I Am a Strange Loop

I Am a Strange Loop

3.8 15
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
     
 

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Deep down, your brain is a chaotic seething soup of particles. On a higher level it is a jungle of neurons, and on a yet higher level it is a network of abstractions that we call "symbols." The most central and complex symbol is the one you call "I". An "I" is a strange loop where the brain's symbolic and physical levels feed back into each other and flip causality… See more details below

Overview

Deep down, your brain is a chaotic seething soup of particles. On a higher level it is a jungle of neurons, and on a yet higher level it is a network of abstractions that we call "symbols." The most central and complex symbol is the one you call "I". An "I" is a strange loop where the brain's symbolic and physical levels feed back into each other and flip causality upside down so that symbols seem to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.

To each human being, this "I" is the realest thing in the world. But how can such a mysterious abstraction be real? Is our "I" merely a convenient fiction? Does an "I" exert genuine power over the particles in our brain, or is it helplessly pushed around by the all-powerful laws of physics?

These are among the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter's first book-length journey into philosophy since his Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach. It is a tale crisply told, rife with anecdotes, analogies, and metaphors-cutting-edge philosophy that any strange loop can understand.

About the Author:
Douglas Hofstadter is College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University

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Editorial Reviews

Peter D. Kramer
Questions about the boundaries, location, continuity and constituents of the self stand at the heart of philosophy, but a mathematician and physicist, Rene Descartes, set the terms of the discussion. Who better to bring us up to date than Douglas Hofstadter? Trained in math and physics, Hofstadter won a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Godel, Escher, Bach, a bravura performance linking logic, art and music. He returns now to apply a concept from that book, the strange loop, to the definition of self.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
What do we mean when we say "I"? What is it like to be a strange loop? In his new excursion into the nature of consciousness and selfhood, Hofstadter (cognitive & computer science, Indiana Univ., Bloomington) returns to the themes of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid�those of "strange loops," or "tangled hierarchies," that give rise to our sense of identity. Besides updating the central thesis of strange loops from his previous books, Hofstadter introduces new ideas about the self-referential structure of consciousness and offers a multifaceted examination of what an "I" is. He conveys abstract, complicated ideas in a relaxed, conversational manner and uses many first-person stories and personal examples as well as two Platonic dialogs. Though Hofstadter admits he writes for the general educated public, he also hopes to reach professional philosophers interested in the epistemological implications of selfhood. Recommended primarily for public and undergraduate university libraries.
—Victoria Shelton
Kirkus Reviews
I think, therefore I am. But what is think, and what is I? Returning to themes first visited in Godel, Escher, Bach (not reviewed), Hofstadter ponders most idiosyncratically. Humans think because we can and must, for reasons of mental architecture and accidents of evolution; we do so, Hofstadter suggests, by recalling things we have already thought about and employing metaphors, analogies and concrete images to communicate our thinking to others. Others are important, for there is a social quality to I-ness; in one memorable passage, Hofstadter writes of his wife's early death and her ongoing presence in his mind, as if he were allowing her to use some of it to continue to live. We humans wrestle with the ghost in the machine, looking for the soul or "that special kind of subtle pattern," whatever it is that lies beneath. Hofstadter, one of whose specialties is the study of feedback loops in complex systems, coins sometimes unfortunate terms for our own loopy ways of thinking, among them "thinkodynamics" and "statistical mentalics," but the governing idea is a fruitful one: There are large-scale and small-scale things happening within our minds all the time, but it can all seem like a funhouse mirror, just as Hofstadter recalls a philosophical treatise "talking about how language can talk about itself talking about itself (etc.), and about how reasoning can reason about itself." He adds, "I was hooked," which would explain his sometimes maddeningly circuitous explorations into, say, the manipulation of symbols or the nature of dogness. And what, in the end, is I? Perhaps "a certain abstract type of locked-in loop inside the careenium or the cranium," perhaps "a shimmering rainbow-likeentity that first recedes and then disintegrates entirely as one draws ever closer," perhaps just "little miracles of self-reference." Or perhaps not. Doesn't quite add up to a unified theory of anything.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465030781
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
03/26/2007
Pages:
436
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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