I Am a Strange Loop

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Summary: an epilogue to GEB

Score: 95 / 100

Hofstadter’s Law, which states, “It always takes longer than you think it will take, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”), (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 03:26 PM, page 457-58)

publish-or-perish pressures, or perhaps even worse, the relentless pressures of grant-chasing. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 04:05 PM, page 502-3)

I wish that more thinkers wrote in a first-person fashion. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 04:12 PM, page 512-13)

It is curious, how one often mistrusts one’s own opinions if they are stated by someone else. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 04:29 PM, page 592)

a truly living creature is reduced to a collection of complex reflexes. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 04:53 PM, page 637)

There is no “mind–body problem” for tomatoes. (I hope, dear reader, that we agree on this much!) (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 05:02 PM, page 669-70)

there are souls of different sizes. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 05:23 PM, page 740)

étude in Opus 25, in A minor (a titanic outburst often called the “Winter Wind”, (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 06:06 PM, page 784)

Some of us, perhaps almost all of us, believe that it is legitimate to kill enemy soldiers in a war, as if war were a special circumstance that shrinks the sizes of enemy souls. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 06:29 PM, page 800-801)

Some of us (again, I count myself in this group) believe that neither a just-fertilized egg nor a five-month old fetus possesses a full human soul, and that, in some sense, a potential mother’s life counts more than the life of that small creature, alive though it indisputably is. (Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 06:37 PM, page 811-13)

idea that thinking could ever be implemented in a system made of such far-fetched physical substrates as toilet paper and pebbles (the tape would be an infinite roll of toilet paper, and a pebble on a square of paper would act as the dot in a cell), (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 01:54 PM, page 997-99)

Just as many aspects of a mineral (its density, its color, its magnetism or lack thereof, its optical reflectivity, its thermal and electrical conductivity, its elasticity, its heat capacity, how fast sound spreads through it, and on and on) are properties that come from how its billions of atomic constituents interact and form high-level patterns, so mental properties of the brain reside not on the level of a single tiny constituent but on the level of vast abstract patterns involving those constituents. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 01:59 PM, page 1033-36)

Trying to localize a concept or a sensation or a memory (etc.) down to a single neuron makes no sense at all. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:01 PM, page 1038-39)

there are forces within forces within forces, as in no other cubic half-foot of universe that we know…. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:20 PM, page 1056-57)

Near the apex of this command system in the brain…. we find ideas. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:20 PM, page 1060)

this kind of shift in levels of description yielded something very precious to living beings: comprehensibility. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:30 PM, page 1098-99)

Our existence as animals whose perception is limited to the world of everyday macroscopic objects forces us, quite obviously, to function without any reference to entities and processes at microscopic levels. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:32 PM, page 1106-7)

we are victims of our macroscopicness, and cannot escape from the trap of using everyday words to describe the events that we witness, and perceive as real. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:42 PM, page 1133-34)

We mortals are condemned not to speak at that level of no information loss. We necessarily simplify, and indeed, vastly so. But that sacrifice is also our glory. Drastic simplification is what allows us to reduce situations to their bare bones, to discover abstract essences, to put our fingers on what matters, to understand phenomena at amazingly high levels, to survive reliably in this world, and to formulate literature, art, music, and science. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 02:44 PM, page 1138-41)

When we begin to utter a thought, we have no idea what words we will wind up using nor which grammatical pathways we will wind up following, nor can we predict the speech errors or the facts about our unconscious mind that our little slips will reveal. (Thursday, June 20, 2013, 08:45 PM, page 1294-96)

After all, we ourselves are pretty big epiphenomena, and as I’ve already observed many times in this book, this fact dooms us to talking about the world in terms of other epiphenomena at about our size level (Friday, June 21, 2013, 07:42 AM, page 1370-71)

long-agoshelved (Friday, June 21, 2013, 08:13 AM, page 1416)

goal-oriented — that is, teleological (Friday, June 21, 2013, 08:30 AM, page 1446)

In the video called “Virtual Creatures” by Karl Sims, (Friday, June 21, 2013, 08:36 AM, page 1468-69)

a floored car (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:20 AM, page 1507)

