Read Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas R. Hofstadter Emmanuel Sander Online


Analogy is the core of all thinking. This is the simple but unorthodox premise that Pulitzer Prize–winning author Douglas Hofstadter and French psychologist Emmanuel Sander defend in their new work. Hofstadter has been grappling with the mysteries of human thought for over thirty years. Now, with his trademark wit and special talent for making complex ideas vivid, he hasAnalogy is the core of all thinking.This is the simple but unorthodox premise that Pulitzer Prize–winning author Douglas Hofstadter and French psychologist Emmanuel Sander defend in their new work. Hofstadter has been grappling with the mysteries of human thought for over thirty years. Now, with his trademark wit and special talent for making complex ideas vivid, he has partnered with Sander to put forth a highly novel perspective on cognition.We are constantly faced with a swirling and intermingling multitude of ill-defined situations. Our brain’s job is to try to make sense of this unpredictable, swarming chaos of stimuli. How does it do so? The ceaseless hail of input triggers analogies galore, helping us to pinpoint the essence of what is going on. Often this means the spontaneous evocation of words, sometimes idioms, sometimes the triggering of nameless, long-buried memories.Why did two-year-old Camille proudly exclaim, “I undressed the banana!”? Why do people who hear a story often blurt out, “Exactly the same thing happened to me!” when it was a completely different event? How do we recognize an aggressive driver from a split-second glance in our rearview mirror? What in a friend’s remark triggers the offhand reply, “That’s just sour grapes”? What did Albert Einstein see that made him suspect that light consists of particles when a century of research had driven the final nail in the coffin of that long-dead idea?The answer to all these questions, of course, is analogy-making—the meat and potatoes, the heart and soul, the fuel and fire, the gist and the crux, the lifeblood and the wellsprings of thought. Analogy-making, far from happening at rare intervals, occurs at all moments, defining thinking from top to toe, from the tiniest and most fleeting thoughts to the most creative scientific insights.Like Gödel, Escher, Bach before it, Surfaces and Essences will profoundly enrich our understanding of our own minds. By plunging the reader into an extraordinary variety of colorful situations involving language, thought, and memory, by revealing bit by bit the constantly churning cognitive mechanisms normally completely hidden from view, and by discovering in them one central, invariant core—the incessant, unconscious quest for strong analogical links to past experiences—this book puts forth a radical and deeply surprising new vision of the act of thinking....

Title : Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking
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ISBN : 9780465018475
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 578 Pages
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Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking Reviews

  • Ruben
    2019-02-03 09:50

    Reading Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking is like biting an apple and finding half a worm. It's like a pancake eating contest. It is the Phantom Menace of cognitive science literature. What should have been a monumental work about understanding via analogy undermines itself by being too repetitive, too unfocused, too obvious, too silly and too self-referential.I wanted this book the minute I saw the title because I'm a big fan of well-crafted analogies. I remembered hearing good things about Dr. Hofstadter's book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid from college roommates who'd read it, which added to my sense of anticipation. Sadly, other than the prologue and parts of the final chapter, I find very little to recommend here.The book opens with an exploration of the "zeugma", which is the use of a single word in two different ways in the same sentence. An example of a zeugma from a song I wrote is "I can make you a cup of tea/And you can make me smile.” This begins to get at the ability of the human mind to make and break lexical categories in unexpected ways. Yet starting with the first chapter, Dr. Hofstadter and his co-author, Emmanuel Sander, seem intent on removing everything that was interesting about analogies by taking a particular word or expression and overanalyzing its figurative meanings for a number of pages. The reason this comes across as extremely tedious is that the point has already been made, and it’s easily understood. No one who knows what an analogy is needs to ruminate over why a mother board is a little bit like a real mother. Most people who read this book will go dozens of pages at a time without learning anything new.A number of pages compare airport "hubs" (for airlines) to the hubs of wheels. Who cares?There's a section on the difference between "and" and "but", as if anyone on Earth could have reached page 109 without understanding that.They bother to point out that understanding is not actually standing under anything.One particularly unreadable section uses letter patterns to illustrate how we are reminded of past events. They somehow thought that people wanted to read about how iijjkk-->iijjkd is different from iijjkk-->iijjd and iijjkk-->iijjll. This reminded me of how in high school a classmate thought that the page numbers had some connection with what was happening in the novel. I can't bring myself to care about that.Chapter 7: Naïve Analogies and Chapter 8: Analogies that Shook the World were the only two worth writing, though they were not particularly well done. Naïve Analogies discusses the ways that using physical terms to explain abstract concepts limits our understanding. The best example is that people think of division as splitting something up, thereby making it smaller. However, this is a limiting analogy. If you have four bags of chocolate chips, and you need half of a bag to make one batch of chocolate chip cookies, you can make eight batches of chocolate chip cookies, ending up with a number (8) that is larger than the first two (4 and .5). Thus, 4 ÷ .5 = 8. The last chapter explored analogies in physics, concentrating primarily on Einstein’s theories. Unfortunately, the language was so abruptly technical that it seemed like it had been written by a different author. The Epidialogue has to be the worst possible way to end a book. It’s a made-up conversation about two friends discussing categories vs. analogies and referring to parts of this book, Surfaces and Essences, including this very epidialogue. Then one of the characters wakes up, and has a conversation about the crazy conversation it had just dreamed. Then one of the characters wakes up, and it turns out that the second conversation was all a dream, too. It’s bad. Lastly, (analogy alert) the authors’ rampant use of clunky, mixed metaphors reminded me of Stephen King’s “dandelions” from On Writing. Dandelions are unobtrusive until you notice them, and then you really notice them, and they get on your nerves. (For Stephen King, dandelions are adverbs, as in “she replied nonchalantly”). For example, Hofstadter and Sander write: “Once he had glimpsed this analogy, Einstein went way out on a limb, placing all of his chips on it, in a move that to his colleagues seemed crazy.” And “The turning point when light quanta at last emerged from the shadows came only in 1923.” I’m not sure if the authors are trying to be cute or if they just don’t proofread, but this stuff is not good. It makes me annoyed and write a long negative review.

  • Brian
    2019-02-14 10:49

    I read GEB on publication and it remains a landmark book for me. "The Mind's I", co-edited with Dennett, is fantastic and I greatly enjoyed his book on the perils of translation, "Le Ton Beau de Marot". Others might be hit and miss but always provided *something*. This one, co-written with Emmanuel Sander is not only an immense disappointment but just bafflingly bad. I'd read some reviews on Amazon that referred to certain problems but thought they might be exaggerating. What you have, at heart, is something that might have made a decent magazine article--might have--fleshed out to absurd lengths. I had the strong impression that virtually every paragraph was gone over with the idea: How can we bloat this thing? Why give one or two examples when forty will do? How about two or three entire pages of examples where everyone got the point within one line? And this happens *constantly*. It becomes an impossible to shrug off chore as a reader, to look for the padding--and you're "rewarded" almost every time. Add to this that the essential point is that thinking rests on the ability of the brain to do all sorts of analogies--not such a stirring thesis, imho--and you have a dismal, feeble excuse for a book. Shockingly bad.

