Summary of I Am a Strange Loop

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I Am a Strange Loop book summary
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Rating

9

Qualities

  • Innovative

Recommendation

When he was 27, Douglas Hofstadter wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach, a bestselling book loved by precocious teenagers and computer hackers. Its mixture of logic, music and visual art blended the richness of the humanities and the rigor of the sciences in an altogether unforgettable confection that won a Pulitzer Prize. But GEB, as it is affectionately known, was widely misunderstood. Now, at age 62, Hofstadter tries to get his message across more forcefully. Using invented dialogues, fanciful metaphors, mathematical analogies and light-hearted stories, he limns again and again his central point: The self is an illusion or, as he says, "a hallucination hallucinated by a hallucination." While this may seem a depressing or, at least, odd conclusion (If the self is unreal, then who is reading this?), it's not. In fact, Hofstadter’s conclusion has some surprisingly moving consequences about how human beings should regard themselves, other people and animals. This book is a punning, playful meditation on the logical, rather than neuro-biological, structure of the self. getAbstract highly recommends this gorgeous, rich, magical work to anyone who wants to see eye to eye with his or her "I."

About the Author

Douglas Hofstadter is College of Arts and Sciences Professor of Cognitive Science at Indiana University. He is also the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

 

Summary

The Loopiness of Loops

"No, no, no!" said the salesman to a teenaged Douglas Hofstadter. "Don't do that – you'll break the camera!" It was the 1970s. Hofstadter was shopping with his family for a video camera. After pointing the camera at his parents and himself, he was tempted to point it at the TV screen that displayed the camera's video output. But he hesitated, suspicious that creating a video feedback loop might have some strange consequences. Was this rational? Absolutely not. Video feedback is not dangerous. It doesn't "break the camera." And yet, says Hofstadter, "I was hesitant to close the loop!...I balked and timidly asked the salesperson for permission" to point the camera at the TV. In response, he got the salesman's irrational admonition, proving he wasn't the only one who was hesitant to "close the loop."

This feeling that loopiness is odd, mysterious and vaguely threatening is hardly new. Having repeatedly tried to reduce all of mathematics to logic, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell thought he and Alfred N. Whitehead had finally done it in Principia Mathematica (which describes an axiomatic, logical system). Then Kurt Gödel, a young Austrian...


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