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Hofstadter, Douglas

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1945-    ) US academic and computer scientist, currently professor of cognitive science at Indiana University, whose massive popular-science book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (1979) won a Pulitzer Prize and has influenced sf thinking about Computers and AI. GEB, as it is often abbreviated, explores related Paradoxes of recursion – Hofstadter calls these "strange loops" – in the spheres of Mathematics, Illustration (in particular M C Escher's self-referential designs) and Music, with digressions into Biology and other disciplines. Much sf/fantasy imagery features in expository dialogues between Achilles and the Tortoise (echoing Lewis Carroll's comic inversion of the Zeno Paradox, here reprinted in full) and other characters, ultimately including Charles Babbage and Alan Turing (see Icons). Gödel's Theorem, which "breaks" any usable system of mathematical logic by demonstrating through the system itself that it must either be inconsistent or contain unprovable truths and falsehoods, is modelled via a recording that destroys the device which plays it – an analogy borrowed by sf writers as a rationalization for Basilisk concepts and images that are destructive to the human mind.

With Daniel C Dennett, Hofstadter co-edited The Mind's I (anth 1981), whose stories and essays explore deep problems of consciousness, Identity and AI. Martin Gardner's Scientific American column "Mathematical Games" was succeeded in the early 1980s by Hofstadter's anagrammatically titled "Metamagical Themas": these and other essays, including discussion of Memes and a fictional illustration of probability mathematics, are assembled as Metamagical Themas (coll 1985). Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language (1997), another large, idiosyncratic and digressive volume, focuses on Linguistics and issues of translation. Portions of this have been criticized as amateurish by some linguists, but there is interesting and provocative commentary on several sf/fantasy authors including Poul Anderson, Dante Alighieri, Robert L Forward and Stanisław Lem (the last as translated by Michael Kandel in particular). A further meditation on the themes of The Mind's I, which also retraces part of the GEB exposition with fresh perspectives and analogies, is I Am a Strange Loop (2007); featured sf Thought Experiments include Matter Transmission, Matter Duplication and the "Twinwirld" Alternate World in which identical twins are the norm and each pair effectively shares a single identity. [DRL]

see also: Laws.

Douglas Richard Hofstadter

born New York: 15 February 1945

works (selected)


works as editor


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