  • Martin Cohen
    2019-01-28 10:50

    Here's the short review: Yes, it is rather boring in places.Here's the long one, because you know, there is a lot in here too.Behind every word in our language, from nouns such as teapot to connectors such as 'and' or 'but', by way of adjectives and verbs such as 'blue' or 'to paint', "there lurks a blurry richness". Ordinary words don't just have two or three "but an unlimited number of meanings". Why do we use dictionaries then, one might ask? But the fault say Hofstadter and Sander, is with the philosophers, or rather all of them up to one Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1950s. For them, it was this genius who freed us from the long intellectual legacy of Plato and his notion of heavenly forms for things like, well, chairs and teapots."The everyday concepts band, chair, teapot, mess and letter 'A' are very different from specialized notions such as prime number or DNA. The latter also have unimaginably many members, but what is shared by all their members is expressible precisely and unambiguously." Expressed how? In words? Here's a good word for Scrabble enthusiasts: zeugma. A zeugma is a sentence such as Dickens’ remark about Miss Bolo, that she “went straight home, in a flood of tears and a sedan-chair” where one word (‘in’) is made to do two jobs.Unfortunately, the first example given, "I'll meet you in five minutes and the garden", is barely comprehensible - at least to me. At least a better one follows a few lines later: 'She restored my painting and my faith in humanity'. But the authors qualify this one as “slightly humorous’.The book is full of examples illustrating the complexity and fecundity of language - but at 500 or so pages one despairs for a little more selection, a little less repetition. The text is reminiscent not so much of long, learned lectures but of earnest seminars with a white-board on which everyone's suggestions has been carefully written up. In places, the book (metaphorically speaking) lists like the a great ocean liner grounded on the rocks, and for much the same reason - the captain has paid too much attention to entertaining the passengers and too little to navigating the great vessel…Zeugmas or similar to anaphora, another venerable (medieval) term referring to the way words can 'refer back' to terms used earlier. The fact that the term exists shows how long a history the philosophy of language has too, but little of that of is reflected here, which is a shame. The book notes briefly that Plato used many analogies, but seem to hold against him that he warned that "likeness is a most slippery tribe". Kant however, is applauded for counting analogy as the wellspring of creativity, and Nietzsche for describing truth as "a mobile army of metaphors". I suspect that Nietzsche was casting his usual aspirations on conventional values tough, and Plato's warning is scarcely incompatible with the authors’ own thesis. They are on stronger ground when they fault the English empiricists, like Locke and Hobbes, the latter of whom, they recall, wrote: "metaphors, and senseless and ambiguous words, are like ignes fatui; and reasoning upon them is wandering amongst innumerable absurdities."For Hobbes, the mental discourse is true, and the problem comes with 'translation' into words, yet the authors’ own arguments leans this way, except when conceptual imprecision allows for grand creative leaps.The authors say that they intend to offer "an unconventional viewpoint concerning what thought itself is." The first part of the book aims to show how "concepts designated by a single word are constantly having their boundaries extended by analogies". But whoa! What is the relation between the concept and the ‘thing out there’ - is it one to one? As the word is used more widely, does the concept too cover more ground? If words 'designate' concepts, what use is the (ah) 'concept' of concepts?The authors look at what they call the development of concepts, for example that of 'Mommy'. This they see being extended over time from being a label attached to a specific human to an allegorical relationship, seen in words like 'motherland', They extend the debate (and this seems to be one of the novel features of the book) from nouns to the many assemblages of language - such as 'after all', 'sour grapes' or 'my Achilles heel'.As the authors warm to their theme, the look at how "human cognition relies profoundly on our ability to move up or down the ladder of abstraction" (ladder) which they illustrate with a peculiarly parochial example: "For instance, while one is drinking, one will take care to distinguish between one's own glass and that of one's neighbor, but afterwards, when one is placing them in the dishwasher, that distinction will be irrelevant."Writing about language is all about the quality of examples, Hofstadter and Sander are lucky in that they have enough space in this book to run through many bad examples and still offer (for the diligent reader) enough to count as a profound and thought provoking examination, and their subsequent analysis is usually clear and precise. The dishwasher analogy is an example of what they call caricature analogies "analogies that one dreams up on the spur of the moment in order to convince someone else of an idea in which one believes."Some of the most interesting analogies though are the scientific ones. The authors argue that "the history of mathematics and physics consists of a series of snowballing analogies". (Snowballing.) For Poincaré, a great thought experimenter as well as a mathematician, analogy is the route towards mathematical discovery.Naturally, they cite Einstein as a great metaphorical thinker, praising his thought experiments and saying that they helped lead him towards his view of light as particles (rather than waves. But wasn't one of Einstein's key analogies (that he himself credits as leading to his later insights) the analogy of himself as a boy running down a pier with light as a series of waves rolling in from the sea?Einstein "was driven by an unstoppable desire to seek out profound conceptual similarities, beautiful, hidden analogies." The equation E-mc^2, energy -= mass times the velocity of light squared, is analogous to the rather mundane relationship in mechanics, kinetic energy = mass time velocity squared (albeit divided by two). Equally, as Whorf pointed pout rather earlier than Wittgenstein, words can mislead us. How can light 'weigh' something? Our words (concepts ) confuse us. Light is quintessentially weightless. (Whorf appears here, but only as a brief aside as the 'Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.)There is a long and substantial discussion of Einstein’s arrival at his theory of the inter-relatedness of mass and energy, but earlier debates in the history of science are sketchily dealt with. The authors explain at length that Galileo’s discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter led to the lowercasing of the Moon and the birth of ‘the concept moon’. Yet, in actual fact the word moon has its roots in the concept of measurement - the moon's monthly cycle being a measure of time. The Moon (capital letter) is derived from this older sense, and so talk of "the concept of moon" being born is misleading, although I think I can guess what they mean - the concept of rocky celestial objects that circle other, larger ones. Yet this is a book about words and analogies - and if at the time Galileo saw discovered Jupiter's moons the Sun was politically obliged to orbit the Earth, the Moon was still supposed to be circling around us, so again what exactly is new in that concept?The authors condemn attempts to put inverted commas around words, in order to finesse their meanings - but offer themselves a 'typographical convention', whereby when speaking about a word it goes in quote marks but when speaking about a concept it goes in italics. "this is an important distinction, because whereas a word is a sequence of sounds, a set of printed letters, or a chunk of silent inner language, a concept is an abstract pattern in the brain that stands for some regular, recurrent aspect of the world and to which any number of words ... can be attached."This is mentioned in passing - but if it were really so straightforward, the problems of philosophy would seem to be swept away - and rather in the manner Plato imagines. Concepts seem to have the same role in Hofstadter and Sander's books as 'the Forms' did in the Plato's.The argument is put that concepts are 'mental categories' made up of many allegorical experiences. Thus a child may call a large, fluffy white dog a sheep, or describe peeling a banana as 'undressing' it instead. These are "semantic approximations', the "concepts silently hidden behind these words will continue to develop in the minds of all these children"."Could it in fact be the case that the tiny child's act of calling an everyday object by its standard name is a close cousin of the genius's act of creating a new concept that revolutionize human life?"However, later we are told that the "classical view of categories" is now perceived as a dead end (a dead end) and so contemporary psychologists "have tackled the challenge of making the very blurriness and vagueness of categories into a precise science". Out go precise membership criteria and in come instead the notion of prototypes. What are these? They are generic mental entities "found in long term memory" which summarises all someone's experiences, which consists of a full set of exemplars encountered over a lifetime, and finally, we are told that "certain regions of the brain that were once stimulated by the closest experiences to the current stimulus" are re-stimulated.

