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What do we mean when we say "I"? Can thought arise out of matter? Can a self, a soul, a consciousness, an "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. Deep down, a human brainWhat do we mean when we say "I"? Can thought arise out of matter? Can a self, a soul, a consciousness, an "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. Deep down, a human 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 in your brain or mine is the one we both call "I." The "I" is the nexus in our brain where the levels feed back into each other and flip causality upside down, with symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse. For each human being, this "I" seems to be the realest thing in the world. But how can such 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 all-powerful laws of physics? These are the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas R. Hofstadter's first book-length journey into philosophy since Godel, Escher, Bach. Compulsively readable and endlessly thought-provoking, this is the book Hofstadter's many readers have long been waiting for....

Title : I Am a Strange Loop
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ISBN : 9780465030781
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 412 Pages
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I Am a Strange Loop Reviews

  • David Katzman
    2019-05-10 22:05

    I have an interesting perspective on this title because the book I read just before it was The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book grounded in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Tolle declares that the Ego (or thinking mind) is the cause of all the poisons of our civilization and the only hope for us as a species is to embrace awareness and presence and escape the thinking mind that feeds our needs for material possessions, success, achievement, domination, and so on. This book is in fact an entire logician’s analysis of what the “Ego” is, which Hofstadter believes is equivalent to the “I,” the Self, the soul, and consciousness itself. In fact Hofstadter believes the Ego is all there is in us. Tolle would probably say…you may be right that the Ego is a strange loop…but so what? It’s poison; cure it! While Tolle occasionally does fall into new-age batshit, overall his analysis was fairly compelling to me. I would also claim that Hofstadter’s equating consciousness, the “I,” and the “Ego” as all one equivalent thing is nothing more than an assertion.Hofstadter’s essential claim is that the Ego is a strange loop in the mind, and by strange loop he means a feedback loop (or “pattern”) that reflects on itself. Everything in our brain is a symbol, including the symbol of itself. I believe he would say that the Self-symbol is a loop, and the loop is a symbol that is continually reevaluating itself and making slight adjustments to itself. A loop that can observe itself and provide feedback on itself (it’s “self”). We invent this Self-symbol in our minds over our lifetime as it constantly accretes bits of other symbols to it—it provides feedback on itself constantly. I actually agree that this is (possibly) an accurate way to describe much of the Ego. Hofstadter agrees with Buddhism that the Self is an illusion, but he off-handedly says striving to get past the illusion as Buddhism suggests is a pointless, dead-end pursuit.I did not find that Hofstadter compellingly demonstrates that this strange loop is the entirety of consciousness. Awareness and energy or pure presence seem to be aspects of consciousness which are outside the symbol of the Ego. He tries—but doesn’t succeed in my mind—to dispel that there is something else present. In addition, he seems to confuse our mind's symbol of the “I” with what the “I” might really be. The mind is easily fooled after all so, this strange loop might certainly be an illusion. But also there might be something else we can’t sense because we are so easy to fool. I think one of the key flaws in his argument is that he doesn’t delve deeply enough into the “self-reflexivity” he talks about. Since this “self-reflexivity” is the very point when a self-symbol examines itself then that very point may well be the point of the conscious mind. He essentially claims the self is a formula, and life is in fact mechanistic. There is no free-will because all your brain is doing is weighing pros and cons of various choices and whichever internal symbol gets the most checkmarks wins. The brain is an infinitely extensible, malleable computer processor and there is no “free” in will, only the choosing based on our brains weighing various symbols. He starts out sounding non-deterministic but in the end came out pro-deterministic. Thought=computation. In fact, he hasn’t really thought it all through. For example: can’t our brain re-evaluate a symbol’s value by thinking about it? By examining it internally, we can uncheck old boxes and check new ones. So in fact there is a consideration that occurs, a self-reflective change, an awareness that could be called “free.” It’s only action without analysis which is not free (at least within the framework he has set up.) This “will” to change is perhaps our moment of freedom.There is something else to this self-reflective loop that Hofstadter doesn’t consider very thoroughly. Godel’s self-reflective mathematical statements are his model for what the Self is, such as “I am unprovable.” The self-reflective quality of Godel’s theories are certainly clever and very brilliant, but where they part ways with the analogy to human consciousness is our ability to change our formula and take a different direction through awareness. Someone actually wrote Godel’s formula, it didn’t burst into existence on its own. The claim that it represents the model for the self is nothing but a claim unbacked by scientific evidence.One key outcome of Hofstadter’s analysis is that the “pattern” of the Self, or consciousness, can be distributed between people…so that a piece of his deceased wife’s consciousness exists in him because they were so intimate and her pattern lives on in him. But the flaw in this argument is so blatant, I can’t believe he doesn’t acknowledge it. If we grant him the premise that the Self is a symbol in the mind that the mind is constantly reinterpreting—then the symbol of “my dead wife” exists in his mind as a symbol of her but that symbol does not provide feedback to itself or reinterpret itself. So her consciousness is not distributed, merely a symbol of her is in his mind. The key difference being that (by his own definition) the Self is a self-reflexive symbol but my symbol of someone else—no matter how detailed it is, no matter how intimate we were—does not provide feedback to itself.He gives us another hypothetical case to reinforce this theory. The story of a man who jumps into what is basically a Star Trek teleporter and is then reintegrated on another planet with every memory, thought, inclination, etc. Is it the same person or a new Self? What if the first person accidentally wasn’t disintegrated but survived? Which of the two would be the “real” man? He concludes that they really both are the real man and thus consciousness can be distributed. What this story lacks is an understanding of how a unique point-of-view makes the self what it is. To me the simple answer is: To other people, these two men will appear in every way the same. But to the individual who is teleported, the experience is not continuous. He simply dies in the first place and is not “reborn”. His consciousness will end and some other person identical to him in every way will be reborn, but his point-of-view of the world will be snuffed out. In the second case, the man who wasn’t disintegrated is the real consciousness while the new one is essentially an insta-clone. It’s not the complicated “grey area” puzzle Hofstadter claims. The clone may think it’s the same person as the previous one because it has the same thoughts and memories, but the man who stepped into the teleporter never had another thought. He died and was replaced by a doppelganger that was convinced it was him in every way. Hofstadter’s vision of distributed consciousness is not compelling.Finally, in his conclusion, Hofstadter tries to bucket all people into two categories (an annoying habit he has): those who believe all things must follow physical laws (which would include those who agree with his theory), and those who believe in Dualism that would declare that there’s magic in that-there brain, a magic soul that gets squirted in at some point. The obvious flaw here is to assume that we have anywhere near a full grasp on what “physical laws” are. Does Quantum Physics “really” reflect what’s going on down there? Or is it just a metaphor for something we don’t understand at all? What about other universes or dimensions in space/time? So, perhaps there is another point to be made that maybe our “self” does follow a physical law that allows it to exist…but we just haven’t found that law yet. Or maybe physical laws are just abstractions and not so “determined” or concrete anyway. And what about the ambiguity and indeterminacy of quantum action itself? Or maybe something completely other is true that we have never even imagined.Oh, and his weighing of “souls” by their level of consciousness is creepy. As well as his odd philosophy of how love of Bach makes you a bigger soul.I Am a Strange Loop is overly-wordy and jammed with a few too many analogies and painful puns, but I enjoyed the intellectual challenge. He truly provides no concrete “reasons to believe” only assertions, which are worth pondering if not agreeing with.

