawful, deterministic, and in principle entirely predictable universe of matter and physical forces as the most appropriate candidate for Ultimate Reality.
When you get down to it, as far as Hofstadter is concerned, the self is the Ultimate Illusion — or even a hallucination, as he puts it. Full Circle Hofstadter is certainly right in exorcising the ghosts of Cartesian dualism. The self is not, and cannot be, some indivisible, indissoluble and immaterial phantom that nonetheless inhabits the physical body. He is also correct in expanding the frontiers of the soul, I believe — in illustrating how the phenomenon of subjectivity is much more open-ended, permeable and relational than we imagined.
When we share our perspective with a receptive other, we are implanting a part of our self in the other, and vice versa. We can live in others, just as others can live in us. The boundaries of our souls are indeed beyond all measure. He is working on a book exploring the philosophical dimensions of the music of the band Yes. Article tools.
Sep 22, David Katzman rated it liked it I have an interesting perspective on this title because the book I read just before it was The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book grounded in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Tolle declares that the Ego or thinking mind is the cause of all the poisons of our civilization and the only hope for us as a species is to embrace awareness and presence and escape the thinking mind that feeds our needs for material possessions, success, achievement, domination, and so on. This book is in fact an entire I have an interesting perspective on this title because the book I read just before it was The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book grounded in Zen Buddhist philosophy. In fact Hofstadter believes the Ego is all there is in us.
I Am a Strange Loop