I Am a Strange Loop
I Am a Strange Loop

List Price: $26.95

Our Price: $11.14

You Save: $15.81 (59%)


Product Description

Douglas Hofstadter's long-awaited return to the themes of G?del, Escher, Bach--an original and controversial view of the nature of consciousness and identity.

Can thought arise out of matter? Can 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. The most central and complex symbol in your brain or mine is the one called "I." The "I" is the nexus in our brain, one of many symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.

How can a mysterious abstraction be real--or is our "I" merely a convenient fiction? Does an "I" exert genuine power over the particles in our brain, or is it helplessly pushed around by the laws of physics?

These are the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas R. Hofstadter's first book-length journey into philosophy since G?del, Escher, Bach. Compulsively readable and endlessly thought-provoking, this is the book Hofstadter's many readers have been waiting for.

Customer Reviews:

  • The word-toolkit model
    Sorry, but reading the book I got the feeling that the author is using the word-toolkit to describe the Universe, and is limited then by that toolkit. He seems to exist in a world defined by words. The Universe seems to be a bit more simultaneously and dynamically complex than that, across a scale of entangled detail density that is very hard to even begin to hold in a mind. The best authors and explorers seem to start with the Universe and try to expand the toolkit to express their visions. This is a difficult and untidy process with very different results. What is a symbol? It is never the thing being symbolized, and it is never static. So what is it? I enjoyed the book, but did not agree in many places because of the narrowed and selective causality used. I also tend to consider metaphors to be inherently incorrect attempts to describe. ...more info
  • Hofstadter's Modular Thought
    Hofstadter seeks to escape from the Cartesian dualism but in the process creates his own. He is first of all a scientist, one who sees in the particles of physics the foundation for everything else. He is of course right about that; nothing escapes from having physical particles in its foundation. But that is not the full story. For from these particles come living entities, reproduction, and information. The methods of thought, the concepts, needed to understand these is a step above that needed to understand physical particles. Biology as a life science concerns a complexity unknown to and unknowable by the concepts and methods of physics.
    In a similalr form of transcendence the concepts and methods needed to comprehend the social world and its capacity to create identities concern a complexity beyond that of the life sciences and the physical sciences.
    Not seeing this the thoughts Hofstadter uses to comprehend the interaction and even inter-invasion of minds, which he fully describes, even go beyond that of the physical sciences, the life sciences, and even social studies. In fact, one value of "strange loop" is that Hofstadter enters the realm of the humanities, of music and poetry; he becomes a more than adequate artist. He actually enters the minds of his readers and transforms them as he has, by his writing, transformed himself. He hss rediscovered and reconstituted himself and his readers, which is what fine artists do.
    Thus he is both a scientific thinker and a creative artist; in this he is more than a dualist. He thinks and writes at four different levels, physical sciences, life sciences, social studies, and the humanities, each of which hasdifferent non-overlapping materials to work with. So he uses different sets of concepts, has different objectives, and writes at different levels of thoughtUpheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions.
    Without knowing exactly what he is doing--he is not a philosopher--he establishes these four levels of thought in "strange loop."

    ...more info
  • Some very strange and fascinating loops
    I enjoyed this fascinating book. I had the sense I was in the company of a great thinker, who sees things a bit differently from others, for interesting reasons. This book is interesting, and it has that great quality of a provocative idea. Whether you agree with the author or not you will have to think hard to justify either position.

    The great thing this book achieves is to rescue thinking from the excessive reductionism of some neurophysiology. Yes we need neurones and brains to enable thinking, but our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are more than just neuro-chemical brain states. In his lead up to this conclusion Hofstadter is echoing the work of Bennett and Hacker (Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience). The strange loops that lead from basic reactive perceptions to the fully owned, conscious thoughts of a being that sees itself accurately as an "I" are well mapped out.

    I was probably most disappointed when Hofstadter started to collapse his positive concept of the "I" as emergent property of the strange loops of neurological functioning back towards neurophysiology. (page xii)"What we call "consciousness" was a kind of mirage. It had to be a very peculiar kind of mirage to be sure, since it was a mirage that perceived itself, and of course didn't believe that it was perceiving a mirage" I enjoyed the ascent from basic neuronal activity far more. I think my consciousness is a basic property, and that neuronal activity is necessary for, but not sufficent to, explain my consciousness. But actually both levels of view have validity. As Hofstadter puts it, "It was almost as if this slippery phenomenon called, "consciousness" lifted itself up by its own bootstraps, almost as if it had made itself out of nothing, and then disintegrated back into nothing whenever one looked at it more closely." There is no consciousness centre in the brain. Consciousness is not localised or discrete, nor can it be isolated from the its bodily substrate. It is an abstract concept (you cannot put it in a wheelbarrow) but utterly real to you and I. And its lack is an unhealthy state.

    This book is a fascinating one, it achieves a lot of insight into our human condition, and is a very good shot at "describing what, "the human condition" is. The integration of Godel's theorem with pattern analysis and some neurology allows interesting insight.

    On the last page Hofstadter summarises, "our very nature is such as to prevent us from fully understanding its very nature" This is true, but this book takes us a lot closer towards understanding ourselves and the human condition. I recommend it to readers....more info
  • Reads like good poetry, couldn't put it down...
    This is what happens when you read this book: A simulation of Hostadter is installed on your brain, and the world never looks the same again. I wish he spent more time exploring the morality though. Why should the higher representational capacity necessarily lead to more ethical behavior? One can name many monsters who were superbly capable of understanding their victims....more info
  • Brilliant explanation of the mind
    This book was a compelling read for me since: it is very new at this time; it investigates the origin of consciousness; and it seemed to have less scientific or religious fervor behind it. Plus the author has won a Pulitzer and seems to be a well respected professor teaching this topic. Having read it, I find Hofstadter to be a master at using analogy to elicit deep insight into every topic he presents. And he writes from his heart. You will learn much about the man behind the words. Which shows he is fully accountable for any bias or personal perspectives he may have. Although he clearly expresses his hope that you will share in his perceptions. I surely do.

    Is the mind a separate entity from the body? If not, then where does it come from? These questions are not immediately apparent but ultimately they are the questions he has written this book to address. The entire first half is spent introducing the reader to some background information that is presented in seemingly random fashion. But expressed in an entertaining, beautifully descriptive and informative way.

    There are many examples he uses to show the occurance of loops in everyday life. He starts with simple ones, like the toilet flush valve loop. Then more identifiable ones like looking into parallel mirrors which create what seems to be a corridor of forever repeating images. Or a microphone's feedback squeal when placed too close to the speaker. My favorite was his experiments with a camcorder pointed at the monitor. The crux of this background knowledge is his presentation of the work of G?del - the only part of the book I found difficult to fathom. But this example shows how even mathematics creates loops, and has the incredible consequence of rendering logic inconclusive.

    This background information provides a perspective of thought that serves to show that the mind actually creates itself! He proposes that the mind does not exist until it becomes self aware. Before that, we are just unconscious beings on the level of base animals. His ideas about the levels of mindfullness of animals and even insects is also quite interesting to me, since it is something that most of us have considered but rarely speak about. His compassion has prompted him to become a vegetarian, yet interestingly, he has absolutely no respect for mosquitos!

    But then he goes on to explain how our consciousness evolves as it experiences itself, and the selfs of others. Adding another wrinkle to his theory to shows that there is cross-talk between 'souls' and that seeing others is key to seeing ourselves. He brings up quite a few other interesting topics and perspectives that explain his reasoning, all of which he presents with great skill.

    As you read this, without the tremendous insight of Hofstader, I don't expect you to take my word for it. And of course, I wouldn't have either, before reading this book. But perhaps, if you read it, you will learn something about yourself that right now, seems absolutely impossible.
    ...more info
  • Excellent!
    Fast shipping, perfect condition, I highly recommend and would buy from this business again! Thanks!...more info
  • Hofstadter reaches out
    The ideas of the book are an interesting extension of what I took away from GEB. Hofstadter's breaking down of the scale of perspective as a defining factor in how we understand phenomena of all kinds is interesting and well done. I also like his notion of the fundamental nature of analogy in all kinds of thought and reasoning, and the chapter on consciousness as a fundamental essence. He is as insightful and enlightening as ever, but I found myself having to wait a little longer for those insights than I'd like.

    I haven't read any of Hofstadter's work between GEB and I Am A Strange Loop, so I don't know if those books represent a continuum in styles. In any case, I got the sense that decades of dealing with very enthusiastic people who he felt hadn't quite absorbed his message have taken their toll on Mr. H.

    As demanding a read as GEB was, it lead with its ideas, and compensated for its difficulty with enthusiasm and the exciting implications of the material. In this book, he seems to be focusing on making these ideas available to a different audience, or as a kind of un-intimidating rehash for the people who he felt missed the core of his ideas in GEB. In doing so he takes a more coddling, almost apologetic tone, and takes his conversational writing style to greater lengths.

    The result is something that I think might make for an interesting conversation, but was a little boring for me to get through as a book. I respect and appreciate his desire to communicate without wallowing in jargon or turning people off with pretentious style, but it distanced me from the material a little.

    The ideas in the book are strong and provoking, but they are in a very different vehicle than I expected. I guess I was hoping for something with more of the intensity, or as thrilling a reading experience as GEB, and I found this a little more drawn out and slightly saccharine. Still, this book is full of ideas worth getting to, and his playfulness and sense of analogy make for some fun reading along the way, too....more info
  • I Am A Strange Review
    When GEB came out (1979) it rocked my world, as the fecund weaving of analogies, parallels, metaphors and unlikely connections brought new understanding to several fields and showed the "platform independence" of a whole lot of woolly concepts. Unfortunately Hofstadter's succeeding books (Metamagical Themas, The Mind's I, Fluid Concepts & Le Ton Beau de Marot) gradually lost me, as he became more-and-more enamored of arcana and twiddling details, and less-and-less able to illuminate big subjects with new insights. In short I found him increasingly self-centered and specialist, to the point where I could barely muster the will to follow his progressively abstruse writing. His last book I accused him (in my Amazon review) of being "seriously in need of an editor."

    I almost didn't buy "I Am A Strange Loop" because of this. In the end a gift certificate, and the ten year interregnum in his output convinced me to give him another try.

    On the surface the book appears to be an improvement -- no endless pages of typographic games, no fussy typesetting (to speak of), chapters laid out with some formal regularity. However, as I wormed my way into the book I began to feel the same confines and notice the same OCD disorders. He likes to make lists -- "with" "lots" "and" "lots" "of" "words" "in" "quotation" "marks" "and" "this" "can" "go" "on" "for" "a" "half" "a" "page" "or" "more." He likes to raise analogies and then repeat them, with minor variations, three, four, five or more times. I kept saying, "Okay Doug we get it, now move on willya?" In the Preface he mentions IAASL was written to distill some of the thoughts he'd been mulling since GEB, about the strange self-referential loop that is self-consciousness, a message he felt had gotten somewhat obscured by the numerous digressions and sidetracks generated by the succeeding books. Okay, I got this, and I agree with him. I was hoping IAASL would keep this in mind.

    At a good 200 pages less than Ton Beau he makes a start at it, but his wheels still keep leaving the track. He still needs an editor to pull him back on-topic. He still hasn't written the book of clarion clarity he has in him.

    I might buy his next book though. He's moving in the right direction again -- and he IS entertaining....more info
  • I love Amazonmarketplace and I love Douglas Hofstadter.
    Every book written by Hofstadter or co-authored by him is sitting on my "bible" shelf -- next to my bed. I've read them all several times over. Being able to get one from Amazon is so good. I am now homebound and I love the reviews, suggestions, etc. that I get here. Sometimes I feel I'm having my soul cookied. After I bought one book, the next time I checked in there were three suggestions for other books to buy --I already owned them all!...more info
  • Not his best
    The whole premise of this book, is DH looking at what exactly is considered the self. He relates personal identity to the feedback produced by a tv camera or microphone/speaker. He also suggests to some degree it's all an illusion, brought about by learned response of the neurons in your head, and as such, other people can have a working representation of you that's almost as good as you. He uses this belief to console himself about his wife's death, that she is still somewhat alive in his head.
    There are long tangents dealing with his various in depth analogies, and consideration of how much of a "soul" various being and things have. Overall, he doesn't break much new ground, doesn't take a stand in favor of any beliefs, and the reader comes away with what could have simply been a carefree dinner discussion probably involving several glasses of wine. His other books are much better, and though I'm a DH fan overall, I was rather disappointed with I am a Strange Loop....more info
  • Physics as well as physiology and philosophy blend in a survey
    Douglas Hofstadter's I AM A STRANGE LOOP blends science with philosophy to offer an inspection of the natures of self, consciousness and the human brain. Physics as well as physiology and philosophy blend in a survey which consider how identity is created in the brain, how symbolic and physical levels feed into one another, and how and if the brain actually houses the human soul....more info
  • Why do we build societies? What is consciousness?
    Our ancestors created stories that placed humans in the middle, in between the animals on one side, and the angels on the other. This picture illustrates our dual nature [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_inheritance_theory] our biological needs and impulses and our less fixed, but potentially stronger social nature. Our biological nature is relatively fixed and unchanging, but our social nature, being relatively new on the scene, is currently much more varied and dynamic.

    What is our social nature? What exactly do we want from society? (Of course, we want the needs of our biological nature to be satisfied, but that tells us nothing about the ultimate goals and desires of the social part of our being.) While we've learned much about our biological nature (thanks to Darwin and evolutionary theory), our understanding of our social nature is still largely mystical, based largely on the accumulated wisdom passed on through religion and literature.

    I Am a Strange Loop takes the first steps toward formulating a well-defined understanding of our social nature.

    That's the ultimate purpose of the book. The specific purpose of the book though is to spell out, in grand fashion, Hofstadter's theory of consciousness: what it is and how it develops.

