Sun 29 Apr 2007
Throughout all of history, folks have tried to determine what it is that makes a person have consciousness. What is it that makes the light illuminating our mind with awareness of being?
No one has found a physical “thing” in a person that could be called a soul. In spite of the images in Harry Potter, Ghost and other works, no structure, vapor or essence has been identified as the soul or consciousness. I suggest that the reason is that the soul is an action, not a thing. In I am a Strange Loop, Doug Hofstadter makes a convincing case that human consciousness consists of a self referential strange loop.
I don’t think Doug completed his thesis. He left the nature of the strange loop as simply “something” within the cranium. The definition of a loop can be anything from a complete electrical circuit, anything round or oval that is closed or nearly closed, a curl or coil, or finally, a computer program sequence that repetitively executes a series of instructions. If one looks at a strange loop as an algorithm that recursively refers to both new input and itself, a clearer picture of what might be consciousness arises.
DesCartes said, cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). He should have said “I think, and this makes me be”. Thinking is consciousness – while we are awake and aware the strange loop is the execution of thought. It depends on all the inputs from our senses, the state of our body and all the memories and associations or “tokens” we have developed through life.
Doug Hofsteader makes a good case that strange loops are contagious. Attenuated or fuzzy versions of our personal strange loop execute in the minds of our closest associates – those with whom we share experience, associations and viewpoints. Similarly echoes of other’s personal strange loops operate in our own minds in parallel and on occasion in lieu of our personal strange loop.
The contagion can be through close association – in friendship or family, through art or any other form of exposition. Here are some examples of what I mean: When you experience a Van Gogh or Dali painting you cannot fail to experience some bit of Vincent or Salvator’s vision. When I have an ethical decision to make I filter it through the values of my father and taste the possible outcomes on an ethical palate as he would. I have caught some of the grandeur of Starry Night from Vincent and of my Dad’s ethical syn
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