Sunday, June 12, 2011

I Am a Strange Loop -- Commentary on Chapter 8

     Chapter 8 is where get the definition of the strange loop, the "I" being itself one of these.  Hofstadter defines a strange loop as "not a physical circuit but an abstract loop in which, in the series of stages that constitute the cycling-around, there is a shift from one level of abstraction (or structure) to another, which feels like an upwards movement in a hierarchy, and yet somehow the successive "upwards" shifts turn out to give rise to a closed cycle."

      He gives the example of Escher's Drawing Hands, a picture of a left hand and right hand drawing each other:  "Here, the abstract shift in level would be the upward leap from drawn to drawer"; believe it or not there is a wikipedia page on Drawing Hands --( -- check it out!

     As noted before, the self, despite its epiphenomenal status, is a prime mover, a real causal agent in the world; that is, it is real:

"...the thesis of this book is that we ourselves -- not our bodies, but our selves -- are strange loops, and so if all strange loops were illusions, then we would all be illusions, and that would be a great shame.  So it's fortunate that some strange loops exist in the real world."(Hofstadter, pg. 134 Nookbook)

     So, how do we get from a drawn to a drawer? How do we move from one level to another.  Well, here's a shot at it.  The self reflection we get in consciousness, when we turn the camera on ourselves, creates a mental structure that is present exactly when that reflection occurs.  It persists as long as there is self-reflection.  When self-reflection ceases, the self ceases.  But we are conditioned by experience to think of ourselves as acting. Thus the self is one of those abstract notions like those Hofstadter mentions earlier in the book that is causally effective in its own right.  The interesting thing here, is that this particular structure is the result of "loopy" behavior.  The loop brings this entity into existence.  It is paradoxical, difficult to follow, but there it is.

     I think I will digress a little on the notion of the self and on self-reflection.  What are some of the things that accompany self reflection?  If, as Fichte says, our self-reflection occurs in a social, and striving, context, then the structures in the self have to do with these struggles.  Hegel builds ideas of Master and Slave consciousness out of his philosophy of history.  There can be consciousness associated with oppressor and oppressed, for example.  Perhaps these yield different views of the world because fundamental self-consciousness is different.  Is there such a thing as "pure" self-consciousness?  I wonder if the instructions of some meditation tapes I have, "I am that which is having the experiences", gives us a perspective that frees us from received self structures and yields an unmodified self, separate from everything.  Well, probably not, but it's a thought.

Starting with my next entry I will begin a series on Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems based on my reading of the original paper and Braithewaite's introduction.  This will tie into chapter 9.

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