I Am a Strange Loop

Written by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

  • Every Human Consciousness Lives at Once in a Collection of Brains

    Because the human brain is a universal machine, it contains multiple strange loops that are coarse-grained copies of other strange loops housed in other brains at varying degrees of fidelity. Those you resonate most with in life (family member, a spouse, etc.) you know so well you can almost feel their feelings, recall their memories, and experience the world they would. These can not be explained by mere rote memory (perception is not reception and awareness) but something more closely resembling our own self-hood.

  • Degrees of Souledness

    People tend to think of objects and living things as having a soul or not having a soul when really it’s a continuous scale of souledness. For example, people reject the idea of eating certain animals like cats but not chickens, we remark about how, after a major cognitive decline due to old age, that person “isn’t all there”. There is a continuous assignment we make as to the degree of souledness in everything we see and interact with.

  • Internalizing Anothers' Interiority

    The most clear sign of a large degree of souledness is the internalization of other creatures' interiority. Compassion for others is what marks greater consciousness and is the difference between, for example, a mosquito who is more of an automaton and a dog who has rightfully earned the title of man’s best friend.

  • Presence of a Feedback Loop Shifts Perception from Mechanics to Desires

    When we see an object that has a feedback loop we ascribe it a more human goal-oriented desire. For example, the plant that curves towards the window “wants” to get more sunlight. Even a simple feedback loop (where the plant points to the window as it grows) raises this innate perception of an object with desires.

  • Perception Is Not Reception and Awareness

    When we talk about perception we should be careful not to confuse it with reception and awareness (or souledness). A thing that receives stimuli is like a video camera, merely measuring photons with a sensor. A thing that has awareness can be as simple as a toilet being “aware” of the water level. Neither perceives the world around it because neither has symbols that activate to translate that stimuli into understanding.

  • The Further from the Self, the Less Real it Feels

    The realest thing to anyone is themselves. The further from the self the less real things feel. For example, we know about the stars and distant galaxies but the fly buzzing our ear is more important and “real” as to steal our attention. While we have the power to imagine great things and empathize, direct experience is more important because it involves the “I”. Our wants, needs, and desires exceed the realness of all else.

  • Thinking Better Thoughts

    I remember when I first started working at Stripe I felt like the dumbest person in the room. I was amazed at how smart everyone seemed and the writing…gosh, the writing! If I wanted to be like that too, something needed to change.

  • Tupper’s Self-Referential Formula Is a Visual Loop

    Tupper’s formula displays its formula when plotted on a graph. This is a form of recursion but more like a mirror. Compared to Godel’s incompleteness theorem (also self-referential), Tupper’s formula is more like perception not reception—it does not create new meaning in a system unintended to do so (Principia Mathematica) and is more like a reflection of itself.

  • Consciousness Is Categories

    Consciousness is an emergent property of categories. As a sufficient number of categories can be represented in a system, selfhood arises and, with it, consciousness.

  • Language Is an Extension of Our Bodies

    When we use language to communicate with each other, other bodies become an extension of ourselves. We can ask someone to do so something and we’ve effectively taken a thought that exists in our brain, transferred it to another brain, and carried out the task. We can share ideas, even loosely defined, by writing and sharing the words. Even right now, my brain is connected to yours—as you read this, you are transforming a linked list of ideas into understanding.

  • Creating Meaning Through Analogy

    One of the most profound findings from Godel’s incompleteness theorem is that meaning can be mapped onto a system that was specifically designed to prevent it. Principia Mathematica, the system Godel was poking at, was designed—amongst other reasons—to solve the paradoxes of set theory and logic with a constrained set of rules. Godel abstracted over the symbolic logic (converting proofs into numbers) to show a self-referencing statement could not only be represented in PM but was also undecidable.

  • Theories of Consciousness

    There are many theories put forth to explain human consciousness and experiments are running to test them. With all the discussion around AGI, it’s timely to keep an eye on them.

  • Soul Shards Bring to Life Fragments of Someone’s Interiority

    Music is a soul shard, little fragments of experience from the composer recreated in your head. They bring to life something ineffable inside us like little pieces of someone’s soul.

  • A Strange Loop Gives Rise to Human Selfhood

    A strange loop is a combination of traits that creates the condition for selfhood. Categories of numerous symbols derive meaning from raw stimuli. Categorization leads to perception rather than reception. Abstractions create reality and high-level behavior no longer consists of lower-level behavior only. The loop reinforces the idea of the ‘self’ and the self feels the most real.

  • Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem

    A formal system (one that is consistent never yields a false statement) can not also be a complete system (containing all true statements)–there will always be statements that are unprovable yet true (i.e. G-statement).

  • A Strange Loop and the Illusory Self

    One of the key points of I Am a Strange Loop is how the “I” develops into consciousness. The constant reinforcement (and self-enforcing) of the “I” gives rise to perception, symbols, meaning, and reality. On the other hand, the key point of mindfulness (at least to me) is recognizing the illusory self.