    Think of man 10,000 years ago compared to where he is today. It would have taken biological evolution 10,000,000 years to achieve as much progress. Don't think that I'm talking primarily about technology. Although technological innovation has greatly increased the average individual's capacity for self-expression, technology is only a means to an end, not an end itself. Near universal literacy, the ease of travel, and political freedoms have greatly increased the life possibilities for the modern individual. Shakespeare, Muhammad Ali, J.K. Rowling and countless other lives are the shining achievements of our civilization. Humanity's greatest achievement has always been man himself. (`Man' in the gender-neutral sense of the word, of course.)

    What is the source of this relatively rapid progress? What forces are behind this social evolution?

    Hofstadter has built a framework for exploring our ever-still-emerging self-consciousness, ultimately the starting point of our social nature, in well-defined terms.

    -----Hofstadter's theory of consciousness-----------------------------

    A basic definition of `consciousness' is `awareness of one's desires'. Hofstadter believes that our desires ultimately are caused by the interaction of neurons obeying the probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics. The catch is that our consciousness, our "I", by its very nature is required to view things differently. Our "I" automatically sees itself as the cause of desires. "I" decides it wants something (say a peanut butter and jelly sandwich), our bodies move about in certain ways, and often that desire is fulfilled (if we have access to a pantry and a refrigerator at least). The cause and effect relationship couldn't be more obvious! And yet, in Hofstadter's view, that first assumption, that "I" decides what it wants, is basically illusory. "I" automatically views things in terms of higher level symbols, in terms of billiard balls and pressure fronts, rather than particles and molecules. But "I" is no more the cause of our desires than a pressure front determines the behavior of individual air molecules (rather than the other way around). "I" automatically turns causality upside down with regards to itself in the world.

    So we are left with the question: Does causality start on the small level or the large level? Does the interaction of particles--particles, electrons, and molecules--determine the behavior of our billiard balls, computers, and pressure systems, as science claims they do? Or is science wrong about causation--does causation ultimately start on the symbolic, large level, the level of billiard balls, pressure systems, and "I"s?

    Judging from the fact that I'm trusting the technology of laptops, wireless radio signals, and the internet to communicate this review, it's hard to claim that science is wrong. And Hofstadter, as one would expect form the son of a Nobel prize winning physicist, sees no choice but to choose the scientific, particle level as the ultimate source of causation, and claim that "I"ness is ultimately illusory--an extremely convincing, extremely necessary hallucination.

    We are tempted to say: "Well maybe it can be both: maybe for non-conscious objects, like billiard balls and pressure systems, causation starts on the small level, but once consciousness kicks in, it is endowed with a causal ability of its own." But this goes against Hofstadter's whole conception of what consciousness is. Consciousness is not made out of some separate, "specially-endowed" material; it is made out of astoundingly complex patterns of the same particles, neurons, and molecules as everything else.

    The last two paragraphs of the book, he says:
    Pg. 363 - "In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference... Our very nature is such as to prevent us from fully understanding its very nature. Poised midway between the unvisualizable cosmic vastness of curved spacetime and the dubious, shadowy flickerings of charged quanta, we human beings, more like rainbows and mirages than like raindrops or boulders, are unpredictable self-writing poems--vague, metaphorical, ambiguous, and sometimes exceedingly beautiful.
    "To see ourselves this way is probably not as comforting as believing in ineffable other-worldly wisps endowed with eternal existence, but it has its compensations. What one gives up on is a childlike sense that things are exactly as they appear, and that our solid-seeming, marble-like `I' is the realest things in the world; what one acquires is an appreciation of how tenuous we are at our cores, and how wildly different we are from what we seem to be. As Kurt G?del with his unexpected strange loops gave us a deeper and subtler vision of what mathematics is all about, so the strange-loop characterization of our essences gives us a deeper and subtler vision of what it is to be human. And to my mind, the loss is worth the gain."

    I won't try to go any further into Hofstadter's explanation of consciousness for now. (It involves a brilliant analogy to a mathematical proof written by Kurt G?del in 1931. If you're at all mathematically inclined, he gives an excellent, understandable explanation of G?del's Incompleteness Theorem, which by itself makes the book worth a look.) But here are some of Hofstadter's more interesting, possibly controversial conclusions:

    1. He provides reasoning behind claiming that birds, mammals, and possibly some fish or reptiles have a self-consciousness that is qualitatively similar to human consciousness. Although even for these animals, he explains their consciousness is clearly limited compared to ours. (pp. 83-84)

    2. He claims that human embryos and even probably human infants are not self-conscious as their minds have not taken in enough perceptions in order to construct the mental symbols necessary for a sense of "I"ness. He does however, also point out the potential that lies within a human embryo. (pg. 209) (The obvious conclusions being that abortion is not equivalent to murder, but is nevertheless wiping out a huge amount of potential and is therefore still a tragic occurrence.)

    3. We are immortal to the extent that we live on within those that love us and to the extent that our life's achievements continue to impact future generations. As Hofstadter explains in this interview [tal.forum2.org/story?id=88&NewOnly=1&LastView=1970-01-01 02%3A00%3A00] "I would also say that I think that music comes much closer to capturing the essence of a composer's soul than do a writer's ideas capture the writer's soul." A prominent example Hofstadter uses in the book is how the thoughts, and therefore pieces of the soul (which he terms "soul shards"), of long-dead composers are preserved on sheets of music through which they sometimes are kept alive in other minds. And: "autobiographical story-telling is not nearly as effective a means of soul-transmission as is living with someone you love for many years of your lives, and sharing profound life goals with them -- that's for sure!"
    ...more info
  • Disappointing
    There are a number of reasons I found this book lacking, even though I agree with its major premises.

    (1) It brings no new arguments to the table. He simply restates arguments he and others have made before.

    (2) Bad puns, dumb analogies, unfunny jokes. Sorry.

    (3) More seriously, he fails to treat opposing arguments with the seriousness they deserve. Instead, he dismisses them by begging the question. In his world, non-functionalist-materialist accounts of the mind are false. Why? Because, silly, materialist-functionalist accounts are correct! The zombie problem that he and Dennett enjoy dismissing as nonsense deserves more credit than he gives it, and their continually having to face it points to their failure to provide a convincing account for interiority. Dismissing it on the basis that it is not compatible with your theory of the mind does not suffice.

    He simply fails to understand Searle. Searle is a materialist who argues that the brain might not be a computer or an information processing device. So his examples of turing machines running on unlikely physical substrates are in fact highly relevant and not merely dishonest rhetoric. If Searle is in fact correct, current thinkers who see the brain as a computer of sorts (and thus capable of being "run" on any turing machine) may one day be looked at the way we look at 19th century thinkers who saw the brain as a kind of steam engine. It may be that computers are just our latest neat toy, and not a profound explanation of consciousness and life.

    Many, many brilliant thinkers hold views other than those put forward by Dennett and Hofstader. Not all of them are blinkered philosophers: I'd look to Roger Penrose as one example.

    I loved GEB and the Metamagical Themas columns. However brilliant Hofstader is, though, here he comes close to trying to do pure philosophy. He fails....more info
  • Why I do not exist, you can too!
    Hofstadter isn't for everyone, and the subject of his musings is difficult, but he has a wonderful ability to make deep ideas accessible and he is full of fun. If you took great delight in Godel, Escher, Bach or The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul you will find renewed inspiration in Strange Loop. The author's facility in offering real world analogies to fairly abstruse philosophical puzzles is his forte. Having read fairly widely in the subject of the science of mind, I still experienced "aha!" moments reading this volume.

    More than ever, I can now apprehend that my consciousness is an emergent property in a self-aware brain of sufficient capacity to infinitely categorize experience using symbols. "I" is, perhaps, the greatest and simplest symbol of all, condensing, as it does, the experience of each lifetime into a working hypothesis. "I" is illusory, yet highly useful, in the same way that it is useful for a gardener to know where the sun "comes up" and "goes down" in planning a garden, while the sun actually does neither. Like most convincing illusions, "I" is hard to shake, and there is the downside--the doomed feeling that one day "I" will die.

    For my part, I find a great deal of comfort in bursting the illusion. If "I" never existed in the first place, it seems difficult to worry about what happens when my body drops. To the extent that I have loved and been loved, some vestige of my consciousness will drift on for a spell in others' memories, and that is enough.

    Wonderful brain candy, for those of a certain appetite. Highly recommended. ...more info
  • Computer Scientist Misrepresents Biologist
    This book was a BIG disappointment in that it: "Eschews the study of biological processes as inadequate to the task" (of explaining consciousness)

    Mr. Hofstadter GROSSLY misrepresents (what I have read about) the views of John Searle. Contrary to Mr. Hofstadter's claims in his book, Mr. Searle readily admits that comp sci type math is a possible way to uncover the secrets of consciousness -- but to date, since we have only seen the phenomena demonstrated in biology, consciousness research must start there. You will NOT learn this view of Searle's from Hofstadter's book "I Am a Strange Loop".

    A MUCH better book on understanding consciousness is Antonio Damasio's "The Feeling of What Happens". Mr. Damasio discusses the part of the brain that is computer-like (calling it "extended consciousness"), and then goes on to identify those primitive brain structures without which consciousness does not exist - and how we know this.

    I was a fan of Hofstadter's previous "Goedel,Escher,Bach". It convinced me to pursue a masters degree in computer science, rather than electrical engineering, back in the 90's. But Hofstadter's grossly inaccurate (and in my opinion, myopic if not dishonest) description of Searle's thoughts on the subject of conciousness turned me off to both Hofstadter and his book. Hofstadter would better serve the truth if he left his comfort zone and learned a bit more respect for organic chemistry and biology. All of his recursive mathematics lie within Damasio's "extended consciousness" mechanisms, and as such - will get us (and you) nowhere in understanding what consciousness really is.

    ...more info
  • "I Am Beating a Dead Horse"
    "I am beating a dead horse, am making interminably long lists of items and categories, am saying the same thing in numerous tiresome ways (in case you didn't get it the first, second, third, fourth and nth time), am stretching analogies to their limit and beyond, am badly in need of an editor who would have imposed some discipline on my ramblings, am asking for the indulgence of those who read GEB and were expecting more, am alienating those readers who prefer NASCAR fumes to Bach fugues, am going to have to look in the mirror before writing my next book and try to deliver more substance, am a self-recursive book review."...more info
  • A worthwhile, thought provoking but tedious read.
    This is a book about our brains and mind that is quite thought provoking. However, the book is a frustrating read because it is a combination of philosophy, biography, and some science - the author rambles on about a variety of sublects that are tied to the main theme but he overworks many of them, eg. Godel, video feedback. Basically the author is making the point that our selves, our "I", our consciousness, is a physical phenomenon that takes place in our brain and is a property of the vast complexity of our brain, the way it is constructed, the way it accepts and processes inputs, with an incredible number of feedback loops that keep symbols, ideas, thoughts in continuous motion in our head. I relate to this view.
    There are a number of areas where I question his views. He seems to conclude that any machine that is complex enough would also be conscious. I don't think we understand the physical components of consciousness - it would seem to me that we could have an incredibly complex machine that was still not conscious. Secondly, he seems to say that our self, or "I", is distributed across a number of brains - not only do other people have deep thoughts about us in there brains, but a peice of our self is actually in there - I can't buy it. All-in-all I found the book tedious, but it was enlightening and thought provoking enough that I am glad thatI read it. In my desire to better understand the human brain/mind, I believe that I need more science and less philosophy....more info
  • Accessible To the Layman
    This book does a good job of explaining some very complex theories in a way the an average person can understand and get something out of. It's not quite on the level of Godel Escher Bach complexity wise, nor is it intended to be. In fact Hofstader says one of the reasons he wrote this book is that a lot of people who enjoyed GEB did not get the fundamental message of it.

    Godel Escher Bach is a hard slog for the average person. I picked GEB up and put it down several times before reading this book. Reading and understanding I Am a Strange Loop has given me the motivation I need to complete GEB. Now I'm nearly finished with GEB, and I have a much better understanding of what is being illustrated.

    The book can be a little tedious in spots, but it is necessary to get the message across. Of course, the message is complex enought that I cannot explain it in a short review. It does require reading the entire book, and it can change how you think.

    The reason I rate this book 5 stars is because it makes the very important underpinnings of GEB much more accessible to a wider range of people. This is a very hard thing to do, but the author did a wonderful job of it. ...more info
  • Very loopy!
    In reading Douglas Hofstadter, one quickly realizes that Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem is for Hofstadter what foreign locales are for Ernest Hemingway...the mood setter and point of departure.

    In his classic Godel Escher Bach this was fantastic as the mathematics of Kurt Godel juxtaposed with the art of Maurits Cornelius Escher and the music of Johann Sabastian Bach excellently served as but "three shadows emanating from the same source." For those new to Hofstadter or new to Godel's theorem, it basically was a mathematical discovery that said even the best of mathematical systems would still be unable to discover all existent truths. An English language version of the phenomenon would the sentence "This sentence is false" which is neither true nor false so therefore recursive. Escher prints reflect this because they depict impossible creations like two hands drawing eachother. Similarly Bach's music was recursive because -- like with his Crab Canon -- it could be played backwards or forwards.

    As might be expected readers picking up later works by Hofstadter would be understandably excited about what, well, other mind blowing stuff Hofstadter might be thinking. However, as with his previous book, Metamagical Themas, one quickly realized that Hofstadter was merely a one trick pony seeing recursiveness in everthing, provided it was banal and uninteresting. (In Themas for example Hofstadter actually spends a couple chapters trying to create different variations on the "this sentence is false" theme...an exercise that quickly grows tiresome).

    However, Themas was written back in the eighties, and hope does spring eternal so legitimate curiosity did and does attach to what this book is about.

    Here permit me to be clear: To the extent Hofstadter intends an homage to his wife who died in 1993 of a brain tumor, only the greatest of empathy can attach. And to the extent that Hofstadter reveals a naked desire to pierce the veil of death and retain any connection with his wife, only hope can attach.

    If he's found it, so much the better for him.

    However, as a vehicle for the rest of us, this book functions neither as great philosophy or great science.

