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Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
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0

A-I Am A Strange LoopDouglas Hofstadter revisits the concepts of his Pulitzer Prize–winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979) and the bridge between the physical brain and the less tangible mind. He posits a model of human consciousness as an abstract, self-referential loop—a strange loop: make a decision, take action, observe the consequences, and incorporate this new information into your psyche for future decisions. Humans repeat this circular pattern millions of times, resulting in self-awareness. Hofstadter, trying to comprehend his wife’s death in 1993, also theorizes that we can replicate the strange loops of others in our minds, thinking with their thoughts and seeing the world through their eyes. In such a way can the souls of those we love live on.
Basic Books. 412 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0465030785

London Times (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"If I spend the next 700 words raving incoherently about it, that’s because it is the most gripping 400 pages I’ve read in years. … What is easily grasped, even by a scientific illiterate like me, is how he opens up a fascinating new possibility about consciousness." Richard Morrison

Time 4 of 5 Stars
"Hofstadter’s model of the self occupies a middle ground, hard won via logico-philosophical reasoning: it’s neither spiritual—he’s not a religious man—nor is it locked into the cold neurological materialism of cellular mechanics. … I Am a Strange Loop scales some lofty conceptual heights, but it remains very personal, and it’s deeply colored by the facts of Hofstadter’s later life." Lev Grossman

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"When a brilliant author uses one slippery concept to clarify another, the result for the reader can be anxiety. … Fortunately, Hofstadter is a gifted raconteur and a master of metaphor." Peter D. Kramer

American Scientist 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Douglas Hofstadter suffers from the grave disadvantage of having written a masterpiece as a young man: the utterly unique Gödel, Escher, Bach. … [His] new book, deeply thought-provoking though it is, is less engaging than either Gödel, Escher, Bach or Le Ton Beau de Marot." Margaret A. Boden

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Once again, the method of argumentation is as important as the argument. … I Am a Strange Loop is vintage Hofstadter: earnest, deep, overflowing with ideas, building its argument into the experience of reading it—for if our souls can incorporate those of others, then I Am a Strange Loop can transmit Hofstadter’s into ours." Jesse Cohen

Scientific American 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For those without time for the scenic route, I Am a Strange Loop pulls out the big themes [of Gödel, Escher, Bach] and develops them into a more focused picture of consciousness. … It is heart-wrenching to read how the author has tried to come to grips with [his wife’s] death, agonizing over how much ‘Carolness’ and even ‘Carol-consciousness’—how much of her ‘interiority’—still lives in his brain and in those of the others who knew her." George Johnson

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"I Am a Strange Loop is by no means dryly abstract all through. Far from it: The book contains enough ‘human interest’ material to get the author a spot on the ‘Oprah Winfrey’ show." John Derbyshire

Critical Summary

Though elegantly written, it is not surprising that Douglas Hofstadter’s I Am a Strange Loop suffers a bit by comparison to his acclaimed Gödel, Escher, Bach: they both cover the same ground, with the more recent book elaborating on the ideas of the first one. However, I Am a Strange Loop is a much more personal effort, an "intellectual autobiography" (Time) of the last 30 years of Hofstadter’s life. Critics agreed that Hofstadter is riveting when sharing his grief over the unexpected death of his wife and his conviction that part of her continues to live on in him. Some readers may not agree with his beliefs, and he draws little on findings in neurological science, but they cannot deny that I Am a Strange Loop is a heartfelt exploration of the human mind.

Also by the Author

Gödel, Escher, Bach An Eternal Golden Braid (1979): Award Star Pulitzer Prize. "This exhilarating intellectual and rhetorical extravaganza" draws on logic, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy to provide "deep insights into mathematics, music and creativity—plus countless deliciously outrageous puns" (American Scientist).