Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945) is an American scholar of cognitive science
, and comparative literature
whose research includes concepts such as the sense of self in relation to the external world,
consciousness, analogy-making, artistic creation, literary translation, and discovery in mathematics and physics. His 1979 book ''Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
'' won both the Pulitzer Prize
for general nonfiction
. ''Past winners and finalists by category''. The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved March 17, 2012.
and a National Book Award
(at that time called The American Book Award) for Science.
["National Book Awards – 1980"]
. National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
His 2007 book ''I Am a Strange Loop
'' won the ''Los Angeles Times'' Book Prize for Science and Technology.
Early life and education
Hofstadter was born in New York City
to Jewish parents: Nobel Prize
-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter
and Nancy Givan Hofstadter. He grew up on the campus of Stanford University
, where his father was a professor, and attended the International School of Geneva
in 1958–59. He graduated with Distinction in mathematics
from Stanford University
in 1965, and received his Ph.D.
from the University of Oregon
in 1975, where his study of the energy levels of Bloch electron
s in a magnetic field led to his discovery of the fractal
known as Hofstadter's butterfly
Since 1988, Hofstadter has been the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Comparative Literature at Indiana University
in Bloomington, where he directs the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition which consists of himself and his graduate students, forming the "Fluid Analogies Research Group" (FARG). He was initially appointed to the Indiana University's Computer Science Department faculty in 1977, and at that time he launched his research program in computer modeling of mental processes (which he called "artificial intelligence research", a label he has since dropped in favor of "cognitive science research"). In 1984, he moved to the University of Michigan
in Ann Arbor, where he was hired as a professor of psychology and was also appointed to the Walgreen Chair for the Study of Human Understanding. In 1988 he returned to Bloomington as "College of Arts and Sciences Professor" in both cognitive science and computer science. He was also appointed adjunct professor of history and philosophy of science, philosophy, comparative literature, and psychology, but has said that his involvement with most of those departments is nominal.
[Seminar: AI: Hope and Hype]
In 1988 Hofstadter received the ''In Praise of Reason'' award, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
's highest honor.
In April 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
and a member of the American Philosophical Society
. In 2010 he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala
Hofstadter's many interests include music, visual art, the mind
At the University of Michigan and Indiana University, he and Melanie Mitchell
coauthored a computational model of "high-level perception"—Copycat
—and several other models of analogy-making and cognition
, including the Tabletop project, co-developed with Robert M. French
. Hofstadter's doctoral student James Marshall subsequently extended the Copycat project under the name "Metacat". The Letter Spirit project, implemented by Gary McGraw and John Rehling, aims to model artistic creativity by designing stylistically uniform "gridfonts" (typefaces limited to a grid). Other more recent models include Phaeaco (implemented by Harry Foundalis) and SeqSee (Abhijit Mahabal), which model high-level perception and analogy-making in the microdomains of Bongard problem
s and number sequences, respectively, as well as George (Francisco Lara-Dammer), which models the processes of perception and discovery in triangle geometry.
The pursuit of beauty has driven Hofstadter both inside and outside his professional work. He seeks beautiful mathematical patterns, beautiful explanations, beautiful typefaces, beautiful sonic patterns in poetry, ''etc.'' Hofstadter has said of himself, "I'm someone who has one foot in the world of humanities and arts, and the other foot in the world of science." He has had several exhibitions of his artwork in various university galleries. These shows have featured large collections of his gridfonts, his ambigrams
(pieces of calligraphy created with two readings, either of which is usually obtained from the other by rotating or reflecting the ambigram, but sometimes simply by "oscillation", like the Necker Cube
or the rabbit/duck figure
of Joseph Jastrow
), and his "Whirly Art" (music-inspired visual patterns realized using shapes based on various alphabets from India). Hofstadter invented the term "ambigram" in 1984; many ambigrammists have since taken up the concept.
Hofstadter collects and studies cognitive errors (largely, but not solely, speech errors), "bon mots" (spontaneous humorous quips), and analogies of all sorts, and his longtime observation of these diverse products of cognition, and his theories about the mechanisms that underlie them, have exerted a powerful influence on the architectures of the computational models he and FARG members have developed.
All FARG computational models share certain key principles, including:
* that human thinking is carried out by thousands of independent small actions in parallel, biased by the concepts that are currently activated
* that activation spreads from activated concepts to less activated "neighbor concepts"
* that there is a "mental temperature" that regulates the degree of randomness in the parallel activity
* that promising avenues tend to be explored more rapidly than unpromising ones
FARG models also have an overarching philosophy that all cognition is built from the making of analogies. The computational architectures that share these precepts are called "active symbols" architectures.