    As to the science, those genuinely interested in the nature of consciousness would be better directed to Dan Dennett's Consciousness Explained or Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works.

    As to the philosophy, human consciousness is wonderful and enigmatic in ways manifold beyond Godel's theorem. As creatures, we do indeed engage in periodic self referential activity. However, perhaps some of the grandest parts of the human experience occur when our attention is focused outward...to our loves our children and our creations. And while it may indeed be true in some greater philosophic sense that these things are but instances of self reflection perhaps it's this reviewers measure of self delusion that they are best viewed as products of selflessness and in that way the finest of what it is to be sentient.

    As can be gleaned this writer has read a lot of Hofstadter and the more I read him and the more he talks about Kurt Godel the more I long for Hofstadter's glory days when his ideas really were new and original and not just a loopy rehash of the same stuff he's been saying for thirty years....more info
  • fancy package, no content
    Why did he write this book? What was his goal? What was I to get from it?

    Having read GED more than once, I was looking for some new insights, or at least questions. I finished the book angry at myself for having wasted the time, at the publisher and the writer for wasting trees, but glad it was from the library so my own money wasn't wasted.

    I don't recall ever experiencing such growing frustration and disappointment, reading page after page, searching for but finding no substance.

    Dougie, you didn't have another book in you after all. The typeface and page layout were great though.

    Lhadro...more info
  • Redundant
    If you're interested in buying this book, you've probably already read it. The first half of it was called Godel, Escher, Bach, and the second half was called The Mind's I. But the amusing dialogues of GEB and the influential essays of The Mind's I are missing, leaving nothing but a dry exposition of Hofstadter's worldview that you probably already know.

    I suppose the book would go over better with someone who was new to Hofstadter, but then such a person would still be better off reading Godel, Escher, Bach and making most of this book redundant in the process.
    ...more info
  • A Disappointment
    I had high expectations when I picked this book up but was very disappointed. In fact, I finally put it aside and will not finish it . . . after 230 pages I still don't know what the ultimate "up shot" of the strange loop theory is and I don't have the patience to find out.

    Hofstader warns the reader in the beginning that the book is made up primarily of analogies, and he uses these to give insight to how consciousness works. Some of these are very interesting and helpful, like his discussion of video feedback loops. The major analogy of the first 200 pages, however, is tedious and difficult to understand. He spends a great deal of space explaining mathematical modeling, beginning with Bertrand Russel and through the developments of Godel. It is a long ride, and the point is to prove that self-referentiality actually exists in systems. I would have just taken his word for it.

    In early reviews I read how Hofstader's work was eclectic, pulling from math, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and the like. Rather than enlightening, however, I found his jumping between them to be haphazard and distracting. Perhaps I will go back and tackle his earlier Pulitzer Prize winner, Godel, Escher, and Bach, but I can't recommend this one....more info
  • Very good read
    Douglas Hofstadter fans will find this book fun and interesting to read. Although many of the GED ideas have been reshashed in this book but it includes some new learnings and evolution in thinking that the writer has gone through in last 30 years.

    You may find the book using a bit to many analogies, but you should expect that from the writer of fluid concepts and creative analogies. Once again Hofstadter's description of Godel's incompleteness theorem is one of the best written explanation for non mathematicians.

    Book maintains its focus on explanation of conciousness and overall does a decent job in making its point.

    Shadman...more info
  • Man and Meaning
    This book struggles with the central question, "Who am I?" and, "Who are you?" so it gets stars for the human who wrote the book and is willing to peer over the edge and allow us participate in his search. However, the author has sadly missed the opportunity to move from the "I am" to the great "I AM" thus solving his true identity. May he one day find the peace that he seeks and the true knowing that needs no explanation.

    Elizabeth Detoure...more info
  • enlightening
    This is a very wonderful book. Hofstadter has the ability to explain the
    most abstract concepts in a way that I can understand them. Aside from his
    central thesis, he has brought me closer to understanding Godel's
    inconsistency and incompleteness proofs than anyone else's best effort.
    That alone is worth many times the book....more info
  • G?delian loopiness
    I Am A Strange Loop restates a lot of ideas from Hofstadter's earlier work, particularly the ones relating self-reference to consciousness, but improves upon them and puts them in a clearer context. Without the endless (though admittedly fascinating) digressions that made GEB such a tome to slog through, the central ideas about consciousness are a lot better framed.

    And they're wonderful ideas. Hofstadter makes a very convincing case for self-reference forming an integral part of, if not the very basis of, human consciousness. His ideas about symbolic representation and levels of meaning manage to restate the so-called "hard problem" of consciousness in a way that makes dismissing it seem a lot less absurd than many philosophers would maintain. (He spends a fair bit of time good-naturedly bashing Nagel in particular. I'm curious to see what Nagel's said about this book, actually.)

    There are a few sections that get tiresome: I don't think the video feedback loop analogy is as brilliant as Hofstadter seems to think it is; or at least I don't think the actual visual images of it are particularly instructive or interesting. The full-colour insert containing them would have been left out if I'd been his editor. And in one of the final chapters, Mr. Hofstadter comes dangerously close to self-serving elitist wankery when he starts positing on the higher consciousness of those people who appreciate the deep cosmic significance of Bach fugues. It reminded me uncomfortably of hearing Bill Hicks wax condescending on the "obvious" wonders of LSD. Hofstadter's deep passion for certain things, especially when it comes to music, sometimes makes him a little too sure of the objective merits of a clearly subjective personal preference.

    But these are relatively minor quibbles, and don't detract from the main arguments of the book. If nothing else, you should read it for the beautifully clear explanation of G?del's incompleteness theorem, the best treatment of it that I've seen. It's a mind-expanding idea, but only if you can understand it, and too many books get bogged down in the details of G?del Numbers and the vagaries of the Principia Mathematica without properly getting across the elegant, though twisted, simplicity of what G?del accomplished. Whether or not you buy that something analogous to it is the key to consciousness, I think any understanding of mathematics that doesn't take G?del into account is much poorer for it....more info
  • Hofstadter Lite
    Bearing in mind the thoughtful critiques already posted--of the verbosity, lack of focus, self-indulgent super cuteness,etc--those of us stymied in the past by DH's dazzling expertise in matters for which we have absolutely no clue, must rejoice simply because we can understand great gloopy chunks of what he has to say. If, at the close, we feel let down by what seems an inadvertent, certainly a non-malicious, bait-and-switch, it's been a fascinating partial revelation of The Soft Underbelly of Hofstadter, erse solid man. ( DH never actually serves up a nicely garnished Soul-on-a-platter, but rather simply flutters and flourishes under our noses, like a conjuring waiter in a restaurant whose kitchen is totally virtual, the world's longest menu.) ...more info
  • Lacks harmony. Rambling collection of ideas
    Possibly because Godel,Escher, Bach (GEB) showed such ingenuity and originality, almost anything else produced by the author would measure short of its standard. Surprisingly the current work rehashes several of the core themes of GEB, e.g. incompleteness, paradoxes, patterns,etc; and their implications for consciousness. It is along the latter axis that the book, in my opinion, fails to convince. The main challenge facing the reader is extracting a coherent theme from what is a medley of snippets of science, personal biography and flowery prose. I didn't fidn the book easy to read. It wanders, not necessarily insightfully, over huge areas of human development. The insights the author gains from the insertion of folksy passages are not obviously transferred to the reader. In a nutshell I thought the book tied itself in knots over conscious and the individuation of the self. Was it a worthwhile read? I am ambivalent. ...more info
  • The mind plays tricks on us
    Interesting fellow this author.

    He has done a good job illuminating the inner clouds of thought rolling around in the brain.

    Takes you on an interesting trip. Still a little tough to grasp.

    ...more info
  • Wonderfully Thought Provoking
    One of the things I enjoy most about Doug Hofstadter's writing is that he always includes himself. There are many asides(are they really asides?)in which he uses autobiographical details to create examples of the points he makes. You end up getting a sense of his personality which as everyone's is a particular one, a pattern as he would say, and that is very much the point of this book....more info
  • Godel, Escher, Bach...again
    Interesting book. If you haven't read Godel, Escher, Bach it is certainly worth picking up. If you have read GEB, then you can probably pass on this one....more info
  • "I" is not sure Hofstadter gets that "I am not "I""
    Fans of Hofstadter's style of writing may be pleased to have another tome to wander through, but fans of his ideas, such as I am, may be disappointed. In this book, DH attempts to focus on the question of identity: who or what am "I". DH firmly rejects both religious dualism and the pseudo-scientific dualism of Chalmers and others. Instead, DH calls upon the recursive loops he explored with us in GEB to expose identity for what it is: an emergent property of perceptual cognition turned in on itself.

    Yet DH seems uncomfortable with his own conclusion, as if he still has one foot in the old dualist world where each of us has, if not an eternal, unchanging soul, then at least an animate "spiritual being" distinct from the "mere stuff" we are made of. He almost interchangeably uses the words "soul", "self", and "consciousness", and he spends a lot of time worrying about what living systems possess what amount of "soulness" (he seems to be certain, however, that mosquitos have no soul worth worrying about). He argues that people, too, must have "souls" which vary in "size" with their degree of self-consciousness. He ties this as well to empathy, arguing that people who are more exquisitely sensitive to the identities and feelings of others (e.g., Albert Schweitzer) have larger souls. Although he doesn't make it explicit, he seems to use the word "soul" when discussing judgments made about someone's identity by others, while using "self" or "I" when describing an entity's own awareness of itself.

    One idea I found intriguing in this book was the concept of extended identity. There is the identity "I" continually construct for "myself" (the recursive act of self-identification), but there is also my identity held in the minds of others as a product of co-creation. DH explores the idea that my identity mirrored in the minds of others can be legitimately considered to be me in the same way that my many (often conflicting) self-images are me. I would have liked him to explore this idea further, particularly the hall-of-mirrors idea that I am very susceptible to adopting the images of myself constructed by others!

    As with DH, the question of identity is a central obsession within my own identity, so of course I had to read this book. But I was frustrated by its rambling diversions and failure to attempt a concise, no-diversion summary of his thesis. I would rather have seen him start with, and end with, a very concise set of ideas. If I were DH [play on identity intended], I would have said it this way:

    (1) The symbol for the self, "I", is not the individual. Rather "I" represents the individual, or whatever portion of that complex individual it is useful to represent in a particular context. The symbol "I" is thus linked to the current physical, emotional, and cognitive states of the individual, as well as to whatever memory structures are currently active. As states change and active memories cycle, the "I" changes with them. We do not notice this because, but just as we "fill in" our field of vision with what we "know" to be out there surrounding our focal point, we "fill in" the concept of "I" with a base-covering "and all the other aspects of myself that I am not thinking about at the moment".

    (2) Each healthy human individual maintains a set of interlinked symbols to refer to people it knows well. If I think of my wife it might be her voice or her face that starts a cascade of memory impressions that I label with her name. I have a complex set of memories and expectations about her that define her for me. When she doesn't "live up" to those expectations, I either change them or attempt to change her (not a good idea, BTW).

    (3) Each healthy human, as a social animal, is continually shaped and reinforced by the expectations of members of its social group. A social loop helps establish my identity not only as "friend of", "son of", "supporter of", but as "a father", "responsible", "creative", "reserved": I take my identity in large part from how others see me.

    (4) So who am "I"? All the substance is in the system, not in the symbol. I am all that I am at any moment, or I am a remembered participant in a remembered event. I am not "I". "I" is a convenient symbol for a very real, but very complex and very changeable human.

    ...more info
  • Style over continually ill-conceived substance
    Style is why I marked a second star for this book, for the author is unquestionably linguistically inventive and fluid, although he uses this skill for unbearably and unnecessarily lengthy passages. Among his skills is not conciseness.

    Closer to the substance are his views of morality, related to his search for the "I" or "soul" or "consciousness". I may remark that, while he searches for the "I", I never read an author so self-absorbed, using a self-referential "I" eight times in his first, seven-line, paragraph (Preface), not to mention tireless talk about himself throughout. In this connection he not surprisingly places "normal adult humans" on top of a hierarchy, illustrated on pages 19 and 22, regarding the amount of "consciousness" or "souledness" possessed (though later arguing that consciousness is an illusion). Correspondingly the adult has more consciousness than the two-year-old, and the scale goes downward with the younger and animals of lesser and lesser brains.

    This suggests why abortion is condoned by the author, who seems to compare himself to Albert Schweitzer, who undoubtedly would in his "reverence for life" hold the practice abhorrent. The author further has an opposite explanation for being a vegetarian. He in allusions to human considerations speaks e.g. of a lifeless pig's severed head as "guillotined". He has no qualms, however, about swatting mosquitoes, likening them to flush toilets. He calls people who would argue that mosquitoes may be as conscious as we insincere, because they too may unhesitatingly swat a mosquito.

    Calling opponents names is frequent with the author, like, despite his own unceasing verbosity, calling philosopher John Searle tiresome, or Bertrand Russell paranoid. One certainly can consider an insect conscious, and also, possibly painlessly, squash it because unendurable. Contrary to the author's proposal that there are grades of consciousness, the universal experience is that all animals in all stages of development equally disclose consciousness, pleasure and pain. They differ in their thinking capacities, which of course are incomparably larger in humans. That is why we distinguish between the same events happening to humans and to other creatures.

    But more on the author's reasoning. His worshipful attitude toward Goedel seems unbounded. He as much as (p.172) equates him with God, whose, English, name appears in Goedel's (without the first "e"). I critiqued the latter's theorem in other reviews here, presently pinpointing flaws in the book reviewed. Its author presents that theorem as follows (pp.164-5). Posited is the sentence

    "I am not provable!".

    It is then assumed the sentence is provable, which, the author notes, contradicts the sentence and therefore is wrong.

    He consequently says that this "leaves us with the opposite scenario:" The sentence is not provable. This inference, I may note, presumes the rule "A or not-A".

    But that the sentence is thus unprovable, he argues, "is exactly what [it] is shouting [and hence it] is true". He repeats: "we have established" that the sentence "is unprovable" and "true".

