John Allen Paulos looks at I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter, in his highly recommended Who’s Counting column, at ABC News:
I just read of a panel discussion held in Colorado, for example, whose subject was the number of levels of reality present if Stephen Colbert, anchor of the faux news “Colbert Report,” were to interview Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of the characters Borat and Ali G.
Colbert is, one senses, a very nice guy, but he is also a comedian who pretends to be a self-centered, overbearing blowhard of a television pundit. Cohen is intelligent and thoughtful, but he is also a comedian pretending to be an ignorant, anti-Semitic homophobe. We sit at home watching the interview and forming little ancillary “I” symbols in our minds for each of these men as well as for their ancillary sub “I” ‘s.
This self-referential tangle, being indefinitely extensible and recursive, leads to strange psychological effects, one being that the characters played by Colbert and Cohen can be more truthful in disguise than they can if they present themselves straight.
That we can understand these various levels and personas, their interaction, and analogies to other situations is testament to how natural are some of the seemingly abstract ideas in “I Am a Strange Loop.” Humor, in particular, calls on our ability to model others’ personalities, understand their points of view, and stand outside ourselves.