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  • Book Review: I am a Strange Loop - by Douglas Hofstadter

    I am a Strange LoopThis book was a compelling read for me since: it is very new at this time; it investigates the origin of consciousness; and it seemed to have less scientific or religious fervor behind it. Plus the author has won a Pulitzer and seems to be a well respected professor teaching this topic. Having read it, I find Hofstadter to be a master at using analogy to elicit deep insight into every topic he presents. And he writes from his heart. You will learn much about the man behind the words. Which shows he is fully accountable for any bias or personal perspectives he may have. Although he clearly expresses his hope that you will share in his perceptions. I surely do.

    Is the mind a separate entity from the body? If not, then where does it come from? These questions are not immediately apparent but ultimately they are the questions he has written this book to address. The entire first half is spent introducing the reader to some background information that is presented in seemingly random fashion. But expressed in an entertaining, beautifully descriptive and informative way.

    There are many examples he uses to show the occurance of loops in everyday life. He starts with simple ones, like the toilet flush valve loop. Then more identifiable ones like looking into parallel mirrors which create what seems to be a corridor of forever repeating images. Or a microphone’s feedback squeal when placed too close to the speaker. My favorite was his experiments with a camcorder pointed at the monitor. The crux of this background knowledge is his presentation of the work of Gödel - the only part of the book I found difficult to fathom. But this example shows how even mathematics creates loops, and has the incredible consequence of rendering logic inconclusive.

    This background information provides a perspective of thought that serves to show that the mind actually creates itself! He proposes that the mind does not exist until it becomes self aware. Before that, we are just unconscious beings on the level of base animals.  His ideas about the levels of mindfullness of animals and even insects is also quite interesting to me, since it is something that most of us have considered but rarely speak about. His compassion has prompted him to become a vegetarian, yet interestingly, he has absolutely no respect for mosquitos!

    But then he goes on to explain how our consciousness evolves as it experiences itself, and the selfs of others. Adding another wrinkle to his theory to shows that there is cross-talk between ‘souls’ and that seeing others is key to seeing ourselves. He brings up quite a few other interesting topics and perspectives that explain his reasoning, all of which he presents with great skill.

    As you read this, without the tremendous insight of Hofstader, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. And of course, I wouldn’t have either, before reading this book. But perhaps, if you read it, you will learn something about yourself that right now, seems absolutely impossible. leave a comment