    He overlooks that having "established" it true is having proved it, which again contradicts it. And the rules of inference seen used, non-contradiction ("not both A and not-A") and "either A or not-A", are common to all logic.

    Other flaws occur. Goedel devised a way to uniquely number every symbol or letter used, then every word with those numbers combined, every sentence likewise, and so forth. He accordingly claimed that what the sentences say is true of those numbers. An oddly twisted logic, since the numbers designate linguistic forms, not changes in content. I discussed this in other places mentioned, and now want to note another inconsistency. The above concerned sentence has been phrased as

    "Sentence g is not provable",

    with g representing the number given to the whole sentence. The whole sentence, however, includes numbers for its other parts, making the combined number larger than g. I.e. the sentence is designated by both the number g and the larger one, contradicting the uniqueness.

    In this regard Hofstadter discusses "Berry's paradox" (pp.104-8), premising it on

    "the smallest integer whose English-language descriptions always [need] at least thirty syllables",

    and he observes that this description contains 24 syllables, to contradict itself. Of interest is that he rejects Bertrand Russell's solution, as do I, but proclaims with self-assurance: "The truth of the matter is that it is far from clear what kinds of English expressions count as descriptions of a number", calling syllable-counting in the paradox a vague notion. But the premised can be made as unambiguous as desired:

    "The smallest integer whose English descriptions need at least twelve words."

    Evidently this description uses 11 words, contradicting itself. The resolution is much simpler than supposed. Since the description can use 11 words, postulating 12 words is contradictory, namely illegitimate. Other known paradoxes are, unlike believed, equally harmless and rather simple to resolve, as I have alongside other subjects expounded in my book On Proof for Existence of God, and Other Reflective Inquiries.

    Later (p.315) the author, as in the preceding, proclaims with the same self-assurance and phraseology: "the truth of the matter is that there is no thing called `I'...", the central subject of his book. He contends (p.323) "that we all are unconscious but we all believe we are conscious...", in agreement with his friend Daniel Dennett, whose Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (Jean Nicod Lectures) I reviewed here. As in that case, I must emphasize the absurdity of that contention. Consciousness is the medium by which everything is known to us, and therefore constitutes the highest ranking certainty.

    The author's other excursions into the world of the self appear equally misguided. While insisting the "I" does not exist, he alleges the presence of any one "I" in not only one's own brain but in those of others, calling the understood distinct selves prejudice and dogma, caged-birds. Instead of a cage, however, one might think of a castle.

    The author sees empathy "as the most admirable quality of humanity" (p.246), but he may be unqualified to read another's mind, needing perhaps sympathy.
    ...more info
  • Let's just let the boy-in-the-man play
    After skimming over some of the reviews, I realized a good read can be judged "good" by the fact that even readers who rate the work with 3 or fewer stars spend a lot of time proving at some level they were inspired by the book. I like reading DH just for the fact that when I am trudging through sections that seem irrelevant or too-too wordy I look forward to and I'm never disappointed in finding the "gem" of a thought inspiring approach to such philosophical questions. So I forgive him, his playing with Audio/Visual feedback systems, his stretch-an-analogy-into-almost-poinlessness. Let's let him play!! and watch what he comes up with. (That's the view I had to take with this book.)
    Anyway, I was inspired in to a thought about schizophrenia by way of this book. It's incredible that for most brains there's only one focus of the internal loop. Imagine, similar to DH's reflections on his wife's "I-ness", that our hardware/software was evolutionarily programmed to accomodate multiple "I"s.
    All-in-all, at some point between the first and last page of this book, you'll be affected at some (emotional, intellectual, psychological) level.
    ...more info
  • Strange Loops Rule!!
    I read this book after a friend of mine, who shares my interest in neurophilosophy, recommended it, and I am glad that I did. Hofstadter does a nice job of showing how the complex interactions of neurons at the basic level of the brain can lead to large scale structures which are the cause of consciousness. He terms the former "mentalics" and the latter "thinkodynamics". He then proceeds in the monistic manner of his friend Daniel Dennett to show how the material brain can produce an immaterial consciousness by the incredibly complex interactions of 100 billion neurons, which are capable of forming intricate patterns of feedback loops, and from these loops consciousness emerges. Unfortunately, he starts out by making unfair criticisms of John Searle, who has doubts that a computational system can think. In his famous (or infamous in some circles) Chinese room experiment, he merely points out that syntax, which the machine is very good at, is not the same as semantics. In other words, the poor guy in the Chinese room can translate perfectly following the set of rules, but he does not understand a word of what he translates. Searle's point is valid, and nobody, not even Searle himself, has solved this neurophilosophical dilemma.
    What I find most interesting about Hofstadter's argument is that he uses G?del's incompleteness theorem as a basis for his solution. On page 110 he says: "...what was really being explored by G?del, as well as by many people he had inspired, was the mystery of the human mind and the mechanisms of human thinking." G?del, in a manner which defies my mathematically impoverished mind, takes Russell and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica, which is a set of rigid rules governing logic and arithmetizes it, or, in other words, adds a higher level of meaning and then is able to manipulate this higher level so that self-referential feedback loops can emerge which have the ability to cause further feedback loops. On page 206 Hofstadter summarizes this: "Kurt G?del .... demonstrated how high-level, emergent, self-referential meanings in a formal mathematical system can have a causal potency just as real as that of the system's rigid, frozen, low-level rules of inference."
    Even more interesting, at least to me, is that Roger Penrose (The Emperor's New Mind; The Shadows of the Mind; and The Large, the Small and the Human Mind) uses G?del's theorem to prove the opposite - that no computational system could ever possibly be the basis of thinking. Penrose says that the incompleteness theorem showed that no computational system is complete, and, therefore, cannot be the basis of human thought, which must necessarily be independent and complete in its own world. He stated it this way in The Shadows of the Mind, page vi: "Central to the arguments of Part I, is the famous theorem of G?del ...... The conclusions are that conscious thinking must indeed involve ingredients that cannot be even simulated adequately by mere computation; still less could computation, of itself alone, evoke any conscious feelings or intentions. Accordingly, the mind must indeed be something that cannot be described in any kind of computational terms."
    Let me explain the basic problem of consciousness as I see it. While playing a game of kickball I focus on a ball which is "red" and `round". If you stop and think about it, the round, red ball does not exist. In the "real" world that object consists of a gazillion elementary particles, complexly organized, which give off light waves/particles of a specific frequency, which travel into my eye, are focused on the retina, and then excite special neurons that, by way of a complex pathway, travel to our cerebral cortex and set up the complex feedback loops that Hofstadter talked of. Nowhere in this material world does a round, red ball exist. It is an illusion in our mind, but an important one if I want to be able to dodge the ball. Our brain consists of 100 billion neurons, which are connected to each other via multiple synapses (around 3000 synapses per neuron). These neurons can fire in very intricate ways, thereby setting up incredibly complicated patterns, which exist in space and time, both synchronically and diachronically. From these patterns "emerge" consciousness, much as the wetness of water emerges from the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.
    I cannot fault this explanation, mainly because I can see no other way to explain consciousness without getting mystical. Nevertheless, it seems impossible for our minds to exhibit free will in a closed material system. Hofstadter solves this neatly by denying free will (see pages 339-341). Penrose tries to solve it by getting into the quantum world, which is weird (mystical?) in many ways. For example, I pity poor Schr?dinger's cat, whose fate is dependent upon human consciousness somehow interacting with the quantum world. Furthermore, Bell's interconnectedness theorem (refer to Quantum Reality by Nick Herbert, page 211) indicates that we are all connected in some magical way at the micro-level of our existence. There is no doubt that we get away from the strict mechanistic causality of our macro-world when we delve into quantum mechanics. Courtesy of Sir John Eccles, the Nobel prize winning neurophysiologist (see How the Self Controls Its Brain by Eccles). Penrose says that the microtubules of each neuron, which secrete the neurotransmitters essential for synaptic transmission, are so small that they are actually part of the micro-world that operates according to quantum mechanics. Perhaps here lies the spiritual aspect of mind, which completely eludes any explanation based upon the physical laws of our macro-world.
    In conclusion, I would like to bring up Cartesian dualism, which is the other way we can salvage free will. Ever since Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 book, Concept of Mind, showed how the "ghost in the machine" contradicted Descartes' mind/matter dualism, sophisticated neurophilosophers have ridiculed the spiritual concept of mind. An immaterial mind could not effect changes in material neurons anymore than Caspar, the friendly ghost, could float through a wall and then play catch with the kids. If this is true, then free will goes out the window, or through the wall, if it is an immaterial idea. It seems like a stretch to use microtubules as the means the quantum world, which has immaterial aspects to it, can effect material changes in our brain. Let me end by pointing out that Descartes, in his criticism of Newtonian gravity, was proven right by 20th physics. Descartes ridiculed the idea that gravity, a mysterious force that acted at a distance, could be the cause of planetary motion. He stated that there were "vortices" in space that controlled how celestial objects moved. Einstein showed that material bodies act to transform and curve the space around them, and that the planets move in the channels that such curved space provides.
    Perhaps Descartes was also right about mind/matter dualism.

    ...more info
  • Sharp corners
    Dear Doug,

    I have been reading your book "I Am A Strange Loop".

    I bought the book on Amazon, it arrived well-packaged, as is usual with Amazon books.

    Sorry, I got interrupted here. My wife has just handed me a framed version of
    [Interrupted again here
    ___[Interrupted yet again here
    ______[I have to stop completely]
    I will start again later. I don't think I can carry on now. Perhaps I can.

    I have just got up to the bit in Chapter 3, where you mention the number 641. I love [6 lines deleted] Gauss.

    My wife went out of the room a few minutes ago.

    Anyway, the book had a dust jacket when it arrived. I detest dust jackets, they make the book more difficult to hold. I took the dust jacket off and ripped it in half. Possibly ripping that picture of you in half. I felt a pang of guilt as I did that. But, what is one more pang in a world of pangs?

    Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I have been reading the book laying on my back, on a bed.

    The corners of the cover are very sharp. You could consider making the corners of your next book rounded. And, perhaps, the corners of the pages, too.

    [Added much later] I have now guillotined off the offending corners.

    [Added a little earlier] I have now realised that it is impossible for me to write an Amazon review of this book....more info
  • Relax, It's Just Physicalist Functionalism
    I became interested in philosophy of mind about three years ago, and have since read a variety of books written by philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists and computer experts. About a year ago I heard about Douglas Hofstadter and his [then] forthcoming book "I Am A Strange Loop". I also discovered his 1979 work Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, where the strange loop concept was expounded in great detail. While GEB did indeed attempt to apply strange loops to the workings of the mind, IAASL promised to focus this idea with laser intensity upon the mysteries of human consciousness. Given what I had already read about the importance of circular processes within the brain, especially regarding the "binding" of multiple sense and memory data into a "unified impression", I looked forward to IAASL with great anticipation. I hoped that it would provide cutting insights that would help dispel the fog surrounding the current consciousness debate. In the end, however, Dr. Hofstadter provided little more than a warmed-over version of an old theory, i.e. PHYSICALIST FUNCTIONALISM; albeit with a quasi-mathematical twist to it, i.e., the Godel / strange-loop approach.

    Although Hofstadter is a computer scientist, his first love appears to be mathematics. He gives a great description of what mathematicians do, i.e. finding and analyzing patterns amidst groups of numbers. He gives examples of how this is done, and then shows how these patterns are analyzed and formally documented via axioms and theorems and strings of logical symbols. He then kicks it up a notch by explaining what number theory is, i.e. the foundation for those theorems and logical constructs. Not content with stopping there, he takes you to the next level by explaining how mathematician Kurt Godel performed a brilliant meta-analysis of number theory in 1931 and found that it breaks down when "indexicals" are considered (i.e., self-referential propositions such as "this quote is untrue"). By now, most of us reasonably-intelligent readers are gasping for mental oxygen, as though we're way up in the Andes. But Hofstadter then pushes us up to the peak, i.e. the "strange loop", which is an abstraction and generalization of what Godel did to number theory.

    Yikes! How many levels up have we gone? Numbers can be called first-order abstractions of reality. Identified number patterns would be a second-order; documentation of these by theorems would represent a third. Number theory is four levels up, and Godel hits the fifth floor elevator button. So a "strange loop" is a sixth-order abstraction from everyday reality. No wonder it seems somewhat "strange" to mere mortals.

    But strangeness doesn't mean that an idea is useless. Hofstadter makes it clear (more so in GEB) that mathematicians have come up with all sorts of abstract ideas, which often sit for years in dusty library books until some physicist comes along looking for a way to describe something rather peculiar about the data he or she has gathered from the lab. All of a sudden, an ignored system or obscure concept is found to be exactly what is needed to solve the problem of, say, electrical superconductence at room temperature. The question here is just how useful the strange loop concept would be in solving problems. It is not a logically formal idea, in the way that a math construct such as the proof of Fermat`s Last Theorem is. The strange loop paradigm is really more of a philosopher's construct, something a bit looser around the edges. Hofstadter tries to do with math what the late, great David Bohm attempted with quantum physics, i.e. to stretch it into a bigger, more holistic thought system that extends to the far corners of the human mind. What Hofstadter and Bohm found once they reached those far corners are quite different however; instead of localized loops, Bohm saw "implicate universal order". (Bohm's 1987 book Science, Order and Creativity is to "implicate order" what GEB is to strange loops).

    This is important to keep in mind if you choose to climb the mountain of thought with Hofstadter. Right up through Godel's intellectual craftwork, Hofstadter stays on the pathways of formal logic. But that last jump is different, and Hofstadter does not warn you. It's easy (for those of lesser minds like myself) to be impressed by the strict methods used to get to level number five, and believe that such intellectual acuity carries through right to the top. So keep your eyes open (even though it's difficult at such intellectual heights); Hofstadter is very impressive as a wanna-be mathematician, but may not be as skilled when he shifts to philosophy, where the "strange loop" proposition actually resides.