Hofstadter's thesis about consciousness, first expressed in ''Gödel, Escher, Bach
'' (''GEB'') but also present in several of his later books, is that it is an emergent consequence of seething lower-level activity in the brain. In ''GEB'' he draws an analogy between the social organization of a colony of ants and the mind seen as a coherent "colony" of neurons. In particular, Hofstadter claims that our sense of having (or being) an "I" comes from the abstract pattern he terms a "strange loop
", an abstract cousin of such concrete phenomena as audio
and video feedback
that Hofstadter has defined as "a level-crossing feedback loop". The prototypical example of a strange loop is the self-referential structure at the core of Gödel's incompleteness theorems
. Hofstadter's 2007 book ''I Am a Strange Loop
'' carries his vision of consciousness considerably further, including the idea that each human "I" is distributed over numerous brains, rather than being limited to one.
Hofstadter's writing is characterized by an intense interaction between form and content, as exemplified by the 20 dialogues in ''GEB'', many of which simultaneously discuss and imitate strict musical forms used by Bach, such as canons and fugues. Most of Hofstadter's books feature some kind of structural alternation: in ''GEB'' between dialogues and chapters, in ''The Mind's I'' between selections and reflections, in ''Metamagical Themas'' between Chapters and Postscripts, and so forth. In both his writing and his teaching, Hofstadter stresses the concrete, constantly using examples and analogies, and avoids the abstract. Typical of the courses he teaches is his seminar "Group Theory
and Galois Theory
Visualized", in which abstract mathematical ideas are rendered as concretely as possible. He puts great effort into making ideas clear and visual, and asserts that when he teaches, if his students do not understand something, it is never their fault but always his own.
Hofstadter is passionate about languages. In addition to English, his mother tongue, he speaks French and Italian fluently (the language spoken at home with his children is Italian). At various times in his life, he has studied (in descending order of level of fluency reached) German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Mandarin, Dutch, Polish, and Hindi. His love of sounds pushes him to strive to minimize, and ideally get rid of, any foreign accent.
''Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
'' is a long book devoted to language and translation, especially poetry translation, and one of its leitmotifs is a set of 88 translations of "Ma Mignonne", a highly constrained poem by 16th-century French poet Clément Marot
. In this book, Hofstadter jokingly describes himself as "pi
lingual" (meaning that the sum total of the varying degrees of mastery of all the languages that he has studied comes to 3.14159 ...), as well as an "oligoglot" (someone who speaks "a few" languages).
In 1999, the bicentennial year of the Russian poet and writer Alexander Pushkin
, Hofstadter published a verse translation of Pushkin's classic novel-in-verse ''Eugene Onegin
''. He has translated many other poems, too (always respecting their formal constraints) and two novels (in prose): ''La Chamade
'' (''That Mad Ache'') by French writer Françoise Sagan
, and ''La Scoperta dell'Alba'' (''The Discovery of Dawn'') by Walter Veltroni
, the then-head of the Partito Democratico in Italy. ''The Discovery of Dawn'' was published in 2007, and ''That Mad Ache'' was published in 2009, bound together with Hofstadter's essay ''Translator, Trader: An Essay on the Pleasantly Pervasive Paradoxes of Translation''.
is "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law." The law is stated in ''GEB''.
Hofstadter's former Ph.D. students include (with dissertation title):
*Donald Byrd—Music Notation by Computer
—Toward a Theory of Consciousness
*Gray A. Clossman—A Model of Categorization and Learning in a Connectionist Broadcast System
*Hamid Ekbia—AI Dreams and Discourse: Science and Engineering in Tension
*Harry Foundalis—Phaeaco: A Cognitive Architecture Inspired by Bongard Problems
—Tabletop: An Emergent, Stochastic Model of Analogy-Making
*Francisco Lara-Dammer—Modeling Human Discoverativity in Geometry
*Abhijit Mahabal—SeqSee: A Concept-centered Architecture for Sequence Perception
*Jim Marshall—Metacat: A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture for Analogy-making and High level Perception
*Gary McGraw—Letter Spirit (Part One): Emergent High-level Perception of Letters Using Fluid Concepts
*Marsha Meredith—Seek-Whence: A Model of Pattern Perception
*Eric Nichols—Musicat: A Computer Model of Musical Listening and Analogy-Making
—Copycat: A Computer Model of High-Level Perception and Conceptual Slippage in Analogy-making
*John Rehling—Letter Spirit (Part Two): Modeling Creativity in a Visual Domain
*Wang Pei (Pei Wang)—Non-Axiomatic Reasoning System: Exploring the Essence of Intelligence
*William York—Aesthetics and the Scope and Limits of Cognitive Science
Hofstadter has said that he feels "uncomfortable with the nerd culture that centers on computers". He admits that "a large fraction f his audience
seems to be those who are fascinated by technology", but when it was suggested that his work "has inspired many students to begin careers in computing and artificial intelligence" he replied that he was pleased about that, but that he himself has "no interest in computers".
