Surfaces and Essences

Surfaces and Essences

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In a major new work from the author of `Godel, Escher, Bach and I Am a Strange Loop`, two leading scholars argue that analogy is the basis for all human thoughts. From this singular premise, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Doug Hofstadter and French psychologist Emmanuel Sander construct a broad argument that explains how analogies help us find order out of the chaos of the world. From the simplest forms (a single word, category, or phrase) to infinitely complex constructions (an idiom, or proverb, or algorithm) analogies are the tools our brains use to interpret and master daily life. We are faced with a swirling and intermingling multitude of ill-defined situations, none of which comes with a sharp frame delineating it, either spatially or temporally. Our brain is constantly grappling with this unpredictable chaos, always trying to make sense of what surrounds it and swarms into it. How do we make sense of this? The authors argue that these situations provoke an automatic triggering, or unconscious evocation, of certain familiar categories, which, once retrieved from dormancy, help us to organise the enormous potential of our brain. To a large extent, this means the spontaneous coming-to-mind of all sorts of words. And from the simplest of words to the most complex of idiomatic constructions, the retrieval and usage of analogies are the common thread in all of our thoughts. But where do these words come from, and how do they bubble up? What is going on when one merely thinks silently to oneself, 'a mother and her daughter'? These are the question Hofstadter and Sander grapple with. With his trademark wit and singular talent for making complex ideas both accessible and yet still provocatively challenging, Hofstadter has partnered with Sander to create a major new contribution to the study of how the mind works.

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Product details

  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 188 x 235 x 48.26mm | 1,020.58g
  • The Perseus Books Group
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 10 b&w illustrations
  • 0465018475
  • 9780465018475
  • 78,841

Review quote

Longlisted for the 2014 PEN / E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award Science "Surfaces and Essences warrants a place alongside Godel, Escher, Bach and major recent treatments of human cognition. Analogy is not the endpoint of understanding, but its indispensable beginning." Nature "Lucid and, page for page, a delight to read... [Surfaces and Essences contains] gems of insight." Wall Street Journal "Clear, lively, and personal." Globe and Mail (Canada) "Knowing what makes a duck a bird and what makes a plane not a bird may not seem like very profound mental feats--but Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander see such cognitive connections as part of an extraordinarily profound process... Be prepared to become hyper-conscious of the myriad of analogies one makes every moment of every day... The end result is a book that is ambitious and provocative." Booklist, starred review "A revelatory foray into the dynamics of the mind." Library Journal "Like Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning Godel, Escher, Bach, this work executes, from a very complex thesis, an understanding by general readers while also appealing to specialists in philosophy of mind and cognitive science." Kirkus Reviews, starred review "How do we know what we know? How do we know at all? With an enjoyable blend of hard science and good storytelling, Hofstadter and French psychologist Sander tackle these most elusive of philosophical matters... [I]t's worth sticking with [Hofstadter's] long argument, full of up-to-date cognitive science and, at the end, a beguiling look at how the theory of relativity owes to analogy... First rate popular science: difficult but rewarding." Melanie Mitchell, Professor of Computer Science, Portland State University, and author of Complexity: A Guided Tour "Hofstadter and Sander's book is a wonderful and insightful account of the role of analogy in cognition. Immensely enjoyable, with a plethora of fascinating examples and anecdotes, this book will make you understand your own thought processes in a wholly new way. It's analogy all the way down!" Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought "I am one of those cognitive scientists who believe that analogy is a key to explaining human intelligence. This magnum opus by Douglas Hofstadter, who has reflected on the nature of analogy for decades, and Emmanuel Sander, is a milestone in our understanding of human thought, filled with insights and new ideas." Gerald Holton, Professor of Physics and History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University "Hofstadter and Sander's book starts with two audacious goals: to show that none of us can think a minute without using a variety of analogies, and that becoming aware of this fact can help us think more clearly. Then, patiently and with humor, the authors prove their claims across the whole spectrum, from everyday conversation to scientific thought processes, even that of Einstein." Nancy J. Nersessian, Professor of Cognitive Science, Georgia Institute of Technology, and author of Creating Scientific Concepts "Placing analogy at the core of cognition Hofstadter and Sander provide a persuasive answer to the question 'what is thought?' Analogy is the mechanism underlying the myriad instances of concept formation and categorization we perform throughout any day, whether unconscious or explicit, without which there would be no thought. They mount a compelling case through analysis of a wealth of insightful--imaginative and real--exemplars, from everyday thinking to the highest achievements of the human mind, which are sure to persuade a broad range of readers." Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, and author of Eyewitness Testimony "Surfaces and Essences is a mind-boggling argument for the central role that analogies play in human thought. Hofstadter and Sander's witty and profound masterpiece will leave you thinking about thinking in totally new ways." Donald Norman, author of Living with Complexity and The Design of Everyday Things "Doug Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander rip apart everyday understanding to reveal insights of both mind and universe. The key is to recognize that analogies and concepts are the same things, that they are ubiquitous, universal, and key to understanding human thought. Easy to read, but deep to comprehend. The result is both enjoyable and profound." Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology, Stanford University, and Professor of Psychology and Education, Columbia Teachers College "Surfaces and Essences has much of both. And more. This book is fun! And serious. Category, analogy (and similarity) are at the core of cognition. On every page, you will find delights: you will be informed, you will be puzzled; you will agree vehemently and you will disagree just as vehemently; you will ponder. And you will return for more."

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About Emmanuel Sander

Douglas Hofstadter is College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Emmanuel Sander is a professor of Psychology at the University of Paris.

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Table of contents

Prologue: Analogy as the Core of Cognition 1. The Evocation of Words 2. The Evocation of Phrases 3. A Vast Ocean of Invisible Analogies 4. Abstraction and Inter-category Sliding 5. How Analogies Manipulate Us 6. How We Manipulate Analogies 7. Naive Analogies 8. Analogies that Shook the World Epidialogue: Katy and Anna Debate the Core of Cognition

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