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I Am a Strange Loop

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  3,569 ratings  ·  324 reviews
Can thought arise out of matter? Can self, soul, consciousness, “I” arise out of mere matter? If it cannot, then how can you or I be here?I Am a Strange Loop argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is the “strange loop”—a special kind of abstract feedback loop inhabiting our brains. The most central and complex symbol in your brain is the one called “ ...more
Paperback, 436 pages
Published July 8th 2008 by Basic Books (first published 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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David Katzman
I have an interesting perspective on this title because the book I read just before it was The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, a book grounded in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Tolle declares that the Ego (or thinking mind) is the cause of all the poisons of our civilization and the only hope for us as a species is to embrace awareness and presence and escape the thinking mind that feeds our needs for material possessions, success, achievement, domination, and so on. This book is in fact an entire logicia ...more
Clay
I read Douglas Hofstadter”s “Godel, Escher, Bach” long ago – sometime in the early ‘80s, and I remember thinking “I really need to read this again. I liked this book, but there was a lot I think I missed.”

When I saw a copy of “I Am a Strange Loop” in a used-book store, and Hofstadter said in the intro it was his update of “Godel, Escher, Bach,” I figured this was my chance to rediscover the concepts in “Godel, Escher, Bach.”

Well, I did, but I can’t say I was happy with the result. Hofstadter’s t
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shawn
Apr 30, 2008 shawn rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: reviews
i am sorry to give this book one measly star. i am a huge admirer of hofstadter's work. i would fanatically recommend any of his books, which are all fantastic and required reading by this point for all intellectually-minded people interested in "putting it all together". i was therefore ecstatic that he should finally publish another book, but crushed upon reading it.

the principle point is that though he purports to have some new big answer, this book merely retraces terrain he covered decades
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Chuck McCabe
Dec 22, 2007 Chuck McCabe rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patient game lovers
Twenty-eight years ago, Douglas Hofstadter published a book titled "Goedel, Escher, Bach" that earned him instant academic renown and a cultlike following. A mathematician friend recommended the book to me, and I tried mightily to read it, keeping at it more because of my admiration for my friend that for the experience of reading the book. It was either too indirect, too intricately argued, or too Germanic for me to follow, and after months of off and on attempts I finally put it aside.

So why d
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Jeffrey
I agree. He is a strange loop. The first third of this book is the Hofstadter that I expected to read - dragging me through a layperson's guide to prime numbers, squares, the Fibonacci series, Principia Mathematica and Bertrand Russell's attempt to banish paradox from mathematics, and finally, Godel's discovery of the ultimate self reflective mathematical string which shattered Russell's dreams. This was tough going, but ultimately worth it for this non-mathematician. Along the way we learned th ...more
Craig
The purpose of this book is to explain the mystery of consciousness. He admits off the top that the concept of the mind and conscious thought is quite difficult to nail down, and probably impossible to draw a distinct line upon. Is a mosquito conscious? After all, it, like us, seems to have a will to live, and responds to environmental stimuli in ways that benefit itself. If not a mosquito, is a bee conscious? A fish? A snake? A dog?

He does so by describing the mind's process of something like "
...more
Claus
I read Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" many years ago and was completely taken aback by the author's brilliant style and insight.

I read Hofstadter's "Metamagical Themas" many years ago and was fascinated by the author's vast area of expertise.

I read Hofstadter's "Le Ton Beau de Marot" a few years ago and was amazed by the author's enormous knowledge.

I just finished Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop" and was thoroughly disappointed.

The author uses 300+ pages to say something that could just as
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Zach
I didn’t like this book, although I agree with almost all of its assertions. Conceptually, I guess you could say, I enjoyed it, but the presentation - the language of the author, the over-long format, and the strange mixture of hard math and elementary philosophy - diminished and diluted the content to the point that it was barely worth reading. The first problem is Hofstadter’s “aww shucks” Uncle Fluffy writing style. His language is so steeped in a fireside chat mentality that the meat of his ...more
Fred
I've been reading "I Am A Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter. The development of his theme is slow, so I read the epilogue to find out if he was coming to anything other than where he seemed to be going. The epilogue seems to be about the same as the first few chapters.

I skipped around the book a little and found this intriguing discussion on page 322 called 'Two Daves.' He presents a mental experiment of two universes, identical in every detail except that universe Q has the stuff of consci
...more
Randolph Carter
Not as dense or rich as Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and more focused on the "scientific" side of things without all the wonderful digressions (you have to read GEB to understand). Still Hofstadter plays enough mind games to make the going entertaining and challenging.
Basically an argument for the nature of consciousness that all but proves Descartes' proposition. But Hofstadter presents a pretty convincing argument for his theories on why I think I am I.

