Monday, February 2, 2015

I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter (review by Andrew R. '17)

I Am a Strange LoopI Am a Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In I Am a Strange Loop, Pulitzer Prize-winning professor Douglas Hofstadter proves that nonfiction doesn’t necessarily have to be built on fact; without much more than a lattice of elaborate metaphors and classical allusions to support the credibility of his arguments, he makes a case that’s both cogent and convincing. It boils down to this: in a brain comprised of complex neural symbols, the concept of “I” (also referred to as the “soul” or “self-symbol”) is a self-referential feedback loop of indefinite duration. Hofstadter presents a host of comparisons to better illustrate his abstract point, invoking repeatedly the ideas of a spring-loaded domino circuit, a video camera that points to its own screen, and, most effectively, a famous self-referential theorem by the mathematician Kurt Gödel. (Three chapter are spent providing mathematical context alone.) It’s in these creative metaphors that Hofstadter is most at home, and every time he spins off on a bizarre tangent you can be sure he’ll twist it to make his point even more forceful. In the end, his most abstract ideas were a little hard to swallow, but it’s easy to respect and value his arguments without totally agreeing with them. - Andrew R. '17

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