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I Am a Strange Loop

Narrated by: Greg Baglia
Length: 16 hrs and 47 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (14 ratings)
Regular price: £27.19
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Summary

One of our greatest philosophers and scientists of the mind asks where the self comes from - and how our selves can exist in the minds of others. 

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 "I". The "I" is the nexus in our brain, one of many symbols seeming to have free will and to have gained the paradoxical ability to push particles around, rather than the reverse.  

How can a mysterious abstraction be real - or is our "I" merely a convenient fiction? Does an "I" exert genuine power over the particles in our brain, or is it helplessly pushed around by the laws of physics?  

These are the mysteries tackled in I Am a Strange Loop, Douglas Hofstadter's first book-length journey into philosophy since Gödel, Escher, Bach. Compulsively listenable and endlessly thought-provoking, this is a moving and profound inquiry into the nature of mind.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2007 Douglas R. Hofstadter (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic reviews

"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. And indeed, it is impossible to come away from this book without having introduced elements of his point of view into our own. It may not make us kinder or more compassionate, but we will never look at the world, inside or out, in the same way again." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

"Nearly thirty years after his best-selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach, cognitive scientist and polymath Douglas Hofstadter has returned to his extraordinary theory of self." (New Scientist)

"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. In 1993 Hofstadter's wife Carol died suddenly of a brain tumor at only 42, leaving him with two young children to care for.... I Am a Strange Loop is a work of rigorous thinking, but it's also an extraordinary tribute to the memory of romantic love: The Year of Magical Thinking for mathematicians." (Time)

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    3 out of 5 stars

hard work, but worth it

about a third of this book seems to be about principalia mathmatica which I found inpenetratable. however the last half of this book is solid insightful work which holds up next to anything Daniel dennet has written.

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Dense in parts but worth it for the key insights

There is a fair bit of mathematics and logic which is hard to grasp when listened to, but the book is amusing in parts and I found the overall argument persuasive and insightful. The narrator is excellent.

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  • Wing J. Flanagan
  • 15-11-18

Mostly recycled, but a great introduction

Most of I am a Strange Loop is recycled from Douglas Hofstadter's previous books, especially Goedel Escher Bach (or GEB, to its friends). But this is not necessarily a bad thing - this actually makes it a good first book for the uninitiated. And there is some new material, prompted by the untimely death of Hofstadter's beloved wife in 1993.

It is this material, rather late in the book, that I found most poignant and fascinating. Hofstadter contends that his wife lives on in the form of imperfect, low resolution copies in the minds of those who knew her best. The same goes for all of us, living or dead, who have close ties with family and friends. It's a fascinating idea; worth the listen.

Greg Baglia's reading is OK, but his affect is fairly flat. He does an excellent job differentiating the characters in Hofstadter's faux-Socratic dialogs, but elsewhere his performance is a bit dry, which makes the more academic passages a little tough to get through. Fortunately Hofstadter's writing, while quite dense and digressive, is also pretty lively, being aimed mostly at the intelligent layperson.

Just a quibble, but Baglia's pronunciation of foreign names and languages is spotty, too. Sometimes it's near-perfect, but most of the time he has a jarring North American accent. Like I said, a quibble, really. It's definitely clear enough (or so I should think; my own native language is standard American English).

In all I would recommend this, but only to people who either have not read Hofstadter before, or who don't mind a refresher of GEB (and perhaps passaged of his excellent Metamagical Themas, as well).

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 03-11-18

Indeed a Strange Loop

I really enjoyed GEB but this book did not work for me. It was repetitive, a bit shallow, jumped around, and did not have the heart of GEB.

I already agreed with Hofstadter's main point, that consciousness is a repeating and evolving self referencing pattern (what he calls a strange loop) thus his repeated arguments about this quickly became boring to me. I also didn't like referring to it as a STRANGE loop...using the word strange when trying to clarify something seems, well, strange. He did not not quite explain what is strange about it.