  • Pete Welter
    2019-01-21 04:14

    It's been a while since I've read Hofstadter, and so it took a little bit for me to get back in the rhythm of his style, which meanders somewhat, takes detours, and delights in self-reference. Given that the book is about analogy as the mechanism for human thought, as you might guess the book overflows with analogies about analogies, and examples of analogies. Early in the book I found this somewhat tiresome, but as the discussion hit it's stride the examples server to anchor the rather abstract ideas firmly. This book could have been about half it's length to get across the same ideas, which at times made me impatient, but then it would have lost all it's Hofstadterness.The book explores the core of what happens as we think, experience and learn, and apply those memories to new situations. The book is over 500 pages, so I'll only touch on the stuff I found most thought provoking, but my short recommendation is: if you are one of those people who enjoy thinking about thinking, then whether you come away agreeing with Hoftstadter and Sanders or not, Surfaces and Essences is well worth your time. At the very least the book make you question some of your assumptions on thinking, and if you're like me, it may end up giving you a broad set of intellectual tools with which to consider learning and thought.The main purpose of analogy in our thoughts (and it's related cousin categorization) is to allow us understand novel situations (as many of our situations are) by leveraging our previous experiences and memories. Analogies exist on a continuum between surface level analogies, such as on physical features, and deep analogies, which are much more conceptual and abstract (and also more personal), and we make categorize objects and situations in any number of ways and at various level simultaneously. Hence the title of the book: Surfaces and Essences.For those of us interested in learning, the section on naive analogies gave numerous examples on how people actually approach problems vs. the formal methods they are generally taught in school. The authors explore the mathematical concepts and multiplication and division, showing examples of where naive analogies of multiplication - adding something to itself a number of times - applies to problems and where it doesn't. The differences are more subtle than one might think. Part of the chapter dissects the wording and thought processes of simple multiplication and division word problems, and in just those seemingly simple examples there are layers of complexity to consider. Although there are educational researchers looking at these concepts, I'm unconvinced that much of this thoughtfulness on how we learn has filtered down to the practices of our educational system. So, given all that we've learned in life and in school, how do we know what knowledge is applicable to a given situation? Analogy, of course. "This situation sort of looks seems like that, and I know how to handle *that*." If we were entirely rational beings, or our brains functioned like database lookups, we be able to apply the formal learning from school in the proper situations more often than we do. However, as the book explains, there are plenty of reasons why this doesn't happen. Firstly, the world is complicated, and number of cases where the formal method needed to figure out a solution is front and center is extremely small. In your area of expertise, you may become better at this mapping, but for most of what we do every day, there are large amounts of gray area. In those cases, we often fall back to our naive analogies, our heuristics and rules of thumb, because those more deeply ingrained in our thought processes than formal solutions are. And here is where we need to truly think about what school learning gives us. If the context and process of how we teach and what we teach has limited connections with students' experiences, the analogies and categories formed will be fragile and narrow. When that knowledge has few analogical and categorical "hooks" into other memories, the chance that we use school knowledge for practical purposes in our lives becomes small. Although this idea is often couched in the "when will I ever use this in real life" question common to students, the problem is nonetheless one that we need to answer - why does such a large percentage of school learning get entirely forgotten and go unused by so many of us?Despite finding this book incredibly thought-provoking, I had a few issues with the book. First, I'm not overly fond of the dialogue format that they authors employ in their last chapter, although I realize this is probably my personal preference. I didn't find it nearly as informative as the actual discussion in the book on the same topics. Second, although the authors have a multitude of sources, I often had the feeling that there was more handwaving going on in their arguments than need be, given the amount of research that has been done on the topic. I would have liked to have seen more direct links to cognitive research results that supported their views. Lastly, and most importantly, I often get the impression that when Hoftstatder speaks of "most people' he starts and upper level undergraduates and moves up the formal schooling level from there. THere were a number of places where I questioned whether most people - say in the general population in the US - would think as abstractly or have the same intellectual breadth that the authors assume. This is where more studies among non-WEIRD populations (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) would have been useful. I'm not calling into question their general premise on how people think analogically and categorically, but I do think that seeing some more broad studies would be useful.

  • Neven
    2019-02-16 04:08

    I dreaded writing this review.Douglas Hofstadter is among my favorite writers, and I usually name his 'Gödel, Escher, Bach' as my favorite book of all time. It's a gloriously fun, rambling, clever, surprising, educational, entertaining work that's easy to get lost in and hard to summarize, because it touches on a little bit of everything.At this point I could make an easy comparison and say that 'Surfaces and Essences' is, in many ways, its polar opposite. You see, this book is far too long, dull, obvious, at times smarmy, and overall not worth your time.The opening premise is right there in the subtitle: making analogies is the chief mechanism of human thinking and intelligence. Mental acts that don't normally get classified as analogies can, in fact, be understood better in the light of that framework. So far, so good.What happens then is that the co-authors continue to stretch that premise over what seems like 1,000 pages. (In fact, it is only about 500.) Examples of the same sort of thing are given over and over. (Rather uninteresting examples, too; I don't think any of them would make for good party stories.) They are then dissected through pages and pages of mind-numbingly obvious, often patronizing explanation.Through it all, chapters and sections are organized almost randomly, with no clear sense of progression or flow. I've always liked Hofstadter's micro-sections (one per page or so) complete with pun-y titles, but here, they're almost parodic. Sometimes, a new section simply continues the previous one. Other times, it changes gears and topics completely. The writing style is very dull; the jokes are few and corny, the endless clarifications tiring, the tone needlessly argumentative. At one point, the authors complain about "why do so many people refuse to believe that analogy and categorization are the same thing." Really? I've never in my life heard anyone refuse to believe this, let alone "so many people". You probably haven't either. You and I simply haven't given the matter much thought prior to this book. I'm sure the authors have heard this complaint before—they're the ones writing the book. Why drag me, a willful reader, into this fight?One of the ironies here is that the authors frequently mention just how remarkable it is that we find everyday analogies so unremarkable: we get them instantly, even when the mental work required to unpack them seems significant. But then, why spend so much of this book unpacking them? It simply doesn't seem like a good use of anyone's time to "explain" why we sometimes say things like "turn off the window" instead of "close the window". We all get it; that's kind of the point here. And while being strict and methodical about *one* of these examples is maybe a good starting point for the argument, Hofstadter & Sander just continue to do it over and over and over.It then comes as a splash of cold water when the final chapters get extremely technical, cavalierly explaining rather advanced concepts from mathematics and physics; not so much to educate the reader about those concepts, but to use them as further examples of thinking as analogy. While I'm not a scientist of any sort, I consider myself fairly well versed in popular science, at least. I can follow most well-written accounts of scientific principles. Since I couldn't really follow these, I'm tempted to diagnose them as not very well written.The book also overpromises when it says that "analogy is the core of all thinking." That may be true, but no particular part of the book addresses the question of whether other kinds of mental processes are also important. Maybe they're really not, but it would be nice to read that the authors considered it.Hofstadter has already covered much of this material in 'Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies', his somewhat technical overview of different AI projects he has worked on. That book was challenging, but I remember emerging from it with a number of fresh insights into computer thinking and human thinking. Similarly, Hofstadter has already talked about the challenges of translation in 'Le Ton Beau de Marot'. Both of these books were, I swear to god, breezier to get through than the few pages devoted to those same subjects here.This should have been a 20-page paper. I hope the authors—or a more disciplined reviewer than myself—write that paper, so you can get the otherwise solid central idea of this book without all the boring padding around it.