  • Clay Kallam
    2019-05-23 23:09

    I read Douglas Hofstadter”s “Godel, Escher, Bach” long ago – sometime in the early ‘80s, and I remember thinking “I really need to read this again. I liked this book, but there was a lot I think I missed.”When I saw a copy of “I Am a Strange Loop” in a used-book store, and Hofstadter said in the intro it was his update of “Godel, Escher, Bach,” I figured this was my chance to rediscover the concepts in “Godel, Escher, Bach.”Well, I did, but I can’t say I was happy with the result. Hofstadter’s topic in “I Am a Strange Loop” is consciousness, and the concept of the “I” that we all carry around in our heads. And somewhat like Gilbert Ryle and the other black-box philosophers who believe that mental states are unimportant phenomena, and all that matters is physical behavior, Hofstadter concludes that there is no I there at all. Instead, there are just a bunch of competing desires that he says, using one of his many analogies, compete in the brain for votes, and the one with the most votes gets to see that desire translated into action.Hofstadter’s primary point is the problem that’s haunted the mind-body dualists since Descartes: How does a thought or idea get transmitted from the non-corporeal plane of mental activity to the decidedly down-and-dirty mass of blood and bone that is human flesh? Hofstadter claims that the I we believe we have is just a convenient fiction our brains have constructed, and that there’s no way our mental beliefs could be translated into physical action.Of course, Hofstadter’s own theory suffers from the same fundamental problem: How does the winner in the competition between various wishes and desires translate that specific wish and desire into physical action? What is the mechanism that bridges the gap between the world of spirit and the world of flesh?Absent that key connection, Hofstadter’s alternative to our ingrained belief in our own consciousness, and our own ability to make decisions that we then execute, lacks any real advantage. It’s just another theory about mental states, but one that ignores the reality of our belief in our own identity.Which leads to a second argument against Hofstadter’s position that there’s no I there: the evolutionary one. If the I really doesn’t exist, why do we think it does? If we don’t have free will, why did we develop this elaborate mental apparatus that makes us think we do? If free will is an illusion, wouldn’t we as a species be better off applying the resources we spend believing in our ability to choose to something more practical, like running faster, or producing more sperm and eggs, or having a better sense of smell? Why would evolution have allowed this strong sense of our own consciousness to use up so much of our mental energy if it was just a figment of our imagination?Another argument: In the 19th century, there was a great deal of philosophical debate, again going back to Descartes, about the validity of our perceptions about reality. Bishop Berkeley contended that all that existed were ideas, as whatever we perceive is mediated by our brains – and thus even if there were an objective reality, we could have no idea what it was because of the barrier set up by our brain’s interpretation of what our senses transmitted.Logically, there is no real answer to this contention, but pragmatist G.E. Moore finally simply said “This is my hand” – and the idealists, as they were called, cannot deny that the world operates as though our hands are real, and exist.Finally, though I could go on, there’s this question: Does Hofstadter himself believe that he doesn’t make choices? Does he really live his life as though his own identity doesn’t matter, and doesn’t make decisions? Does he go to lunch with the other philosophers who believe our mental states cannot translate into action, and wind up just walking aimlessly until they find a Taco Bell? Or do they act as if they could decide that the local taqueria is a better choice?All that said, I did find parts of “I Am a Strange Loop” well worth reading. Hofstadter’s long explanation of precisely how Kurt Godel demolished the formalist mathematical theories of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead is fascinating (if sometimes difficult), and there are other segments early in the book that are very engaging.But as the book goes on, Hofstadter’s penchant for unusual analogies and his reductionist philosophy take over, and frankly, left me cold. I read the first 200 pages with interest, but it was a struggle to finish “I Am a Strange Loop.”Oh, and I am now cured of my desire to go back and re-read “Godel, Escher, Bach” – especially since, according to Hofstadter, I don’t really exist at all.

  • Leo Robertson
    2019-05-20 15:04

    The parts I liked were great, were what literature is for, really. Intellectual musings based on personal experience. Fascinating to hear about Hofstadter going through the loss of his wife. Easier to understand than Godel, Escher, Bach, especially if you read that one first.It is so awesome that Hofstadter is celebrated for/is allowed to/has made a career out of following the conclusions of his passions, making previously unforeseen connections. Ultimately I think it's an empty meditation, but a beautiful one all the same. Every now and then, we humans, despite knowing we won't come to any definite conclusion, need to sit back and wonder what it all means, in a new way each time. Hofstadter provides one of these ways. It was so cool to hear him unashamedly demonstrate his passions for the rigorous and logical study of mathematics and then discuss the definition of a soul and how we live in many people, live on in others to some extent, that this offers some consolation when people pass.It reminded me of something I was thinking hard about last year. It's no secret that I love DFW's book Oblivion—many of my reviews attest to that. Anyways, there's a story in it called The Soul is Not a Smithy, referencing the quote in Joyce's Portrait of an Artist...:"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”DFW is saying, no, you can't do this, that the tragedy of human existence is that we are trapped in our own heads.Since his background was philosophy, he's been trained, I think, to argue for a particular side of a debate even although there isn't enough evidence available in the universe to ever prove it one way or another. So in one respect what DFW is saying is true, but in another, Hofstadter says 'True, but you can't deny the way we live in other people's thoughts, influence their decisions.'I'm very proud to think of myself as a test for my loved ones. It seems despite all my own follies, most people I know respect me way more highly than I think I deserve (this is just a fact, not a boast. Whatever. Why am I defending myself to you? I don't know you, I'm basically writing this for my own understanding and I offer you all these words for free!) Anyways to get the full picture of my own family and friends I often have to ask around and hear things secondhand because whatever someone disapproves of that they're doing, they don't tell me! That's at least the clearest evidence I've ever found that when I'm not around, I have a certain influence in people's heads, that they ask what I would do or think. My boss said that whatever people say about you when you're not around is your reputation. I've done nothing overt to make myself so scary. But if I make people want to be better, I love it.So in conclusion: I believe the soul is a smithy, albeit an imperfect one, because I've seen evidence of it. Sure, I can't prove it, but I'm glad for that, because maybe we were never meant to. Maybe, in the face of existence, we were mercifully left to choose the happier philosophical position. So why wouldn't you?! And should I get hit by a bus today, with these words I am with you now. The only immortality we get is pseudo, but we do get it. And that's pretty damn cool :)

  • Jane
    2019-04-22 20:31

    This book, on consciousness and what makes a human an "I," is methodical and exuberant, technical and personal. Reading it was a long, thoughtful journey. It's not an easy book. The workings of the human brain are described metaphorically (and not physiologically), and often those metaphors are mathematical. Sometimes, too, Hofstadter employs playful analogies to show how consciousness works, and how it doesn't work. (He is not a dualist; consciousness arises from physical laws and not from a kind of essence.)You can read summaries of this book elsewhere; I won't write one. What I loved about it was how challenging and yet accessible it is (if you put in the time), and how willing Hofstadter is to make it personal in ways that are really relevant. (That our ability to be friends, to have empathy and affection for others, are aspects of our higher-level consciousness, according to H., is very affirming to me.) He's a scientist, and a brilliant one, but a human, too, and he's frank about his fascination and struggles with the same knowledge.From the epilogue:"The key problem is, it seems to me, that when we try to understand what we are, we humans are doomed, as spiritual creatures in a universe of mere stuff, to eternal puzzlement about our nature. I vividly remember how, as a teen-ager reading about brains, I was forced for the first time in my life to face up to the idea that a human brain, especially my own, must be a physical structure obeying physical law... In a nutshell, our quandary is this. Either we believe that our consciousness is something other than an outcome of physical law, or we believe it is an outcome of physical law--but making either choice leads us to disturbing, perhaps even unacceptable, consequences" (357).This book unfolds in layers of concepts and insight. H. builds his argument gracefully. His attention to a reader like me, studying consciousness for first time, is thoughtful and steady. Not easy stuff, he makes learning (one model of) it possible.p.s. Buddhists, beware. He admires the "noble goal" (295), yet dismisses the possibility that the self can be dismantled.