Nagel and Newman’s insistence on the importance of distinguishing between use and mention), (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:49 AM, page 1579)

barber “who shaves all those in the village who don’t shave themselves”. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:59 AM, page 1606)

If the meanings of “true” and “false” were switched, this sentence wouldn’t be false. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:07 AM, page 1628)

Thit sentence it not self-referential because “thit” it not a word. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:08 AM, page 1634)

This sentence every third, but it still comprehensible. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:09 AM, page 1636)

If you think this sentence is confusing, then change one pig. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:10 AM, page 1636-37)

How come this noun phrase doesn’t denote the same thing as this noun phrase does? (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:10 AM, page 1637-38)

This pangram tallies five a’s, one b, one c, two d’s, twenty-eight e’s, eight f’s, six g’s, eight h’s, thirteen i’s, one j, one k, three l’s, two m’s, eighteen n’s, fifteen o’s, two p’s, one q, seven r’s, twenty-five s’s, twenty-two t’s, four u’s, four v’s, nine w’s, two x’s, four y’s, and one z. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:11 AM, page 1639-41)

unanticipatable. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 10:42 AM, page 1741)

The idea I want to convey by the phrase “a symbol in the brain” is that some specific structure inside your cranium (or your careenium, depending on what species you belong to) gets activated whenever you think of, say, the Eiffel Tower. That brain structure, whatever it might be, is what I would call your “Eiffel Tower symbol”. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 05:34 PM, page 1856-58)

In summary, the missing ingredient in a video system, no matter how high its visual fidelity, is a repertoire of symbols that can be selectively triggered. Only if such a repertoire existed and were accessed could we say that the system was actually perceiving anything. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 05:45 PM, page 1882-83)

Is a thermostat aware, albeit extremely feebly, of the temperature it is controlling? Is a heat-seeking missile aware, be it ever so minimally, of the heat emanating from the airplane that it is pursuing? (Friday, June 21, 2013, 05:51 PM, page 1906-8)

Given that most grown dogs have a symbol for dog, does a dog know, in some sense or other, that it, too, belongs to the category dog? When it looks at a mirror and sees its master standing next to “some dog”, does it realize that that dog is itself? (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:24 PM, page 1995-96)

A spectacular evolutionary gulf opened up at some point as human beings were gradually separating from other primates: their category systems became arbitrarily extensible. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:34 PM, page 2016-17)

Concepts in the brains of humans acquired the property that they could get rolled together with other concepts into larger packets, and any such larger packet could then become a new concept in its own right. (Friday, June 21, 2013, 09:35 PM, page 2019-20)

“grocery store checkout stand romance” (Saturday, June 22, 2013, 05:31 AM, page 2048)

“toy grocery store checkout stand”. (Saturday, June 22, 2013, 05:31 AM, page 2048)

Inevitably, what seems realest to us is what gets activated most often. (Monday, June 24, 2013, 07:30 AM, page 2174-75)

An epiphenomenon, as you probably recall from earlier chapters, is a collective and unitary-seeming outcome of many small, often invisible or unperceived, quite possibly utterly unsuspected, events. In other words, an epiphenomenon could be said to be a large-scale illusion created by the collusion of many small and indisputably non-illusory events. (Monday, June 24, 2013, 08:33 AM, page 2210-12)

The thesis of this book is that in a nonembryonic, non-infantile human brain, there is a special type of abstract structure or pattern that plays the same role as does that precise alignment of layers of paper and glue — an abstract pattern that gives rise to what feels like a self. (Monday, June 24, 2013, 07:38 PM, page 2257-59)

In how few syllables can you describe the number 1737? (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 06:39 PM, page 2400-2401)

In any case, Berry’s b is, by definition, the very first integer that can’t be boiled down to below thirty syllables of our fair tongue. It is, I repeat, using italics for emphasis, the smallest integer whose English-language descriptions always use at least thirty syllables. (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 06:44 PM, page 2424-26)

It’s even weirder to say “The truck’s tires were indescribably huge” or “I just can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kindness.” (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 06:49 PM, page 2433-34)