  • Dave Peticolas
    2019-02-19 12:11

    Fantastic. This is Hofstadter's latest thinking about thinking and, as usual, he has some enormously interesting things to say and a delightful way of saying them. Highly recommended.

  • Aloha
    2019-01-31 09:58

    Fabulous as only Hofstadter can make it.

  • Bart Jr.
    2019-02-12 06:53

    Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter & Emmanuel Sander 12/08/2014 Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel SanderFantastic book, full of interesting insights about analogies. And analogies about insights. I always try to distill a book like this into what I consider the key points.The first of those, in my mind, was the definition of intelligence offered. Intelligence is the ability to rapidly and reliably see the crux, the gist of a situation. I thought about this. Was this the single most crucial element of intelligence? Just asking the question is a clue to the answer.Naturally enough, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out Jeff Hawkins' book On Intelligence, to see if I could gain some insight. His take on the mind is that it is a memory-prediction device. It was almost as if these guys were climbing up different sides of the same mountain. Because if you really have the ability to see the crux of a situation, wouldn't you be in the best shape to make accurate predictions? And he also makes the point that the mind uses memories as analogs to predict, while Hofstadter and Sander think that the mind uses the analogies offered up by memory to categorize. In fact they think that categorization and analogy are really two sides of the same coin.So while the focus of the two books is different, Hawkins' being on the physical structure of the brain and how it works to create intelligence, and the focus in Surfaces and Essences being analogies and how we use them to categorize, they both seem to agree also on the fundamental role that memory, or analogy, plays in thought and categorization. These two approaches actually complement each other.So, I came away with a definition of intelligence that I thought did find the crux of what intelligence is. And also the fundamental importance of analogies in thought and categorization. The book was also full of interesting analogies of all description and variety.I also love the use of the Copycat domain, which gives an amazing variety of peeks into the creative slippage of concepts and how complicated even the simplest can be. Every page of this book contains insights into thought and language. I would like to see Mr. Hofstadter examine symbolization itself more deeply, in speech, writing, computer use, etc. but I suppose that would be another book.

  • Sylvia
    2019-02-12 04:18

    This book has a nice thesis (essentially all thought is merely the construction of analogies), and I enjoyed reading it. I felt that much of it was indulgent--full of dozens and dozens of examples where a few would have sufficed, and paced rather glacially, but it was quite readable and often pleasant. The last few chapters, though, which highlight analogies in the fields of physics and mathematics were AMAZING. The authors step you through a series of analogies that lived in the minds of the physicists who first investigated the atom, and it honestly took my breath away because I felt like I could finally appreciate the conceptual leaps which Einstein made. Suddenly, hundreds of pages into this book, I was compelled to talk about it obsessively with other people and reread pages over and over again.Next, there was a segment on the hidden mental analogies which guide our approach to math problems (e.g. multiplication as repeated addition, division as portioning out). As a math teacher this was really interesting and informative, and I will return to look at it again. Overall, a good book--but DEFINITELY read the last few chapters if you are math/science-minded, they are the best part.

  • Gary
    2019-02-15 07:55

    I didn't listen to the whole book. I listened to about 9 hours of it. The book is clearly for lovers of words of which I'm not. I do like the authors overriding theme that we think by categorization through analogy. I just didn't want to sit through a countless stream of analogies and word play examples.Some people (especially lovers of words) will love the book. I just prefer less examples and more facts.(I bought this book because I absolutely loved the senior author's book, "Godel, Escher and Bach", and suspected that this word book would not be for me, but was willing to give it a try. I'm only writing this review to warn people who prefer science and mathematics type books that this book might not be suitable for you).

  • Dan Falk
    2019-01-29 06:48

    My first grade-school reader was titled A Duck is a Duck. (Stay with me on this one, folks.) Now, by first grade I had learned a few things about ducks: They have feathers and a beak; they can swim and fly. No doubt I had observed that pigeons are sort of like ducks (they have everything except the swimming part); ostriches, meanwhile, don’t look much like ducks or pigeons – they can’t even fly – but they’re close enough to ducks and pigeons to deserve the label “birds.” Of course, airplanes have wings and can fly – they’re not birds, but perhaps we can place them in a larger category of “things that fly”…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 Hoftsadter and Emmanuel Sander see such cognitive connections as part of an extraordinarily profound process. In fact, they see the task of putting things into categories, and the related task of drawing analogies, as the very essence of thought. (It is not giving too much away to reveal that, toward the end of the book, they argue that these two tasks are intimately related.)The jacket copy for their hefty new book proclaims it as “an ambitious new theory of how the mind works” – a bold claim which, if it came from lesser minds, would call for extreme skepticism. But Douglas Hofstadter, a cognitive scientist and computer scientist at the University of Indiana, is widely regarded as an intellectual heavyweight, and when he says that “analogy-making defines each instant of thought, and is in fact the driving force behind all thought,” one feels compelled to at least hear him out. After all, his first book, Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979), won the Pulitzer Prize, and a string of follow-ups have established him as one of the most creative scientific thinkers of the last few decades, and a highly skilled conveyor of complex ideas. His younger co-author, Emmanuel Sander, is a psychologist at the University of Paris.They begin inside the mind of an infant: A child’s first thought, the authors suggest, is “mommy”; the child identifies this concept with a specific physical entity, namely the caregiver who provides food and comfort. Later she learns that other children also have mommies, and, eventually, that animals have mothers too; and also that “father” is similar to “mother” but not quite the same thing. This impulse to categorize and compare stays with us, for “analogy is our perennial dancing partner.”For scientists, categorization and analogy-making are even more crucial. Consider Galileo’s first observations with the newly-invented telescope. Before Galileo, there was only one “moon,” namely the earth’s moon; to speak of “moons” was simply gibberish. But when the Italian scientist observed four small, star-like bodies seemingly revolving around the planet Jupiter, he was forced to do a re-think: Any celestial body that revolved around a larger one might very well deserve the label “moon.” Another example is the broadening of the category “number” to include quantities less than zero. Today any fifth-grader can add and subtract negative numbers, but in 16th century Italy they were simply unimagined. When negative numbers were finally granted the same status as positive numbers, a whole slew of vexing problems suddenly yielded simple (or at least manageable) answers. The book’s most persuasive section involves the physics of the early 20th century, as the authors focus on the thought processes of Albert Einstein, who they label an “analogizer extraordinaire.”Be prepared to become hyper-conscious of the myriad of analogies one makes every moment of every day. (“He’s using this Starbucks as his office”; “City Hall is a circus”; “This book is a bit like a doorstop.”) And be prepared for overkill: The question of what is and what is not a “sandwich” goes on for several pages. And a list of what the authors call “caricature analogies” runs through 24 examples, at which point we are told: “Such a list could be extended forever.” No kidding.The dangers of putting things into categories gets only a brief mention. Recognizing that kangaroos and koalas are related means you know your marsupials; but linking “young black man” and “criminal” simply makes you a racist. And think how much is at stake when a politician or a news outlet classifies a violent attack as “gang-related” or an “isolated incident” or an “act of terrorism.” Hofstadter and Sander do not address these questions. They only briefly mention the problem of stereotypes, which “have a bad reputation” but are also “crucial to our survival.” They later note that stereotypes “are a frequent source of deeply erroneous categorizations” – a warning that comes three pages from the end of the book.Some of the arguments in Surfaces and Essences feel a little dated – after all, the power of metaphor is hardly news, and Einstein’s thought processes have been probed up, down, and sideways. Meanwhile, some current topics, such as neuroscience, are simply bypassed. The end result is a book that is ambitious and provocative, though unfortunately lacking the originality and spark of Gödel, Escher, Bach. (Adapted from a review I wrote for The Globe and Mail.)