  • Jeffrey
    2019-05-07 18:23

    I agree. He is a strange loop. The first third of this book is the Hofstadter that I expected to read - dragging me through a layperson's guide to prime numbers, squares, the Fibonacci series, Principia Mathematica and Bertrand Russell's attempt to banish paradox from mathematics, and finally, Godel's discovery of the ultimate self reflective mathematical string which shattered Russell's dreams. This was tough going, but ultimately worth it for this non-mathematician. Along the way we learned that a young Hofstadter played around with video cameras - daring to point the camera back at the TV screen to create swirling loops, endless corridors and infinite regressions. The Fibonacci series begins somewhat arbitrarily with the numbers 1 and 2. Such a series could start with any 2 numbers, but once it has started, it can go on to infinity. The swirling loops made by the self reflective video camera will only start after a movement is inserted, any movement, and once started maintains the loopy image forever - or until another movement changes it.The connection to consciousness comes through a theory of development and evolution. As brains get bigger and more complex, able to hold more and more images and symbols, a critical mass is reached and consciousness appears. Like the swirling feedback or the Fibonacci series, we don't know how it starts, but once started it is self sustaining and permanent - as long as the physical brain continues to work normally. I can see it, and believe it.Then, like the self reflective numbers and riddles that Hofsatder likes to observe and understand, he tells us about his own life, his wife and family, and the loop widens. I didn't expect this, and as Hofstadter himself worries, it is hard not to think that the sections about his family and the idea that two consciousnesses can share the same brain or many consciousnesses can share many brains, came from his own need to share his suffering, not from a need to teach us anything about consciousness. Yet, he points out that his musings on the subject predated his own personal tragedies.Hofstadter shows his imagination in Godel, Escher, Bach, and he continues to teach with creativity and imagination in this book. He is a wonderful teacher - he got me to understand - oh, how briefly - Godel's ideas and how they translate into the real world, I think! As we learn about his life, his teenage fascination with self reflective images and the meaning of life, his family, his friends, we get a more complete picture of this wonderful teacher.I don't agree with all of his conclusions about the looseness of the connection between brain and consciousness and some of his ideas about symbols and the physical structure of the brain - I don't think that the loop can escape the system in which it is created, but I applaud Hofsatder for his imagination in creating his theories and explaining them, and especially for his courage in bringing himself fully into the loop. I do have a few questions: why doesn't our consciousness reboot when we sleep or wake from a coma? How can we always wake up as the same person? How do we come back to the same loop, not a different one? And what is sleep about anyway? Why do we need to sleep? And why dream?I am a strange loop and so is Douglas Hofstadter, and so, most likely, are you.

  • Craig
    2019-04-23 22:31

    The purpose of this book is to explain the mystery of consciousness. He admits off the top that the concept of the mind and conscious thought is quite difficult to nail down, and probably impossible to draw a distinct line upon. Is a mosquito conscious? After all, it, like us, seems to have a will to live, and responds to environmental stimuli in ways that benefit itself. If not a mosquito, is a bee conscious? A fish? A snake? A dog?He does so by describing the mind's process of something like "infinite reflexivity". Whereas a mosquito probably only responds in very predictable and determined ways to stimulus, higher order life "reflects" on stimuli in increasing complicated and diverse ways. His epiphany came back in the 70's when he took a video camera and began shooting it directly at the TV monitor which itself was displaying the video feed, thus showing an infinite number of reflections which gradually fade to a single point. The point, I suppose, is that because of the depth and arbitrary complexity of human thought, it is difficult to define in discrete terms, although this fact does not make it any less grounded in purely scientific and reasonable terms. Perhaps the thing I learned most from this book is that consciousness can perhaps only be understood by analogy, not by a direct understanding of the physiology or via mechanical terms.The fact that he spent nearly 200 page trying to develop this metaphor, and providing multiple anecdotes illustrating the concept of the infinite and circular suggests to me that he really has no idea what consciousness is. He tries to keep his discussion purely on mathematical and scientific terms. It's clear he falls into the camp of those who believe the mind and soul are no more than complicated atomic and molecular interactions, and is doing his part to further the quest for the Holy Grail of atheists: explaining humanity in purely godless terms.The problem is that if consciousness and brain function (if that is really the essence of humanity) were truly understood, scientists should be able to program it into a computer. So far, the only noticeable advances in the field of AI have only been virtual magic tricks -- in part researchers can get computers to seem to "think" like humans (as in Deep Blue's chess victories over Garry Kasparov) for specific tasks, but such simulations only work for the specific applications for which they were programmed. This isn't really AI -- they're just essentially complicated math solutions. There has been no AI which has successfully modeled the brain and human intelligence, which can respond to abstract and arbitrary input and truly "learn". Aside from the author's utter failure to explain the essence of consciousness (I mean, really, how could you in < 400 pages?), he shows himself to be quite the arrogant scholarly type, with contempt towards those living outside his bubble. Himself a strict vegetarian for many years, he suggests meat eaters are less human than he is, because they seem not to be bothered by eating that which once represented a conscious and semi-sentient being. He even uses such eating habits to establish his own numerical scale of human consciousness -- essentially the less meat you eat, the more human you are. Um, okkk...

  • shawn
    2019-05-12 22:23

    i am sorry to give this book one measly star. i am a huge admirer of hofstadter's work. i would fanatically recommend any of his books, which are all fantastic and required reading by this point for all intellectually-minded people interested in "putting it all together". i was therefore ecstatic that he should finally publish another book, but crushed upon reading it.the principle point is that though he purports to have some new big answer, this book merely retraces terrain he covered decades ago. it gives us all the same paradigm shifts that he presented throughout his other books, simply collected into one volume and severely abbreviated in scope. it does not put them together. we get no new thinking, no astounding new products of his analytical genius.this book might be great for a first-timer who wants to know what hofstadter's about. but for those of us who've read his prior books and spent years thinking about them and the implications of their concepts, this is a regrettable waste of time.if you haven't read him and you're thinking about reading this, skip it and go straight for "godel, escher, bach". you will be profoundly rewarded.

