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I Am a Strange Loop Paperback – July 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2007: Pulitzer-Prize winner Douglas Hofstadter takes on some weighty and wonderful questions in I Am a Strange Loop--among them, the "size" of a soul and the vagaries of thought--and proposes persuasive answers that surprised me both with their simplicity and their sense of optimism: a rare combination to be found in a book that tackles the mysteries of the brain. This long-awaited book is a must-have for avid science readers and navel-gazers. --Anne Bartholomew

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Starred Review. Hofstadter—who won a Pulitzer for his 1979 book, Gödel, Escher, Bach—blends a surprising array of disciplines and styles in his continuing rumination on the nature of consciousness. Eschewing the study of biological processes as inadequate to the task, he argues that the phenomenon of self-awareness is best explained by an abstract model based on symbols and self-referential "loops," which, as they accumulate experiences, create high-level consciousness. Theories aside, it's impossible not to experience this book as a tender, remarkably personal and poignant effort to understand the death of his wife from cancer in 1993—and to grasp how consciousness mediates our otherwise ineffable relationships. In the end, Hofstadter's view is deeply philosophical rather than scientific. It's hopeful and romantic as well, as his model allows one consciousness to create and maintain within itself true representations of the essence of another. The book is all Hofstadter—part theory, some of it difficult; part affecting memoir; part inventive thought experiment—presented for the most part with an incorrigible playfulness. And whatever readers' reaction to the underlying arguments for this unique view of consciousness, they will find the model provocative and heroically humane. (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030798
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,850 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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353 of 382 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Douglas Hofstadter is an exceptionally bright and witty man, with a gift for analogy. This no doubt makes him entertaining company and a pleasure to have as a teacher, but at the same time it sometimes gets in the way of the message he's trying to convey- the allegories and metaphors become the dominant message, and the core gets lost in translation.

This is of course exactly what happened with Hofstadter's 1979 tour-de-force "Godel, Escher and Bach"; it was roundly praised to the heavens by scores of reviewers, none of whom seemed to notice that it was in fact a very clever way of presenting a theory of conciousness and intelligence. This bothered Hofstadter as well, as he tells us in the introduction to "I Am a Strange Loop", and so he set out to tell the story again, this time in a more straightforward manner. I'm not so sure he succeeded.

The bulk of "I Am a Strange Loop" is devoted to explaining Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, with a minimum of math and a lot of allegory and allusion. Much of it seems repetitious, and all of it is, I think, wasted, as the end product of all this attmepted explanation seems to be simply one more metaphor- that what's going on in the brain/mind is something very much like what's going on in Godel's theory: That a theory, or a formula, or a sentance, or a "thing," can contain within it a complete representation of itself. Hofstadter calls this a "strange loop", and believes that, combined with input from outside that adds to this (and other) loops is the wellspring from which consciousness springs.

I first heard this notion expressed in the following manner (although I don't recall who wrote it): Every living thing has in it some representition of the outside world.
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214 of 234 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You have certainly enjoyed the sensation of looking into a mirror that itself reflected a mirror, making a tunnel of reflections that went as deep as you could see. The same sort of thing happens when you take a television camera and turn it onto a monitor that is showing what the television camera is taking a picture of. But there is something spooky about such a loop. In fact, when young Doug Hofstadter's family was looking to purchase its first video camera, Hofstadter (showing in youth the sort of interest in self-reference that he would turn into a writing career) wondered what would happen if he showed the camera a monitor that itself showed the camera's own output. He remembers with some shame that he was hesitant to close the loop, as if he were crossing into forbidden territory. So he asked the salesman for permission to do so. "No, no, _no_!" came the reply from the salesman, who obviously shared the same fears, "Don't do _that_ - you'll break the camera." And young Hofstadter, unsure of himself, refrained from the experiment. Afterwards he thought about it on the drive home, and could see no danger to the system, and of course he tried it when they got home. And he tried it again many times; video feedback is one of the themes in Hofstadter's monumental and delightful _Gödel, Escher, Bach_ (known by millions as GEB) from 1979, and it comes back for further discussion (with more advanced hardware) in Hofstadter's new _I Am a Strange Loop_ (Basic Books).Read more ›
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85 of 91 people found the following review helpful By James Gerofsky on August 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I became interested in philosophy of mind about three years ago, and have since read a variety of books written by philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists and computer experts. About a year ago I heard about Douglas Hofstadter and his [then] forthcoming book "I Am A Strange Loop". I also discovered his 1979 work Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, where the strange loop concept was expounded in great detail. While GEB did indeed attempt to apply strange loops to the workings of the mind, IAASL promised to focus this idea with laser intensity upon the mysteries of human consciousness. Given what I had already read about the importance of circular processes within the brain, especially regarding the "binding" of multiple sense and memory data into a "unified impression", I looked forward to IAASL with great anticipation. I hoped that it would provide cutting insights that would help dispel the fog surrounding the current consciousness debate. In the end, however, Dr. Hofstadter provided little more than a warmed-over version of an old theory, i.e. PHYSICALIST FUNCTIONALISM; albeit with a quasi-mathematical twist to it, i.e., the Godel / strange-loop approach.

Although Hofstadter is a computer scientist, his first love appears to be mathematics. He gives a great description of what mathematicians do, i.e. finding and analyzing patterns amidst groups of numbers. He gives examples of how this is done, and then shows how these patterns are analyzed and formally documented via axioms and theorems and strings of logical symbols. He then kicks it up a notch by explaining what number theory is, i.e. the foundation for those theorems and logical constructs.
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