Douglas Hofstadter is an exceptionally bright and witty man, with a gift for analogy. This no doubt makes him entertaining company and a pleasure to have as a teacher, but at the same time it sometimes gets in the way of the message he's trying to convey- the allegories and metaphors become the dominant message, and the core gets lost in translation.
This is of course exactly what happened with Hofstadter's 1979 tour-de-force "Godel, Escher and Bach"; it was roundly praised to the heavens by scores of reviewers, none of whom seemed to notice that it was in fact a very clever way of presenting a theory of conciousness and intelligence. This bothered Hofstadter as well, as he tells us in the introduction to "I Am a Strange Loop", and so he set out to tell the story again, this time in a more straightforward manner. I'm not so sure he succeeded.
The bulk of "I Am a Strange Loop" is devoted to explaining Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, with a minimum of math and a... read more
Vintage and Original Hofstadter
By R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" - March 31, 2007
You have certainly enjoyed the sensation of looking into a mirror that itself reflected a mirror, making a tunnel of reflections that went as deep as you could see. The same sort of thing happens when you take a television camera and turn it onto a monitor that is showing what the television camera is taking a picture of. But there is something spooky about such a loop. In fact, when young Doug Hofstadter's family was looking to purchase its first video camera, Hofstadter (showing in youth the sort of interest in self-reference that he would turn into a writing career) wondered what would happen if he showed the camera a monitor that itself showed the camera's own output. He remembers with some shame that he was hesitant to close the loop, as if he were crossing into forbidden territory. So he asked the salesman for permission to do so. "No, no, _no_!" came the reply from the salesman, who obviously shared the same fears, "Don't do _that_ - you'll break the camera." And young... read more
The title says it all...
By The Dilettante "Dilly!" - April 7, 2007
In the "strange loop," Douglas Hofstadter has come up with a pretty fertile metaphor. The problem is that the book doesn't do a whole lot to explain it. If you can "dig" or "grok" or "intuit" that consciousness is a strange loop, then you won't need the long portions of this book that attempt to promote this thesis. If you cannot so grok, then reading those same portions will be confusing and unhelpful.
This is not Hofstadter's fault. Trying to understand consciousness in this way is like "the art of seeing one's own eye" - it pushes up at the limits of language and reason. Good writing can only get you so far.
There are other portions that are quite enjoyable and these are the ones that are less thesis-driven and more literary. Hofstadter's youthful attempt at his own Socratic dialogue is fun and -although he apologizes at length for its immaturity- actually pretty good. I could have read a book-length chat between his "Plato" and "Socrates" (who seem... read more
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