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I Am a Strange Loop Paperback – 7 Aug 2008


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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: 15 x 2.5 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 201,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'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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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Danny Kodicek on 27 April 2007
Format: Hardcover
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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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Olly Buxton on 27 Sept. 2008
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By amazoomer on 22 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
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. I wanted to like this book because of its many recommendations by fellow nerds, but it's hard-going. Hofstadter is fascinated, obsessed with the idea of self-referential paradoxes, or 'loopiness' as he calls it. Woe betide you if you find them even slightly less fascinating than he does! You will find your intelligence insulted, your emotional maturity trashed, and even be called a coward (seriously, wtf?). Poor old Bertrand Russell takes the brunt of Hofstadter's frustration at the idea that not everybody finds his pet subject the One True Concept to get their pants in a twist over, and he's continually insulted for attempting to find resolutions to logical paradoxes as though doing so was some kind of intellectual crime against thought. Hofstadter is convinced that we are both fascinated and a little afraid of loopiness, and he's convinced of that because he is himself. He doesn't really make much effort to persuade anybody else, because if you don't feel that way then you're probably in denial or just not able to 'get' what he's telling you.

The other reviewers have done a better job of dissembling Hofstadter's philosophy than I could, so instead I'll concentrate on my other gripes, which is his writing style. He seems to have an idea that his writing is somewhat charming and whimsical. I would disagree, finding it somewhat hectoring and trite. He's obsessed with lists - often presenting an example of some concept immediately followed by ten or twenty sub-examples that all say the same thing. The typeface of the book is huge, so he can easily fill three quarters of a page with arbitrary nouns, something he does with relish.
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