Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 21 December 2007

Riding the wild horse – my dialogue with Hofstadter

Since two full chapters in I’m a Strange Loop are parlayed in the form of a dialogue, I decided to format this section of my paper similarly. It was quite fun to create an imagined dialogue and I recommend the approach – it certainly helps the reader (in this case my professor and fellow students) enjoy it more.

Dorianne: I understand you are a great lover of classical music and that you even play the piano.

Doug: Yes that’s so. “Music seems to me to be a direct route to the heart, or between hearts – in fact, the most direct. Across-the-board alignment of musical tastes, including both loves and hates – something extremely rarely run into – is as sure a guide to affinity of souls as I have ever found” (p. 250).

Dorianne: Well, I know something about music too, having spent twenty years of my life practicing violin six hours every day. I agree that music is definitely one of several ways that two hearts and souls can merge. However, some people are more visually oriented and the way to their hearts is through sculpture, paintings or woodcuts. Still others are more kinesthetically oriented and are moved by dancing or cooking. And why do two people have to be perfectly aligned in their musical tastes in order to have a life-long affinity between their souls?

Doug: You have a point there. I suppose other forms of the arts would be as telling, it’s just that music is my passionate expression of choice. Although I acknowledge this is a controversial claim, I believe musical taste is a good way to measure consciousness (p. 349). In an example from my life, a friend of mine suggested I would love Bartók’s second violin concerto because I loved Prokofiev’s third piano concerto. Although I listened repeatedly to the Bartók recording, my soul remained unaffected. I concluded my friend’s soul wasn’t as closely aligned with mine as I had thought and eventually our friendship faded away (p. 249).

Dorianne: It seems implausible to me that your friendship withered away due to one piece of music for which you had differing tastes. How carefully have you analyzed the other variables in the relationship to eliminate any possibility that they weren’t a factor in ending your relationship? Let’s move on to another question; how would you define the scale of “small consciousness” to “large consciousness” in terms of musical taste?

Doug: Those with small souls would not be able to perform music of great depth and majesty, for example, Chopin’s Opus 25 piano etude. James Huneker says of this piece, “small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it” (1900, 1966). Huneker is not referring to physical capabilities; he is saying the “soul” of a person must be large enough to expressively convey the meaning of the music written on the page.

Dorianne: I don’t agree with you on the relative size of a human’s soul. I think there’s a difference between “consciousness” and “soul.” I think everyone has a full-blown soul from some time after conception (the timing is a mystery) that may or may not be fully expressed, depending on the level of their consciousness. My definition of consciousness is also different in several ways from yours. While I agree that a human’s awareness and structures of symbols grows over time, many studies (referenced in my paper) to have shown that perception and cognitive development starts in utero, not from birth as you claim. So a person can have a larger or smaller consciousness, or “strange loop” with regard to a myriad of abstract concepts that begin to develop before birth. A person’s consciousness allows her soul to be expressed at varying levels, but the “full” soul is within the person all the time.

Doug: So you’re one of those dualists who believe in a soul that isn’t subject to the laws of physics! “The non-particle point of view involves several types of magical thinking…it involves immaterial souls that pop into being out of nowhere and at some point are suddenly extinguished, and on and on” (p. 295). “Furthermore, the idea that each of us is intrinsically defined by a unique incorporeal essence suggests that we have immortal souls; belief in dualism may thus remove some of the sting of death” (p. 358).

Dorianne: I don’t believe souls pop into being out of nowhere, but I believe they are immortal and by some process (another mystery) enter into a physical existence as a human being or animal. As for the pain of losing someone or some animal you love, there may be some small amount of solace that their soul is immortal, but we are human and therefore have a grieving process to go through – it’s our nature as feeling beings. Though you claim animals have little or no souls, I contest that claim. There are numerous documented cases of animals, such as elephants that grieve the loss of their mates or offspring (referenced in my paper). Your contention that every aspect of existence needs to be measurable according to the laws of physics indicates you are an “upper right quadrant” thinker according to Ken Wilber (2000). The upper right quadrant corresponds to an objective or exterior view of the individual’s interior state of consciousness. You are neglecting the viewpoints of the other quadrants, such as the “intentional interior-individual,” “cultural interior-collective,” and “social exterior-collective.”

Doug: Well, I don’t put much stock in Wilber’s theories. They assume there is a magical non-physical component to consciousness, which I have repeatedly stated is a naïve point of view. In my book, I point out that our cultural dogma states “that all human lives are worth exactly the same amount” (p. 343). Yet we violate this dogma by killing through acts of war and capital punishment, we give preferential medical treatment to wealthy patients, and we kill animals for food.

Dorianne: Are you saying these violations of “dogma” indicate that people and animals actually have different sized souls? Could it be that people kill because they haven’t matured psychologically enough to deal with conflict through dialogue, rather than because of the size of their souls? If you truly believe that animals’ souls are smaller than humans, why are you a vegan? According to your line of reasoning, it should be OK to kill “very small” souls. Maybe you have some inner conflict to work out for yourself regarding this topic.

Doug: I mention in my Epilogue David Chalmers’ “Hard Problem” (1996), which asks the question “what could ever make a mere physical pattern be me?” I contend that “if there were ever, in our physics-governed world, a kind of magic, it is surely in these self-reflecting patterns” of strange loops (p. 361). “Our very nature is such as to prevent us from fully understanding its [the “I”] very nature…we human beings, more like rainbows and mirages than like raindrops or boulders, are unpredictable self-writing poems” (p. 363).

Dorianne: You are a truly poetic writer. I agree in part with you in your last statement. I interpret that we need to live in the mystery, which for me includes viewing our existence from several perspectives, not solely a physical one, with each perspective giving us greater understanding. Thanks for your book. I’m glad I finished reading it and while you didn’t convince me of your thesis, it has pushed me to clarify my beliefs.



  1. First of all thank you for such an intriguing approach to analyzing and commenting on a book. I can’t wait to try it out myself. And I also enjoyed your rich commentary based upon the research you are undoubtedly doing.

    The size of a soul will always be speculation, until, perhaps, we die. But the triumph of a soul, is that something that we can measure? Or that we should even care to measure, unless we are looking for inspiration. And, considering we really will never know, who is to say that triumph for a particular soul couldn’t simply be being born into the physical. It seems to me that the physical form, let’s say, animal versus human, are simply different forms or possibilities of expression.

    Art and Science are two competing ideas. And yet, our reality includes all of it. Wow, what a rich conversation this could be. Thanks for sharing your blog with me Dorianne, I hope to drop in often to get “inspired”.


  2. Dorianne,

    I always find it interesting when scientists like Hofstadter make such speculative comments.

    Of all people, they ought to know better.

    So tell me, exactly how does one measure a human soul? Is it as simple as running someone through an MRI?

    You know, it’s beginning to sound like this position might be just a bit naive, magical even…


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