I could go on with this enumeration, but you get the point. The question is, when do we run into the first uninteresting number? Perhaps it is 62? Or 1729? Well, no matter what it is, that is certainly an interesting property for a number to have! (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 06:52 PM, page 2439-41)

From there, Chaitin and others went on to develop an important new branch of mathematics known as “algorithmic information theory”. (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 07:03 PM, page 2488-89)

the medium that remains after all your rigid bans may well turn out to be flexible enough to fashion precisely the items you’ve banned. (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 07:05 PM, page 2497-98)

What happens inside mathematicians’ heads when they do their most creative work? (Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 07:11 PM, page 2519-20)

The late great eccentric Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös once made the droll remark that “a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems”, (Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 02:40 PM, page 2673-74)

nontheoremhood). (Friday, June 28, 2013, 11:20 AM, page 3164)

one. These pieces of evidence suffice to convince everyone that the little box and the large box are identical, and there you have it: self-reference without infinite regress! (Friday, June 28, 2013, 12:14 PM, page 3182-83)

A creature that thinks knows next to nothing of the substrate allowing its thinking to happen, (Wednesday, July 03, 2013, 12:05 PM, page 3716)

Just as we are convinced that ideas and emotions, rather than particles, cause wars and love affairs, so we are convinced that our “I” causes our own actions. The Grand Pusher in and of our bodies is our “I”, that marvelous marble whose roundness, solidity, and size we so unmistakably feel inside the murky box of our manifold hopes and desires. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 06:38 AM, page 3836-39)

I Am My Brain’s Most Complex Symbol (Friday, August 09, 2013, 06:41 AM, page 3854-55)

A profound mastery of all of physics will not in the least undo the decades of brainwashing by culture and language, not to mention the millions of years of human evolution preparing the way. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 01:24 PM, page 3886-87)

Very small representational systems, such as those of bacteria, ova, sperms, plants, thermostats, and so forth, do not enjoy the luxury of self-representation. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 01:26 PM, page 3894-95)

Meaning, no matter what its substrate might be — Tinkertoys, toilet paper, beer cans, simms, whole numbers, or neurons — is an automatic, unpreventable outcome of reliable, stable alignment; this was the lesson of Chapter 11. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 04:29 PM, page 4142-44)

such patterns (the “symbols” of this book) simply came along as an unplanned by-product of the tremendously effective way that having bigger and bigger brains helped beings to survive better and better in a terribly cutthroat world. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 04:31 PM, page 4149-50)

“Graham’s constant”, which is usually cited as “the largest number ever to appear in a mathematical proof”, (Friday, August 09, 2013, 05:27 PM, page 4222-23)

The higher level takes perceptual precedence over the lower level, and in the process becomes the “more real” of the two. The lower level gets forgotten, lost in the shuffle. (Friday, August 09, 2013, 05:37 PM, page 4272-73)

But there is a flip side to all this, a second key ingredient that makes the loop in a human brain qualify as “strange”, makes an “I” come seemingly out of nowhere. This flip side is, ironically, an inability — namely, our Klüdgerotic inability to peer below the level of our symbols. (Saturday, August 10, 2013, 10:28 PM, page 4309-11)

Indeed, sometimes being mired down in gobs of detailed knowledge is the exact thing that blocks deep understanding. (Saturday, August 10, 2013, 10:34 PM, page 4332-33)

eloquent words of Roger Sperry: In the brain model proposed here, the causal potency of an idea, or an ideal, becomes just as real as that of a molecule, a cell, or a nerve impulse. Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and, thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet, including the emergence of the living cell. (Saturday, August 10, 2013, 11:42 PM, page 4346-51)

If we bring this metaphor back to the context of human identity, we could say that a “bare” strange loop of selfhood does not give rise to a distinct self — it is just a generic, vanilla shell that requires contact with something else in the world in order to start acquiring a distinctive identity, a distinctive “I”. (Sunday, August 11, 2013, 12:02 PM, page 4392-94)

the richer and more powerful an organism’s categorization equipment is, the more realized and rich will be its self. (Sunday, August 11, 2013, 12:04 PM, page 4405-6)

