Show

Persons, Selves, Souls, and Loops

Week of: 
January 20, 2008
What is it: 

Can a self, a consciousness, an "I" arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? And if it can, how does THAT work? These and other questions of identity are central to I Am A Strange Loop, the latest book by Indiana University Philosopher Douglas Hofstadter, author of the acclaimed Godel, Escher, Bach. He joins John and Ken for a probing discussion of the self, the soul, and the strange loop that binds them.

Listening Notes: 

John and Ken begin by creating a sense of puzzlement about what it means to be a person and have a self. Ken says that "person" doesn't mean "human". John agrees, giving the example of Donald Duck. They discuss the idea that being a person involves having self-knowledge.

The guest, Douglas Hofstadter, talks about the puzzling fact that we think of the brain operating according to the fundamental laws of physics, but such explanations seem incompatible with our every day explanations of the world in terms of personalities, senses of humor, etc.
 
John asks how real is the self. Hofstadter says that it is a very very useful fiction, a necessary short cut. He points out that even talk of hurricanes does not take place in terms of the most basic laws of physics, but still we think of hurricanes as being real. He says that selves are "abstract patterns" that exist at the same level of reality as hurricanes.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 5:14): Polly Stryker speaks with Psychiatrist Sophia Vinogradov of the University of California San Francisco, who says that our sense of self is build up over the years from memories and various associations. It feels like the same self exists over time even though our molecular constitution changes. Dr. Vinogradov also discusses split-brain experiments, in which two people seem to be housed in one body.

Douglas Hofstadter, Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Comparative Literature, Indiana University Bloomington

Get Philosophy Talk

Radio

Sunday at 10am (pacific) on KALW 91.7 FM Local Public Radio, San Francisco

Podcast

Individual downloads via CDBaby and iTunes. Multipacks and The Complete Philosophy Talk via iAamplify

John Perry and Ken Taylor

Continue the Conversation

Sidebar Menu

Upcoming Shows

  • July 31 : More Than Pun and Games
    Puns have been called both the highest and lowest form of humor. There is something about them that is at once painful and pleasurable, capable of...
  • August 7 : The Dark Side of Science
    Science aims tell us something about nearly everything, from the atoms in our cells to the motions of the stars. It assumes that knowledge is good...
  • August 14 : The Big Bang - Before and After
    The Big Bang theory is the prevailing theory about the “birth” of the universe. It posits a singularity, or super high density state from which the...
  • August 21 : This Is Your Brain on Art
    Humans actively seek to create and consume art. Its compelling nature has been discussed in the humanities since its inception, and the philosophical...
  • August 28 : Dangerous Demographics: The Challenges of an Aging Population
    All over the world, people are living longer and having fewer children than ever before. In less than two decades, one fifth of the US population...

Support Philosophy Talk

DONATE TODAY

Philosophy Talk relies on the support of listeners like you to stay on the air and online. Any contribution, large or small, helps us produce intelligent, reflective radio that questions everything, including our most deeply-held beliefs about science, morality, culture, and the human condition. Make your tax-deductible contribution now through Stanford University's secure online donation page. Thank you for your support, and thank you for thinking!