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Self & identity
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Self reference is an aspect of interpersonal communication in which people refer to themselves. Psychologists are interested in the frequency of such references and in the type of self perception they reveal and the way in which such behavior affects the social perception of others. Narcissists for example may refer to themselves more than others, possibly in a grandiose and self serving way which may make others want to avoid them. Those with low self confidence may nor refer to themselves at all and people may think they are boring because they remain hidden.

=Other uses

The Ouroboros, a snake which consumes itself, is a symbol for self-reference.

A self-reference is possible when there are two logical levels, a level and a meta-level. It is most commonly used in mathematics, philosophy, computer programming, and linguistics. Self-referential statements can lead to paradoxes (but see antinomy for limits on the significance of these).


An example of a self-reference situation is the one of autopoiesis, as the logical organisation produces itself the physical structure which create itself.

In metaphysics, self-reference is subjectivity, while "hetero-reference", as it is called (see Niklas Luhmann), is objectivity.

Self-reference also occurs in literature when an author refers to his work in the context of the work itself.

"The Betrayal of Images" (1928-9) by René Magritte depicts a pipe along with the text, "This is not a pipe."

Self-reference is also employed in tautology and in licensed terminology. When a word defines itself (e.g., "Machine: any objects put together mechanically"), the result is a tautology. Such self-references can be quite complex, include full propositions rather than simple words, and produce arguments and terms that require license (accepting them as proof of themselves).



  • This statement is short.
  • I am not the subject of this sentence.
  • "I" is the subject of this sentence.
  • Which question is also its own answer?
  • This sentence contains thirty-eight letters.
  • This sentence fragment no verb.
  • This sentence has, and therefore contains, two verbs.
  • "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation" yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation. (This, the original quine, is a version of the liar paradox, an example of indirect self-reference leading to a paradox.)
  • Russell's paradox: The set of all sets which are not elements of themselves (which includes, and therefore does not, and therefore does include itself)
  • The Examples section of this article refers to itself.
  • This sentence exemplifies cacozelia (using rare/foreign words to appear learned).
  • Every rule has exceptions.
  • All generalizations are false.
  • 74.6% of statistics are completely made up.
  • The following statement is true. The preceding statement is false.
  • This statement doesn't contain the letter 'y'.
  • Is this a question?
  • There are two errors in this this statement.
  • Thit sentence is not self-referential because 'thit' is not a word. ~ Douglas Hofstadter
  • If the meanings of "true" and "false" were switched, then this sentence wouldn't be false.
  • Click here
  • You are here.
  • "If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done."
  • If you smirk/smile while/after reading this sentence, you're more likely to agree that this is a smirk/smile-generating sentence (and hopefully also laughter).

See also

  • Object of the mind
  • Recursion
  • Reference work
  • Russell's paradox
  • Grelling-Nelson paradox
  • Self-coup
  • Self-similarity
  • Self perception
  • Social percpetion


  • Hofstadter, D. R. (1980). Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. New York, Vintage Books.
  • Raymond Smullyan (1994), Diagonalization and Self-Reference, Oxford Science Publications, IBSN 0 19 853450 7

External links

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