  • Chuck McCabe
    2019-04-23 17:04

    Twenty-eight years ago, Douglas Hofstadter published a book titled "Goedel, Escher, Bach" that earned him instant academic renown and a cultlike following. A mathematician friend recommended the book to me, and I tried mightily to read it, keeping at it more because of my admiration for my friend that for the experience of reading the book. It was either too indirect, too intricately argued, or too Germanic for me to follow, and after months of off and on attempts I finally put it aside.So why did I start out to read another Hofstadter book? I have long been interested in the nature and origin or human consciousness and sense of self, and as an irreligious materialist, the traditional explanations offered by our dominant social institutions were unsatisfactory. I bought and read "I am a strange loop" because the jacket liner began with the following: "Can a self, a soul, a consciousness, an 'I' arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here? If it can, then how can we understand this baffling emergence?" I was hooked.My favorite materialist explanation of consciousness comes from Sartre, who says that consciousness arises out of material existence and serves as a presence to the world. The essence of human consciousness is the ability to negate, to say no, to conceive alternatives (l'etre et le neant). But Sartre does not explain in any detail how this consciousness can emerge from material existence. Rather, he develops a psychology that illustrates and supports his fundamental view of human reality.The core of Hofstadter's consciousness (or self, soul, I) is the enormous capacity of the human brain for complex operations, among which are feedback loops that grow in number and sophistication until they enable the human consciousness of self, the emergence of an 'I', and our ability to conceive of or mirror others in our minds. This seems to me to be a satisfying, although not necessarily complete, analysis of the problem of human consciousness in a material universe. Hofstadter's intellectual touchstones lie in mathematics, and particularly number theory; mine are in language, grammar, linguistics.The book's method and organization lead the reader to understand and perhaps accept this huge concept in a way that I again found very frustrating -- often indirect, full of special vocabulary and game-playing, highly personal, idiosyncratic, shifting and evasive, and (I would say) self-indulgent. More difficult, I thought, than it needed to be. The book demands great patience from the reader. I found myself cursing the author for the way he circled and circled around the subject, bringing in every thought he has ever had about consciousness, and relying to a disturbing extent on his personal experience. But I'm going to forgive Hofstadter again because the book has in the end provided me with an enhanced perspective on something that interests me very much. I can also give him credit for having made a case that is certainly unpopular outside of academic circles in these days of established religion and political evangelicalism, and having made it in a way that rises above ad hominem criticism. (Indeed, given the way the book is written, it may be destined to forever fly under the Christian Right's polemical radar.) A critic could of course say that Hofstadter is mistaken in his conclusions, but there can be no doubt about the authenticity and good will of the effort he has made and the undeniability of the "factual" evidence he marshalls to support his claims.

  • Mishehu
    2019-05-08 23:10

    As reading experiences go, I'd rate this a 4-star book. It's highly repetitive and speculative; its digressions can annoy; it's cutesy (typical DH) in a way that can grate after a while; and it takes repeated pot shots at a towering intellect -- Bertrand Russell -- on whose shoulders the author un(sufficiently)self-acknowledgedly stands. (Goedel, DH's guiding muse, is rightly lionized in this and other DH books; Russell -- standing in for Whitehead as well -- is all but judged a moron for failing to have seen, in the logical edifice he built, what Goedel later saw. There's a whiff of ad hominem in this book that I found distasteful.)All that said, the idea DH develops in this book is so compelling, and so beautifully constructed, that I can only in good conscience award the book and its author 5 stars. In all my reading of the popular literature on theory of mind and consciousness, only a very few books have made me feel as though, reading them, I were seeing a bit of the veil pulled back. DH makes as persuasive a case for a non-dualistic theory of mind, and provides as convincing an account (albeit, a substantially metaphorical one) of what minds do, how selves form, and what it means to perceive as any I have come across. The jury may be out on the validity of the hypotheses and models he sets forth. I for one, however, can't help but think DH (and like-minded theorists) are onto something big.

  • Claus
    2019-05-01 23:08

    I read Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" many years ago and was completely taken aback by the author's brilliant style and insight.I read Hofstadter's "Metamagical Themas" many years ago and was fascinated by the author's vast area of expertise.I read Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot" a few years ago and was amazed by the author's enormous knowledge.I just finished Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop" and was thoroughly disappointed.The author uses 300+ pages to say something that could just as easily have been said in 100. This means that he repeats himself over and over again. And he doesn't really get to the point until about 50 pages before the end. Finally, I find his point ("consciousness is a hallucination hallucinated by a hallucination") useless and downright wrong.Waste your time on something else.

  • Brady
    2019-04-30 20:11

    Douglas Hofstader is a wonder, tackling the almost incomprehensible Big Question of "What is the I?" with relative clarity and wit. He is a master of metaphor and analogy, eschewing a microscopic understanding of how the brain works to giving a sensible, rational (though revolutionary) macroscopic explanation of what we commonly refer to as "the soul". Hofstader is certainly no Cartesian dualist, but his ideas are neither what you would expect from a material monist.Hofstader wrote this book under the long shadow of the death of his wife from a brain tumor at age 43. His musings on death and consciousness were a strange comfort to me so recently after the death of my father.

  • Fred
    2019-05-03 23:03

    I've been reading "I Am A Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter. The development of his theme is slow, so I read the epilogue to find out if he was coming to anything other than where he seemed to be going. The epilogue seems to be about the same as the first few chapters.I skipped around the book a little and found this intriguing discussion on page 322 called 'Two Daves.' He presents a mental experiment of two universes, identical in every detail except that universe Q has the stuff of consciousness, and universe Z (zed, zombie) is missing the stuff of consciousness. In both universes Dave talks about his possession of consciousness but in universe Z he is lying without knowing it, (sound familiar?). His next section is titled 'The Nagging Worry that One May Be a Zombie." This is a promising title but he detours into fluff on this issue and dismisses it.I would suggest that with careful work, he could learn to observe both universes in his own life and experience. I know I do. I have occasional moments of consciousness that make me aware of the long intervals of unconsciousness that I suffer.I suspect that Mr. Hofstasdter has not done the experiment, followed the procedures, practiced the practices, that allows one to approach an awareness of the Self. Yet as a scientist he must have the habit of experimental verification of results. Results have no meaning without the formula, procedure, recipe, for generating them. In the index to his book the word 'meditation' is not listed, neither is 'yoga.' On page 297 his characterization of Zen 'They resent words,...' sounds more like someone who read the lab report but didn't bother to do the experiment. I would have been surprised to find Gurdjieff listed in his index. See: www.gurdjieff-legacy.org. I look forward to reading the remainder of the book and perhaps finding a few nuggets of value. But I'm afraid it is too soon to go beyond Ayn Rand's statements of the fundamental axioms of philosophy: Existence exits, and I am conscious. See: www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagen...OK, I finished Hofstatder's book months ago and I have been pondering his ideas. My final conclusion is that his book is more autobiographical than a scholarly or scientific work. I did a cursory review of the field in terms of modern western scientific writing and found several writers who published significantly better works than his on this problem of the "I." One key example is :The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness by Antonio Damasio. I haven't finished this book yet, or really I haven't started it, but the result of skimming it is that this book, written 14 years before "I Am A Strange Loop" is at a much higher level than H's maudlin rendering of his senile? meanderings about Strange Loops. H should know better than to publish ideas that are half a century out of date. Or if you read Aristotle, perhaps a millennia out of date. But then again, he is a parochial computer scientist.

