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.)
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*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
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