Awesome Self-Reference

A curated list of examples of self-reference in art, science, and technology.



  • The Treachery of Images – A painting by René Magritte.
  • Triple Self-Portrait – A painting by Norman Rockwell.
  • Mise en abyme – A formal technique of placing a copy of an image within itself.
  • Droste effect – The effect of a picture recursively appearing within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear.


  • Autogram – A sentence that describes itself in the sense of providing an inventory of its own characters.
  • Fumblerule – A rule of language or linguistic style, humorously written in such a way that it breaks this rule.
  • Recursive acronym – An acronym that refers to itself.


  • Liar’s paradox – This sentence is false.
  • Russell’s paradox – Does the set of all those sets that do not contain themselves contain itself?
  • Trott’s constant – The unique number whose digits equal its continued fraction coefficients.
  • 13532385396179 – A number that is its own prime factorization, that is 13532385396179 = 13 × 53² × 3853 × 96179.
  • Tupper’s self-referential formula – A formula that visually represents itself when graphed at a specific location in the (x, y) plane.
  • Life in Life – Conway’s Game of Life running inside Conway’s Game of Life using OTCA metapixels.


  • Quine – A computer program that takes no input and produces a copy of its own source code as its only output.
    • An Ouroboros Quine – A Ruby program that generates Rust program that generates Scala program that generates (through 128 languages in total) REXX program that generates the original Ruby code again.
    • A radiation hardened quine – A Ruby quine that remains a quine after any one of the characters in its source code is removed.
    • quinesnake – A quine that plays snake over its own source.
    • The Qlobe – A Ruby quine with an ASCII image of a globe in its source code that rotates by 45 degrees after each run, eventually coming around after eight runs.
    • html_wysiwyg – A truly naked, brutalist html quine.
  • Meta-circular evaluator – An interpreter that defines each feature of the interpreted language using a similar facility of the interpreter’s host language.
  • A Micro-Manual for LISP – Not the whole truth – The LISP interpreter written in LISP.
  • Fix-point combinator – A higher-order function fix that, for any function f that has an attractive fixed point, returns a fixed point x of that function.
  • Universal Turing machine – A Turing machine that can simulate an arbitrary Turing machine on arbitrary input.
  • Bootstrapping – A technique for producing a self-compiling compiler – that is, compiler (or assembler) written in the source programming language that it intends to compile.


  • Wikipedia – An article about Wikipedia on Wikipedia.
  • Wayback Machine – Snapshots of The Internet Archive stored in The Internet Archive.
  • Quine Tweet – A tweet that quote tweets itself.
  • Awesome Self-Reference – A curated list of examples of self-reference in art, science, and technology, which includes itself.


  • Hofstadter’s law – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law”.
  • Miniatur Wunderland – The world’s largest model railway in Hamburg, Germany has a model of itself in its model of Hamburg.

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