These engrossing images of real-time evolving self-organising systems near the edge of chaos, culled from the feed of Data Is Nature began a long revery which lead to rereading Douglas Hofstaeder‘s preface to the 20th anniversary edition of Godel,Escher,Bach.
Something very strange emerges from the Godelian loop: the revelation of the causal power of meaning in a rule-bond by meaning-free universe. And this is where my analogy to brains and selves comes back in, suggesting that the twisted loop of selfhood trapped inside an inanimate bulb called a “brain” also has causal power—or put another way, that a mere pattern called “I” can shove around inanimate particles in the brain no less than inanimate particles in the brain can shove around patterns. In short, an “I” comes about—in my view at least—via a kind of vortex whereby patterns in the brain mirror the brain’s mirroring of the world, and eventually mirror themselves, whereupon the vortex of “I” becomes a real, causal entity. For an imperfect but vivid concrete analogue to this curious abstract phenomenon, think of what happens when a TV camera is pointed at a TV screen, so as to display the screen on itself (and that screen on itself, etc.)—What in GEB I called a “self-engulfing television”, and in my later writings I sometimes call a “level-crossing feedback loop”.
When and only when such a loop arises in a brain or in any other substrate, is a person—a unique new “I”—brought into being. Moreover, the more self-referentially rich such loop is, the more conscious is the self to which it gives rise. Yes, shocking though this might sound, consciousness is not an on/off phenomenon, but admits of degrees, grades and shades.