A New Mode of Self-Reference

Have you ever felt that you could really use a reference defending exactly the bold and sweeping claim you are making?  I’ve recently stumbled upon a new way to solve this problem:  cite the book you’re writing.  That’s right!  The very book that makes the claim that needs support.

On p. 232 of his book Computing the Mind (OUP, 2008), S. Edelman writes thus:  “[the Empiricist view of knowledge] enjoys a combination of unassailable empirical support and impressive theoretical unity and scope (Edelman 2008).”  Never mind that Empiricism itself is controversial to say the least.  If you look at the bibliography, Edelman 2008 is nothing other than the book itself (S. Edelman, Computing the Mind, OUP, 2008). 

Two explanations came to mind:

1. This is an oversight due to cutting and pasting from a previous paper, which referred to the book as a separate entity, into the book itself, perhaps with some help from an automatic bibliography maker and sloppy copy-editing.

2. This is some kind of prank.  (As in, “this whole book is a defense of Empiricism, but I’m not saying it out right; instead, I’m making you look at the bibliography and waste some time wondering what’s going on before you can maybe see what I’m saying”.  Notice that the claim that the whole book is a defense of Empiricism does not occur anywhere in the book, at least prior to this passage.)

Does anyone have a better explanation?  Has anyone seen anything like this before?


  1. it is not much better even if it is an error. Presumably that citation could be swapped out for another that did more or less the same job, and that even referred to some other work by the same author.

    So there could be something like a system of overlapping references from within a self-contained universe that are effectively similar to a circular reference.

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