  • Christoph
    2019-02-06 09:57

    Surfaces and Essences is an exhaustive and comprehensive survey of cognitive and epistemological concepts filling the interstitial space between language and thought. As this very generic but succinct synopsis suggests, there is a lot more going on here. Actually, there is a bit too much going on here; that said, the authors confront some very deep ideas that are worth exploring even for the armchair neuroscientist. Ultimately, the books thesis can be reduced to two grand themes: surfaces and essences, categories and analogies, saying and knowing. Define it however you like; the authors spend a lot of time doing this themselves. Basically, the thesis is that these two cognitive functions are the most necessary and most basic tasks our mind partake in and without them, the universe would be utterly nonsensical and unknowable to us as individuals. Whats more is that the two ideas although not exact are also not dissimilar and that you really can't have one without the other (at least we don't encounter it this way in nature and there are many attempts to imagine what it would be like to have one without the other to no avail).This sounds very enlightened, if not obvious, but this is a very academic analysis of all this so it is not a simple thing to tease this description let alone this understanding out of the text readily. For one thing, there is a somewhat odd construction to the book; one thing is for sure, this is the book for you if you love lists. I felt like at least the first half of the book, the majority of the time is spent listing off innumerable objects, actions, scenarios, and the like to illustrate their points. In some cases the lists are pointing to the types of categorization we make and some are to make analogies between them. Regardless, its just non-stop lists. So, the first three or four chapters are basically a non-stop barrage of examples setting the stage for the two grand themes which we are then treated to in two chapters on surfaces and essences, Then there is an attempt to synthesize all these notions for application to a watershed event in human history, namely the discovery of special and general relativity including all the real-world events surrounding the development of these concepts, their context, the idiosyncrasies of Einstein's thinking in formulating all this, etc. etc. To me it is a troubled attempt at doing so and likely fails for the vast audience out there which is unaware or unable to comprehend all of Einstein's discoveries. Nonetheless, it does work, its just a very meandering and very labored execution. After all this, we are then lead through a hypothetical argument of two subjects who are attempting to establish dominance of one of the two main themes through a relatable but ultimately confused dialectic so the true point of this closing chapter is probably lost on most except for the few who stayed with this book all the way through.Hofstadter is an amazing intellect. His work on artificial intelligence and neuroscience is both reflected in this book and the implications of many of the ideas in it are clearly very important to both of those fields. I feel advanced students in either of these disciplines probably can get some great inspiration out of this text, but even then i wonder what the worth of it is. Regardless, this one is for the die-hards or those whose professors require the additional reading list in their 501 level course.

  • Nick Klagge
    2019-02-09 04:12

    Unfortunately, although I am a huge fan of Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach," I found this book to be much less impressive. S&E lacks the engaging format of GEB, with only one short dialog at the end (rather than interspersed throughout, as in the earlier book). In addition, I would say that S&E could have been significantly shorter, and probably would have been edited more aggressively if Hofstadter weren't such a big name. The book often goes on for multiple pages illustrating a topic where a few short examples would suffice. A final thing that frustrated me was that the authors generally did not clearly address where they stood in relation to the existing literature on cognition. As a non-expert in the field, it was difficult for me to tell how new or radical their argument was.All that said, I found the book quite convincing, and Hofstadter is generally an enjoyable author to read (if you like his sort of humor, which I do). My main takeaway from the book, however, was a curiosity about an application that the authors did not address directly, or really at all: the role of analogy in the formation of utility functions (or preferences, choices, however you want to characterize it). So many of our choices involve options that we have never experienced directly, meaning that we have to evaluate some or all options based on some type of analogy. Even for things we have experienced in the past, new experiences of them may not really be "the same" as our previous experience, which means that the obvious analogy may be misleading. Finally, the distinction drawn by Kahneman between the "remembering self" and the "experiencing self" may muddy these choice-analogies even further.

  • Elizabeth
    2019-02-09 08:58

    When I started listening to the audiobook version I thought this was going to be a solid 4 stars. About half way through I had knocked it down to a three for the same reason many people have cited - the repetitive nature of the examples was becoming overwhelming. By the time I reached the last chapter, my final assessment hovers somewhere between a two and three. I felt that the last chapter - a manufactured debate about the thesis that was more than thoroughly covered up to that point was complete overkill. I think it is an interesting premise and there are a lot of thoughtful passages and well articulated points, but brief it is not. You'll find six examples given for every one required to make a compelling argument. If this book was edited down to the most salient points and examples, I would have given it a four or five star rating.

  • Jafar
    2019-01-26 11:51

    I can't judge whether the authors manage to make a convincing case for analogy-making being the basis of human intelligence. That's beyond my qualifications, and moreover, I skimmed through the middle parts of the book. But there's such an amazing trove of interesting facts in this books, especially on the linguistic front, that the book is worth reading regardless of the its grand claim. There's a long and great chapter at the end about how Einstein used analogies to come up with his special and general relativity theories. That chapter will give you a completely different but better understanding of relativity than the ones that you've seen in other books and are used to.

  • Shane Mcloughlin
    2019-01-24 09:17

    This book was a great, easy to read, book about analogical cognition written by two cognitive scientists. While cognitive science doesn't provide an adequate model of what analogical cognition is and how it might be trained / manipulated, it does a great job of stressing its importance in the first place. The narrative that makes this book easy to understand would never be found in one of the articles that actually provides an empirical model of analogical responding. In this case, that's a great thing. A very well written book.

