Thinking of souls this way makes me feel better about the fly I just swatted. What¿ever repertoire of symbols it may have possessed was surely too constricted for Gödelian self-representation to arise. The same would probably go for an amphibian or a fish or, for that matter, a human ovum that had just been fertilized by a sperm. But somewhere along the line--maybe with parakeets or cats--it becomes harder to deny the glint of some kind of "who" inside.
Souls, as Hofstadter puts it, come in "different sizes." In a whimsical moment, he even suggests that soulness might be measured--in units called "hun¿e¿kers," after an American music critic, James Huneker, who once wrote of a certain Chopin étude that "small-souled men" should not attempt it. The scale might start with a mosquito, with a tiny fraction of a huneker, ascending to 100 for an average human and upward to maybe 200 for Mahatma Gandhi.
Hofstadter's fans may find some of this familiar, but I Am a Strange Loop is much more than the condensed version of Gödel, Escher, Bach. In the 28 years since that book appeared, Hofstadter has lived with these ideas, working out their implications. From being a semivegetarian (fish and chicken were okay), he became, just recently, a strict one. Most significantly, in this time he learned what happens when another soul becomes entwined with your own. Her name was Carol, and as they became absorbed one into the other, consciousness spilling beyond its containers, he sometimes thought of them as "one individual with two bodies," sharing "exactly the same dreads and dreams and hopes and fears."
Then, when she was not yet 43, Carol died without warning from a brain tumor. Even though I knew that was coming, it did not diminish the blow. It is heart-wrenching to read how the author has tried to come to grips with her death, agonizing over how much "Carolness" and even "Carol-consciousness"--how much of her "interiority"--still lives in his brain and in those of the others who knew her.
Consciousness is a pattern. The substrate is not supposed to matter. And yet it does. I finished the book with a sense of the desperation that must come from losing, in body if not in spirit, one half of a 400-huneker soul.