    In GEB, Hofstadter attempts to give real-world examples of strange-loop situations. Not surprisingly, the results are of mixed efficacy. He first refers to the Escher paintings so liberally sprinkled throughout his first book (a few of which show up in IAASL). But he gains little traction - those are just optical illusions. He then refers to what almost happened during the Watergate crisis during Richard Nixon's presidency; i.e. the Supreme Court interpreting the Constitution for the Executive Branch, and the Executive Branch contrarily interpreting the Constitution regarding the Judiciary. In fact, such political situations don't loop around very much; they are resolved rather quickly by riots and bullets (luckily Nixon backed off in 1974). Hofstadter's greatest success with strange loops in GEB came in a wonderful chapter about the workings of DNA in living beings.

    Hofstadter also took on the problems of the mind in GEB. However, his efforts in that field were overshadowed by the expansive brilliance of the book. And thus, in IAASL Hofstadter conveys his disappointment about not being taken more seriously by the brain-mind-consciousness crowd. He calls GEB a "shout into a chasm" - although Hofstadter did in fact team up with one of the most formidable "mind philosophers", Daniel Dennett, soon after GEB (e.g., their 1981 book The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul). I read GEB only recently, but it was rather clear to me that Hofstadter's strange-loop concept of the mind was really nothing more than physicalist functionalism, a viewpoint that has been around since the mid-1960s. Not surprisingly, Dennett is quite sympathetic to this approach. For a good introduction to functionalism and its materialist interpretation, I'd recommend David Papineau's Introducing Consciousness.

    In applying strange loops to the workings of the brain, Hofstadter establishes that the mind works "recursively". Sense data flows in from the body and drives the neurons; and yet this "bottom level" activity works its way through a hierarchy to the upper levels of the mind, where sensations are felt and decisions are made. Those decisions are then "passed back down" to the neurons and synapses, completing the strange loop from low-level to high-level and back again.

    The brain is thus seen as having "mind states" that exist between sensory input and behavioral output. These states are loopy and recursive; their present status is as much a function of what they were like an instant ago, as of what new sense data was just inputted into them. Through devices such as memory, they tend to stabilize human behavior, allowing a longer-term perspective. E.g., if you are chasing a rabbit for food, and the rabbit temporarily disappears behind a tree, you don't stop running just because you no longer see it - you hold a belief that it will soon reappear. Brain states, as an intermediary between stimulus and response, obviously have a function, one that contributes to survival. And thus the case for functionalism. The physicalist part rejects any dualist notions about the ontological independence of "qualia" and inner experience, and equates our mind states and their functional interactions with consciousness itself. In GEB, Hofstadter used the strange loop abstraction to get to functionalism. In IIASL, he concentrates somewhat more on the physicalist agenda.

    As such, Hofstadter wears the philosopher's hat more frequently in IIASL, while in GEB he mostly kept the mathematician's cap on. But the new hat doesn't fit as well. First off, he doesn't seem to be aware that he's pouring the old wine of functionalism into the new skin of strange loopiness (to reverse the Biblical metaphor). He seems a bit too sure of himself, too ready to summarily ridicule those who have argued against functionalism, most notably philosopher John Searle. (He may be doing the bidding of his partner Daniel Dennett, who has had rather vitriolic debates with Searle over the years; but unlike Hofstadter, Dennett has spelled out in great detail his position relative to Searle's. Hofstadter, in turn, is mostly yelling insults at the enemy of his friend). He spends many pages setting up and attacking a straw man, i.e. substance dualism, a position that has not been seriously espoused since Sir John Eccles passed away.

    Professor Hofstadter doesn't show any appreciation for the subtleties of modern property dualism and its hope that future progress in understanding the nature of "deep reality" may eventually close the "explanatory gap" between physics and consciousness, e.g. the "information substrate to reality" and the hologram paradigms that physicists such as John Wheeler now discuss, and which David Bohm anticipated. Hofstadter admires, yet refuses to adopt the self-doubt that his fellow materialist Derek Parfait expresses after Parfait strictly identifies qualia and self-awareness with brain electrochemistry.

    Hofstadter as philosopher shows no knowledge of the "mysterian" position of Colin McGinn and Thomas Nagel; this is especially regrettable given Hofstadter's words in GEB about the human brain ultimately being a Turing algorithmic system subject, one that at some point faces a determinability limit similar to what Godel found in number theory. Is it possible that our questions regarding our own consciousness are the ultimate indexicals? Hofstadter also seeks to kill some "sacred cows" of philosophy that are antithetical to the functionalist viewpoint, such as the "inverted spectrum" thought experiment. (Hofstadter swears in the book to be a vegetarian pacifist, but I suppose that philosophic sacred cows are still fair game.) Interestingly, though, he does not attempt to "kill" the thought-experiment denizen who should trouble him the most: i.e., Frank Jackson's "Mary", the formerly color-blind neuroscientist (also explained well by Papineau, cited above).

    Even when explaining his own paradigms, Hofstadter can be a bit confusing. He spends a lot of time telling us that human consciousness is like a television with a camera pointed at it (he even provides pictures of what the frame-within-frame results looks like). The implied infinite series of frames-within-frames is claimed to be much like the strange loops that power our consciousness. But if so, then how far is this paradigm from the much reviled "Cartesian theater" idea of the homunculus (tiny little person) within the brain watching a screen tied to our sense organs, with a homunculus within him/her watching a screen, with a homunculus . . . . in the end, just another infinity of screens. Nonetheless, after a lot of words about TV cameras pointed at monitors, Hofstadter then tells us that it's not the infinity of screen frames that is important; infinity would have sunk Godel had he not gotten around the problem with a finite reference to infinity. The given example of a finite reference to the infinite is the girl on the Morton Salt container, holding an identical salt container under her arm so that her image, and an infinite regress, is blocked but still implied. OK, fine, but I didn't see how the TV/screen system was squared with the salt container. Are they both kinda-sorta like indexical consciousness, but in differing ways?

    And then there's Hofstadter's illusion of the marble in the box of envelopes - proving that our everyday notions regarding self-consciousness are just illusions, anyway. But illusions to who? Don't ask, just be satisfied that the illusion is had by an illusion which is perceived by another illusion . . . . ad infinitum / ad absurdum.

    IAASL is an intensely personal book - it could almost be sub-titled 'Please Understand Me', with apologies to David Keirsey and his work on Myers-Briggs and human temperaments (Hofstadter is clearly an INTP "architect" - an architect of numbers, ideas and systems). You learn a lot about the life and times of Douglas Hofstadter while climbing the intellectual heights with him. He makes a lot of entertaining little jokes and quips along the way, but becomes very serious as he discusses Carol, his beloved late wife. His word are truly moving until he tries to convince you that Carol lives on in his mind, almost as much as Douglas Hofstadter does. She is still conscious within him - certainly not to the same degree that he is, but according to his hyper-functional concept of "consciousness", just as qualitatively conscious. He goes through a rather convoluted thought experiment (regarding "Twinwirld") to justify the notion that one consciousness can be shared among more than one brain.

    To truly grasp what is going on here, you need to be familiar with a certain tenant of physicalist functionalism: i.e., that consciousness is "platform independent". Platform independence has been used to support the notion that living protoplasm is not a sine qua non for consciousness, and that there is no reason why artificial intelligence researchers (such as Hofstadter) will not eventually reproduce consciousness "in silico". Hofstadter has put a rather innovative twist on the platform independence theory here: why not a person-to-person transfer of conscious awareness? One could think of all sorts of skeptical questions in response, but I would like to ask something more personal: is this really healthy? At some point, don't we need to learn to let go after we lose something or someone we love? (Or am I taking Hofstadter too seriously, since he feels that all human consciousness is just a "marble in an envelope box" anyway?)

    Given all the psychological sharing in IAASL, one can see how much even a brilliant person's views are shaped by their own personal history and circumstances. It's not surprising that the wrapping of physicalist functionalism with a strange loop bow comes from a fellow of prodigious intellectual talents who, as a young boy, bought math treatises and who got goose bumps thinking about self-referential propositions, and whose teenage music thrills came from Albert Schweitzer doing Bach's greatest hits. (I wonder if Hofstadter considered calling this book "Godel, Schweitzer and Bach"?) Professor Hofstadter didn't know that Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes also recorded a song using the refrain "it ain't the meat, it's the motion", which Hofstadter uses to mockingly attack Searle's consideration of the idea that living protoplasm might be essential to consciousness. Hofstadter is being unfair here, as Searle is in fact quite cautious in discussing this. As to Southside and Mr. Popeye, well, they will probably get over the slight eventually . . . .

    I'd give this book two stars from the perspective of the general reader who might want an overview on the current debate regarding how our brains, minds and consciousness relate. If you are already familiar with philosophy of mind, then perhaps Hofstadter earns a third star - he will at least give YOUR mind a work-out. And if you enjoyed GEB and more-or-less understood it, then IAASL could be a four or even five-star read for you. So I've averaged it out to three stars overall. As with Hofstadter's sense of humor, which is liberally sprinkled throughout the book (aside from the Carol chapters), some will enjoy and benefit from Hofstadter's approach, but many won't.

    A final note about Douglas Hofstadter's admittedly touching tribute to his late wife. Despite his heartfelt attempts to weave his theories into something of beauty in her honor, recursive mathematical constructs still pale in comparison with Tennyson's "In Memoriam":

    I trust I have not wasted breath:
    I think we are not wholly brain,
    Magnetic mockeries; not in vain,
    Like Paul with beasts, I fought with Death;

    Not only cunning casts in clay;
    Let Science prove we are, and then
    What matter Science unto men,
    At least to me? I would not stay.

    As Dr. Parfait realized, dualism will not be easily vanquished. Like Professor Hofstadter, I too am a vegetarian romanticist computer geek, albeit a considerably less brilliant one. But as to being a strange loop . . . no way....more info
  • Nice complement to GEB
    If you have already read and enjoyed Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, then you should read this. Just don't expect GEB 2.

    If you have not, then go read that first, then read this....more info
  • Rehash at best
    I was disappointed upon reading I Am a Strange Loop (IAASL), especially because I enjoyed G?del Escher Bach (GEB) so immensely. Whereas, with GEB Hofstadter was a Young Turk of sorts, excited about a new idea and approaching it straightforwardly, IAASL is the product of years spent in academia.

    Hofstadter begins as an academic would, reviewing the past reception (and misperception, apparently) of GEB, and differing opinions from other academics. These disputes are of almost zero interest to a reader not specifically engaged in this academic field.

    Second, Hofstadter aims at rehashing, clarifying, expanding, and enriching his thesis from GEB. This book fails both at providing a clear recounting of his previous ideas and at expanding upon or building upon them in any profound way. His writing this time around is far more academic (as if he were lecturing his graduate students with clever turns of phrase) rather than providing the clear insights of GEB. Of course, he indulges liberally in analogies and metaphors throughout IAASL, much like he did in GEB, but this time around their delivery is far more muddled and their purpose is less apparent, leading to an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.

    Third, we are taken on a pseudo-relevant excursion in which Hofstadter ponders the application of his theory to his late wife. His dedication to her is profound. The chapters and musings centering around her are not, however, engaging to someone uninterested in a story of personal or private exploration. They add little to one's understanding of Hofstadter's thesis.

    In sum, IAASL is a disappointment. It is not successful as a condensation or abridgment of the GEB thesis. It is not successful as a sequel or expansion to GEB.

    If you are tempted to buy this volume, but have not yet read GEB, do not purchase this book. You will not gain an understanding of the GEB thesis from this book, you will merely be lead around circuitously and end up confused. Purchase GEB and ignore this volume. If you have read GEB and are itching to read more of the profound insights and witty dialogs, you will find it short on any new insights and bored by uninspired and frankly unnecessary metaphors....more info
  • Absolutely hieroglyphics !
    Its absolutely hieroglyphics to me ! I read parts of GEB, but this book lacks both the clarity and the charm that was the virtue in GEB. I fail to see whats the book is aiming for. If you want to buy it, please read it from a library before you decide whether to buy it in first place....more info
  • A sleight of hand to kill off all sleights of hand
    Philosophy, to those who are disdainful of it, is a sucker for *a priori* sleights of hand: purely logical arguments which do not rely for grip on empirical reality, but purport to explain it all the same: chestnuts like "cogito ergo sum", from which Descartes concluded a necessary distinction between a non-material soul and the rest of the world.

    Douglas Hofstadter is not a philosopher (though he's friends with one), and in "I am a Strange Loop" he is mightily disdainful of the discipline and its weakness for cute logical constructions. All of metaphysics is so much bunk, says Hofstadter, and he sets out to demonstrate this using the power of mathematics and in particular the fashionable power of G?del's incompleteness theory.

    Observers may pause and reflect on an irony at once: Hofstadter's method - derived *a priori* from the pure logical structure of mathematics - looks suspiciously like those tricksy metaphysical musings on which he heaps derision. As his book proceeds this irony only sharpens.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself, for I started out enjoying this book immensely. Until about halfway I thought I'd award it five stars - but then found it increasingly unconvincing and glib, notably at the point where Hofstadter leaves his (absolutely fascinating) mathematical theorising behind and begins applying it. He believes that from purely logical contortion one may derive a coherent account of consciousness (a purely physical phenomenon) robust enough to bat away any philosophical objections, dualist or otherwise.

    Note, with another irony, his industry here: to express the physical parameters of a material thing - a brain - in terms of purely non-material apparatus (a conceptual language). In the early stages, Professor Hofstadter brushes aside reductionist objections to his scheme which is, by definition, an emergent property of, and therefore unobservable in, the interactions of specific nerves and neurons. Yet late in his book he is at great pains to say that that same material thing *cannot*, by dint of the laws of physics, be pushed around by a non material thing (being a soul), and that configurations of electrons correspond directly to particular conscious states in what seems a rigorously deterministic way (Hofstadter brusquely dismisses conjectures that your red might not be the same as mine). Without warning, in his closing pages, Hofstadter seems to declare himself a behaviourist. Given the excellent and enlightening work of his early chapters, this comes as a surprise and a disappointment to say the least.

