I really liked GEB a few years ago, and have been following up with "I am a Strange Loop" recently. In the book, Douglas Hofstadter tries to better explain his concept of symbols and in particular the strangely loopy symbol of "I" or self.
In the earlier parts of the book (with his careenium analogy), he describes symbols as something that emerges from our choice of level-of-description of a physical system. In that reading, I would assume he believes the symbols to not really exist, but just be a convenient way for us as observers to summarize our knowledge of the system.
However, later in the book, he seems to give them more and more weight, and talks about them as entities in their own right (transplanting approximate or course-grained symbols between brains or minds, etc). With the ability to reflect on ourselves, the role of observer also becomes very hairy and it seems that he starts to push symbols (especially the strangely loopy kind) as things that really exist.
Which is it? What is Hofstadter's ontology for symbols?