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Danny Kodicek (London United Kingdom)

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The Great Hamster Massacre
The Great Hamster Massacre
by Katie Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful but mildly misleading, 23 May 2011
This book is fabulous, possibly even genius, but I think it could maybe have done with a small warning on the back for parents that it deals with some pretty strong themes. We're ok with death in my family and my mother died only a month ago so it is actually pretty timely, but it was a hard read for me and I suspect would be harder for others who have recently lost loved ones.

Having said all this, I think the way it covers these themes is quite superb and captures the feeling of being a child in an adult world amazingly well. The characters and situations are perfectly observed and the narrator's voice is a joy.

I am a Strange Loop
I am a Strange Loop
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Edition: Hardcover

85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modified rapture, 27 April 2007
This review is from: I am a Strange Loop (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. He gives the impression that representational power simply appears within a system as soon as it has enough stuff going on on the lower level (this particularly strikes you when reading about his Careenium metaphor), whereas in his actual research he knows perfectly well that it takes a lot of work to make real representation (and indeed he often berates other AI researchers who miss this point). He discusses theories of Dennett, Searle and other philosophers, but we've seen this before and it would be nice to see some mention of the things we have learned in neurology, psychology and evolutionary biology since GEB.

A Hofstadter book is an all-too rare event. Here's hoping we get another and it has more meat to it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2009 1:13 PM BST

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