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[Comments] (4) How Strange Is The Loop?: I borrowed I Am a Strange Loop from Evan and read it after reading Consciousness Explained. As you might expect I agree with most of what Hofstadter says in the book, but there's one big thing I don't think he ever makes an argument for.

Nonlocalized consciousness (not the real term) makes it legitimate to think of other people as existing inside you to the extent that you've internalized their mental processes. Which is always really not very much at all, but better than nothing. One implication of this is that fictional characters can exist inside you in the same sense. That seems reasonable to me. Fictional thoughts are thoughts.

But Hofstadter says that you can (and do) actually internalize another person's consciousness on a coarse-grained level: the "strange loop" that drives that person's consciousness. And so not only do (your copies of) other people and fictional characters exist inside you, they are actually conscious inside you, because their strange loop is running on your hardware.

Stipulating the strange loop thing, I guess fictional characters could be called conscious if you simulated their thought processes in enough detail, but is that really what's happening? Do you ever know enough about someone else's thought process to internalize their consciousness, a thing so inaccessible that the person themself can't describe it? When I make up a character I have, in theory, complete control over their mental states, but I don't create a strange loop for them. I use my own, preexisting consciousness to simulate them. That's different. I'm pretending to be them, with greater or lesser success.

I'm not as old as Hofstadter, so I don't have as much practice, but I've known Sumana for about eight years and I do have an internalized Sumana that acts kind of like the real Sumana. But I wouldn't say I've internalized a copy of Sumana's consciousness, her sleep number strange loop. I'm using my own strange loop as the simulation engine.

So my intuition is that my Sumana-symbol, my symbols for dead people I used to know, and my symbols for fictional characters are the same kind of symbols as I keep for other complex entities like the World Wide Web. Not the kind that forms an "I". I can be surprised by something one of my fictional characters does, but it's the same kind of surprise as when I come up with an idea some other way. I don't see where Hofstadter argues that our representations of other people have this unusual property, but a lot of the book assumes it.

I'm explicitly not saying that mental simulations of consciousness would not be conscious. They would be. And I could believe that someone with eg. multiple personality disorder had multiple strange loops in their mind. I just don't think that's what happens when we think about a dead person we used to know.


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