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Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking Hardcover – April 23, 2013
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How do we know what we know? How do we know at all? With an enjoyable blend of hard science and good storytelling, Hofstadter and French psychologist Sander tackle these most elusive of philosophical matters.... [I]t's worth sticking with [Hofstadter's] long argument, full of up-to-date cognitive science and, at the end, a beguiling look at how the theory of relativity owes to analogy.... First rate popular science: difficult but rewarding.”
Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science, Portland State University, and author of Complexity: A Guided Tour
Hofstadter and Sander's book is a wonderful and insightful account of the role of analogy in cognition. Immensely enjoyable, with a plethora of fascinating examples and anecdotes, this book will make you understand your own thought processes in a wholly new way. It's analogy all the way down!”
Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
I am one of those cognitive scientists who believe that analogy is a key to explaining human intelligence. This magnum opus by Douglas Hofstadter, who has reflected on the nature of analogy for decades, and Emmanuel Sander, is a milestone in our understanding of human thought, filled with insights and new ideas.”
Gerald Holton, Professor of Physics and History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University
Hofstadter and Sander's book starts with two audacious goals: to show that none of us can think a minute without using a variety of analogies, and that becoming aware of this fact can help us think more clearly. Then, patiently and with humor, the authors prove their claims across the whole spectrum, from everyday conversation to scientific thought processes, even that of Einstein.”
Nancy J. Nersessian, Professor of Cognitive Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, and author of Creating Scientific Concepts
Placing analogy at the core of cognition Hofstadter and Sander provide a persuasive answer to the question what is thought?' Analogy is the mechanism underlying the myriad instances of concept formation and categorization we perform throughout any day, whether unconscious or explicit, without which there would be no thought. They mount a compelling case through analysis of a wealth of insightfulimaginative and realexemplars, from everyday thinking to the highest achievements of the human mind, which are sure to persuade a broad range of readers.”
Longlisted for the 2014 PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
Surfaces and Essences warrants a place alongside Gödel, Escher, Bach and major recent treatments of human cognition. Analogy is not the endpoint of understanding, but its indispensable beginning.”
Lucid and, page for page, a delight to read.... [Surfaces and Essences contains] gems of insight.”
Wall Street Journal
"Clear, lively, and personal."
Globe and Mail (Canada)
Knowing what makes a duck a bird and what makes a plane not a bird may not seem like very profound mental featsbut Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander see such cognitive connections as part of an extraordinarily profound process.... Be prepared to become hyper-conscious of the myriad of analogies one makes every moment of every day.... The end result is a book that is ambitious and provocative.”
Booklist, starred review
A revelatory foray into the dynamics of the mind.”
Like Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach, this work executes, from a very complex thesis, an understanding by general readers while also appealing to specialists in philosophy of mind and cognitive science.”
- Publisher : Basic Books; 1st edition (April 23, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 592 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0465018475
- ISBN-13 : 978-0465018475
- Reading age : 13 years and up
- Grade level : 11 and up
- Item Weight : 2.35 pounds
- Dimensions : 7.88 x 1.88 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #153,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Douglas Hofstadter, of course, is the author of GODEL ESCHER BACH and other fine meditations on the nature of mind and thought. In this collaboration with French cognitive scientist Emmanuel Sander, they propose, quite seriously and with a great deal of supporting evidence, examples, and argumentation, that the basic nature of thought - its "fuel and fire," as the subtitle would have it - is _analogy_.
Summarized in my own words, the conception might go something like this:
As babies, we have no knowledge about the world, but we have a powerful instinct to try and "make sense of" our experiences. We notice certain _patterns_ -- this experience _is like_ that experience -- and begin to build a sort of vocabulary of phenomena in our brainminds. Things that _are like_ each other become _categories_ (that's right, categories are the children of analogies), and, as we have more categories and fit more things into them, our experiences seem to make more "sense."
We build a category of causes and effects - babies discover gravity by dropping things - and one of the effects we find is response to our vocalizations. Speech begins with words like "ma ma." We make this sound and our mother responds, usually in a way we find pleasurable. We make it more often, and associate it with that person. Eventually it becomes, for us, a name for that person. Later we discover that other children have mommies too, and the concept of "mama" expands to a category with multiple examples, but one unique example which is *our* mommy.
To think about a thing is to consider it like other things. If we look at an object and call it a "table," we are saying it is _like_, in some fundamental and useful way, other things that have been called tables in our past experience.
Hofstadter and Sander say all this better, at greater length, and with much more elaboration - plus, they say a great deal more - than this brief review can do. But that's the gist of it: analogies create categories, and analogies/categories are how we perceive the world.
One important thing to understand is that "category," for the authors, is much more than "groups of concrete objects." There are abstract categories - for example, situations for which the phrase "buying a pig in a poke" is applicable. The pig is analogical, obviously; less obviously, it names a category of situations that might otherwise seem very unlike each other. "Buying a pig in a poke" might serve as a name for the category of "situations in which one makes a commitment without knowing whether what we will get in return is really worth it."
The book ends with a sort of Platonic dialogue on the analogy nature of categories -- which itself ends in a slightly surreal twist.