  • Mani
    2019-01-30 09:10

    This is now officially one of my favorite books. Towards the end it got tedious and I suspect that it's one of those books that just causes one to just reach in there and jostle one's own thoughts. Also I read it right after Dennett's Intuition Pumps- if that affected my state of mind. I would recommend it if you're into thinking about words, thoughts, and psychophysics.

  • Rogers George
    2019-02-05 07:48

    As I read, I felt that I already knew everything in the book--until I got to the last chapter, which contains the clearest explanation of why E equals mc squared that I have ever read. I felt that I knew the material intuitively, but the book organizes it, discussing and codifying how we think in analogies--in great detail, and with Hofstadter's trademark subtle humor.

  • Teo 2050
    2019-01-25 06:52

    17h @ 2x. Contents:(view spoiler)[Prologue: Analogy as the Core of Cognition– Giving Analogy its Due– What Dictionaries Don't Say about Concepts– Zeugmas: Amusing Revealers of Conceptual Subtlety– Some Revealing Zeugmas– The "Natural" Conceptual Distinctions Provided by Each Language– Wordplay with the Word "Play"– Playing Music and Sports in Chinese– Zeugmas and Concepts– The Nature of Categorization– Two Misleading Caricatures of Analogy-making– Analogy-making and Categorization– Categorization and Analogy-making as the Roots of Thinking– The Rapid Inferences that Categories Provide– Analogy's Champions and Detractors– Are Analogies Seductive and Dangerous Sirens?– Giant Electronic Dunces– Analogy Operating at All Levels– Abstract or Concrete?– Synopsis of This Book1. The Evocation of Words– How do Words Pop to Mind?– It All Starts with Single-member Categories– Passing from Mommy to mommy and then to mother– The Cloud of Concepts of Mother– On the Categories and Analogies of Children– Impressive Heights of Abstraction by Children– Shining Light on the Moon– Analogies in the Corridors and Behind the Scenes– "Office" or "Study"?– The Structure of Categories and of Conceptual Space– The Endless Chunking of Concepts in a Human Mind– Classical Concepts– Concepts Seen in a More Contemporary Fashion– When I Imitate Tweety, Am I a Bird?– How Many Languages do You Speak?– The Endless Quest for Creative Metaphors– Concerning the Literal and the Metaphorical– The Categorization/Analogy Continuum– Verbs as Names of Categories– Much Ado about Much– Grammatical Patterns as Defining Mental Categories– Words that Name Phenomena in Discourse– Contrasting "And" with "But"– What Makes One Say "But" Rather than "And"?– Further Refinements in Discourse Space– Ever More Intangible– Carving Up the World Using a Language's Free Gifts– Spaces Filled Up with Concepts– Looking at Two or More Languages within a Conceptual Space– Rings or Shells in Conceptual Space– What is Monolithic is in the Eye of the Beholder– The Need to Stop Subdividing Categories at Some Point2. The Evocation of Phrases– Categories Vastly Outnumber Words– Psychology does Not Recapitulate Etymology– Opening the Door Doesn't Require Taking the Lock Apart– By Concealing their Constituents, Acronyms Seem Simple– The Utility of Acronymic Opacity– Catholic Bachelors who are Jewish Mothers– A Modest Sampler of Idioms– Did I Spill the Beans or Let the Cat out of the Bag?– Behind the Scenes of Mundane Sentences– Truths Lurking in Proverbs– A Stolen Cell Phone can "Be" a Dog Bite– The Irrepressibility of Analogical Associations– The Proper Scope of a Proverb– From Eggs to Acorns, From Oxen to Oaks– In Memory Retrieval, We Are All Virtuosos– Fables– Scorning What is Out of Reach– How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance in a Fox– Lacunae in a Conceptual Space– The Genius of Each Language– The Sapir–Whorf Effect– What is Intelligence?– Trekking High and Trekking Low on the Slopes of Mount Analogy– Does Having More Concepts Mean One is Smarter?– Different Styles of Ascending Mount Analogy– Sailing Off into Outer Conceptual Space– There Is No Word3. A Vast Ocean of Invisible Analogies– The Rarity of the Word "Analogy" in Everyday Language– The Swarm of Resemblances Buzzing in Our Heads– Categories that We Construct on the Fly and Juggle with– Some Other Non-lexicalized but Stable Categories– Yes, There's a There There!– Her Hero Shows up in Her Office– Here and There– The Slippery Slope from Shallow Analogies to Deep Analogies– Analogies and Banalogies: Their Utility and Their Subtlety– The Quintessential Banalogy: "Me too!"– Procrustes' Ill-proportioned Bed– The Subtlety of the Blandest Analogies– Edward Finds Himself on the Spot– Killing Two Birds with One Stone– A Piano in His Bed?– Damn that Dam– Banalogies by the Bucketful– How We Try to Understand Our Own and Others' Experiences– Swimming in a Sea of Analogies– Are Analogies Always Filled with Surprises?– Creatures that Live Thanks to the Efficient Triggering of Memories– Danny and Dick, Canyon and Karnak: A Canonical Reminding– The Enigma of Encoding– A Trivial Side Show that is More Fascinating than the Main Event– Categories Belonging Solely to One Lonely Soul– Remindings Can Give Rise to New Categories– The Secret Agent Dashing through the Tunnel– "God is a Sniper"– The Crucial Role of Emotions in the Evocation of Dormant Memories– Events are Encoded Not by Rote but by Distillation– Do Our Brains Instantly Pinpoint Timeless Essences?– First Encodings Can Go Only So Far– The Humble List that Aspired to Become a Magnificent Category– The Humble Category that Aspired to Acquire a Label– Analogies and Categories in Canine Minds– Who Does This Young Icelandic Professor Remind You of?– Mental Entities and the Connections Between Them– Analogy-making and Categorization: Two Sides of the Same Coin– The Debate Dies Down4. Abstraction and Inter-category Sliding– X is Not Always X– Road Map of This Chapter– What is Abstraction, and What is its Purpose?– The Good Side of Abstraction– A Mini-saga of Dizzyingly Fast Category Shifts– The Telltale Trace of Marking– The Virtues of Marking– How Did They Bump into Each Other?– How a Concept's Essence Emerges– Of Shadows– Of Waves– Of Sandwiches– The Downfall of Proud Capitals– Sacred Categories– Pushkins, Chopins, and Galois Galore– Our Personal Celebrities– Unintended Slippages from One Person to Another– Categories Based on a Shared First Name– Do Metaphors Necessarily Lie?– A Quick Panorama of Metaphorical Usages– Mathematics is Not Always Cut and Dry– Are Squares Rectangles?– The Verticality of Expertise– Changing Category to Change Viewpoint– Nice Work if You Can Get it!– Buon appetito!