  • Zach
    2019-05-12 23:10

    I didn’t like this book, although I agree with almost all of its assertions. Conceptually, I guess you could say, I enjoyed it, but the presentation - the language of the author, the over-long format, and the strange mixture of hard math and elementary philosophy - diminished and diluted the content to the point that it was barely worth reading. The first problem is Hofstadter’s “aww shucks” Uncle Fluffy writing style. His language is so steeped in a fireside chat mentality that the meat of his ideas is completely devoured by his good-natured cleverness. He is kind of a dork (I mean that as uninsultingly as possible) and it shows. Despite his obvious grasp of a difficult subject, I can’t imagine conversing with him about it. His anecdotal asides alone are enough to trigger the gag reflex. The book is written as if he is more worried about getting the reader to like him than he is about clarity in the presentation and defense of his thesis (which, I must assert again, is a marvelous thesis, indeed).What was already to me a shaky book collapses completely in the final few chapters, when Hofstadter devotes a significant portion of his efforts to refuting only tangentially related philosophical claims. In particular, his analysis of the “inverted spectrum” is not only extraneous but outright wrong. His grasp of the philosophical arguments is lacking, and he spends most of a chapter refuting thought experiments with the laws of physics. It is frustrating for an author who has been delving into abstraction for 400 pages to suddenly attack others for their abstractions. While I’m not versed in the particular philosophers he is addressing (and I don’t think he addresses anything with thoroughness), I know enough of the concept to realize immediately the fallacy of his argument. His conclusions are irrelevant because they operate within a field of study separate from the one in question. Not only that, he is mistaken on a number of his assumptions, including the foundation of his argument – that physical external stimuli cause the same internal neural reaction. The quickest way to refute this claim is with dyslexia, where a concrete word, number or shape is viewed completely differently by a dyslexic brain as compared to a normal brain. He assumes a universal nature for thought, which proven wrong quite simply, and on the abstract level the actual nature of thought is irrelevant for philosophical musings. His mixing of physics and metaphysics, especially in an important part of his book, so near the end, shattered for me much of his credibility, mainly because it is presented in the context of a petty attack against ideas he doesn’t “like.”My long refutation of this single point of Hofstadter’s should not imply that I liked the book up to this point. I was disappointed from the beginning it. It seemed like his arguments could have been made much more clearly in a shorter work and if he toned down his personality. The density of “revelations” in this book is too low for it to be worth reading.

  • Randolph Carter
    2019-05-12 18:12

    Not as dense or rich as Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and more focused on the "scientific" side of things without all the wonderful digressions (you have to read GEB to understand). Still Hofstadter plays enough mind games to make the going entertaining and challenging.Basically an argument for the nature of consciousness that all but proves Descartes' proposition. But Hofstadter presents a pretty convincing argument for his theories on why I think I am I.The one place where he goes out on thin ice is the persistence of "selves" after death via the symbols in other peoples' minds. It seems a bit of wishful thinking on Hofstadter's part as he ruminates on his wife's sudden death. Since he doesn't believe in a persistent "soul" he yearns for some sort of lifelike afterimage of the departed. It doesn't hold water.My sorry little review gives no idea of the depth or richness of this book. Suffice it to say that I think Hofstadter is on to the nature of consciousness and he presents it in a lively yet challenging way. Anyway, I am a self-referent loop that talks about itself. You gotta read it.

  • Robert
    2019-05-14 21:08

    This is merely a re-hash of Hofstadter's justly famous Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, with some ideas from Le Ton Beau de Marot thrown in but most of the fun stuff taken out; if you've read those, you don't need to read this. If you've only read GEB, then read this instead of Le Ton Beau de Marot unless you have a particular interest in the art/skill of translation.This isn't a bad book, apart from the constant use of reference to the "dear reader", it's just redundant because of the above and not nearly as much fun as GEB.Here's what it's about: minds - specifically what they are/where they come from. Hofstadter's thesis is very plausible to me, despite my disagreeing with some specific things he says. It seems like it might be scientifically testable, too. My beef with Hofstadter is that his research does not seem focused on testing what seems to be the crux axiom of his theory. I'm not sure off the top of my head to do it but Hofstadter has had since some time in the 1970s to think of a way...maybe it isn't testable after all, but if it isn't then it's just a waste of time and money.Also Hofstadter HATES mosquitos because they bite him and I think that he subconsciously believes they have no minds simply because of this!

  • Miloš Kostić
    2019-05-18 18:13

    Po Daglasu Hofštateru su nijanse sive, nasuprot crno-belom svetu, i dalje jednodimenzionalan pogled na svet i u njegovim opisima sveta postoje i sve ostale boje, kao i njihove nijanse. Dakle, sve je mnogo šarenije nego što izgleda. Kaže da nešto može biti i tačno i netačno, kao i nešto između. Tako je, iako je njegov pogled na svet čisto materijalistički on došao do zaključka da postoji „duša“. Naravno ne „ona“ duša. Kod njega su svi pojmovi „ličnost“, „svest“, „duša“, „ja-stvo“ i slični – sinonimi.Svakako da se sve to odvija u mozgu; neuroni i sve oko njih su i dalje glavni. Ali za dolaženje do odgovora šta svest zapravo predstavlja treba posmatrati mozak kao celinu, kao misleću mašinu, a ne njegove delove. Pitanje je šta gura šta u mozgu, neuroni ideje ili ideje neurone? Hofštater smatra kako nema nikakvog smisla pokušavati svoditi neki pojam, neki osećaj ili sećanje na jedan jedini neuron. Postoje dva nivoa na kojima se može govoriti o svesti, prvi, niži nivo neurona i drugi viši nivo simbola, velikih apstrantnih uzoraka, koji se formiraju u mozgu kao odjek spoljašnjeg sveta. Na niskom nivou nismo svesni ideja i simbola, na visokom nivou nismo svesni biologije. Taj viši nivo je kod ovog pitanja sasvim dovoljan. Dakle, suština je u simbolima. Svest je glavni simbol (skup simbola) u svakom mozgu. Na početku života „svest“ ne postoji. Prva pojava refleksivne simboličke strukture sadrži prvu iskru „ja-stva". Taj skup simbola se gomila u mozgu u petlji oko koncepta „Ja“ i vremenom postaje sve složeniji. Ta petlja je samoreferentna, usmerena sama na sebe. Ona evoluira, što čini da danas moje „Ja“ nije isto kao ono od juče a još manje ono od pre godinu dana. Ono što čini ovu petlju čudnovatom je to što taj skup simbola postaje sve komplikovaniji ali i dalje ostaje na neki način konstantan što čini da iluzija identiteta ostaje trajna.Knjiga ima veliki deo koji se bavi matematičkom logikom, konkretno opisuje postupak kojim je Kurt Gedel dokazao svoju prvu teoremu o nepotpunosti. Razlog za to je što Hofštater u Gedelovom pozivanju matematike na samu sebe vidi primer i dokaz da samoreferentne petlje postoje. Ono što razlikuje našu čudnovatu petlju od ostalih je percepcija. Percepcija znači kategorizacija. Što je kategorizacija jača to će i ličnost biti ostvarenija i bogatija. Što je slabija kategorizacija, ličnost je manja, što znači da je u početku života nema.Zanimljivo je što Hofštater tvrdi kako petlja „Ja“ nije jedina u našem mozgu. Takođe, naš mozak poseduje i tuđe „Ja“ petlje. Tako, ona pesnička tvrdnja da ljudi žive dok žive sećanja na njih za Hofštatera važi bukvalno. Ne postoji apsolutna i temeljna razlika između onoga čega se sećam kao vlastitih doživljaja i onoga čega se sećam iz pričanja drugih ljudi. Jedini razlog zašto vaša ličnost najjače postoji u vašem mozgu jeste taj što je vaš mozak prošao kroz ista iskustva kao i vi. Tuđe "Ja" u mom mozgu je samo snimljena u nižoj rezoluciji, sa manje detalja. Empatija je dokaz da živimo tuđe živote u svojoj glavi. Čak i likovi iz romana koje sam pročitao takođe na neki način imaju svoje "Ja" u mom mozgu. Ali naša se svest razlikuje od lika u romanu po tome što uključuje svest o samoj sebi. To je suština duše. Duša, odnosno svest, jeste nematerijalna u smislu da je ona samo mit, ne postoji. Svest je stvarna samo onoliko koliko i duga. Ličnost je informacija, skup simbola koji se gomilaju s godinama, mozak je samo medij. Možda će nekada postojati i drugi mediji.Prednost ove knjige kao i njena mana su mnogobrojne metafore. To olakšava čitanje nama laicima ali često se daje preteran broj različitih metafora za istu pojavu, ili za nešto što je samo po sebi jasno. A tek nabrajanja... Ovo je dobra knjiga za one koji nimalo nisu upućeni u tematiku.Iako su neke ideje i metafore koje ih opisuju nategnute, za iznesene ideje dajem četiri zvezdice, ali zbog prekomplikovanog (ili možda prejednostavnog) izlaganja, kao i zbog toga što su mu svi dokazi anegdotalni, konačno dajem tri zvezdice. Osim metafora iznosi malo dokaza za svoje pretpostavke, uz neke krajnje olake kvalifikacije. Kad malo bolje razmislim, šta sam ja uopšte očekivao, ovo je filozofska knjiga. Uprkos tome većina (sva?) razmišljanja deluje uverljivo. Ovu knjigu vredi pročitati.