His idea that his brain contains some of his dead wife's soul was not very convincing.

His criticisms of others ideas seemed to use strawman arguments. I agree with Hofstadter that these other ideas are faulty, but I think Hofstadter's take-downs were not strong.

The most enjoyable parts were his discussion of music.

The PDF included is only useful to understand a joke near the beginning of the book along with with Escher drawings and similar images.

The bibliography (not on audible but viewable elsewhere) was very interesting.

I can't really recommend this book. I do recommend several of the books referenced in this book including GEB and The Minds I (which were both great).

The narration was clear and pleasant.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • SelfishWizard
  • 09-01-19

The Self That Wasn't There

Douglas Hofstadter is a distinguished academic, author and the son of a nobel prize winning particle physicist. In “I am a Strange Loop,” he has produced a strangely whimsical and unfocused collection of anecdotes, thought experiments, allegories, personal recollections and fictional stories in an effort to make sense of the concept of the self and the human soul.

The book suffers from the weight of so many distracting digressions, personal asides and cutesy hypothetical dialogues that the thread of Hofstadter’s ideas is often lost in all the fluff and made up nonsense words. One wishes that Hofstadter would make his points more with consistency and rigor than with poetic anecdotes and discussions of his vegetarian dietary habits. To invent a Hofstadterian-like term, the book is “rigorless."

Hofstadter’s thesis is that the self is a self-referential illusion that imagines its own existence. In effect, the self is a hallucination that hallucinates its own existence. This strange solution to the often debated question of what the concepts of consciousness and the self are, what they mean and where they come from does little to advance our understanding of the philosophy of mind.

To tell readers that we are just imagining ourselves is ultimately lacking in much information content and shows an author bogged down in the age old debate around discarded ideas about dualism and the mind body problem.

There is, of course, a simple solution to these ephemeral philosophical debates, namely that as humans we are unitary integrated beings. We don’t have a separate entity inside ourselves like a soul, a self or a homunculus that directs the traffic inside our head. Rather our self is our whole integrated being and inseparable from the person that we are.

But Hofstadter takes a more poetic path to his Daniel Dennett inspired philosophy of mind. Hofstadter has been a longtime friend of Dennett’s and adopts his crypto behaviorist stance that consciousness is essentially an illusion. To get there Hofstadter drags out science fiction stories, anecdotes, teleportation, the reversal of both color perception and concepts and the old bugaboo of philosophical zombies, none of which does very much to establish his thesis that the self is an epiphenomenal self-referencing and self-regarding loop that does not do anything.

Hofstadter also adopts his friend Daniel Dennett’s determinist and crypto behaviorist position on "Free Will,” suggesting that while we may make some everyday life choices, underneath it all, everything we do and want is governed by the cause and effect of particle physics. This sterile determinist position fails to recognize that being able to do whatever we like is the very essence and meaning of free will. We may have parameters and constraints on what we want, which, as with every organism, arise from the nature of our being as human animals. But if we can do what we like that is exactly what free will means. Hofstadter, of course believes that free will is just another illusion like the selves that exercise it.

Strangely, Hofstadter spends a great deal of time discussing how lives can become intertwined so that many selves can inhabit one’s own brain. The author explores this peculiar idea in a chapter in which he shares personal recollections of the loss of his wife Carol who passed away at a time when their children were quite young. His romantic notion that Carol inhabited a portion of his mind, makes a strange contrast with Hofstadter’s Dennett-like
ideas about the self.

In conclusion, one keeps trying to cut through the fluff that fills “I am a strange Loop” but one finds only more self-referential fluff underneath. The essence of the book seems a bit like Hofstadter’s concept of the self, an illusion that keeps discussing itself, and not always to the reader’s benefit.

At the end of the day, as people used to say about Los Angeles, there is not much there there.

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  • Darred
  • 19-11-18

Must reading for thinking persons

Highly rewarding ( even on second reading with 3 year interval) for motivated learner and thinkers.