Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

3.6 5
by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander
     
 

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A Pulitzer Prize–winning cognitive scientist and a leading psychologist search for the core of thinkingSee more details below

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Overview

A Pulitzer Prize–winning cognitive scientist and a leading psychologist search for the core of thinking

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Analogy and human thought are the subject of this accessible work by Hofstadter (cognitive and computer science, Indiana Univ. Bloomington) and Sander (psychology, Univ. of Paris), who argue that analogies are the basis of our ability to form concepts, ranging from the very simple (e.g., comparing a heart to a pump) to the very complex (e.g., Einstein's quantum theory of light). According to the authors, recognizing the similarities among things allows us to make connections between concepts and categories of thought that drive ideas toward certain conclusions by permitting us to interpret and act in new situations. Hofstadter and Sander explicate how analogies—whether simple, complex, or manipulative—are instrumental in our ability to make sense of the world and one another. VERDICT 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.—Scott Duimstra, Capital Area Dist. Lib., Lansing, MI
Publishers Weekly
Not cold reason but a profusion of metaphorical similarities let us understand the world, according to this distended, unfocused treatise on conceptual thought. Cognitive scientists Hofstadter (Gödel, Escher, Bach) and Sander explore the interesting though not startling idea that people rely on analogies drawn from past experience—in words, conversation, cultural assumptions, and ideologies—to make sense of novel situations and discover hidden, abstract commonalities. The authors apply this idea to everything from a child’s generalization from “Mommy” to motherhood to the falling-dominoes analogy drawn during the Vietnam War. They develop some fascinating insights on, for example, the simple analogies underlying Einstein’s theories of relativity, but, unfortunately, the authors lack the good analogist’s nose for concision. More natural history than rigorous scientific analysis, their argument proceeds by cataloging countless analogical specimens and dissecting their meanings at luxuriant length. Never content with a single pithy example where 20 repetitive ones will do, they bludgeon readers with belabored erudition, tiresome overexplication—five pages on the phrase, “Me, too!”—and ponderous rhetorical japes, including a 27-page Socratic dialogue. (“Good grief,—Anna, are you implying that categorization and analogy-making are exactly the same thing?”) The result is an annoyingly high ratio of gratuitous surface detail to essential information. 10 b&w illus. (May 1)
From the Publisher
Longlisted for the 2014 PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Science
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.”

Nature
“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.”

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.”

Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, and author of Eyewitness Testimony
Surfaces and Essences is a mind-boggling argument for the central role that analogies play in human thought. Hofstadter and Sander’s witty and profound masterpiece will leave you thinking about thinking in totally new ways.”

Donald Norman, author of Living with Complexity and The Design of Everyday Things
“Doug Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander rip apart everyday understanding to reveal insights of both mind and universe. The key is to recognize that analogies and concepts are the same things, that they are ubiquitous, universal, and key to understanding human thought. Easy to read, but deep to comprehend. The result is both enjoyable and profound.”

Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Stanford University, and Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia Teachers College
Surfaces and Essences has much of both. And more. This book is fun! And serious. Category, analogy (and similarity) are at the core of cognition. On every page, you will find delights: you will be informed, you will be puzzled; you will agree vehemently and you will disagree just as vehemently; you will ponder. And you will return for more.”

Kirkus Reviews
How do we know what we know? How do we know at all? With an enjoyable blend of hard science and good storytelling, Hofstadter (I Am a Strange Loop, 2007, etc.) and French psychologist Sander tackle these most elusive of philosophical matters. The authors write that "each concept in our mind owes its existence to a long succession of analogies made unconsciously over many years, initially giving birth to the concept and continuing to enrich it over the course of our lifetime." The word "band," for instance, can mean many things, from an invisible set of wavelengths to a wedding ring to the Beatles; each of those designations forms by analogy to the others, a process made more complex by virtue of the fact that words, even the most ordinary of them, "don't have just two or three but an unlimited number of meanings." Given all that, it is hardly surprising that one man's meat is another's poison--and therein lies the complement to analogy formation, "the very lifeblood of cognition," namely classification or categorization, with the ancillary process of abstraction (whence, for instance, the category "non-square rectangle," containing eight subcategories of rhombuses, parallelograms and so forth). Hofstadter's works are never easy reading, and this one is no different, chockablock full of words such as "zeugmaticity" and "factorization" and with plenty of math to daunt the less than numerate. Yet it's worth sticking with his long argument, full of up-to-date cognitive science and, at the end, a beguiling look at what the theory of relativity owes to analogy. Certainly not for all readers, but first-rate popular science: difficult but rewarding.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465021581
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
04/23/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
430,844
File size:
5 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, and author of Eyewitness Testimony
Surfaces and Essences is a mind-boggling argument for the central role that analogies play in human thought. Hofstadter and Sander’s witty and profound masterpiece will leave you thinking about thinking in totally new ways.”

Donald Norman, author of Living with Complexity and The Design of Everyday Things
“Doug Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander rip apart everyday understanding to reveal insights of both mind and universe. The key is to recognize that analogies and concepts are the same things, that they are ubiquitous, universal, and key to understanding human thought. Easy to read, but deep to comprehend. The result is both enjoyable and profound.”

Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Stanford University, and Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia Teachers College
Surfaces and Essences has much of both. And more. This book is fun! And serious. Category, analogy (and similarity) are at the core of cognition. On every page, you will find delights: you will be informed, you will be puzzled; you will agree vehemently and you will disagree just as vehemently; you will ponder. And you will return for more.”

Read More

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