[The Mind Reader](_blank)
, ''New York Times Magazine'', April 1, 2007
In that interview he also mentioned a course he has twice given at Indiana University, in which he took a "skeptical look at a number of highly touted AI projects and overall approaches".
For example, upon the defeat of Garry Kasparov
by Deep Blue
, he commented that "It was a watershed event, but it doesn't have to do with computers becoming intelligent". Hofstadter's disinterest in computers is analogous to an astronomer's disinterest in telescopes. In his book ''Metamagical Themas'', he says that "in this day and age, how can anyone fascinated by creativity and beauty fail to see in computers the ultimate tool for exploring their essence?".
Provoked by predictions of a technological singularity
(a hypothetical moment in the future of humanity when a self-reinforcing, runaway development of artificial intelligence
causes a radical change in technology and culture), Hofstadter has both organized and participated in several public discussions of the topic. At Indiana University in 1999 he organized such a symposium, and in April 2000, he organized a larger symposium titled "Spiritual Robots" at Stanford University, in which he moderated a panel consisting of Ray Kurzweil
, Hans Moravec
, Kevin Kelly
, Ralph Merkle
, Bill Joy
, Frank Drake
, John Holland
and John Koza
. Hofstadter was also an invited panelist at the first Singularity Summit
, held at Stanford in May 2006. Hofstadter expressed doubt that the singularity will occur in the foreseeable future.
["Moore's Law, Artificial Evolution, and the Fate of Humanity." In L. Booker, S. Forrest, et al. (eds.), ''Perspectives on Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems''. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.]
In 1988 Dutch director Piet Hoenderdos created a docudrama about Hofstadter and his ideas, ''Victim of the Brain
'', based on ''The Mind's I
''. It includes interviews with Hofstadter about his work.
When Martin Gardner
retired from writing his "Mathematical Games
" column for ''Scientific American
'' magazine, Hofstadter succeeded him in 1981–83 with a column titled ''Metamagical Themas
'' (an anagram
of "Mathematical Games"). An idea he introduced in one of these columns was the concept of "Reviews of This Book", a book containing nothing but cross-referenced reviews of itself that has an online implementation. One of Hofstadter's columns in ''Scientific American'' concerned the damaging effects of sexist language, and two chapters of his book ''Metamagical Themas
'' are devoted to that topic, one of which is a biting analogy-based satire,A Person Paper on Purity in Language
(1985), in which the reader's presumed revulsion at racism and racist language is used as a lever to motivate an analogous revulsion at sexism and sexist language; Hofstadter published it under the pseudonym William Satire, an allusion to William Safire
. Another column reported on the discoveries made by University of Michigan professor Robert Axelrod
in his computer tournament pitting many iterated prisoner's dilemma
strategies against each other, and a follow-up column discussed a similar tournament that Hofstadter and his graduate student Marek Lugowski
organized. The "Metamagical Themas" columns ranged over many themes, including patterns in Frédéric Chopin
's piano music (particularly his études
), the concept of superrationality
(choosing to cooperate when the other party/adversary is assumed to be equally intelligent as oneself), and the self-modifying game
, based on the way in which the legal system modifies itself, and developed by philosopher Peter Suber
Hofstadter was married to Carol Ann Brush until her death. They met in Bloomington, and married in Ann Arbor in 1985. They had two children, Danny and Monica. Carol died in 1993 from the sudden onset of a brain tumor — glioblastoma multiforme
— when their children were 5 and 2. The Carol Ann Brush Hofstadter Memorial Scholarship for Bologna-bound Indiana University students was established in 1996 in her name. Hofstadter's book ''Le Ton beau de Marot
'' is dedicated to their two children and its dedication reads "To M. & D., living sparks of their Mommy's soul".
In the fall of 2010, Hofstadter met Baofen Lin in a cha-cha-cha
class, and they married in Bloomington in September 2012.
Hofstadter has composed numerous pieces for piano and a few for piano and voice. He created an audio CD, ''DRH/JJ'', which includes all these compositions performed mostly by pianist Jane Jackson, with a few performed by Brian Jones, Dafna Barenboim, Gitanjali Mathur and Hofstadter.
The dedication for ''I Am A Strange Loop'' is: "To my sister Laura, who can understand, and to our sister Molly, who cannot." Hofstadter explains in the preface that his younger sister Molly never developed the ability to speak or understand language.
As a consequence of his attitudes about consciousness and empathy, Hofstadter has been a vegan
for roughly half his life.
In popular culture
In the 1982 novel ''2010: Odyssey Two
'', Arthur C. Clarke
's first sequel to ''2001: A Space Odyssey
'', HAL 9000
is described by Dr. Chandra as being caught in a "Hofstadter–Möbius
loop". The movie uses the term "H. Möbius loop".