– À votre santé !– Why Abstraction is Central for Expertise– Variations on the Theme of Random Killing– Getting Off the Beaten Track– The Bottleneck– Boxes that Hold Us Up, and Voluminous Bodies– Of Mice and Men– What Makes Homo Sapiens Sapiens Sapiens?5. How Analogies Manipulate Us– At the Mercy of Uninvited Guests– Where We are Headed in This Chapter– Speech Errors as a Rich Window onto the Mind– Rivals Mesh to Make a Mishmosh– A Zigzagging Cognitive Pathway inside a Dizzy Dean's Brain– Striking Two Notes at Once on the Keyboard of Concepts– How Many Contributing Phrases?– Single-word Lexical Blends– Blurting out the Exact Opposite of What One Means– Biplans– Conceptual-proximity Slippage Errors– Actions Meet Words– The Error that Boggled the Mind of the Error Connoisseur– Though Many are Called, Just One is Selected– Analogies that Serve No Purpose (Other than Telling Us about Thought)– A Visit to the Land of Pointless Analogies– Analogies Made Without Rhyme or Reason– A Fleeting Analogy Caught Just Before it Vanished Forever– A Revealing Blindness– Embodiment and Abstraction– Cleanliness is Next to Godliness– Categories as Blinders– Kind Hearts and Cor(o)nets– Unwitting Default Assumptions: A Pitfall of Categorization– Flitting from One Essence to Another– What is San Fransisco's Loveliest Spot?– The Irresistible Strength of Analogies: The 10/11 Crash– One Thing Changes and Everything Changes– The Power of Obsessions– Of Hammers and Nails– Real-life Homilies Unearthed by a Pac-Maniac– Irresistible Analogies: Are They Meaningless or Meaningful?– Bagels Belonging to a Single Batch– The Tyranny of Analogies– A Double-edged Analogy– The Prison of the Known6. How We Manipulate Analogies– Sticks for Stirring Become Javelins for Rowing– Caricature Analogies: A Creative Communication Tool– A Caricature Analogy in Slow Motion– The Highest Peak in a Carefully-selected Mountain Chain– A Quick Cascade of Caricatures– Explanatory Caricature Analogies– Caricature Analogies that Tickle Our Fancy– Caricature Analogies Help Us Explain Things to Others– Caricature Analogies Help Us Explain Things to Ourselves– The Best Ones are Always Snatched up First– Analogies Underlie All Our Major Decisions– Analogy Wars– Analogies as Critical Tools for Fighting Wars– Can People Reason Without Using Analogies?– Pluralization and Schemas– Domestic Politics and the Associated Brain Mechanisms– Are We Humans Really So Superficial?– We Go as Deep as We Can Go– Essences Are Revealed by Surfaces– Miniature Me-too Stories in a Miniature Domain– What Gets Encoded When an Event Takes Place?– How Humans Do Not Perceive Situations– The Inescapable Role of Esthetics– The Left Hand Doesn't Know What the Right Hand is Doing– More Me-too Stories– Gilding the Lily– Seeing a More Abstract Gist than the Gist that was Encoded– The Zaniness of the Letter "Z"– The Snag Triggers a More Satisfying Reperception– On Dizziness– Frame Blends– Strengths and Weaknesses of Frame-blending– Fauconnier and Tumer's Conceptual Blends– Are Analogies Different from Blends?– A Childish Frame Blend– Frame Blends Are Analogies; Analogies Are Often Frame Blends– The Dream of Mechanical Translation– Good Analogies Make Good Translations– Potential Progress in Machine Translation– Various and Sundry Challenges in Translating this Book– Who is Manipulating Whom?7. Naïve Analogies– Three Anecdotes– Naïve Analogies, Formal Structures, and Education– Familiarity and Entrenchment– Everyday Concepts Versus Scientific Concepts– Where Novelty and Familiarity Walk Hand in Hand– Your Trip Has Been Placed in Your Shopping Cart– The Best Interface is No Interface at all– The Naïve Side of Naïve Analogies– The World of Computers Yields Analogy Sources for Itself– When the Virtual World Helps Us to Understand the Real One– Technomorphism – an Analogue to Anthropomorphism– Some Equations Are More Equal than Others– Naïve Equations in Advertisement– Of Equations and Physicists– Does Multiplication Always Imply Getting Bigger?– Adding Thrice and Fifty Times are Different Kettles of Fish– What about Division?– Why is it So Hard to Dream up Such Problems?– Is Division Mentally Inseparable from Sharing?– Mental Simulation in the Driver's Seat– The Influence of Language on Naïve Analogies– What Schooling Leaves Untouched in Our Minds– Sometimes Situations Do Our Thinking for Us– What Does It All Mean?– A Naïve Analogy that has Ill Served Psychology8. Analogies that Shook the World– The Royal Role of Analogies in the Realm of Rigor– Anecdotes as Antidotes– Enter Complexities– N-dimensional Spaces– How Analogies Gave Rise to Groups– Fields, Rings, N-dimensional Knots...– Mechanical Mathematical Manipulations: Also the Fruit of Analogy– Physics and Logical Thinking– Albert Einstein, Analogizer Extraordinaire– Low-level and High-level Einsteinian Analogies– A Crazy "Swimming Pool Table" Analogy Emits Quanta of Light– Light Quanta Are Scorned While Sound Quanta Are Welcomed– Vindication of Einstein's Boldest Analogy– The Marvelous Conceptual Slippages of Albert Einstein– Using Analogy to Extend Concepts in Science– Category Broadenings as Sources of Special Relativity– A Two-headed Flashlight Loses a Tiny Bit of its Mass– The Definition of the Concept of Energy– Energy and Mass– Banesh Hoffmann's Special Way of Looking at Einstein– A New and Strange Type of Mass– What Machinations Took Place Behind the Scenes in Einstein's Mind?– From 1905 to 1907 in a Nutshell– The Analogies of Einstein and the Categories of Physics– The Principle of Relativity and Accelerated Frames of Reference– Applying Relativity to Gravity by Analogy– One Einsteinian Analogy Bites the Dust and Another One Replaces it– The Principle of Equivalence (First Draft)– Einstein Seeks and Finds a Deeper Analogy– Consequences of the Extended Principle of Equivalence– The Noneuclidean Merry-go-round– Parallels that MeetEpidialogue: Katy and Anna Debate the Core of Cognition– Categorization versus Analogy-making– Categorization is a constant necessity; analogy is a rare luxury– Categorization is routine; analogy is creative– Categorization is unconscious; analogy is conscious– Categorization is automatic; analogy is voluntary– Categorization favors similarities; analogy favors dissimilarities– Categorization applies to entities; analogy to relations– Categorization involves two levels of abstraction; analogy involves just one– Categorization is objective; analogy is subjective– Categorization is reliable; analogy is suspectNotesBibliographyIndex(view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]