There is no strange loop inside a mosquito’s head. What goes for mosquitoes goes also for human babies, and all the more so for human embryos. It’s just that babies and embryos have a fantastic potential, thanks to their human genes, to become homes for huge symbol-repertoires that will grow and grow for many decades, while mosquitoes have no such potential. (Sunday, August 11, 2013, 12:04 PM, page 4408-10)

To put it bluntly, since its future symbolic machinery is 99 percent missing, a human neonate, devastatingly cute though it might be, simply has no “I” — or, to be more generous, if it does possess some minimal dollop of “I”-ness, perhaps it is one huneker’s worth or thereabouts — and that’s not much to write home about. So we see that a human head can contain less than one strange loop. What about more than one? (Sunday, August 11, 2013, 12:07 PM, page 4417-20)

Our ability to experience life vicariously in this manner is a truly wonderful aspect of human communication, but of course most of anyone’s perceptual input comes from their own perceptual hardware, and only a smaller part comes filtered this way through other beings. That, to put it bluntly, is why I remain primarily myself, and why you remain primarily yourself. If, however, my perceptions came flooding as fast and furiously into your brain as they do into mine, then we’d be talking a truly different ballgame. But at least for the time being, there’s no danger of such high communication rates between, say, my eyes and your brain. (Monday, August 12, 2013, 01:35 PM, page 4469-73)

We all possess two cerebral hemispheres (left and right halves), each of which can function pretty well as a brain on its own, in case one side of our brain is damaged. (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 10:16 AM, page 4613-14)

Dan Dennett (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 10:19 AM, page 4627)

In happier days, during the marriage, the two partners of course have individual interests and styles, but at the same time a set of common interests and styles starts to build up, and over time a new entity starts to take shape. (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 05:45 PM, page 4692-93)

No, a novel is a pattern — a particular collection of characters, events, moods, tones, jokes, allusions, and much more. And so a novel is an abstraction, and thus “the very same novel” can exist in different languages, different cultures, even cultures thriving hundreds of years apart. (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 05:51 PM, page 4726-28)

Being a strong believer in the noncentralizedness of consciousness, in its distributedness, I tend to think that although any individual’s consciousness is primarily resident in one particular brain, it is also somewhat present in other brains as well, and so, when the central brain is destroyed, tiny fragments of the living individual remain — remain alive, that is. (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 06:14 PM, page 4809-12)

For us, that photo is not just a physical object with mass, size, color, and so forth; it is a pattern imbued with fantastic triggering-power. (Tuesday, August 13, 2013, 09:39 PM, page 4827-28)

If this is true, then Carol survives because her point of view survives — or rather, she survives to the extent that her point of view survives — in my brain and those of others. This is why it is so good to keep records, to write down memories, to have photos and videotapes, and to do so with maximal clarity — because thanks to having such records, you can “possess”, or “be possessed by”, other people’s brains. That’s why Frédéric Chopin, the actual person, survives so much in our world, even today. (Wednesday, August 14, 2013, 08:30 AM, page 4948-52)

Likewise, an operation on an integer that is written out in binary notation (for instance, the conversion of “0000000011001111” into “1100111100000000”) that one person might describe as multiplication by 256 might be described by another observer as a left-shift by eight bits, and by another observer as the transfer of a color from one pixel to its neighbor, and by someone else as the deletion of an alphanumeric character in a file. As long as each one is a correct description of what’s happening, none of them is privileged. (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:05 PM, page 5084-87)

We human beings, too, are universal machines of a different sort: our neural hardware can copy arbitrary patterns, even if evolution never had any grand plan for this kind of “representational universality” to come about. Through our senses and then our symbols, we can internalize external phenomena of many sorts. (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:06 PM, page 5091-93)

In the world of living things, the magic threshold of representational universality is crossed whenever a system’s repertoire of symbols becomes extensible without any obvious limit. This threshold was crossed on the species level somewhere along the way from earlier primates to ourselves. (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:10 PM, page 5115-17)

