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The concept of self is ambiguous; this discussion will limit self to its reflexive use. This reflexive usage appears when the knower is a premise of any explanation and an active part of whatever is to be known. Such a use of self is epitomized in the Copenhagen epistemology of complementary or exemplified in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. This argues that at a subatomic level of investigation there cannot be any objectively neutral data to be considered. All data are observer conditioned.

More generally, self-reference is the nemesis of all rationally continuous statements. Cambridge thermodynamicist A.B. Pippard spoke of this as the "invincible ignorance of science." According to him self-awareness of any mechanical system is intrinsically impossible. In The Emperor's New Mind (1989), physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose argues that a computer can not answer self-reflexive questions such as "What does it feel like to be a computer?"

More abstractly, consider the analysis of adjectival phrases under the rubrics of autological and heterological as to whether they do or do not have the property they denote. Short is autological and abbreviated is heterological. In this self-referential exercise a paradox arises when one asks whether heterological is itself autological or heterological. Self-referential statements raise similar paradoxical issues. Willard V. O. Quine argues that statements such as "This statement is false" are not admissible as rational propositions since it can not be determined whether they are true or false. Science accordingly tries to avoid such self-referential statements, but such avoidance can eliminate the human factor all together. Self-referential statements are at the very heart of what it means to be human, which theologians as diverse as Søren Kierkegaard and Wolfhart Pannenberg make plain. Therefore self-referential statements are central to the theology-science dialogue.

See also Copenhagen Interpretation; Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle; Paradox; Physics, Quantum


loder, james e., and neidhardt, w. jim. the knight's move: the relational logic of the spirit in theology and science. colorado springs, colo.: helmers and howard, 1992.

penrose, roger. the emperor's new mind: concerning computers, minds, and the laws of physics. new york: oxford university press, 1989.

james e. loder