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October 25, 2007


Perhaps he does wonder that, but then considers that he'll be providing more information to his readers if he just gives his impressions, and a summary of opposing views, as they are without pre-averaging them? (I suspect not, but I think that would be quite a reasonable way of proceeding.) Incidentally, it's "Dennett", with two "t"s.

g, thanks, spelling error now fixed.

I read GEB in high school, and to this day it is one of my favorite books, both for the ideas it contains and for the masterful structure and presentation. So I was surprised and disappointed that a large chunk of "I am a Strange Loop" consisted of reworking ground that Hofstadter had already covered. The most interesting idea in the book was the notion that our representations of other people consist of coarse-grained strange loops, that are essentially dispersed parts of a person's consciousness. It's a striking idea, and he talked about dispersed consciousness in GEB, but I question whether my representation of another person is actually a strange loop, because it does not necessarily point back to itself. Rather it points outward, to the person it represents. It's possible that we could develop representations of people that are so complex that they could become self-referential, but it's not a necessary outcome. (I realize this comment is not exactly on topic, but I wondered if anyone had any different thoughts on the book.)

I read it 2 months ago, this review sums up my feelings better than I could.

It is quite possible that the standards of all relevant academic disciplines are no good and should be ignored. The books in question are probably closest to philosophy of mind in subject and tone, but I have no problem at all with ignoring the standards of that field, which has been notoriously unproductive (if the authors ignored philosophy of mind and just ended up recapitulating it, rather than being original, that would be a problem, but I don't think that's the case). AI was founded as an interdisciplinary field that originally had very loose standards, but has since congealed in a way that Minsky (one of the founders) doesn't like, so he largely ignores those as well.

Academic fields form around problems or areas of discourse that are well-defined, often where there are simple theories, formalisms, and simplifying assumptions that everyone can work from. But the theories are often wrong. The things that are easy to formalize may not be the things that matter. It's like the drunk searching for his car keys where the light is rather than where he dropped them. So AI and philosophy have their standards but it is far from clear that those standards are helping people look in interesting places.

And BTW, I believe economics has this problem in spades, but that's a flame for another time.

I happen to love GEB. But I recognize that its "solution" to the problem of consciousness has its distinct limits. I have not had time to read the new book.

Doug Hofstaders is quoted as saying something to the effect that analogy is almost everything with respect to thinking.

My own analogy that I use to think about Hofstader's ideas is a poker tournament. You have a defined rule book and you start out with a bunch of players and tables. The winners of each table move on, until you arrive at a winner. Note, you don't need a optimal hand to win each table or the tournament.

But how does the winner of the tournament inform all the tables that gave rise to it?

That's the tricky part. In order for you to have won this table you must have won the prior table and so forth. So how does evolution give rise to that?

And how come I'm only aware of the end of the card game, the higher order of representation?

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