- 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: 197 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,063 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
"[F]ascinating... original and thought-provoking.... [T]here are many pleasures in I Am a Strange
"I Am a Strange Loop is thoughtful, amusing and infectiously enthusiastic."―Bloomberg news
"I Am a Strange Loop scales some lofty conceptual heights, but it remains very personal, and it's deeply colored by the facts of Hofstadter's later life. In 1993 Hofstadter's wife Carol died suddenly of a brain tumor at only 42, leaving him with two young children to care for.... I Am a Strange Loop is a work of rigorous thinking, but it's also an extraordinary tribute to the memory of romantic love: The Year of Magical Thinking for mathematicians."―Time
"I Am a Strange Loop is vintage Hofstadter: earnest, deep, overflowing with ideas, building its argument into the experience of reading it-for if our souls can incorporate those of others, then I Am a Strange Loop can transmit Hofstadter's into ours. And indeed, it is impossible to come away from this book without having introduced elements of his point of view into our own. It may not make us kinder or more compassionate, but we will never look at the world, inside or out, in the same way again."―Los AngelesTimes Book Review
"Nearly thirty years after his best-selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach, cognitive scientist and polymath Douglas Hofstadter has returned to his extraordinary theory of self."―New Scientist
"His new book, as brilliant and provocative as earlier ones, is a colorful mix of speculations with passages of autobiography."―Martin Gardiner
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Besides Godel, the author's other insight comes from the loopy-like nature of recursive entities like infinite halls of mirrors or what happens when you point a television camera at the screen displaying what that camera is viewing. We all have seen these, and from these two things, Hofstadter assembles a theory of mind based on the idea that whatever goes on in the brain at the low and mid physical levels results in some sort of abstractions (perhaps manifested in harmonic oscillations of electromagnetic energy) that from another perspective, are the very stuff of consciousness.
There is nothing particularly new about this. Rejecting religion or other basis for any sort of dualism (and his remarks are rather disparaging in this respect) and declaring oneself a physicalist (there is nothing more than physics) is par for the course and occasionally swatting straw-man arguments to the contrary, is all part of the contemporary game for most of today's philosophers and scientists. Besides religion he mentions David Chalmers who was, apparently, a student of Hofstadter's in his doctoral days and rejects Chalmer's non-religious panpsychism (and along with this presumably Davidson's "dual aspect" monism as well) which is fine as far as it goes.
Hofstadter's theory is somatic. Mind arises from what goes on physically in the brain and nothing more. The problem is he never gets to connect up the subjective with anything that can, even in theory, be measured by third parties. This is not to criticize him alone here, no other physicalists (or for that matter panpsychists) manage to do it either, but in this case the author jumps from the neurological layer to the concept of self-referencing abstraction (presupposing consciousness) without pointing to anything in between that might connect the two.
After declaring his theory "explained", Hofstadter moves on to considerations of how one strange loop-abstraction, the one that fools me into the illusion of a stable "I", is influenced and modified by others. He is much impressed by Derek Parfit's thought experiments [supposedly] demonstrating that what we take to be the un-copyable core of ourselves, is nothing but effervescent illusion and can in fact be copied. Moreover, though we cannot copy it today (and may never be able to do that in reality) we can, from our own interiority, find ourselves being partial expressions of other people, their strange loops!
He supposes that our own personal-identities form slowly as we proceed from infant to child based on all the various influences that impinge on us from the world as these come to influence new effects in our own minds. The totality of all this over time results in a relatively stable, but not changeless, personal identity. He moves on from there to suppose that those we hold and know particularly closely (our parents, wives, children, siblings, etc) can cause their own identities to be partly duplicated in our own minds. None of this really makes sense. Of course someone with whom we are close for many years will have a proportionally larger influence over the shape of our phenomenal arena. What he doesn't seem to appreciate is that this influence takes the same pathways (our interpretation of sensory experience for example) as the initial early development of our own personality. There isn't any loop in my brain that is a copy (however imperfect) of my wife or children's identity, only modifications of my own that represent them.
There is much here and I do not doubt that writing "I am a Strange Loop" was a labor of love in more ways than one. It is, as with other somatic theories, even possible that oscillating fields in the brain have a lot to do with consciousness and personal identity. There are still reasons to believe that this is not the whole story.
Hofstadter must really hate mosquitos.