Matt's Reviews > Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking

Surfaces and Essences by Douglas R. Hofstadter
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liked it

There are a lot of really interesting ideas here.

But as many have noted, the presentation is the opposite of efficient. I think one reason for this is that the authors really believe their theory that knowledge is primarily built up from analogical reasoning from specific examples. That means, instead of simply defining something in terms of a rule, they’ll give examples of it. Dozens of examples. Pages of examples.

I listened to an audiobook version of this at 2x speed and sometimes 3x, only slowing down at key parts. I liberally used audibles “skip 30 seconds” button. I even skipped two chapters. This last decision was not advisable, as I learned a lot when I went back to them (which I felt I had to do before I posted a review).

Again, I want to emphasize that there are a lot of interesting ideas in here!

But a second issue I had with the book is the extent to which it relies on a style of argument where the authors narrate their own observations of their thought processes in terms of the model. They assume the reader will be nodding along, recognizing the obvious validity of these observations. Sometimes I was, but often I was not. For example, they assert most people think of multiplication as repeated addition and for this reason most people find 3x100 an easier problem than 100x3 (because in the first case you add “100” three times and in the second you add “3” one hundred times). But... I don’t find 100x3 any harder than 3x100 when I observe my mental processes. Am I the weird one or are they?

This is not to say they might not be right! I just found this style of argument weak, because if you don’t already agree with the authors it just falls completely apart.

But... one more time... there are a lot of interesting ideas in here!

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Reading Progress

March 31, 2018 – Started Reading
March 31, 2018 – Shelved
May 18, 2018 – Finished Reading

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