    Hofstadter's exposition of G?del's theory is excellent and its application in the idea of the "Strange Loop" is fascinating. He spends much of the opening chapters grounding this odd notion, which he says is the key to understanding consciousness as a non-mystical, non-dualistic, scientifically respectable and physically explicable phenomenon. His insight is to root consciousness not in the physical manifestation of the brain, but in the patterns and symbols represented within it. This, I think, is all he needs to establish to win his primary argument, namely that Artificial Intelligence is a valid proposition. But he is obliged to go on because, like Darwin's Dangerous Idea, the Strange Loop threatens to operate like a universal acid and cut through many cherished and well-established ideas. Alas, some of these ideas seem to be ones Douglas Hofstadter is not quite ready to let go. Scientific realism, for example.

    The implication of the Strange Loop, which I don't think Hofstadter denies, is that a string of symbols, provided it is sufficiently complex (and "loopy") can be a substrate for a consciousness. That is a Neat Idea (though I'm not persuaded it's correct: Hofstadter's support for it is only conceptual, and involves little more than hand-waving and appeals to open-mindedness.)

    But all the same, some strange loops began to occur to me here. Perhaps rather than slamming the door on mysticism, Douglas Hofstadter has unwittingly blown it wide open. After all, why stop at human consciousness as a complex system? Cconceptually, perhaps, one might be able to construct a string of symbols representing God. Would it even need a substrate? Might the fact that it is conceptually possible mean that God therefore exists?

    I am being mendacious, I confess. But herein lie the dangers (or irritations) of tricksy *a priori* contortions. However, Professor Hofstadter shouldn't complain: he started it.

    Less provocatively, perhaps a community of interacting individuals, like a city - after all, a more complex system than a single one, QED - might also be conscious. Perhaps there are all sorts of consciousnesses which we can't see precisely because they emerge at a more abstract level than the one we occupy.

    This might seem far-fetched, but the leap of faith it requires isn't materially bigger than the one Hofstadter explicitly requires us to make. He sees the power of G?del's insight being that symbolic systems of sufficient complexity ("languages" to you and me) can operate on multiple levels, and if they can be made to reference themselves, the scope for endless fractalising feedback loops is infinite. The same door that opens the way to consciousness seems to let all sorts of less appealing apparitions into the room: God, higher levels of consciousness and sentient pieces of paper bootstrap themselves into existence also.

    This seems to be a Strange Loop Too Far, and as a result we find Hofstadter ultimately embracing the reductionism of which he was initially so dismissive, veering violently towards determinism and concluding with a behavioural flourish that there is no consciousness, no free will, and no alternative way of experiencing red. Ultimately he asserts a binary option: unacceptable dualism with all the fairies, spirits, spooks and logical lacunae it implies, or a pretty brutal form of determinist materialism.

    There's yet another irony in all this, for he has repeatedly scorned Bertrand Russell's failure to see the implications of his own formal language, while apparently making a comparable failure to understand the implications of his own model. Strange Loops allow - guarantee, in fact - multiple meanings via analogy and metaphors, and provide no means of adjudicating between them. They vitiate the idea of transcendental truth which Hofstadter seems suddenly so keen on. The option isn't binary at all: rather, it's a silly question.

    In essence, *all* interpretations are metaphorical; even the "literal" ones. Neuroscience, with all its gluons, neurons and so on, is just one more metaphor which we might use to understand an aspect of our world. It will tell us much about the brain, but very little about consciousness, seeing as the two operate on quite different levels of abstraction.

    To the extent, therefore, that Douglas Hofstadter concludes that the self is that is an illusion his is a wholly useless conclusion. As he acknowledges, "we" are doomed to "see" the world in terms of "selves"; an *a priori* sleight-of-hand, no matter how cleverly constructed, which tells us that we're wrong about that (and that we're not actually here at all!) does us no good at all.

    Neurons, gluons and strange loops have their place - in many places this is a fascinating book, after all - but they won't give us any purchase on this debate.

    Olly Buxton
    ...more info
  • Consistently Hofstadter
    I am 2/3 through the book and enjoying it immensely. It is consistently Douglas Hofstadter. It is the same style as GEB, and as I find out, the same style he has had since age 16. (There is an introduction consisting of a mind/thought paper Douglas wrote as a teenager.)...more info
  • Assorted ruminations
    This is not the sequel to the masterful Godel, Escher, Bach that so many had been hoping for. It's more like the DVD commentary: a more personal, casual and less focused journey through many of the same ideas, three decades later.

    There are parts of the book that I enjoyed immensely: Chapters 9 and 10 give the clearest explanation of G?del's Incompleteness Theorem that I've ever seen, successfully filling some of the gaps in Hofstadter's earlier book. But the overarching theme of the book, the mystery of consciousness and how G?del's work is analogous to it, is far less tightly argued, relying on an endless flood of analogies, many of which fall flat.

    Hofstadter's warm voice and humor is always a treat: "After describing this sacred cow as accurately as I can," he says, referring to the famous inverted-spectrum riddle, "I shall try to slaughter it as quickly as I can. (It suffers from mad sacred cow disease.)" I laughed, but found myself unconvinced by the story-argument he laid out over the next few pages.

    This is perhaps Hofstadter's most autobiographical work. He devotes Ch. 16 to his wife's death at the age of 42 and his ensuing numbness, as if a part of him had died. Hofstadter argues that this is literally the case: "One day, as I gazed at a photograph of Carol taken a couple of months before her death, I looked at her face and I looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes, and all at once, I found myself saying, as tears flowed, 'That's me! That's me!'" He makes a Socratic dialogue he wrote as a teenager the first chapter. He talks about his pleasure in killing mosquitoes even as he takes pride in saving the life of a grasshopper. But none of these things really contribute to his stated goal for this book: To convey exactly what he was trying to convey in GEB. As he says in the preface, "It sometimes feels as if I had shouted a deeply cherished message out into an empty chasm and nobody heard me."

    Sadly, after reading this book, I feel that I've learned very little apart from what was in GEB. If there is a message that I missed in that masterpiece, then I fear I may never hear it....more info
  • Not Godel, Escher, Bach
    Parts of this book are fun to read but it is not Godel, Escher, Bach.
    I enjoyed the first few chapers and the last few chapters and skipped the middle. Yes, I would recommend it, but it's not Godel,Escher, Bach....more info
  • A review of the themes in Godel Escher Bach
    Hofstadter wrote this book to expound on the ideas in Goedel, Escher, Bach, and that's exactly what this book does. It is full of new thought experiments and new examples of the same concepts that are in Goedel, Escher, Bach but there aren't many new ideas that weren't included in GEB.

    The book is classic Hofstadter, and if you liked his previous books, then you will enjoy this one as well. I was left feeling a little disappointed due to the lack of fundamentally new material so many years later after the publication of GEB. Additionally, while the wordplay and intellectual games are often fun, sometimes they can make his more abstract points just more difficult to follow. Sometimes you're in the mood to follow a complex analogy through a fantasy example, and sometimes you're just not.

    Don't get the wrong idea - this is a great book. My rating reflects my assessment of this book relative to Hofstadter's other work. Decent, but maybe not up to the (admittedly high) standard he has set for himself.

    ...more info
  • Utterly superfluous
    Thirty years ago I was blown away by the cleverness of GEB. Twenty-nine years ago I started pondering, "ok, but what's his point" and I had a hard time pinpointing that. Now, 30 years after GEB I pick up Strange Loop and wonder what Hofstadter has learned in the meantime, and I'm disappointed to say that I can't find anything new in this book.

    Again, here we have a very smart man thinking aloud, and clearly having thought about matters of "self" and entangledness much longer than the rest of us. And what does it get him?

    I read the first couple of chapters, started skipping sections when I was a quarter of the way through this book, and by the halfway point I was just leafing through it, when I got to this. On page 188 there is the crucial question "But Am I Real", and in answer he can not do better than "I think we need some good old-fashioned analogies here to help out". I think this is a cop-out.

    Neurology is increasingly showing us that our sense of self is not at all what we think (pretend? hope?) it is. We think our perception of the world is continuous, but it's not: we take pictures and extrapolate between them. Hofstadter is still of the old school, with a sense of the "self" that is almost 19th century. And not only is he stuck where he was 30 years ago, experimental psychology and neurology is about to pass him by, making his observations irrelevant.

    His approach to all things meta might be vindicated if he had been able to formalize it somehow, for instance in an AI program that somehow is convincingly "like us". No achievements of this kind are in the book either.

    I was really hoping to find some new insights in this book, and I've been disappointed....more info
  • Consciousness from Matter
    How consciousness develops in matter is the subject of this book. Hofstadter describes the process clearly using a variety of examples and analogies quite effectively. I'd also say convincingly, except that I believe that matter is grounded in consciousness and Hoftadter doesn't.

    But apart from this bare bones description of the subject, the author describes movingly and with almost painful honesty how these ideas developed in his consciousness. The death of his wife, an prospective graduate student who didn't accept her acceptance into the program, the importance of a Chopin etude are all important parts of the process.

    But this is one book, not two. It is a scientific-like explanation of a philosophic system. Scientific-like because a scientist uses scientific terminology to describe his reasoning and he demonstrates the process of the development of consciousness through his experience of his own developing consciousness. Philosophic system because, to me at least, it doesn't seem capable of experimentation and replication.

    Despite my disagreement with Hofstadter's the limited view of the subject, I still would strongly recommend this work to anyone at all interested in the Science or Philosophy of Consciousness. It feels to me like a landmark work in a larger process.

    ...more info
  • The Strange Loop is a Granny Knot
    While this book is entertaining and insightful,
    it is also, in many sections, pedantic and
    repetitive. You may get some new information
    out of it, but it does not hold a candle to GEB
    (Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid),
    his seminal work.

    The enthusiasm wasn't there. I miss it....more info
  • Hofstadter Got it Backward
    Caricature-mode thinking is an abstract flow of symbolism that Hofstadter relates to selfness. Hofstadter (page 84) writes on the concepts that find themselves triggered while standing at the grocery store checkout: "grocery cart", "line", "customers", "to wait", "candy rack", "candy bar", "tabloid", "newspaper", "movie stars", "trashy headline", etc. Even dogs can hold such symbolism sets, Hofstadter (page 81) writes: "my paw", "my tail", "my food", "my water", "my dish", "indoors", "outdoors", "dog door", "human door", etc. And the richer the symbolism set the bigger the "soul", with humans having bigger souls than dogs, mosquito selves hardly measure up. Caricature-mode thought involves an abstract symbolism set that is found self triggering, Hofstadter (page 91) writes: "all of this more abstract stuff is rooted in the constant reinforcement, moment by moment, of symbols that are haphazardly triggered out of dormancy by events in the world that we perceive first-hand. These immediate metal events constitute the bedrock underlying our broader sense of reality."

    Coming with caricature-mode thinking is the function of analogical reasoning. Hofstadter's book is one such analogical argument followed by another, a check on the word "analogies" found in the index is very revealing. Hofstadter (page xv) writes: "And one of my firmest conclusions is that we always think by seeking and drawing parallels to things we know from our past, and that we therefore communicate best when we exploit examples, analogies, and metaphors galore, when we avoid abstract generalities, when we use very down-to-earth, concrete, and simple language, and when we talk directly about our own experiences." The problem comes that analogies provide only the leap of faith leaving the deeper realization of meaning and truth undeclared. When does the leap of faith become the leap of empathy? Caricature-mode thinking leaves this question unanswered, rather analogical reasoning because a proxy for "pulling the wool over our eyes" as this mode of thinking avoids the key issue. Hofstadter's analogies disappoint, leaving selfness undefined.

    The weakness of analogical reasoning has led Hofstadter to insist that the strange loop is defined by the collection of abstract symbols that have found themselves in a circuit. Hofstadter prefers the abstract formalism of mathematical symbolism in isolation, even for example the symbolism found in Whitehead and Russell's "Principia Mathematica" (PM). To his credit Hofstadter notes that the PM formalism is unable to remove itself from loopiness. However, Hofstadter forgets that G?del is also unable to be removed from the symbolism that turned the formalism into a self referential loop. G?del as caricature is not G?del as person (otherwise big mistake), and this revelation defeats Hofstadter's thesis. No doubt, Hofstadter prefers the formalistic mathematics of David Hilbert to the intuitionist mathematic of L. E. J. Brouwer. With intuitionist mathematics the creating subject cannot be turned into caricature presented as language, and this view brings a completely different interpretation to the strange loop. The strange loop as a collection of caricatures is not sufficient to explain consciousness, it is only that the strange loop is found as a necessary condition given that reality is rich enough to contain a creating subject. Hofstadter got it backward, and fooled himself with analogical arguments. The strange loop and its caricatures support a full awareness, it is not that the strange loop defines consciousness from mere caricatures.

    Analogical reasoning has led Hofstadter to declare that selfness is an illusion or an epiphenomenon; beyond caricature-mode thinking there is no personhood. If something cannot be proven by the lower level system (inside a strange loop), somehow this is enough for Hofstadter to leap to the conclusion that the upper level self is an illusion. But this does not follow, and Hofstadter admits to downward causality in Chapter 12. Moreover, for something to be an illusion, there must be some self that is fooled, and a foolish self is still real despite Hofstadter's analogical arguments. Hofstadter got it backward! What is the illusion is only the caricature-mode person, but this is only the ego self that is found attached to caricature.

    Hofstadter (Chapters 15 and 16) makes a very strong case for person-to-person sharing inside one brain, even if one person has departed and comes to us in dreams. Certainly if selfness is an epiphenomenon then there is little difficulty in conceiving of life after death, as illusion has no limit. And because truth is defined by analogy then there is life after death found in Hofstadter's strange loop. However, a much stronger case can be made for person-to-person sharing by expanding the strange-loop beyond caricature mode thinking; for example, by including Husserl's transcendental and inter-subjective self.