  • Kristopher
    2019-05-21 16:23

    After about 200 pages of reading I still was unsure what the point was supposed to be. Hoffstadter purportedly explores the nature of self-reference and consciousness, but instead, I think, spends more time pointing out through his writing how clever he is, how feeble he considers Bertrand Russell, and how much of a fan boy he (Hoffstadter) is of Godel. It's not at all clear to me that this book has any genuine insights to offer, but that may be that it is lost on me as I find his writing style clear, but amateurish... It is difficult to get into the book for the following reasons: (a) he subdivides each chapter into 10-20 sections, each with it's own header--this serves to state what he is about to tell you, but in far fewer words, and in a way that illustrates his wit (we get it, you're very clever); it also makes reading it difficult to maintain because it breaks up the flow of the read... (b) he spends far too much time explaining extravagant thought experiments that are meant to clarify concepts that are already pretty clear... (c) he spends much of the book making one of the most impressive feats of 20th century logic (Principia Mathematica) sound like the musings of a feeble old lunatic... and (d) he does not really ever say anything. These things together make the book uninteresting and no fun to read.

  • David
    2019-05-03 16:31

    On the face of it, this is an interesting book. The author draws analogies between Godel's incompleteness theorem of mathematical logic and the question of the meaning of identity and consciousness. And on the plus side, at least Hofstadter's discussion of Godel was refreshingly correct technically -- it helps having had some formal mathematical training.But I found his numerous and lengthy discursions to be, for starters, only tangentially and vaguely associated with Godel incompleteness. In my view as a mathematician, the goal of a mathematical author is the pare down all the fluff surrounding a mathematical result to its bare essential -- a simple, compelling and concise demonstration is much more likely to convince. In contrast, one is more likely to come away more confused by the long series. For instance, I am afraid that many social scientists and humanities persons who, after reading this book, will think that they truly know what Godel's theorem is all about. Most likely they will not.And while perhaps some will find the long and length discursions into Hofstadter's personal life (such as the early death of his wife due to cancer) to be enlightening, I don't see that they really add anything to the objective of the book.So overall, I didn't particularly enjoy this one. Better luck next time.

  • Malini Sridharan
    2019-05-13 22:11

    The meat of this book, which uses an analogy with Godel's critique of the Principia Mathematica to explain how the concept of an "I" might be an emergent phenomenon of self referential loops in the brain, is interesting. I had a lot of issues with the structure of the argument, which was too dependent on the analogy. I think there are much better ways to make this point than by talking about math. Like, I don't know, maybe talking about BIOLOGY. The last hundred pages or so of the book annoyed me so much that I did a lot of skimming. It is basically an argument against dualism through a celebration of how we can still have souls or greatness or whatever even though we are only made of particles. Hofstadter accepts materialism but isn't comfortable in its embrace, so he ends up sounding ridiculous.

  • David
    2019-05-11 19:25

    The first half of this book goes into some depth concerning Bertrand Russell's and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, and then the work of Kurt Godel. Hofstadter has an interesting description and point of view about this area. But the later portions of the book become steeped in philosophy, and quite frankly, became a bit boring. On the other hand, I had read his book Godel, Escher, Bach long ago, and found it to be excellent.

