- Paperback: 436 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (July 8, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465030793
- ISBN-13: 978-0465030798
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I Am a Strange Loop Paperback – July 8, 2008
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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
From Publishers Weekly
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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Top Customer Reviews
The problem with this premise though is that the mind itself is an illusion, as it does not possess any tangible properties. Thanks to this ontological constraint, our languages and descriptions also are wont to be imprecise. Hofstadter points out that this "twisting back of language" leads to a loss in logical correctitude. (Ironically, the plethora of autobiographical elements in this book itself - while endearing in some places - exemplifies this imprecision by contributing to the looseness of the narrative.)
I came to this book after reading "The Mind's I", which Hofstadter had co-authored with Daniel Dennett. I quite enjoyed reading that book - and had also heard a fair bit about Hofstadter's earlier book, "Godel, Escher and Bach", although I still haven't read it - and expected this one to be at least on par with "The Mind's I". But this book lacks the concision and intellectual rigour of the other one. I suspect there could be a few reasons for this: one is that Dennett perhaps had more editorial control over the other book. This suspicion is based on the fact that Dennett explained similar views - and a number of other concepts - a lot more succinctly and logically in his later work, "Consciousness Explained". Dennett presents also fairly reasoned arguments against Cartesian duality and the homunculus in the brain. (You do not have to agree with the materialist viewpoint. Nevertheless, Dennett's interpretation is well-argued.) In this book, however, while it is clear that Hofstadter is trying his hardest to deny the separation between mind and matter and other allied Cartesian themes, he does not appear to present any well-constructed and clear arguments for this denial. He instead spends considerable time describing Godel's top-down view of the mathematical theorem in Russell's Principia Mathematica as an illustration of how we are constrained by evolution to think of events at a macro level rather than at the level of particles and neurones and hence end up creating a world that may not be wholly correct. (James Gleick, on the contrary, explains Godel's work much more concisely and lucidly in his "The Information".)
It appears as if the publishers may have for some reason given Hofstadter unfettered reign over this book's content. Hofstadter's analogies neologisms and logic puzzles are initially very stimulating intellectually and the sweep of his imagination is at times admirable. However, these devices tend to wear thin as the narrative progresses because they become repetitive and overwhelming. In a number of places, the writing appears to be excessively verbose and even garrulous. (For instance, he gives not less than twelve examples to explain the idea that things do not go as planned.)
In summary, this book would have turned out a lot better if it had (a) a dispassionate no-nonsense editor ready to weed out the chaff, (b) arguments with more focus on the central themes and (c) less unfettered flights of imagination.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great insight and smoothly readable.