On April 3, 1995, Hofstadter's book ''Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought
'' was the first book ever sold by Amazon.com
The books published by Hofstadter are (the ISBNs refer to paperback editions, where available):
*''Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid
'' () (1979)
'' () (collection of ''Scientific American'' columns and other essays, all with postscripts)
*''Ambigrammi: un microcosmo ideale per lo studio della creatività'' () (in Italian only)
*''Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
'' (co-authored with several of Hofstadter's graduate students) ()
*''Rhapsody on a Theme by Clement Marot'' () (1995, published 1996; volume 16 of series ''The Grace A. Tanner Lecture in Human Values'')
*''Le Ton beau de Marot
: In Praise of the Music of Language'' ()
*''I Am a Strange Loop
'' () (2007)
*Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking
', co-authored with Emmanuel Sander () (first published in French as ''L'Analogie. Cœur de la pensée''; published in English in the U.S. in April 2013)
Hofstadter has written, among many others, the following papers:
*"Energy levels and wave functions of Bloch electron
s in rational and irrational magnetic fields"''Phys. Rev. B'' 14 (1976) 2239
*"A non-deterministic approach to analogy, involving the Ising model of ferromagnetism", in Eduardo Caianiello
(ed.), ''The Physics of Cognitive Processes''. Teaneck, NJ: World Scientific, 1987."To Err is Human; To Study Error-making is Cognitive Science"
(co-authored by David J. Moser
), Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, 1989, pp. 185–215.
*"Speechstuff and thoughtstuff: Musings on the resonances created by words and phrases via the subliminal perception of their buried parts", in Sture Allen (ed.), ''Of Thoughts and Words: The Relation between Language and Mind. Proceedings of the Nobel Symposium 92'', London/New Jersey: World Scientific Publ., 1995, 217–267.
On seeing A's and seeing As
, ''Stanford Humanities Review'' Vol. 4, No. 2 (1995) pp. 109–121.
in Dedre Gentner
, Keith Holyoak
, and Boicho Kokinov
(eds.) ''The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science'', Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press/Bradford Book
, 2001, pp. 499–538.
Hofstadter has also written over 50 papers that were published through the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition
[ CRCC Publications offline]
Involvement in other books
Hofstadter has written forewords for or edited the following books:
*''The Mind's I
: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul'' (co-edited with Daniel Dennett
), 1981. (, ) and ()
*''Alan Turing: The Enigma
'' by Andrew Hodges
, 1983. (Preface)
*''Sparse Distributed Memory
'' by Pentti Kanerva
, Bradford Books/MIT Press, 1988. (Foreword) ()
*''Are Quanta Real? A Galilean Dialogue'' by J.M. Jauch, Indiana University Press, 1989. (Foreword) ()
*''Gödel's Proof'' (2002 revised edition) by Ernest Nagel
and James R. Newman
, edited by Hofstadter. In the foreword, Hofstadter explains that the book (originally published in 1958) exerted a profound influence on him when he was young. ()
*''Who Invented the Computer? The Legal Battle That Changed Computing History'' by Alice Rowe Burks
, 2003. (Foreword)
: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker'' by Christof Teuscher
, 2003. (editor)
*''Brainstem Still Life'' by Jason Salavon
, 2004. (Introduction) ()
*''Masters of Deception: Escher, Dalí & the Artists of Optical Illusion'' by Al Seckel
, 2004. (Foreword)
*''King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the Man Who Saved Geometry
'' by Siobhan Roberts
, Walker and Company, 2006. (Foreword)
*''Exact Thinking in Demented Times: The Vienna Circle and the Epic Quest for the Foundations of Science'' by Karl Sigmund
, Basic Books, 2017. Hofstadter wrote the foreword and helped with the translation.
: A Novel Versification'' from the Russian original of Alexander Pushkin
), 1999. ()
*''The Discovery of Dawn
'' from the Italian original of Walter Veltroni
, 2007. ()
*''That Mad Ache
'', co-bound with ''Translator, Trader: An Essay on the Pleasantly Pervasive Paradoxes of Translation'' from the French original of Francoise Sagan
), 2009. ()
* American philosophy
* BlooP and FlooP
* Egbert B. Gebstadter
* Hofstadter points
* Hofstadter's butterfly
* Hofstadter's law
* List of American philosophers
* Platonia dilemma
* Strange loop
Stanford University Presidential Lecture
– site dedicated to Hofstadter and his work
"The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think"
by James Somers, ''The Atlantic
'', November 2013 issue
at Resonance Publications
– bibliographic page with reviews of several of Hofstadter's books
– a short autobiography in the form of a lipogram
Github repo of sourcecode & literature of Hofstadter's students work
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