  • Annie
    2019-05-21 16:22

    I’d like to preface the review (which is very long, but if you are vacillating on whether or not to read this book, I hope my review will help you decide to your best interests, whichever those will be. Particularly if you, like me, are decidedly not math-inclined) by saying that I’m a philosophy student. I love philosophy so much it’s disgusting. We’re dating. We moved in together after our third date. We have a wedding registry at Macy’s. So it is with nothing but complete affection that I say many, many, many philosophers- particularly modern, male philosophers- are total fucking assholes who I will happily argue do not possess souls and as such have no business talking about them. But I love their soulless little hearts anyway.Naturally, I head into “I Am A Strange Loop” expecting more of the same. So you can imagine my surprise when, by page 11, I’m aw’ing at Douglas Hofstadter’s warm little animal-loving soul, and later, when he talks about losing his wife- it’s unbelievably touching. So basically consider me fully indoctrinated to the Hofstadter cult of personality. I am fully ready to drink the Kool-Aid. I am THERE. Show me your world, Douglas.And what an interesting world. I read this book as a teaser to convince me I need to read Godel, Escher, Bach. I wanted the motivation to read that, because it’s twice as long as “Loop” is and you need to really commit. Successful! This book is fully readable for anyone who likes thinking about thinking. Contrary to what the other reviewers say, there’s not really that much math. From Page 113 to around 170, there’s some conceptual math he walks you through, but he’s gentle and at least half of that material is anecdotes and analogies, so really you’re look at mayyyybe 20 or 30 pages of actual math and metamathematics. That’s practically a pamphlet, and doable for anyone if you just grit your teeth. But it’s important you read it or the rest of the book will be a waste. That said, I don’t think it’s important for the *idea* the book outlines. Godel’s discovery that Russell & Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica is self-referential (self-reference in math being the very thing Russell & Whitehead were trying to explain away by writing PM) is an analogy for the main idea of the book, and as such, it’s supposed to elucidate the primary idea. It doesn’t, much. There are many other, much shorter analogies (a good number of which Hofstadter also uses) to introduce the idea that consciousness and perception of the “I” are Mobius strip-esque. An analogy to support an idea shouldn’t take up half the book. While the analogy is sound, it’s superfluous, and I think Hofstadter just loves Godel too much to leave him out of anything (Bach, too. And Escher. We’re treated to all three of his heroes in varying doses). Therefore I agree with other reviews which say this book could have been half this size and gotten the same point across, but I disagree that it *should* have been shorter. I’m glad the Godel analogy (and all the rest of the digressions, which are many but pleasant) was included, because I enjoyed learning about it, and I liked reading the book the way it was written.Other notes: Douglas, you are a freak. I would have loved to be your mom because you were obviously the kind of kid you could leave in a house alone for days, like a cat, and come back to find you sitting in the exact same spot you left them staring fixedly at his own hands. I say this because he explains that for Video Voyage II (when he pointed a camera at the TV screen which displayed its feed, creating an infinite feedback loop) he spent twelve hours with his friend just playing with that. Dangling shit in front of the camera to see what would happen. Now, look. That sounds like a fantastic thing to do and I’m going to try it myself when I have the chance. But for an hour. Mayyyyybe two if I’ve had some Adderall or something. But twelve hours? He also names a box of envelopes Epi and carries “her” around for thirty years and counting. He is- perhaps appropriately- loopy. While he clearly recognizes his zaniness, he so obviously doesn’t know the half of it. He’s like what would result if Pee Wee Herman and Hilary Putnam somehow had a baby and dipped it in radioactive ice cream. And I truly mean that as a compliment. What might be my favourite moment of the book is his explanation of Euclid’s proof on the infinitude of prime numbers. WHAT? you gasp, remembering that I said I am so unmathy there are not words to describe it (amusingly, Hofstadter points out somewhere that in saying that, I have described it- “indescribable” is a descriptive word. Ah, loops and paradoxes). But it’s true. In less than a page, he describes this proof, and if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a “Eureka!” moment like no other. He leads into the proof by saying it’s a crucial life experience like tasting chocolate or hearing music for the first time. At this, I’m scoffing. Sure, Douggie. For a mathfreak like you, sure. But for me, it is just a page to get through before we go back to the fun philosophy. By the end of it, there are stars in my eyes because I’ve just had the most enjoyable math-related experience of my life because, for the first time, it clicked and it was amazing and it was chocolate. It was music. HE WAS RIGHT. Nota bene: it's true this book doesn’t have a lot of brand-new ideas- new to me or new to the world. But it does articulate them in more compelling ways than I’ve personally encountered, and in doing so, convinced me more of their possibility. So in that way it was personally transformative.He gets a lot of criticism for the amount of himself that he puts in the book. There are many personal anecdotes and a lot about the death of his wife. I think that’s important. I think that to write a book on the nature of the “I” for the author to abstract entirely is delusional and as foolhardy as a scientist claiming that science is pure hard fact and doesn’t come with its own set of warping factors and biases. It also, of course, makes for a more readable book, and makes the ideas he defends with those personal stories more convincing. The philosophical world he describes about midway through the book, Twinwirld, was extremely fun to play with. He loves to play with words and he loves corny puns. From “simmballs” to “post partyum decompression” there are many winks to make you smile. I would respectfully but staunchly disagree with interpretations that claim Hofstadter’s take is reductionist. It is not. In no way is he claiming that mental states are irrelevant. Quite the opposite- he is claiming that the body is the least important part of the mind, that the mind can exist outside one body, that in being able to think like someone else, and experience states of mind from or of them, we are them, in a strange way- we don’t carry the most faithful part of them, of course, but we do in some sense have their “soul” (he often uses this word in a non-religious and unromantic way, of course, and really means something more like “essence” or “consciousness”) in part. Because, like a finger waggling in front of a video camera pointed at a screen showing its own feed, souls are strange loops- one small alteration will be played back eternally, and human interaction creates many such alterations, and so just as the finger will exist on those video screens in an infinite loop (infinite so long as the camera and screen hold out without breaking or being moved, obviously) long after the finger is gone (even, in fact, if the owner of the finger is dead and rotted away), and in that way the finger is preserved, sort of, just so a person’s consciousness, when it becomes intertwined with the loops of others’ consciousness, may well be said to endure in some sense after they are dead.

  • Brodie
    2019-04-26 20:25

    I enjoyed much of Hostetter's account of the ways in which a strictly biological account of cognition fails to grasp the complexities of consciousness and identities. I did find, however, his account of how identity is dispersed and externalized the be somewhat unconvincing, thought not because I disagree with the concept but with his interpretation of the concept. He tries to argue through several chapters that the decentered--"strange loopiness"--of consciousness comes about because cognition is really a series of complex and shifting patterns in the brain, super-imposed on top of micro-level physical processes. Because consciousness forms the substance of identity and consciousness is basically a process of accumulating and recalling patterns, these patterns have no essential connection to the "wet-ware" of the brain. Thus the patterns that represent my love for 19th century novels can easily to replicated in another's brain--my wife's for instance--which results in a part of identity having a kind of weak, second order existence in my wife's brain. If I were to die and she were to recall my thoughts and feelings about 19th century novels she would, in a sense, be re-processing my consciousness, as if uploading it like a program (though Hostetter's metaphors are at times less mechanical or technological than this, he seems very comfortable moving between physical and metaphysical tropes for cognition). This rings false to me because who is to say that my wife has truly internalized my actually thought process or even emotive reaction to such an external stimulus. She may think that she has, but how would she really know. Hostetter counters such an objection by bringing up Cartesian dualism, that thinking that we are minds locked inside of bodies conjures up that, to use Zizek's words, spectre that haunts western metaphysics. So, I have no real logical response to this counter-claim, other than his original description of such weak, second-order existences seems intuitively wrong to me. Nonetheless, an interesting read, though sometimes a bit too "cutesy" for my taste.

  • David Gross
    2019-05-15 18:28

    I got about three-quarters of the way through and by then it seemed like Hofstadter had completely lost the plot.He makes some bold claims about the nature of consciousness, but he doesn't use his terms and concepts rigorously enough to keep his arguments straight, and he doesn't do much work to back them up anyway.It amounts to listening to some friend who got stoned and had an amazing idea. If that friend happens to be Douglas Hofstadter, it's probably worth your while to stick around for a while, have another hit, and relax in the comfy chair. It ought to be a good ride. But don't expect much more than that.Still there's plenty of thought-provoking stuff in the earlier sections, even if much of it is a retread of material he's covered before (it's been long enough that I was ripe for reruns). While reading, you'll probably pursue some of your own lines of thought, tangent to the ideas he lays down, that are as interesting and fun as the ones he pursues.

  • Fredrik
    2019-05-20 20:10

    Begyne å lese denne ca i februar, og fullførte nå (august). Kort sagt handler boken jeg-et, hva skal til for å utgjøre et "jeg", hva er bevissthet, og lignende temaer. Det er veldig interessant, og jeg håpte å få noe nyttig ut av boken.Dessverre viser det seg at Hofstadter er utrolig glad i metaforer. Så glad i dem at 3/4 av boken er metaforer og lignelser for forskjellige poenger han prøver å vise. Dette funker til dels bra, til dels blir det utrolig langtekkelig å lese. Så jeg har kost meg mye med boken, men også vært mye utålmodig, type "dette poenget kunne han brukt ett avsnitt på, ikke fem kapittel". Hovedpoeng: "jeg"-et oppstår i enhver organisme/innretning som er komplisert "nok" og som har såkalte "strange loops", som han kaller dem. Han referer mye til Gödels teorem og måten han viste dette på. Litt farfetched kanskje, men det funker.Artig bok, men den kunne vært en fjerdedel av lengden den var.