If you seriously believe, as I do and have been asserting for most of this book, that concepts are active symbols in a brain, and if furthermore you seriously believe that people, no less than objects, are represented by symbols in the brain (in other words, that each person that one knows is internally mirrored by a concept, albeit a very complicated one, in one’s brain), and if lastly you seriously believe that a self is also a concept, just an even more complicated one (namely, an “I”, a “personal gemma”, a rock-solid “marble”), then it is a necessary and unavoidable consequence of this set of beliefs that your brain is inhabited to varying extents by other I’s, other souls, the extent of each one depending on the degree to which you faithfully represent, and resonate with, the individual in question. (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:19 PM, page 5150-56)

Béla Bartók’s second violin concerto (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:20 PM, page 5160)

Prokofiev’s third piano concerto. (Monday, August 19, 2013, 05:20 PM, page 5161)

Everything I do is some kind of modified borrowing from others who have been close to me either actually or virtually, and the virtual influences are among the most profound. (Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 07:07 AM, page 5207-8)

All of this suggests that each of us is a bundle of fragments of other people’s souls, simply put together in a new way. (Wednesday, August 21, 2013, 07:12 AM, page 5229-30)

There is no absolute and fundamental distinction between what I recall from having lived through it myself and what I recall from others’ tales. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 06:37 AM, page 5312-13)

The cells inside a brain are not the bearers of its consciousness; the bearers of consciousness are patterns. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 06:39 AM, page 5323-24)

When the sun is eclipsed, there remains a corona surrounding it, a circumferential glow. When someone dies, they leave a glowing corona behind them, an afterglow in the souls of those who were close to them. Inevitably, as time passes, the afterglow fades and finally goes out, but it takes many years for that to happen. When, eventually, all of those close ones have died as well, then all the embers will have gone cool, and at that point, it’s “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 10:25 AM, page 5344-47)

the lowly hammerhead shark. The poor thing has eyes on opposite sides of its head, which look out, quite often, on two completely unrelated scenes. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 07:09 PM, page 5546-47)

whereness. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 07:10 PM, page 5550)

Although “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” may in the end be true, the transition it describes is not so sharp as we tend to think. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 07:58 PM, page 5665-66)

Mature human brains are constantly trying to reduce the complexity of what they perceive, and this means that they are constantly trying to get unfamiliar, complex patterns made of many symbols that have been freshly activated in concert to trigger just one familiar pre-existing symbol (or a very small set of them). In fact, that’s the main business of human brains — to take a complex situation and to put one’s finger on what matters in it, to distill from an initial welter of sensations and ideas what a situation really is all about. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:16 PM, page 5715-19)

And so, one by one, all these dusty old “books” are pulled off the shelves of dormancy by the current episode, because this “unprecedented” situation, when it is perceived at an abstract level, when its crust is discarded and its core is distilled, points straight at certain other past sagas stored on the shelves of my “library”, and one after another of them gets pulled out and placed in the limelight of activation. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:21 PM, page 5740-42)

Someone seems to be looking at configurations of activated symbols and perceiving their essence, thereby triggering the retrieval of other dormant symbols (which, as we have just seen, can be very large structures — memory packages that store entire romantic sagas, for instance), and round and round it all goes, giving rise to a lively cycle of symbolic activity — a smooth but completely improvised symbolic dance. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:24 PM, page 5755-58)

My brain (and yours, too, dear reader) is constantly seeking to label, to categorize, to find precedents and analogues — in other words, to simplify while not letting essence slip away. It carries on this activity relentlessly, not only in response to freshly arriving sensory input but also in response to its own internal dance, and there really is not much of a difference between these two cases, for once sensory input has gotten beyond the retina or the tympani or the skin, it enters the realm of the internal, and from that point on, perception is solely an internal affair. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:25 PM, page 5762-66)

What we know as our own consciousness is, yes, nothing but the physical activity inside a human brain that has lived in the world for a number of years. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:34 PM, page 5801-2)

To make an “I” you need meanings, and to make meanings you need perception and categories — in fact, a repertoire of categories that keeps on building on itself, growing and growing and growing. Such things are nowhere to be found in the physical vortices you mentioned. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:42 PM, page 5830-32)

It’s an illusion to attribute power to the word itself, and it’s a greater illusion to attribute power to the letters constituting the word. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 08:57 PM, page 5907-8)

