Epi phenomena – do doo de do do

So, I’ve finally finished Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop. I is a strange loop. I am a strange loop.

This is something of an achievement for me as it’s the first time I’ve actually read all of one of his books – I’ve read most of Gödel Escher Bach, Metamagical Themas and Le Ton Beau de Marot, but never quite all of ’em. Anyway, that’s enough italics for now.

It’s a funny sort of book – essentially it rehashes the core argument of GEB, and forms a defence of epiphenomenalism, which is not exactly a new position nowadays (and GEB itself was written in the late 70s). It’s as much an ‘intellectual autobiography’ as anything, bringing in many personal tales, particularly the death of his wife, albeit with a big and slightly confusing chunk in the middle about Gödel’s revolutionary overturning of Bertrand Russell’s endeavours to bolster the foundations of mathematics. DRH makes the same points over and over again, sometimes superfluously: that we work at the abstract level of patterns and defining physical phenomena in terms of tiny little particles is no hope in our quest to understand ourselves – but that ‘we’ emerge from those nonetheless; and that consciousness is a ‘strange loop’ of self-reference inevitable when a pattern-obsessed organism has a sufficiently broad range of categories identifiable by it.

Although this is far from as dazzling a book as GEB, and is really an oldish man now saying ‘yes, but you weren’t listening the first time’, the way he tells things – anecdotes, analogies, allegories – is what makes him so much more interesting than most ‘philosophers’. (Though next time the publishers really ought to stop him thinking he can design the book as well – the pictures in here are pretty bad.)

Let’s hope he doesn’t get interviewed by Jim Naughtie, though, who was bumbling his way through whether a restored Cutty Sark is still the real one this morning…

6 thoughts on “Epi phenomena – do doo de do do

  1. I’m about halfway through it but had already formed pretty much the same opinion of it. I think it’s the weakest of his books with maybe slightly too many analogies per point. In fact, I keep wanting to say to him I understand so move on to your next idea which I find a little surprising given his frequent mention of the supposed intelligence of his readership. I think that this may well also be his last book.

  2. Agree with you on all counts. I’m a fan, of course, and I like his world view, but this isn’t really much of an advance, and almost a retrogression intellectually.

  3. I don’t find much of course about that of course. The old charlatan. As I think I’ve said before. But then I have his Tome of Marrow on my shelf filling the role of Hofstadter I Haven’t Read Yet, saving me from all temptation to get another one.

    It’s depressing though to remember that the one lecture I ever heard by Saul Kripke, who surely understands the relations between semantics and theories of mind if anybody does, dwelt at equally interminable length on the theme that “Is not an interesting quotation” is not an interesting quotation, “Could be expressed in half the time” could be expressed in half the time, etc, etc.

  4. I guess my ‘of course’ meant: ‘I wouldn’t have read this at all if I wasn’t a fan’. I think maybe the Tombola of Ma Roe is ma favourite one.

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