  • to'c
    2019-05-13 18:16

    Dr. Hofstadter always has an intriguing and playful way to present his thinking. Even the title reflects this. "I Am a Strange Loop" should not be taken to mean "Douglas Hofstadter is a strange loop". The "I" in the title refers to the concept of the "I" in all of us. And the book does an excellent job of presenting his views on just how the "I" forms in a brain, what kind of hardware may be necessary for an "I", what kinds of "I" am out there, and on how many brains a single "I" may live.He's thought about this for a long, long time and has come up with some rather surprising opinions on the matter. Not of all of which I can bring myself to agree with so YMMV. But it's a delightful tromp on minds thru a fascinating mind. But be warned: the man does enjoy a good pun.Ignore how long it took me to read the book. Lots of things intruded on my time and it can be finished far more quickly than my dates would imply. And it's probably best to do so.

  • Kevan
    2019-05-04 15:06

    In one of Feynman's books he discusses the difference between deep ideas and profound ideas, Character of Physical Law perhaps.Hofstadter is a profound thinker. Some of his explorations such as designing fonts seem just silly at first until you understand that he's exploring micro-puzzles that include deep challenges. His Fluid Analogy stuff contain good examples.If I understand The Strange Loop properly, he's exploring the idea that consciousness if simply an illusion looking at an illusion. Wow!His thinking about the continued existence of his dead wife within his own mind is very thought provoking and I suspect has some merit. A sort of "Extended Phenotype" of the mind if that makes any sense.As always with Hofstadter, it's quite easy to miss the point of his thesis as it's tackling one of those questions we simply don't think to ask.

  • Ron
    2019-04-30 23:01

    I read Godel, Escher and Bach and Metamagical Themas when I was in college, and was looking forward to a new book from Douglas Hofstadter, but this book was very disappointing. I tried to finish it, and kept reading hoping to finally come up with something redeeming about this book, but in the end I put it down around page 200. Too many thought experiments that I thought sounded just a little to simple, and nothing new if you have already read his two prior books. I also didn't think much of the reasoning that he starts to give about me living on in other people after you are gone. This may make relatives of dead people happy, but I don't believe that it will make people dying feel better. Overall, a very disappointing book.

  • Matthew Sturges
    2019-05-11 16:07

    Gave up about 250 pages in. Hofstadter lost me with his meanderings about entwined souls. I kept waiting for him to provide some concrete evidence for what he was talking about, but he just keeps making the same few analogies over and over. I enjoyed the refresher course on Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, and found the idea of Godel's reflexive use of Principia Mathematica as an analogue for self-perception interesting, but in the end I'm afraid I'll never be sold on the notion of self as nothing more than an illusion, however trenchant. Nobody will ever convince me that I don't possess actual free will. Sorry.

  • Richard
    2019-04-23 19:05

    Hofstadter, I fear, has jumped the shark. More than fifty pages into this book, he had yet to offer an intriguing idea worth pursuing this book fully through. A lot of this feels like pale egocentricism.

  • Aysja Johnson
    2019-04-27 21:05

    I was torn between a 4 star and 5 star rating for this book. On one hand, it has vastly shaped the way I think and has clarified some vague concepts I had floating around for some time. On the other hand, I disagreed with his final conclusion about varying levels of consciousness within humans. I'm certainly on board with the idea that some humans exhibit more consciousness than others, and that a single human can exhibit more or less depending on their mental state/age etc, but I find it incorrect to claim that empathy correlates the strongest with consciousness. Reasons I loved this book: Hofstadter's prose is evocative and his metaphors unpack his ideas very well. He is also very punny, which I personally enjoy. I noticed that towards the beginning he pointed out his play on words directly and towards the end he left more of them to the reader to discover, which was very rewarding. Aside from the writing style, the ideas were beautiful and I found myself forming more of a connection to Hofstadter than I have any author thus far. He described a deep and powerful motif of my life which had before been vague and obscure. The main idea of the book is that human consciousness, and the sense of "I", is a 'strange loop'. A strange loop is a system which is complex enough to be self-referential and continues to evolve as it interacts with the environment. Human brains become this complex (at some point in late childhood) and house an extensive repertoire of symbols. Some of these symbols point inwards which then inform us of our personality and sense of "I". The next step is to recognize that other minds, having the same sort of shape as yours, can run bits of your consciousness too. It takes the idea of empathy and relating to one another in a more literal sense. The models we have of others will, in more or less granularity, imbue them with the same "I"-ness that we have in modeling ourselves. In a way, then, other humans that we think about, that we model in our brains, have some amount, some far lesser amount, of consciousness housed inside ourselves. The better the models, the closer the people, the higher fidelity the sense of "I" in each other. This is a striking and beautiful idea. That consciousness is more a web than a point, and that different levels of it can be achieved outside the cranium. That the closeness of a relationship can be conceived of in this way, that how understood you are relates to how much of 'you' are inside 'them', in a very literal way. He also speaks of music as a proxy for this type of relationship, and that enjoying a similar taste to the depth that another does is indicative of a similar sense of "I". I've always felt this, vaguely, and it was interesting to hear this perspective on it. He also brings in many other philosophical viewpoints including Dennett, Chalmers, Parfit, and Searle. And he devotes an entire chapter to Gödel and the strange loopiness he found within Russell and Whitehead's pristine palace of logic in Principia Mathematica. I found all of these incredibly fun to read and appreciated the positioning of his ideas within the greater philosophical community. I also valued the inclusion of arguments against his ideas (zombies (Chalmers), and machine consciousness (Searle)) which he rebutted. Reasons I very moderately disliked this book: This idea, of non-dualism, and lacking any true, pure, soul and identity is difficult to swallow for most people, and he therefore eased into the idea very slowly. I was already accustomed to this idea and so found the beginning to be a little tedious and also skipped chapter 20 for this reason. I also found his argument that the more empathy one has as being roughly equivalent to the amount of consciousness one has to be 'wrong'. I followed all his arguments up until this point, and think the idea of housing someone elses consciousness inside your own mind is a beautiful thing, but I don't know that it follows that you are more conscious because of it. It's true that you're holding more strange loops, and in this sense you have more of the thing which makes one conscious but it's not clear to me that it scales like that. I can imagine someone who self-models extraordinarily well and rarely thinks about other people to be more conscious than someone who coarsely models themselves and many others. I can also imagine people, and in fact know people, who abstractly model all the time (not other humans, but other ideas) and I would describe them as fully conscious, and more than some empathetic people I know. I am straw-manning his argument a bit here, and I think the thing he's pointing at is real, but I don't believe it's as strong as he thinks. Being empathetic and able to model yourself and other humans well certainly seems to be part of what makes someone more or less conscious, but it is not the whole thing, in my opinion.All in all, this is a wonderful book, and exquisitely beautiful. It has affected my meaning structure and where I find beauty in the world. It's also given a richer nature to my close relationships.