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Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking Hardcover – April 23, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 125 ratings

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In what Einstein cherished as the “happiest thought” of his life, Hofstadter and Sander discern a mental process that empowers the mind not just of the rare genius but also of the ordinary person. That process—the framing of analogies—received favorable attention from Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche. But many modern empiricists, including Hobbes and Locke, have warned against analogies as intellectual snares. And many tunnel-visioned students see in analogical thinking only the logic-chopping of an IQ test. Hofstadter and Sander tear through the misperceptions, demonstrating the astonishing conceptual power of analogies—manifest when mathematicians venture from real to imaginary numbers, when physicists leap from photons to vector bosons. That power shows up in unexpectedly ubiquitous, ordinary ways, though, as we meet everyday challenges by categorizing the features of those challenges and by dredging up forgotten but relevant past experiences to interpret them. Surprisingly, only analogies enable us to recognize deep essences behind surface appearances and to weigh competing options in national policy or personal life. Readers do confront the risks of false and stereotypical analogies, but soon realize that analogy-making is the pilot light of creativity—and essential for adapting to a changing world. A revelatory foray into the dynamics of the mind. --Bryce Christensen


Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“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 insightful—imaginative and real—exemplars, 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 feats—but 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.”

Library Journal
“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.”

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Product details

  • 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
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.2 out of 5 stars 125 ratings

Customer reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5
125 global ratings
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Bart Barnard
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much for too little
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 1, 2014
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Minimum effort
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 20, 2016
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Markus aus Mainz
4.0 out of 5 stars Analogien über Analogien
Reviewed in Germany on October 10, 2013
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5.0 out of 5 stars A very insightful book about the processes in the mind
Reviewed in France on November 11, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars De moeite waard
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