The one place where he go
...more
Malini Sridharan
The meat of this book, which uses an analogy with Godel's critique of the Principia Mathematica to explain how the concept of an "I" might be an emergent phenomenon of self referential loops in the brain, is interesting. I had a lot of issues with the structure of the argument, which was too dependent on the analogy. I think there are much better ways to make this point than by talking about math. Like, I don't know, maybe talking about BIOLOGY.

The last hundred pages or so of the book annoyed m
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Brady
Douglas Hofstader is a wonder, tackling the almost incomprehensible Big Question of "What is the I?" with relative clarity and wit. He is a master of metaphor and analogy, eschewing a microscopic understanding of how the brain works to giving a sensible, rational (though revolutionary) macroscopic explanation of what we commonly refer to as "the soul". Hofstader is certainly no Cartesian dualist, but his ideas are neither what you would expect from a material monist.

Hofstader wrote this book und
...more
David
On the face of it, this is an interesting book. The author draws analogies between Godel's incompleteness theorem of mathematical logic and the question of the meaning of identity and consciousness. And on the plus side, at least Hofstadter's discussion of Godel was refreshingly correct technically -- it helps having had some formal mathematical training.

But I found his numerous and lengthy discursions to be, for starters, only tangentially and vaguely associated with Godel incompleteness. In my
...more
Robert
This is merely a re-hash of Hofstadter's justly famous Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, with some ideas from Le Ton Beau de Marot thrown in but most of the fun stuff taken out; if you've read those, you don't need to read this. If you've only read GEB, then read this instead of Le Ton Beau de Marot unless you have a particular interest in the art/skill of translation.

This isn't a bad book, apart from the constant use of reference to the "dear reader", it's just redundant because of
...more
Kristopher
After about 200 pages of reading I still was unsure what the point was supposed to be. Hoffstadter purportedly explores the nature of self-reference and consciousness, but instead, I think, spends more time pointing out through his writing how clever he is, how feeble he considers Bertrand Russell, and how much of a fan boy he (Hoffstadter) is of Godel. It's not at all clear to me that this book has any genuine insights to offer, but that may be that it is lost on me as I find his writing style ...more
Brodie
I enjoyed much of Hostetter's account of the ways in which a strictly biological account of cognition fails to grasp the complexities of consciousness and identities. I did find, however, his account of how identity is dispersed and externalized the be somewhat unconvincing, thought not because I disagree with the concept but with his interpretation of the concept. He tries to argue through several chapters that the decentered--"strange loopiness"--of consciousness comes about because cognition ...more
Jane
This book, on consciousness and what makes a human an "I," is methodical and exuberant, technical and personal. Reading it was a long, thoughtful journey. It's not an easy book. The workings of the human brain are described metaphorically (and not physiologically), and often those metaphors are mathematical. Sometimes, too, Hofstadter employs playful analogies to show how consciousness works, and how it doesn't work. (He is not a dualist; consciousness arises from physical laws and not from a ki ...more
David Gross
Jun 03, 2008 David Gross rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: Greg Junell
Shelves: non-fiction, geeky
I got about three-quarters of the way through and by then it seemed like Hofstadter had completely lost the plot.

He makes some bold claims about the nature of consciousness, but he doesn't use his terms and concepts rigorously enough to keep his arguments straight, and he doesn't do much work to back them up anyway.

It amounts to listening to some friend who got stoned and had an amazing idea. If that friend happens to be Douglas Hofstadter, it's probably worth your while to stick around for a wh
...more
Kevan
In one of Feynman's books he discusses the difference between deep ideas and profound ideas, Character of Physical Law perhaps.

Hofstadter is a profound thinker. Some of his explorations such as designing fonts seem just silly at first until you understand that he's exploring micro-puzzles that include deep challenges. His Fluid Analogy stuff contain good examples.