  • Dan'l Danehy-oakes
    2019-01-26 04:15

    This book is fairly thick, but more than that, it's 530 pages are *dense*. Douglas Hofstadter, of course, is the author of GODEL ESCHER BACH and other fine meditations on the nature of mind and thought. In this collaboration with French cognitive scientist Emmanuel Sander, they propose, quite seriously and with a great deal of supporting evidence, examples, and argumentation, that the basic nature of thought - its "fuel and fire," as the subtitle would have it - is _analogy_.Summarized in my own words, the conception might go something like this:As babies, we have no knowledge about the world, but we have a powerful instinct to try and "make sense of" our experiences. We notice certain _patterns_ -- this experience _is like_ that experience -- and begin to build a sort of vocabulary of phenomena in our brainminds. Things that _are like_ each other become _categories_ (that's right, categories are the children of analogies), and, as we have more categories and fit more things into them, our experiences seem to make more "sense."We build a category of causes and effects - babies discover gravity by dropping things - and one of the effects we find is response to our vocalizations. Speech begins with words like "ma ma." We make this sound and our mother responds, usually in a way we find pleasurable. We make it more often, and associate it with that person. Eventually it becomes, for us, a name for that person. Later we discover that other children have mommies too, and the concept of "mama" expands to a category with multiple examples, but one unique example which is *our* mommy.To think about a thing is to consider it like other things. If we look at an object and call it a "table," we are saying it is _like_, in some fundamental and useful way, other things that have been called tables in our past experience.Hofstadter and Sander say all this better, at greater length, and with much more elaboration - plus, they say a great deal more - than this brief review can do. But that's the gist of it: analogies create categories, and analogies/categories are how we perceive the world.One important thing to understand is that "category," for the authors, is much more than "groups of concrete objects." There are abstract categories - for example, situations for which the phrase "buying a pig in a poke" is applicable. The pig is analogical, obviously; less obviously, it names a category of situations that might otherwise seem very unlike each other. "Buying a pig in a poke" might serve as a name for the category of "situations in which one makes a commitment without knowing whether what we will get in return is really worth it."The book ends with a sort of Platonic dialogue on the analogy nature of categories -- which itself ends in a slightly surreal twist. I can recommend this to anyone who thinks they can handle it. I'm not sure I could, but I did anyway.

  • Rdt
    2019-02-02 04:59

    This book was a huge disappointment. It has a promising premise — that categorization and analogies are basically the same thing and that they are the key building blocks in human thinking. And I found it about 75% convincing, but the presentation is awful. The book is about five time longer than it needs to be and makes the same points over and over again, using a seemingly never ending stream of examples far more extensive than is needed to make the point. And then the authors try to categorize and define different types of analogies, which by their own logic can’t really be done with any degree of accuracy.I was also concerned with a couple of key parts of the argument on a substantive level. First, at several points in the book, the authors argue that the process of analogy making is shaped by the forms of language, in effect that language shapes thought. But this just isn’t so, as discussed in great detail in McWhorter’s book, “The Language Hoax”. They do acknowledge that the more extreme aspects of Whorf’s theory that language influences thought may not be correct, but they still go way too far in embracing this discredited theory in support of their thesis. Then they go too far again in asserting that analogy making is the basis for scientific advancement, including a detailed discussion of how Einstein used analogies in developing the theory of relativity. I am prepared to accept the idea that analogy may have been an important tool in Einstein’s toolbox, but I think only one of many. These guys should read Paul Feyerabend’s wonderful book “Against Method”, in which he makes a powerful case for the idea that there is no single method that is or can be the basis for scientific advancement. Any attempt at boiling down the ways of science to a single tool or method is mistake, regardless of the chosen candidate method.Seeing these mistakes in key parts of the reasoning cast doubts for me on the validity of the overall thesis. If I can see two errors in the reasoning, how many others are there that I did not see? In the end I still found the book to be persuasive, but deeply flawed.

  • Carol
    2019-02-02 04:11

    2 1/2 stars, maybe. Gödel, Escher and Bach was such an amazing book, and nothing since then has lived up to it.I have said that I am apparently not the audience for this book. I am very conscious of how much I use analogies. And when it was suggested that the almost automatic way in which we choose words as we speak or write, I could see that it was driven by analogy. But the audience for this book must not have thought so, considering it "merely" a process of categorization. So for 7 chapters, plus the epi-dia-logue, the authors repeatedly make the case that it's all being done by analogy.The 8th chapter wasn't quite so annoying to me, it was about several examples of how analogy-making has had a great influence, especially in mathematics and in science. Much of the chapter focused on the analogies used by Albert Einstein in building and expanding on his theories of relativity. I had to reread the chapter, because I wasn't seeing the development of e=mc2, nor of how the special and general relativity worked. I finally recognized that I wasn't supposed to be catching on about relativity, but just about how analogies drove the mysterious process of creating new worlds of thought.So I have to wonder if the usual audience for this book would have trouble getting through chapter 8.I got this book as a gift, but I don't plan to ever reread it, so maybe it will end up being sold or given away.

  • Alex Weird
    2019-01-21 07:56

    As a linguistics student fascinated by cognition, I love the book for all the reasons others hate it. The long lists of examples are joyous to pore through, providing a dense and diverse corpus of illustrative ammo to draw from in your own conversations and projects.This is true in general of the book's overall length and repetition: it's just richness and comprehensiveness. Instead of a quick chug of meal replacement, the 500-so pages are a thicc, delicious stew for you to savour and truly digest.Had the book only been 200-300 pages, there are some powerful ideas and observations of my own that never would have occurred to me. The length and reiteration gives you the time and reinforcement to deeply cognize the material and cultivate your own thoughts on the subject.A shorter book would have given you the *feeling* of understanding, but true knowledge demands the thorough, balls-deep approach Sanders and Hofstadter take.This was one of the top 3 reading experiences of my life, next to Gravity's Rainbow and of course, GEB.

  • Mickey Kawick
    2019-01-31 03:56

    It is a terrible book. The author uses every comparison in the world as an analogy... this sounds like that... must be an analogy... this word is combined with another word... must be an analogy.Boring, repetitive, and I find that a man whose only tool is analogy sees the entire world as an analogy.The world is filled with more subtlety than that. Many other people here have read the same book and found it similarly dull, uninsightful, and childish. Save your reading time for a good book.

  • Laurent Senta
    2019-02-09 06:01

    The last chapter on "examples of analogies that shaken the scientific world" is worth the whole book.I jumped there after the introductory chapter.It's simple, it resonate with a lof of research around the subject. There are a lot of ideas emerging from their initial one. Much recommend to anybody interested in AI or understanding reasoning.I bought it in French, the version is perfect (one of the author is French).

  • Ilya
    2019-01-23 04:57

    This is a poorly written, poorly edited book. Its premise is that categorizing is closely tied to analogizing, and that decision-making relies heavily on both. However, I quickly lost the thread of the argument. Read George Lakoff's books for a better take on the subject.

  • Ricky Catto
    2019-01-21 04:10

    Could have been great. GEB was. When he uses an example he exhaustively lists every single example in the universe. EVERY TIME. EVERY EXAMPLE. It's basically a book of lists.

  • Bert
    2019-02-04 05:51

    It felt like running half a marathon (which I never did ; ), reading this book, but I completed it while the sun was shining! ;)

  • Ajpram
    2019-02-17 12:00

    This book is massive in scope and it's fun (mostly) to read. For anybody who's interested in language and meaning and how it shapes our world. And how we manipulate it.

  • Ben
    2019-02-01 07:06

    Exhaustive lists of playful or illustrative language ends up being neither fun nor illuminating. Did not finish.