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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OUTSTANDING, WITH SERIOUS LACUNAE
This book is outstanding in quality. It is also unique in being written simultaneously in English and French, with consequent excellent style and striking examples. The basic thesis, presented and developed in 530 pages of text, is that the mind thinks in terms of analogies, on mundane daily matters as well as the most abstract theories. Thus, in striking pages (451ff.)...
Published 13 months ago by Yehezkel Dror

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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to put down
There is obvious passion and great times exhibited by the authors in Surfaces and Essences. They were back and forth between the US and France for years over this. You can feel them sitting around the table, tossing off words, analogs, and examples and probably laughing out loud, till the wine ran out. The boys were having their fun. And it shows. The book is very...
Published 15 months ago by David Wineberg


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OUTSTANDING, WITH SERIOUS LACUNAE, 29 Jun 2013
By 
Yehezkel Dror (Jerusalem Israel) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Surfaces and Essences (Hardcover)
This book is outstanding in quality. It is also unique in being written simultaneously in English and French, with consequent excellent style and striking examples. The basic thesis, presented and developed in 530 pages of text, is that the mind thinks in terms of analogies, on mundane daily matters as well as the most abstract theories. Thus, in striking pages (451ff.) the authors explain how Einstein arrived in their view at his world-shaking understandings thanks to very creative analogous thinking.
An important point made by the authors is that thinking in terms of analogues is the same as thinking in terms of concepts, because seeing reality with the help of concepts and forming of new concepts are only possible by analogues. Still, this functional equivalence does not annihilate the difference between the concepts of "concepts" and of "analogues," nor some unique uses of concepts such as in pure type models. This seems not to be adequately recognized by the authors.
More serious a lacunae is lack of discussion of more basic levels of "thinking," whether conscious or not, such as values, worldviews, mental propensities and more. These are critical, also for the selection of metaphors which are accepted as most appropriate. The authors recognize apropos such deeper factors. Thus, they mention "keen intelligence" (p. 126), "great gift of ...exceptional individuals" (p. 131), "deeply creative" (p. 131), "nearly inexplicable intuition" (p. 487), and Einstein's "instinct for cosmic unity" (p. 495). But these are not discussed, leaving a very serious lacuna in the understanding of thinking.
A low point of the book is their discussion of the role of analogues in political judgment, especially decisions on war and peace (pp. 333ff.) On the basis of just one book, the authors explain very complex choices as if they resulted from simplistic thinking in terms of analogues-metaphors. Clearly the author lack experience-near knowledge of high level political judgment and never spent time in policy-making sanctums. If at least they had read more of the large relevant literature, such as on the Cuban Missile Crises, they would have avoided such superficial understanding of political judgment. Metaphors do play an important role in statecraft discourse, but values and worldviews are critical, as is creativity together with complex consideration of contradictory analogues.
A crucial point of the book is that in facing new situations all we have are analogues from the past. As they put it "Thanks to categorization through analogy-making, we have the ability to spot similarities in order to deal with the new and strange (p. 20); or "the past we have lived through is all we have for thinking about the future" (p. 331).
I am not quite sure if indeed all imagination depends on past-based analogies, or whether some other mental processes may occasionally produce "creative sparks." Thus, it seems very difficult and probably impossible to explain the Axial Age (the period between 800 to 200 BCE during which a new similar human self-understanding emerged in Persia, India, China and the Occident) in terms of readily available analogues. But, all-in-all, surely most of our thinking on the future depends on the past, as emphasized in the book.
This le ads to a crucial problem throughout history, but increasingly fateful, namely how to understand and cope with radically novel possibilities, such as "human enhancement," which cannot be adequately comprehended by analogues based on the past. It would be interesting to have the authors discuss this dangerous limitation of human thinking and what to do about it, but they ignore this crucial problematic.
Despite such lacunae this is an outstanding book providing many insights. Thus, to mention just one example out of many, their discussion of the difficulties of translations (pp. 372 ff.), which should be "transculturation" (p. 379) is eye-opening. Therefore, after some hesitations, I rank it with five starts despite some serious problems. All who wish to try and understand thinking as far as possible should read this book carefully, but with a large grain of salt.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy to put down, 25 April 2013
By 
David Wineberg "David Wineberg" (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Surfaces and Essences (Hardcover)
There is obvious passion and great times exhibited by the authors in Surfaces and Essences. They were back and forth between the US and France for years over this. You can feel them sitting around the table, tossing off words, analogs, and examples and probably laughing out loud, till the wine ran out. The boys were having their fun. And it shows. The book is very sprightly. As long as they were at it, they even did a French version, presumably with the examples reversed to show how French differs from English, as opposed to how English differs from French. They kept up the pace and had great enthusiasm for the task, that clearly never lagged. It shows bounce.

Sadly, it also shows overkill. Why give an example or two when you can list fifty or a hundred? Why tell a story when you can tell five of them (all illustrating the same point)? Sometimes they reorder the examples to make a nice pyramid shape, or a sharp upside down pyramid. They worked on phrases until they contained the exact number of letters they needed for the design. Sometimes the examples just run to a whole page, separated by commas. The subheadings have a tendency to be so clever, precious and cute that they give no clue as to the content.