    Hofstandter will have you believe that caricatures and analogical arguments form a complete system; and that this abstract system is enough for our feelings to emerge being that feelings are themselves more caricatures. Hofstandter (page 201) writes on how the mind works: "by the compounding of old ideas into new structures that become new ideas that can themselves be used in compounds, and round and round endlessly, growing even more remote from the basic earthbound imagery that is each language's soil." Caricature mode thinking is in fact an example of dualism that Hofstander struggles with in Chapter 22. In the Epilogue, Hofstandter seeks the non-dual but the only way he can find it is to detach from the egocentric symbolism that depicts the strange loop. It is caricature mode thinking that must be partially abandoned! Otherwise, mere analogy will never find its leap of empathy.

    There is little science to be found in Hofstadter's analogical arguments. His book is mostly weak philosophy. He (page xvii) writes: "Although I hope to reach philosophers with this book's ideas, I don't think I write much like a philosopher". Then he writes (page 325): "Philosophers who believe that consciousness comes from something over and above physical law are dualists, etc., etc." Physical laws are found necessary, but Hofstadter's own strange loop implies that laws in isolation are insufficient to explain consciousness. There is only a leap of faith! Moreover, it is caricature mode thinking that is found dualistic. The strange loop can be better advanced by bringing it in line with philosophy, and in particular, the philosophies of C.S. Peirce and Edmund Husserl. It is the Trinitarian logic offered by Hegel that is non-dual, and it is Brouwer's intuitionist mathematics that is non-dual.

    Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop" is very interesting (3 stars worth), but it needs work. Hofstadter can profit from reading Whitehead's "Process and Reality," where we find even Whitehead moving beyond PM, and moving beyond self as caricature.

    Disclosure: My agenda is declared in my profile....more info
  • Has he read LeDoux or Damasio, or only Dennett and himself?
    Loved Goedel Escher Bach; utterly disappointed by this new work. Again, Hofstadter uses Goedel's theorem as an (overly abstract) analogy for how tangled mappings "just might" lead to a sense of autobiographical self. Details are missing.

    DH gives a poignant and worthwhile story of how we make a coarse-grained internal model for the autobiographical self of those close to us, and that after their death, that rough model can continue to run as software in our brain, giving a kind of fleeting immortality.

    That is as close as he gets to making a direct analogy between the mind-body problem and software running on hardware. Software interacts with hardware via A/D converters, serial ports, USB-II, etc. Despite DH's own software expertise, he misses the chance to make explicit how software running on hardware is itself a strange loop, in that the software is a (rather Goedelian) model for the state of the hardware.

    Instead we get a vague and irritating "Careenium", with symbols as a high level description of colliding ball bearings. Aunt Hillary was far better.

    Since GEB, Hofstadter seems to have read only Dennett and Hofstadter.

    No mention of Antonio Damasio's utterly brilliant "The Feeling of What Happens". Summarizing AD barbarically: we map how a change in our external sensory maps is followed by a change in our internal mileau maps; this secondary map constitutes "the feeling of what happens" and is then laid down breath by breath as our (terabyte-huge) autobiographical self. (Much more to it than that.)

    No mention of J LeDoux's "Synaptic Self" or "The Emotional Brain", or M Gazzagnia or S Pinker or J McCrone or many others.

    No mention of even S Wolfram on software, cellular automata, emergent phenomena, and computational irreducibility, and its tight relevance to free will. No mention of the related fields of self-organizing systems at the edge of chaos.

    Summary: the Mind-Body problem, the free will problem, and "the feeling of what happens" have been pushed forward since GEB, but DH seems to have read only himself.
    ...more info
  • Am I abstract or real
    Hofstadter hooked me in the beginning by reviewing the ways that humans are superior to other forms of life and suggesting there may be a secular parallel to the concept of the soul. Having studied the mind from psychology at some depth, I agree that the human mind is wonderous indeed and deserves a special place in the universe. I knew that already but it was nice to be reminded. "Thanks for the compliment, Dougie". So I've taken a page of notes on this book, not so much for what he is claiming but because of the implications of his ideas.

    First to address the ideas I found interesting or enlightening.

    "Abstraction Ceiling" meaning one can only comprehend concepts up to a certain degree of abstraction. This reminded me of my struggles with calculus and also with music. It also explains why guys like Hofstadter like to play in fields of abstraction.

    "Pattern Recognition", a term I've used often in psychology to describe a basic perceptual skill, particularly developed in humans but present in all life, and in CS as well.

    "Recursion", a subject central to your profession, rarely mentioned in psychology. I think this idea, going back to GEB, has great merit in explaining evolution, how we learn, how our culture evolves, how DNA drives life. It may not be the only requirement for life but it is one of the fundamental ones. I think this also explains how political/religious beliefs are built on a scaffold of elemental premises and emotions and why it is so hard for someone to change those beliefs without challenging the whole house of cards.

    "Identity Merging", the idea that thru communication, humans can perceive some of what another does and can in extreme examples assume another's identity, becoming that person. I'm reminded of actors like Merril Streep who make you believe she is anyone she wants to play. It also includes such phenomena as mass hysteria. But more important, our language and communication allow us to live beyond our means, beyond the here and now, beyond our time in history. Our biology is our hardware; our culture is the software. As we share more and more of our software, a change is taking place in human life. A change being resisted by every parochial interest, including myself. It's hard to imagine a future where everything is accessible, but the opportunity appears unavoidable. I guess the scariest part is that we are tinkering with the hardware. I hope we keep enough of the prototypes around in case we screw up the genome.

    AI and evolution. He doesn't address this exactly but it's hiding between the lines. In fact I think Hoftadter has missed a big piece of his story. Perhaps he's taking it for granted. I can't help thinking that he is laying a foundation for the next quantum leap of evolution to the next species of supra-human. If the soul is not a spiritual entity but a phenomenon (or illusion) born of mental processes, then the artificial intelligence can become a he or she (not an it). In fact male/female components of our species have been so successful; so why not expand that in the next species to he, she, be, che, etc. Reproduction will no longer be biological but cultural for the AI. But how to motivate? Is the search for higher abstract knowledge sufficient to drive a species? Is survival the only true motive? If the next species rubs us out, will that be so bad? Or will they need us for something like we need cows.

    Life itself and mathematics. Again, Hofstadter is missing a big story here. He has spent a lot of time extolling the mysteries of number theory (quite beyond my abstract ceiling, I'm afraid). But I'm able to understand that there are certain regularities that show up in math that one might call laws and which point to predestined outcomes. This is sounding a lot like god. If you believe that number theory is not just frivolous speculations, then there are laws like gravity which may direct the flow of evolution, past and subsequent life. This recursive process that began with nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, etc and ended up with human consciousness is the definition of life itself.

    So now for my critique. Except for all I've said above, I find his book frivolous. His points are highly speculative, based on "thought experiments". Putting number theory, cybernetics, human mental processes and the soul in the same bag may be mixing apples and oranges. They may have nothing to do with each other; unless they do. I'm very disappointed in his research. He seems to do all his research in his own brain, with reference to a couple of his friends. There is a huge body of research in psychology on consciousness and self-consciousness and he hasn't read any of it. He has very little to say about "the I" or "the self" in spite of it being the subject of the book. Thankfully he has so much to say about everything else. Evolution teaches that the individual is irrelevant. It's the survival of the species. But then the species doesn't have consciousness, or does it? I'm not sold on the importance of self-awareness. Certainly we spend some time thinking about ourselves, perceiving ourselves, thinking about thinking. But I don't think that how we perceive ourselves is so important. How we think about anything is supremely important; thinking about oneself being only a subset of that. And thinking about oneself is going to result in a outcome limited by individual hardware and software. Just like the TV camera pointed at the monitor, there are only predictable outcomes.

    "I am a Strange Loop" is like a work of abstract art. It doesn't tell you anything practical but throws up some ideas and allows you to paint your own meaning on the canvas. ...more info
  • Syllogistic fantasy
    There's a revealing passage in this book, in which Hofstadter tells us how he dropped out of math graduate school, having reached the limit of his ability to handle the complex abstractions in abstract algebra and topology. I went to the same graduate school, and I know what he means. I observed there that the best mathematicians handle this complexity with two hard-earned skills operating in parallel: deft and precise manipulation of strict definitions according to the rules of logic; and deep intuition. Hofstadter has the latter, and in this book you believe he's onto something. But he's not so good at the former. At some point the analogies grow tiresome, and you just want him to spell it out.

    It's disappointing that a brilliant thinker and teacher writing about a fascinating subject central to his work ends up leaving too much to the reader.

    The book, in essence, expresses the following syllogistic fallacy: The human brain creates an internal "symbol" for its owner, which we call "I", and which can observe itself, creating a sort of self-enriching feedback loop called a "strange loop". Now strange loops, found primarily in mathematics, are magical things. And consciousness is a magical thing. Therefore it's the strange loop we call "I" that creates consciousness.

    Unfortunately, Hofstadter never really connects all the dots. For example, he never explains precisely what a "strange loop" is. He makes a "first stab" in Chapter 8, but then never tries again, so we're left with a "definition" that is more vague than no definition at all. (It involves the word "paradoxical" and "level-crossing" - terms that wouldn't fly in a math seminar.)

    He does go on to explain why he believes the self creates strange loops. The idea is that by observing its interaction with the world, it creates an ever more elaborate symbol of itself. It's a compelling idea, amply illustrated by analogies to video cameras and G?del's theorem. But then he never quite closes the loop. What's the link between that strange mechanism and the feeling of consciousness that we all find so tangible and yet mysterious?

    Quite possibly Hofstadter has rushed to a conclusion based on enthusiasm and intuition rather than evidence. It's clear that the man is obsessed with self-reference. He's never lost his early fascination with hallway mirrors and video feedback and G?del. Which is good for us, but it doesn't serve this book well. He sees a connection between the self-reference of the mind and the self-reference of numerical systems, and leaps to a conclusion without checking his work. I can imagine the moment when the young Hofstadter realized that the self is self-reflexive, just like G?del's proof. It must have been like the time I had this sudden insight into my own mathematics research. It was thrilling. I knew I was onto something. I rushed back home to write it down, and suddenly there were a hundred little details that had to be resolved, and it was two more years before I was done. Douglas Hofstadter isn't quite done yet, but I think he's onto something, and I look forward to the result.
    ...more info
  • Latest Sermon on Fundamentalist Naturalism

    "It might justly be asked what importance G?del's proof has for our work. For a piece of mathematics cannot solve problems of the sort that trouble us.--The answer is that the situation, into which such a proof brings us, is of interest to us. 'What are we to say now?'--That is our theme. However queer it sounds, my task as far as concerns G?del's proof seems merely to consist in making clear what such a proposition as: `Suppose this could be proved' means in mathematics."
    Wittgenstein "Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics"
    p337(1956) (written in 1937).

    "My theorems only show that the MECHANIZATION of mathematics, ie., the elimination of the mind and of ABSTRACT entities, is impossible, if one wants to have a satisfactory foundation and system of mathematics. I have not proved that there are mathematical questions that are undecidable for the human mind, but only that there is no MACHINE (or BLIND FORMALISM) that can decide all number-theoretic questions, (even of a very special kind)....It is not the structure itself of the deductive systems which is being threatened with a brakedown, but only a certain INTERPRETATION of it, namely its interpretation as a blind formalism."
    G?del "Collected Works" Vol 5, p 176-177.(2003)

    "Superstition is nothing but belief in the causal nexus." Wittgenstein TLP 5.1361

    "Now if it is not the causal connections which we are concerned with, then the activities of the mind lie open before us." Wittgenstein "The Blue Book" p6 (1933)

    "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course, there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer." Wittgenstein TLP 6.52 (1922)

    I have read some 50 reviews of ISL and none of them provide a satisfying framework, so I will try to give novel comments that will be useful, not only for this book but for any book in the behavioral sciences (which can include ANY book, if one grasps the ramifications).

    Like his classic Godel, Escher, Bach: the Eternal Golden Braid, and many of his other writings, this book by Hofstadter (H) tries to find correlations or connections or analogies that shed light on consciousness and all of human experience. As in GEB, he spends a great deal of time explaining and drawing analogies with the famous "incompleteness" theorems of Godel, the "recursive" art of Escher and the "paradoxes" of language (though, as with most people, he does not see the need for quotes, and this is the core of the problem). The idea is that their seemingly bizarre consequences are due to "strange loops" and that such loops are in some way operative in our brain. In particular, they may "give rise" to our self, which he seems roughly to equate with consciousness and thinking. As with everyone, when he starts to talk about how his mind works, he goes seriously astray. I suggest that it is in finding the reasons for this that the interest in this book, and most commentary on behavior, lies.

    I will contrast the ideas of ISL with those of the philosopher (armchair psychologist) Ludwig Wittgenstein (W), whose commentaries from 1912 to 1951, have never been surpassed for their depth and clarity. He is an unacknowledged pioneer in evolutionary psychology (EP) and developer of the modern concept of intentionality.
    W clearly and repeatedly noted the underdetermination of all our concepts. Nowadays this is commonly called the problem of combinatorial explosion and often pointed to by evolutionary psychologists as compelling evidence for innateness, unaware that W anticipated them by over 50 years.

    W noted that the fundamental problem in philosophy is that we do not see our automatic innate mental processes. He gave many illustrations (one can regard the entire 20,000 pages of his nachlass as an illustration), some of them for words like "is" and "this", and noted that all the really basic issues usually slip by without comment. A major point which he developed was that nearly all of our intentionality ( roughly, our evolutionary psychology (EP), rationality or personality) is invisible to us and such parts as enter our consciousness are largely epiphenomenal (ie, irrelevant to our behavior). The fact that nobody can describe their mental processes in any satisfying way, that this is universal , that these processes are rapid and automatic and very complex, tells us that they are part of the "hidden" cognitive modules (templates or inference engines) that have been gradually fixed in animal DNA over more than 500 million years.

