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I Am a Strange Loop [Paperback]

Douglas R. Hofstadter
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

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

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Product details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (7 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030798
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.1 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 29,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Harris constructs his a priori arguments with a cold but subtle logic, and they deserve to be both heard and heeded.'
-- The Independent on Sunday

About the Author

Douglas Hofstadter is College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His previous books are the Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid; Metamagical Themas; The Mind's I; Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies; and Le Ton beau de Marot. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modified rapture 27 April 2007
Let's start by stating a simple fact: nothing by Hofstadter can ever be anything but fascinating (even his terrible translation of Eugene Onegin had a very interesting introduction). Now we've got that out of the way, let's admit that this book isn't quite up to par with his others (of which my favourite, for the record, is Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies).

There's not really anything here that we haven't seen before: we have Godel's theorem, self-engulfing camera systems and other paradoxes from GEB; science-fiction thought experiments from The Mind's I; the Careenium from Metamagical Themas; blurred souls and personalities from Le Ton Beau. We get the sense that Hofstadter is frustrated that people still don't quite 'get it', which is fair enough except that I and most of his core readership probably *do* get it.

Now, naturally this doesn't detract from the fact that it's a lovely read as ever (although I miss Hofstadter's playfulness, which seems to have diminished over the years). The chapters on Godel, particularly, are well-explained and do clarify the relationship Hofstadter sees between Godel and the brain. Also, he spends some time expanding on the themes introduced in Le Ton Beau, that a person's spirit is not just held in a single brain but spreads through those they influence. He gives this more rigour than before, likening it to a virtual machine on a computer, creating a (slightly imperfect) version of another program. And his discussions of levels of soulhood (framed in musings about his own vegetarianism) are thought-provoking, particularly the idea that the cut-off point for having a soul could be the ability to have a concept of 'friend'.

What I'd have liked to see was more speculation from Hofstadter's actual area of expertise.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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 Gödel'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).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One Disappointing Endless Loop 30 May 2011
I remember "Godel, Escher, Bach" . A very insightful piece of work, full of intellectual energy, powerful ideas and wit. Now this is one really dissapointing work which really offers nothing new or groundbreaking in the complex field of philosophy of mind and the cogntitive sciences. I mean seriously. How many times are you going to state and re-state that the "I" is a "strange loop". An illusion created when one has awareness of one's self. Well, this is the basic idea and it can be described in one page the most. What this book does, is take and repeat this idea over and over again, to the point that gets a reader (like me!) tired, with no scientific support and no new/further developments on this view.

There is no evidence, actual experiments or newer insights fron psychology, cognitive science , neuroscience or whatsoever in support of this view (despite the fact that there is now a substantial scientific literature in relevance to the self and consciousness. Now for example we have "mirror neurons" etc.). The only thing we get is that same 70s "Godel, Escher, Bach" idea ("pseudo-") supported" by a few thought experiments, some creative-art musings with a camera in front of a mirror, philosopher's parfit's ideas with a fair amount of Godel and principia mathematica, although the last one is still of ambiquous and questionable relevance to the studies of consciousness and the mind. This vortex of perplexed (confused?) thoughts, ideas and musings somehow have led the author to the conclusion that the "I" is a "hallucination, hallucinated by a hallucinator" (!) (a circular fallacy?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
I think Mr Hofstadter works on the principle, never say something in 100 words when you can use a thousand. Read more
Published 21 days ago by philjcoates
4.0 out of 5 stars A little too verbose for my liking
To be fair I've only read the first 30% of this book so far and am continuing to read it. I would give it 5 stars as it certainly explores some fascinating ideas and Hofstadter... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Am I a strange loop or is this a difficult book ?
I looked forward to this very much ( GEB seemed too daunting when I first actually picked it up ) . I have read lots on consciousness and Hofsadter is something of an icon . Read more
Published 10 months ago by Pedroza
2.0 out of 5 stars A Failed Book -doesn't explain adequately what it sets out to explain
This book has formidable shortcomings.

At the beginning of Chapter 4 Hofstadter takes the flush toilet as `probably the most familiar and the easiest to understand'... Read more
Published 11 months ago by B. J. O'Brien
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful insights into math and mind
I found this to be a compelling and thorough look at Hofstadter's take on consciousness. This is not light reading despite the author's conversational style. Read more
Published on 5 April 2011 by James E. Rusler
3.0 out of 5 stars I am a Strange Loop
I am still working my way through this one - not a page-turner but a put-down-and-take-up-again-later book! Delivery was quick. Read more
Published on 11 May 2010 by Mrs. Linda V. Fogler
2.0 out of 5 stars Not that great, actually
I Am A Strange Loop is well-known and loved by lots of geeky readers, but I can't really count myself as one of them, sadly. Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2009 by amazoomer
1.0 out of 5 stars Insipid, chatty, superficial
I expect a text with such a theme to be less anecdotal, more to the point, denser in content. The author himself admits that friends have recommended he abridge his discourse. Read more
Published on 5 Jun 2009 by Seltsame Schleife
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Having read the book I could not disagree more with the reviewer who gave one star. This book does not have any agenda in the slightest and I doubt very much the reviewer really... Read more
Published on 10 April 2009 by Peter M. Armstrong
5.0 out of 5 stars Work of art
This book has given me a grain of dust to stick some of my personal theories to, allowing me to create a beautiful snowflake out of my previous knowledge. Read more
Published on 18 Dec 2008 by Martin Schröder
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