If I understand The Strange Loop properly, he's exploring the idea that consciousness if simply an illusion looking at an illusion. Wo
...more
Ron
I read Godel, Escher and Bach and Metamagical Themas when I was in college, and was looking forward to a new book from Douglas Hofstadter, but this book was very disappointing. I tried to finish it, and kept reading hoping to finally come up with something redeeming about this book, but in the end I put it down around page 200. Too many thought experiments that I thought sounded just a little to simple, and nothing new if you have already read his two prior books. I also didn't think much of the ...more
Matthew Sturges
Gave up about 250 pages in. Hofstadter lost me with his meanderings about entwined souls. I kept waiting for him to provide some concrete evidence for what he was talking about, but he just keeps making the same few analogies over and over. I enjoyed the refresher course on Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, and found the idea of Godel's reflexive use of Principia Mathematica as an analogue for self-perception interesting, but in the end I'm afraid I'll never be sold on the notion of self as nothin ...more
Richard
Hofstadter, I fear, has jumped the shark. More than fifty pages into this book, he had yet to offer an intriguing idea worth pursuing this book fully through. A lot of this feels like pale egocentricism.
gingerkitty
I got 2 chapters in, I was not fascinated...
Williwaw
Hofstadter presents what strikes me as a convincing philosophical model of a non-dualistic world in which it is unnecessary to divide our experiences into material and spiritual components, or to hold on to the familiar and comforting concept of an immaterial "soul."

Along the way, the reader is required to jump some pretty formidable hurdles, including a chapter that summarizes Kurt Godel's famous incompleteness theorem. I banged myself up pretty good trying to jump that one (but thanks to some
...more
Jake
A good introduction to Hofstadter's ideas about consciousness, in a considerably shorter package than Godel, Escher, Bach.

Hofstadter is at his best in the first half of the book, when he's outlining his idea of the "strange loop" and discussing how it connects to his other ideas about the mind. His discussion of Godel and incompleteness is also excellent-- I'd read another book on the same subject, but Hofstadter did a much better job of getting the ideas across. After that, the book goes off o
...more
Ronny
I didn't finish the book.

This book is supposedly about consciousness. However, what I read were random ruminations that (at best) briefly connected with the promised subject matter.

For instance, near the beginning, the author wrote at length about vegetarianism. Near the end of this section, he briefly segued into the concept of degrees of consciousness, but did not develop it. This was a shame because that would have been interesting and on-topic -- more interesting and on-topic than the vegeta
...more
Anthony
keith recommended i read this months ago and i'm glad that i finally did. a quite unusual take on the problem of selfhood/identity that uses godel's theorem and video feedback loops as its central analogies. by far my favorite chapters of the book were the chapters devoted to catching the uninitiated reader (myself) up with a simplified (but not terribly over-simplified) understanding of the basics of number theory, set theory, principia mathematica, and godel. it had been so long since i'd read ...more
Ty
I've been interested in reading Hofstadter since his name came up as author of Godel, Escher, Bach, as discussed in The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, and I realized that this was same person who edited Godel's Proof which I had earlier read. His name came up again in Gleick's 'The Information: A history, a theory, a flood', so then I set off to read his work.

Half-way through, I would have given the book 4 or 5 stars. Really enjoyed the commentary on Godel's proof and the idea of consciousness a
...more
Ugh
“Dreary, oh so dreary”, remarks an imaginary sceptical reader at the start of chapter 20 of I Am A Strange Loop, highly unimpressed with the implications of Hofstadter’s stance on the nature of consciousness. I don’t share this imaginary reader’s dismay at Hofstadter’s point of view, but their words do fairly accurately sum up my opinion of Strange Loop as a whole, and hence their appearance at the opening of this review too.
When flicking through this book in the shop, I thought it was going to
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Jon Stout
Nov 11, 2011 Jon Stout rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poets and mathematicians
Recommended to Jon by: Gary Marlow, indirectly
Shelves: philosophy
Douglas Hofstadter is a quirky and entertaining writer, though not as systematic as I would like. He starts off with the interesting insight that the I (or the self, or consciousness) is a strange feedback loop similar to an audio feedback loop or a video feedback loop. Audio feedback takes place when a microphone picks up its own background noise, and then endlessly rebroadcasts it as a screech. Video feedback occurs if a video camera is pointed at the video screen showing what the camera is pi ...more
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  • The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul
  • The Society of Mind
  • The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self
  • Gödel's Proof
  • Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind
  • Mindware: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Cognitive Science
  • Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness
  • The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
  • Complexity: A Guided Tour
  • The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory
  • Infinity and the Mind: The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite
  • Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
  • The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing
  • The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine
  • Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness
  • Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes's Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought
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Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, thinking and creativity. He is best known for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, first published in 1979, for which he was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Hofstadter is the son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter. Douglas grew up on the campus of St
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More about Douglas R. Hofstadter...
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

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“In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference.” 28 likes
“Saying that studying the brain is limited to the study of physical entities would be like saying that literary criticism must focus on paper and bookbinding, ink and its chemistry, page sizes and margin widths, typefaces and paragraph lengths, and so forth.” 12 likes
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