I Am A Strange Loop

Kurt Godel


If you are in a mood to contemplate the nature of consciousness and how it emerged in animals, this is a good one.   Douglas Hofstadter is one of the few people who has the credibility to be taken seriously and the ability to explain complicated ideas, and those are two indispensable things if one is trying to learn about consciousness.

If I understand Mr. Hofstadter correctly  (and I sincerely hope I am getting this right), here is a subset of some things he believes:

  • Analogies are fundamental to understanding
  • Consciousness is a prima facia consequence of the underlying complexity of chemical reactions.
    • A conscious awareness and understanding of the trillions of operations underlying our bodies and brains is not necessary in order to be conscious
  • There is something about the way that Gödel’s incompleteness theorem operates on a sufficiently complex formal mathematical system that is analogous to  the way consciousness emerges from the operation of subatomic particles following natural law.
    • In this analogy:
      • axiomatic rules are akin to physical laws
      • self-referencing statements that emerge after applying Gödel Numbering is analogous to the self-awareness that accompanies consciousness
  • Patterns that arise in the mind of an animal, arise because they are inevitable when the underlying subatomic particles are arranged in the way they are within the animal.
The Incompleteness of the Preceding List…

There are several other very interesting points he makes in the book, all of which tie in some way or another to his thesis that we are all “strange loops”, but the list above is the best I can do to distill the essence of what he had to say about consciousness into as few words as possible.

I hope I get this right, but in any case, here goes……..

In a way that is analogous to how self-referencing statements emerge when one applies Gödel’s theorem to sufficiently complex formal systems, Mr. Hofstadter implies the self-awareness we experience emerges from the operation of physical laws on matter at the subatomic level.

Gödel proved that Bertrand Russel’s and Alfred North Whitehead’s goal of creating a complete formal system is impossible to achieve.

The reason why no formal system can ever be complete is because it is impossible to eliminate the emergence of self-referencing theorems when Gödel’s numbering is applied to the fundamental rules.

In Hofstadter ‘s analogy, the natural physical laws which govern the way the universe operates are akin to the formal system Russel and Northead created, and emergence of consciousness from the underlying is likened to the emergence of self-reference in any formal system when you apply Gödel’s numbering to it.

And that, according to Hofstadter, is how Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, when applied to a “formal” system of natural law, suggests that given enough time, self-awareness emerges as the result of the trillions of molecules dancing in a brain.