I can recommend this to anyone who thinks they can handle it. I'm not sure I could, but I did anyway.
My profession is doing a kind of “data modeling”, where it is my job to identify the underlying simplicity in an otherwise chaotic environment. Back in 1995, I wrote a book Data Model Patterns: Conventions of Thought, which was the first to use data modeling to represent the underlying simplicity of a typical company. What these guys were writing about is what my job is all about.
But of course many people aren't aware of the fact that they are also doing the same thing every day, and have been doing so all their lives. From the point when, as a baby each of us discovers that this person called “Mom” is actually similar to that other person that his friend calls “Mom”, we continue to try to make sense out of the world by organizing what we see into categories.
At one level, this is trivial—it is what we do every day in order to cope with traffic, copying machines, and social situations. The problem is that, to the extent that our categories are not broad enough—the analogies are not abstract enough—the stuff that we have to deal with in terms of those categories can be incredibly complicated. More general categories yet are still required. .
The authors take great pains to make the point that defining categories is really nothing other than drawing analogies: An analogy is the recognition that two things that appear to be quite different are really the same thing.
A lot of the book is about the entertaining analogies that we all take on: an animal heart is a “pump”; creating a work of art is like “giving birth”, and so on. Our language is not as much composed of real descriptions of things as it is expressions that are analogies, likening them to other things.
The point is that when we constrain ourselves to the analogies (that is, categories) we grew up with, the world becomes a very complicated place. More analogies, bringing together things we never thought about being the same—that is the path to simplifying your life.
The end of the book points out that the only difference between geniuses and the rest of us is the level at which they are developing analogies. Great mathematicians, for example, are not clever by virtue of the fact that they are good at manipulating formulae. Rather, they are first clever—good at spotting analogies that no one else does. In some cases, they then use mathematics to express that brilliance. But the mathematics is not the source of the insight.
The authors take the last chapter to describe analogical leaps taken over the history of science. One example is recognizing that a cure for knee pain might also apply to elbows (horizontal analogy). Or it could apply to any joints (vertical analogy).
Because they are describing the analogical thinking he went through, not his mathematics, the authors’ description of Einstein’s recognizing that E=mc<squared>, and that acceleration is the same thing as gravity, is actually understandable.
Hofstadter and Sander, early in the book defined “intelligence” to mean “the ability to see the essence of a situation at a glance”.
This is a very profound book. But you have to be able to see that…
Definitely don't start here
Top reviews from other countries
The premise of this book is that analogy (metaphors) are at the core of all thinking. As is usual with Hofstadter's work, this premise is tested and demonstrated using linguistics and introspection. Giving examples of the way people communicate, and thereby often misinterpret one another, Hofstadter and Sander show that most if not all language-usage depend on the mutual understanding of analogies. Those analogies in itself are fluid, so that concept-building is an organic process which is in itself influenced by analogy.
Though interesting in itself, the book could have been at least half its size shorter, had not the authors decided to come up with example after example of the point they are trying to make at a specific place. On nearly every page we see examples of situations that are, in the end, not all the difficult to understand or recognise. And those examples are in themselves more often than not described with too much (unnecessary) detail.
In fact, the book they should have come up with would be not that much different from Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (1980). Given the fact that on page 63 they actually refer to this work, it is obvious that they know about it. It is at least strange that Hofstadter and Sander do not give more credit where credit is due.
Einem Menschen die Rolle der Analogie in seinem Denken bewusst zu machen ist wie einem Fisch etwas über Wasser erzählen zu wollen, die Schwierigkeit dabei liegt in der Selbstverständlichkeit. Wie bringt man ihm also das Thema Analogien näher? Natürlich durch Analogien!
So erklären sich auch die 500 Seiten, denn Analogien zu den Facetten der Analogie gibt es reichlich, vorwiegend durch Beispiele aus den Bereichen Alltag, Sprache, Bildung und auch Naturwissenschaft. Die Brücke ins professionelle Engineering und Business schlagen die Autoren wohl bewusst nicht. Jedes Beispiel für sich genommen ist ein gut aufgebautes originelles Lesevergnügen, welches die jeweiligen Aspekte des Themas Analogie treffsicher veranschaulicht. Das Buch zielt dabei nicht auf eine wissenschaftlich strenge Behandlung, sondern auf das Verständnis für Jedermann.
Man muss das Buch nicht von Vorne nach Hinten Lesen, sollte man auch nicht, denn die beleuchteten Aspekte werden häufig episch breit ausgewalzt. Kürzere oder speziellere Lesepfade werden leider nicht angeboten (z.B. Prolog + Kapitel 4). Das Problem des Werkes ist somit nicht die 500 seitige Masse, sondern die mangelnde Struktur. Wie wir aber in Kapitel 4 lernen, ist es jedoch gerade die Fähigkeit zur Strukturierung seines Fachgebietes die den Experten ausmacht. Da ist den Autoren dann also doch ein Metascherz gelungen – oder wohl eher unterlaufen – der die Freude beim Lesen leider merklich dämpft.