But the real problem is that the book is entirely horizontal, without also being linear. It does not build. It doesn't grow. It just keeps spreading outward. This means you can put the book down any time and pick it up a month later without losing anything. You can open to any page and start reading without having missed anything.

The book's premise is that categorization is effectively the same as analogy. You might think our brains sort everything into neat categories for quick recall. Actually, what we call up are concepts and events for which there is some connection to what is occupying us at the moment - an analogous situation. But after 500 pages of examples of how words and phrases can be extended and compounded and misinterpreted and translated and categorized ad nauseam, I was in despair of ever getting to the payoff.

There isn't one.

It ends with a 30 page "epidialogue" between two women on the phone who've just had a similar nightmare, and they argue about categorization vs analogy, referring to various chapters in the book. Really. It's actually quite cute and comprehensive, and truth be known, if you read that first, you don't need to read the book.

The "argument" for categorization is never strong; there are too many places to question and refute it, and there too many assumptions I just can't buy and which the authors don't support. Words with capital letters seem to automatically file themselves in their own labeled categories, which presupposes printed language. That can't be right. The etymology of written words further muddies the categorization waters. Words evolve. Meanings evolve. Spellings change. Pronunciations change. It seems to wreak havoc in the ordered world of comprehensive categorizing. And of course, there can't be any such thing as comprehensive categorizing, because it is open ended and infinite, and our brains would have to be the size the universe to accommodate them.

Ultimately it doesn't matter, because analogy beats out categorization and subsumes it. So what was the point of those 500+ pages? And what does analogy over categorization give us? How does it change the world or even just the way we see it? What can we do with this important information? What decisions can we make now that we could not before? No hints are given.

From what I can see they haven't actually discovered anything. But they had fun doing it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much for too little, 1 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Surfaces and Essences (Hardcover)
I wish I could say I was a big fan of Hofstadter. His Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was one of the first real books I read and put me on the path of philosophy and computer science, his work with Dennet has been a guide throughout my study years, and his Le Ton Beau De Marot is one of the best books on translation that I know of. However, this latest tome (which at almost six hundred pages one is justified in calling it) does not live up to the standard that Hofstadter has set for himself.

The premise of this book is that analogy (metaphors) are at the core of all thinking. As is usual with Hofstadter's work, this premise is tested and demonstrated using linguistics and introspection. Giving examples of the way people communicate, and thereby often misinterpret one another, Hofstadter and Sander show that most if not all language-usage depend on the mutual understanding of analogies. Those analogies in itself are fluid, so that concept-building is an organic process which is in itself influenced by analogy.

Though interesting in itself, the book could have been at least half its size shorter, had not the authors decided to come up with example after example of the point they are trying to make at a specific place. On nearly every page we see examples of situations that are, in the end, not all the difficult to understand or recognise. And those examples are in themselves more often than not described with too much (unnecessary) detail.

In fact, the book they should have come up with would be not that much different from Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By (1980). Given the fact that on page 63 they actually refer to this work, it is obvious that they know about it. It is at least strange that Hofstadter and Sander do not give more credit where credit is due.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 8 July 2014
By 
Ms. A. Lucas - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Surfaces and Essences (Hardcover)
Really interesting book, provides much food for thought! Well written with examples for multiple languages
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1.0 out of 5 stars Like a Hollywood re-make, 24 April 2014
By 
S. J. Merrick (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This is Lakoff and Johnson's "Metaphors we live by" by another name. I couldn't find anything significant that isn't in the original work. Check out the original: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Metaphors-We-Live-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468011/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398334323&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=lakojohnson+metaphors+we+live+by, which really is a life-changing read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth skimming, 10 Nov 2013
By 
R Cotterill (UK) - See all my reviews
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Surfaces and Essences is basically a book of one idea, explained in ridiculous levels of detail. The basic premise is that analogy-making lies at the core of thinking. The book is written in plain English and would be a good introduction for a beginner without experience in linguistics or cognition. Even if you find the basic idea somewhat obvious, the authors present a number of fascinating examples and applications. Unfortunately this sometimes runs to pages of word- or phrase-length instances of a particular phenomenon, which led to me skim-reading a lot of the book. (I tend to think that if you haven't grasped the concept that's being offered after a dozen or so examples, having a further hundred to choose from is unlikely to help - but maybe that's just me!)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched and interesting, if somewhat drawn out, 3 July 2013
By 
D. Brown "Blogging at Tweedling, avid reader ... (West Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Quite an intriguing look at the conscious and subconscious use of analogy in everyday thought, communication, empathy, understanding others and their experiences, and making sense of our own experiences in order to avoid or more fully appreciate them in future.

As well-researched and interesting as the book is, I do feel it overruns, often labouring the point or providing an excessive number of examples. That said, it really does break down some aspects of thought and language quite beautifully and is therefore well worth the commitment.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in philosophy, psychology and/or language.

**I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation and all views are my own.**
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Surfaces and Essences
Surfaces and Essences by Emmanuel Sander (Hardcover - 9 May 2013)
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