- Hardcover: 592 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (April 23, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465018475
- ISBN-13: 978-0465018475
- Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 1.9 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 69 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking 1st Edition
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*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.”
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.”
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.”
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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.
Hofstadter says that since the book was written simultaneously in French and English it should be read simultaneously in French and English, if possible. However, amazon.com does not offer L'analogie : Coeur de la pensée, and neither amazon.ca nor amazon.fr offers it for kindle.
Hofstadter makes a strong case that analogy is the heart of thought. He does a great job of pointing out that any category can be extended by analogy. In the process he extends the categories “category” and “analogy” by analogy. He represents the AI school based on analogy, as opposed to the categories of the “Ontology” AI school or the categories of mathematical category theory.
Nihilists and deconstructionists have shown that any category con be extended by analogy to the point of meaninglessness. Hofstadter does not do this, but he does try to eliminate category as a category separate from analogy.
Shared language relies on shared categories. It would be a shame to lose the category category in shared language.
Aside from that, I found the exploration of analogy fun and entertaining.