Your “I” is the self-reinforcing structure that gradually came to exist not only in that brain, but thanks to that brain. It couldn’t have come to exist in this brain, because this brain went through different experiences that led to a different human being. (Thursday, August 22, 2013, 09:07 PM, page 5955-57)

The problem is that in a sense, an “I” is something created out of nothing. (Friday, August 23, 2013, 08:42 AM, page 6002)

We are flexible creatures, able to shift point of view according to circumstance. (Friday, August 23, 2013, 06:33 PM, page 6029-30)

Just as we need our eyes in order to see, we need our “I” ’s in order to be! (Saturday, August 24, 2013, 04:18 PM, page 6073-74)

We humans are beings whose fate it is to be able to perceive abstractions, and to be driven to do so. We are beings that spend their lives sorting the world into an ever-growing hierarchy of patterns, all represented by symbols in our brains. We constantly come up with new symbols by putting together previous symbols in new kinds of structures, nearly ad infinitum. Moreover, being macroscopic, we can’t see way down to the level where physical causality happens, so in compensation, we find all sorts of marvelously efficient shorthand ways of describing what goes on, because the world, though it’s pretty crazy and chaotic, is nonetheless filled with regularities that can be counted on most of the time. (Saturday, August 24, 2013, 04:19 PM, page 6074-79)

Our categories are vast simplifications of patterns in the world, but the well-chosen categories are enormously efficient in allowing us to fathom and anticipate the behavior of the world around us. (Saturday, August 24, 2013, 04:22 PM, page 6096-98)

We’re stuck at the level of radical simplification, for better or for worse. (Saturday, August 24, 2013, 04:23 PM, page 6103-4)

Dying when I know that I shall have a Replica is not quite as bad as simply dying. (Saturday, August 24, 2013, 04:38 PM, page 6212-13)

we have to treat claims of personal identity, even ones coming straight from the first person’s mouth, with extreme caution. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 10:03 AM, page 6238)

Using such a mind-to-mind metric, I would be very “close” to the person I was yesterday, slightly less close to the person I was two days ago, and so forth. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 03:41 PM, page 6325-26)

Parfit (Monday, August 26, 2013, 05:24 PM, page 6338)

“Yes, I do have this strange faith in my own mind’s correctness. Nature has to be this way, no matter what other people have said before me. I have somehow been given the opportunity to glimpse the inner logic of nature more deeply and more accurately than anyone else before me has. I am unaccountably lucky in this fact, and though I take no personal credit for it, I do wish to publish it so that I may share this valuable vision with others.” (Monday, August 26, 2013, 05:27 PM, page 6351-54)

an “I” is very good at convincing itself that it is a lot more than that — in fact, that is the entire business that the word “I” is in! “I” has a vested interest in continuing this scam (even if it is its own victim)! (Monday, August 26, 2013, 05:52 PM, page 6444-46)

Ultimately, the “I” is a hallucination, and yet, paradoxically, it is the most precious thing we own. As Dan Dennett points out in Consciousness Explained, an “I” is a little like a bill of paper money — it feels as if it is worth a great deal, but ultimately, it is just a social convention, a kind of illusion that we all tacitly agree on without ever having been asked, and which, despite being illusory, supports our entire economy. And yet the bill is just a piece of paper with no intrinsic worth at all. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 06:01 PM, page 6466-70)

That would mean that we all are unconscious but we all believe we are conscious and we all act conscious. All right, fine. I agree that that’s a fair characterization of my views. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 06:48 PM, page 6601-2)

Consciousness is not an add-on option when one has a 100-huneker brain; it is an inevitable emergent consequence of the fact that the system has a sufficiently sophisticated repertoire of categories. Like Gödel’s strange loop, which arises automatically in any sufficiently powerful formal system of number theory, the strange loop of selfhood will automatically arise in any sufficiently sophisticated repertoire of categories, and once you’ve got self, you’ve got consciousness. Élan mental is not needed. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 06:58 PM, page 6634-37)

Leafpilishness (Monday, August 26, 2013, 07:02 PM, page 6647)