    It never crosses Hofstadter's mind that both "strange" and "loop" are out of context and lack any clear sense (likewise for "I", "consciousness", "reality", "paradox", "recursive", "self referential", etc). H does not see the "strangest loop" of all--that we use our consciousness, self and will to deny themselves!

    Though H does not tell you, Godel's theorems are logically equivalent to Turing's "incompleteness" solution of the famous halting problem for computers performing some arbitrary calculation. He spends a lot of time explaining Godel's original proof, but fails to mention that others subsequently found vastly shorter and simpler proofs of "incompleteness" in math and related concepts. The one he does briefly mention is that of contemporary mathematician Gregory Chaitin--an originator with Kolmogorov and others of Algorithmic Information Theory-- who has shown that such "incompleteness" or "randomness" (Chaitin's term-- though this is another game), is much more extensive than long thought, but does not tell you that both Godel's and Turing's results are corollaries to Chaitin's theorems and an instance of "algorithmic randomness". You should refer to Chaitin's recent writings such as "The Omega Number(2005)."

    It was shown quite convincingly by Wittgenstein in the 1930's (ie, shortly after Godel's proof) that the best way to look at this situation is as a typical language game. "G?del's proposition, which asserts something about itself, does not mention itself" and "Could it be said: G?del says that one must also be able to trust a mathematical proof when one wants to conceive it practically, as the proof that the propositional pattern can be constructed according to the rules of proof? Or: a mathematical proposition must be capable of being conceived as a proposition of a geometry which is actually applicable to itself. And if one does this it comes out that in certain cases it is not possible to rely on a proof." (RFM p336). These remarks barely give a hint at the depth of W's insights into mathematical intentionality, which began with his first writings in 1912, but was most evident in his writings in the 30's and 40's.

    W lectured on these issues in the 1930's and this has been documented in several of his books. There are further comments in German in his nachlass (some of it formerly available only on a $1000 cdrom but now, like nearly all his works, on p2p). Canadian philosopher Victor Rodych has recently written two articles on W and Godel in the journal Erkenntnis and 4 others on W and math, which I believe constitute a definitive summary of W and the foundations of math. It lays to rest the previously popular notion that W did not understand incompleteness (and much else concerning the psychology of math). In fact, so far as I can see W is one of very few to this day (and NOT including Godel!) who does.

    In any case, it would seem that the fact that Godel's result has had zero impact on math (except to stop people from trying to prove completeness!) should have alerted H to its triviality and the "strangeness" of trying to make it a basis for anything. I suggest that it be regarded as another conceptual game that shows us the boundaries of our psychology. Of course, all of math, physics, and human behavior can usefully be taken this way.

    The Eternal Golden Braid is not realized by H to be our innate Evolutionary Psychology, now, 150 years late (ie, since Darwin), becoming a burgeoning field that is fusing psychology, cognitive science, economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, religion and parts, at least, of math, physics and literature. The vast majority of the insights from philosophy, as well as those from quantum physics, probability, meditation, EP , cognitive psychology and psychedelics do not rate even a passing reference here (nor in most philosophical writings of scientists). W made extensive commentaries on Godel and the foundations of mathematics and the mind; is a pioneer in EP (though nobody seems to realize this); the discoverer of the basic outline and functioning of higher order thought and much else, and it is amazing that D&H, after half a century of study, are completely oblivious to the thoughts of the greatest natural psychologist of all time (though they have 6 billion for company).

    Neither H nor anyone else has provided a convincing reason to reject Searle's Chinese Room Argument (the most famous article in this field) that computers don't think. And Searle has organized and extended W's work in books such as "Rationality in Action." H, Dennett and countless others in cognitive science and AI are annoyed with Searle because he has destroyed their core philosophy -the Computational Theory of Mind (CTM) almost 30 years ago and continues to point this out. The recent article by Shani (Minds and Machines V15, p207-228(2005)) is a nice summary of the situation with references to the excellent work of Bickhard on this issue. Bickhard has also developed a seemingly more realistic theory of mind that uses nonequilibrium thermodynamics, in place of Hofstadter's concepts of intentional psychology used outside the contexts necessary to give them sense.

    Few realize that W again anticipated everyone on these issues with numerous comments on what we now call CTM or AI, and even did thought experiments with persons doing "translations" into Chinese. I had noticed this (and countless other close parallels with Searle's work) when I came upon Diane Proudfoot's paper on W and the Chinese Room in the book "Views into the Chinese Room" (2005). One can also find many gems related to these issues in "Wittgenstein's Lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics, Cambridge 1934(1976). One of the very few who has surveyed W's views on this is Christopher Gefwert, whose excellent book "Wittgenstein on Minds, Machines and Mathematics" (1995), is universally ignored. W realized that the basic issue is very simple---computers lack a psychology. " But a machine surely cannot think!--Is that an empirical statement? No. We only say of a human being and what is like one that it thinks. We also say it of dolls and no doubt of spirits too. Look at the word "to think" as a tool." (PI p113).

    Hofstadter follows the common trend and makes much of "paradoxes", which he regards as self references, recursions or loops, but there are many "inconsistencies" in intentional psychology (math, language, perception, art etc) and they have no effect, as our psychology evolved to ignore them.

    H, in line with nearly universal practice, refers often to our "beliefs" for "explanations" of behavior, but our innate psychology does not rest on "beliefs" at it is clearly not subject to test or doubt or revision (eg, try to give a sense to "I believe I am reading this review" and mean (ie, find a real use in our normal life for) something different from "I am reading this review"). Before any "explanations"(really just clear descriptions, as W noted) are possible, it has to be clear that the origins of our behavior lie in the axioms of our innate psychology, which are the basis for all understanding, and that philosophy, math, literature, science, and society are their cultural extensions.

    There is a vast literature on causes and explanations, so I will only refer to Jeffrey Hershfield's excellent article "Cognitivism and Explanatory Relativity" in Canadian J. of Philosophy V28 p505-26(1998) and to Garfinkel's book "Forms of Explanation" (1981). Or, one can just follow the links between rationality, causality, probability, information, laws of nature, quantum mechanics, determinism, etc. in Wikipedia, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for decades (or, with W's comments in mind, maybe only days) before one realizes he got it right and that we do not get clearer about our psychological "reality" by studying nature. This literature is rapidly fusing with those on epistemology, probability, logic, game theory, behavioral economics, and the philosophy of science, which seem almost completely unknown to H. Perhaps the bottom line with ISL is that scientific laws and explanations are frail and ambiguous extensions of our innate psychology and not, as he would have it, the reverse.

    Dennett comically tries to eliminate psychology by including our innate evolved intentionality with the derived intentionality of our cultural creations (ie, thermometers, pc's and airplanes) by noting that it's our genes, and so ultimately nature (ie, the universe), and not we that "really" have intentionality, and so it's all "derived".

    Certainly it's dripping with irony that D's most recent book is on the EP of religion, but he cannot see his own materialism as a religion (ie, it's likewise due to innate conceptual biases). Timothy O'Connor has written (Metaphilosophy V36,p436-448(2005)) a superb article on D's Fundamentalist Naturalism, noting that simply accepting the emergence of intentionality is the most reasonable view to take. But pastors D and H read from the Churchland's books and the other bibles of CTM and exhort one and all to recognize their pc's and toaster ovens as sentient beings (or at least they will soon be). Pastor Kurzweil does likewise, but few attend his sermons as he has filled the pews with pc's having voice recognition and speech systems and their chorus of identical synthetic voices shout "Blessed be Turing" after every sentence.

    For the grandest reductionist comedy in recent years see Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" which shows us how the universe and all its processes and objects are really just "computers" and "computation". Like nearly everyone who likes to apply this term, he has NO TEST to distinguish a computation from a noncomputation and thus trivially redefines all phenomena as computational (ie, he eliminates psychology by definition).

    This brings us again to W who saw that reductionist attempts to base understanding on logic or math or physics were incoherent(they presuppose our psychology). We can only see from the standpoint of our innate psychology, of which they are all extensions. Our psychology is arbitrary only in the sense that one can imagine ways in which it might be different, and this is the point of W inventing odd examples of language games (ie, alternative concepts (grammars) or forms of life). In doing so, we see the boundaries of our psychology. The best discussion I have seen on W's imaginary scenarios is that of Andrew Peach in PI 24:p299-327(2004).

    We think that if we just think hard enough or acquire enough facts we can get a view of "reality" that others do not have. W said many times in many ways that we must overcome this craving for "clarity" , the idea of thought underlaid by "crystalline logic", the discovery of which will "explain" our behavior and our world and change our view of what it is to be human.

    "The more narrowly we examine actual language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation: it was a requirement.)"PI 107

    On his return to philosophy in 1930 he said:

    "The wrong conception which I want to object to in this connexion is the following, that we can discover something wholly new. That is a mistake. The truth of the matter is that we have already got everything, and that we have got it actually present; we need not wait for anything. We make our moves in the realm of the grammar of our ordinary language, and this grammar is already there. Thus, we have already got everything and need not wait for the future." (Waismann "Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle (1979) p183

    and in his Zettel P 312-314

    "Here we come up against a remarkable and characteristic phenomenon in philosophical investigation: the difficulty---I might say---is not that of finding the solution but rather that of recognizing as the solution something that looks as if it were only a preliminary to it. `We have already said everything.---Not anything that follows from this, no this itself is the solution!"

    "This is connected, I believe, with our wrongly expecting an explanation, whereas the solution of the difficulty is a description, if we give it the right place in our considerations. If we dwell upon it, and do not try to get beyond it."

    Some might also find it useful to read "Why there is no deductive logic of practical reason" in Searle's "Rationality in Action"(2001). Just substitute his infelicitous phrases "impose conditions of satisfaction on conditions of satisfaction" by "relate mental states to the world by moving muscles--ie talking, writing and doing" and his "mind to world" and "world to mind directions of fit" by "cause originates in the world" and "cause originates in the mind".

    This gets us back to my comment on WHY people go astray when they try to "explain" things. Again, this connects intimately with judgements, decision theory, subjective probability, logic, quantum mechanics, uncertainty, information theory, Bayesian reasoning, the Wason test, the Anthropic principle (Bostrum "The Anthropic Principle"(2002)) and behavioral economics, to name a few. Even in his pre-Tractatus writings, Wittgenstein commented that "The idea of causal necessity is not A superstition but the SOURCE of superstition". What is the "cause" of the Big Bang or an electron being at a particular "place" or of "randomness" or chaos or the "law" of gravitation? But there are descriptions which can serve as answers.

    Thus, H feels all actions must be caused and "material" and so, with his pal D and the merry band of reductionist materialists, denies will, self and consciousness. D denies that he denies them, but the facts speak for themselves. His book "Consciousness Explained" is commonly referred to as "Consciousness Denied" and was famously reviewed by Searle as "Consciousness Explained Away".

    This is especially odd in H's case as he started out a physicist and his father won the Nobel prize in physics so one might think he would be aware of the famous papers of Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen and of von Neumann and others in the 20's and 30's, in which they explained how quantum mechanics did not make sense without human consciousness (and a digital abstraction won't do at all). In this same period others including Jeffreys and de Finetti showed that probability only made sense as a subjective (ie, psychological) method. Those interested might start with Ton Sales article in the Handbook of Philosophical Logic 2nd Ed. Vol 9 (2002) since it will also introduce them to this excellent source, now extending to 14 Volumes (the first 9 on p2p).

    It is a curious and rarely noticed fact that the severe reductionists first deny psychology, but, in order to account for it (since there is clearly SOMETHING that generates our mental and social life), they are forced into camp with the blank slaters (all of us before we get educated), who ascribe psychology to culture or to very general aspects of our intelligence (ie, our intentionality is learned) as opposed to an innate set of functions. H and D say that self, consciousness, will, etc are illusions--merely "abstract patterns" (the "spirit" or "soul" of the Church of Fundamentalist Naturalism). They believe that our "program" can be digitized and put into computers, which thereby acquire psychology, and that "believing" in "mental phenomena" is just like believing in magic (but our psychology is not composed of beliefs--which are only its extensions-- and nature is magical). I suggest it is critical to see why they never consider that "patterns" (another lovely language game!) in computers are magical or illusory. And, even if we allow that the reductionist program is really coherent and not circular (eg, we are too polite to point out -as do W and Searle and many others--that it has NO TEST for it's most critical assertions and requires the NORMAL functioning of will, self, reality, consciousness etc, to be understood), can we not reasonably say "well Doug and Dan, a rose by any other name smells as sweet!" I don't think reductionists see that even were it true that we could put our mental life in algorithms running in silicon (or-- in Searle's famous example--in a stack of beer cans), we still have the same "hard problem of consciousness": how do mental phenomena emerge from brute matter? If we can make sense out of the idea that the mind or the universe is a computer (ie, can say clearly what counts for and against the idea), what will follow if it is or it isn't?

    Emergence of "higher order properties" from "inert matter" (more language games!) is indeed baffling, but it applies to everything in the universe, and not just to psychology. Let us end with the famous first and last sentences of the Tractatus, seen as summarizing his view that the limits of our innate psychology are the limits of our understanding. "The world is everything that is the case." "Concerning that of which we cannot speak, we must remain silent."

    ...more info
  • I Am a Strange Loop
    I have read Hofstadter's classic on Godel, Escher and Bach, but was disappointed by his latest work. Possibly because it is just too difficult to know who "I"really is without a much deeper understanding of our minds which may well be unreachable because we cannot go outside to take a look. However the chapters on Russell's Principia Mathematica and Godel's refutation are very clear and well worth reading....more info
  • Hofstadter disappoints
    I was excited when this book was published, as I read GEB a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely. Sadly, "Strange Loop" has none of the charm of Hofstadter's first work, and has virtually nothing new to offer. Most of this book is a simple re-hash of ideas and concepts from earlier works. Hofstadter tries to spice up the text with frequent analogies and thought experiments, but these offerings are strained and lack the wit that he has demonstrated in the past. Skip this (lengthy) book and read GEB again....more info


Old Release Old Products