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I Am a Strange Loop [Paperback]

Douglas R. Hofstadter
2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 8 2008
Can thought arise out of matter? Can self, soul, consciousness, "I" arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? I Am a Strange Loop argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is the "strange loop"-a special kind of abstract feedback loop inhabiting our brains. The most central and complex symbol in your brain is the one called "I." The "I" is the nexus in our brain, one of many symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.How can a mysterious abstraction be real-or 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 laws of physics?These are the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter's first book-length journey into philosophy since Gödel, Escher, Bach. Compulsively readable and endlessly thought-provoking, this is a moving and profound inquiry into the nature of mind.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For more than 25 years, Hofstadter has been explaining the mystery of human consciousness through a bold fusion of mathematical logic and cognitive science. Yet for all of the acclaim his fusion has garnered (including the Pulitzer for his Godel, Escher, Bach, 1979), this pioneer admits that few readers have really grasped its meaning. To dispel the lingering incomprehension, Hofstadter here amplifies his revolutionary conception of the mind. A repudiation of traditional dualism--in which a spirit or soul inhabits the body--this revolutionary conception defines the mind as the emergence of a neural feedback loop within the brain. It is this peculiar loop that allows a stream of cognitive symbols to twist back on itself, so creating the self-awareness and self-integration that constitute an "I." Hofstadter explains the dynamics of this reflective self in refreshingly lucid language, enlivened with personal anecdotes that translate arcane formulas into the wagging tail on a golden retriever or the smile on Hopalong Cassidy. Nonspecialists are thus able to assess the divide between human and animal minds, and even to plumb the mental links binding the living to the dead. Hofstadter's analysis will not convince all skeptics. But even skeptics will appreciate the way he forces us to think deeper thoughts about thought. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Nigel
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed reading this book, but it is difficult to read and frustrating. I am trained in cognitive psychology so I found the rather loose connection between this book and cognitive theories of mind rather perplexing. Hofstadter rambles and draws analogies that are often excessively obtuse. Better ways of explaining things could well be found. For example Pinker's idea of a horse race of parallel processes does a much better job at explaining how our brain uses mechanistic processes, but is not deterministic -- but more chaotic. In addition, I think an in depth examination of how the brain utilizes chaotic processes between parallel neural units in a horse race manner, would be a much much better way of understanding how the brain implements conscious thought. The horse race is a better explanation of how the brain can have will that is not predictable with very much certainty from what we have experienced before... we interpret this lack of predictability as free will. In fact the whole strange loop analogy is ultimately a poor analogy for what goes on in the human nervous system.

And that's the most puzzling thing about this book. He doesn't discuss the neurology of the brain and the neurology after all IS the thing that creates conscious thought; not a math formula. The nature of the brain as a computer is highly constrained by its neural architecture.

In addition, given his heavy focus on analogies I was puzzled by the fact that he doesn't cite any of the work by George Lakoff in understanding the role of analogical reasoning in the human conceptual system or the work by researchers in cognitive psychology on metaphor comprehension.

But the weakest aspect of this book was its rather heavy handed moralism.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Douglas is on the right track! Nov. 13 2008
Format:Paperback
Unlike the previous long winded and arrogant reviews , I highly recommend this book. I am not going to pretend to be some pigeon holed, know-it-all philosopher, claiming to understand the universe and what consciousness is.
Douglas Hofstadter attempts to understand the relationships between the "I" and the biological body. His looping analogies try to clarify what our consciousness could be in relationship with the numerous systems of symbols within our being. The book is written for an educated layman but certainly not engrossed in technical mish-mash. It is an unprovable concept and Douglas understands that. He just wishes to put the idea of "I" into some sort of representational or symbolic view within the mysterious goings-on in all of us. He does not ever expound upon souls living forever. Instead, Douglas observes that the thoughts and ideas of others can live on in others, as fragments of the deceased, in the vast collection of experiences and interactions with the "outside world".
If you are interested in a very thought provoking inquiry into what your "ego" could be, you should read this book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars waste of time July 11 2014
By sam
Format:Paperback
Some annoying things:
-Repeatedly gushes like a fanboy about Godel and repeatedly attacks Bertrand Russel. Gets really annoying and wastes time. Should be skimmed out, would probably shave off 20 pages.
-Tells you about his beliefs/preferences while patting himself on his back: he's liberal, pro choice, feminist, loves Bach and Chopin, hates Elvis and Eminem. Nobody cares. Stick to the topic.
-The whole Hallmark Card/ Mexican soap opera-esque section about "people who die live on in other people" should also be cut. Memories of a person survive, not his/her consciousness, that has a Will and can act on its desires. This section is false and irrelevant.
Some criticisms:
-Doesn't even delve into neuroscience, in a book about the "I". I know it's not his specialty, but even a layman can research this stuff. It would have added so much to the book. Instead you get long, repetitive analogies.
-Many missing topics extremely relevant to this book: What about brain damage victims who get altered personalities? What about mental illnesses that affect the "I", like Schizophrenia of Multiple personality disorder? What about the subconscious and dreams? What about mind altering drugs like LSD, DMT, peyote and ayahuasca, and also meditation, that shut down the "I", or the ego, in the brain?
-Sometimes conflates the idea of your identity, and/or your memories, with the "I", while the main topic is supposed to be the nature of consciousness.

In the end, this book does a better job of explaining what consciousness is not than explaining what it actually is. There is no soul, there is no Cartesian duality, etc. These are all givens anyway to any atheist readers, and not earth shattering for anyone. As to what consciousness is, in a nutshell, in Hofstadter's words: "it is a hallucination, hallucinated by a hallucination". Huh. You decide if he succeeded in explaining what consciousness is...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and interesting April 12 2014
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book. It was hard slogging at a few points, but Hofstadter did his best to make very difficult concepts understandable. He loves paradoxes and plays-upon-words. Overall, I found this book to be a brilliant researcher's struggle to make sense of himself (and all of us) in terms of how brain activity can produce human consciousness.
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