Which physical entities possess Consciousness, and which ones do not? Does a whole human body possess Consciousness? Or is it just the human’s brain that is Conscious? Or could it be that only a certain part of the brain is Conscious? (Monday, August 26, 2013, 07:16 PM, page 6687-89)

How does Consciousness get attached to some specific physical structure and not accidentally onto nearby pieces of matter? (Monday, August 26, 2013, 07:19 PM, page 6695-96)

Belief in dualism leads to a hopelessly vast and murky pit of mysteries. (Monday, August 26, 2013, 07:28 PM, page 6722)

What makes no sense is to maintain, over and above that, that our wants are somehow “free” or that our decisions are somehow “free”. They are the outcomes of physical events inside our heads! How is that free? (Monday, August 26, 2013, 09:14 PM, page 6899-6901)

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Will (Friday, August 30, 2013, 10:46 AM, page 6901)

I don’t see any room in this complex world for my will to be “free”. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 10:51 AM, page 6910)

Much of life is incredibly random, and we have no control over it. We can will away all we want, but much of the time our will is frustrated. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 11:01 AM, page 6927-28)

I have never been specific about the kinds of traits a highhuneker or low-huneker soul would tend to exhibit. Indeed, any hint at such a distinction risks becoming inflammatory, because in our culture there is a dogma that states, roughly, that all human lives are worth exactly the same amount. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 11:04 AM, page 6936-38)

Thus most humans willingly participate, directly or indirectly, in the killing of animals of many different species and the eating of their flesh (sometimes even mixing together fragments of the bodies of pigs, cows, and lambs in a single dish). (Friday, August 30, 2013, 11:06 AM, page 6950-52)

Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Raoul Wallenberg, Jean Moulin, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and César Chávez (Friday, August 30, 2013, 11:14 AM, page 6970-71)

He once remarked to a ten-year-old boy who was about to step on an ant, “That’s my personal ant. You’re liable to break its legs!” (Friday, August 30, 2013, 11:23 AM, page 6998-99)

In any case, having a conscience — a sense of morality and of caring about doing “the right thing” towards other sentient beings — strikes me as the most natural and hopefully also the most reliable sign of consciousness in a being. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 12:18 PM, page 7047-49)

All this richness is a consequence of the fact that at some point in the dim past, the generic human brain surpassed a critical threshold of flexibility and became quasi-universal, able to internalize the abstract essences of other human brains. It is something to marvel at. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 12:42 PM, page 7153-55)

And so I find myself led to the unexpected conclusion that what seems to be the epitome of selfhood — a sense of “I” — is in reality brought into being if and only if along with that self there is a sense of other selves with whom one has bonds of affection. In short, only when generosity is born is an ego born. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 12:47 PM, page 7162-64)

It is not very hard for someone who grows up drenched in the pictorial and verbal imagery of western religion to imagine a wispy, ethereal aura being released from the body of someone who has just died, and sailing up, up, up into some kind of invisible celestial realm, where it will survive eternally. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 12:54 PM, page 7201-3)

A nondualistic view of the world can thus include animate entities perfectly easily, as long as different levels of description are recognized as valid. Animate entities are those that, at some level of description, manifest a certain type of loopy pattern, which inevitably starts to take form if a system with the inherent capacity of perceptually filtering the world into discrete categories vigorously expands its repertoire of categories ever more towards the abstract. This pattern reaches full bloom when there comes to be a deeply entrenched self-representation — a story told by the entity to itself — in which the entity’s “I” plays the starring role, as a unitary causal agent driven by a set of desires. More precisely, an entity is animate to the degree that such a loopy “I” pattern comes into existence, since this pattern’s presence is by no means an all-or-nothing affair. Thus to the extent that there is an “I” pattern in a given substrate, there is animacy, and where there is no such pattern, the entity is inanimate. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 01:06 PM, page 7231-38)

We live in a state of blessed ignorance, but it is also a state of marvelous enlightenment, for it involves floating in a universe of mid-level categories of our own creation — categories that function incredibly well as survival enhancers. (Friday, August 30, 2013, 01:22 PM, page 7292-93)

published: 2013-08-31
last modified: 2023-02-08