169: Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander

by Gerard


169: Hofstadter, Douglas & Emmanuel Sander. Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. New York: Basic Books, 2013. 530 pp. ISBN 978-0-465-01847-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 160: Logic
  • 169: Analogy

Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander’s Surfaces and Essences is written for one purpose: to make you think. It not only makes you think, it makes you think about thinking and think about language and think about the language of thinking (it’s a pretty thoughtful book). The authors’ main premise is that analogy is the root of thought and language. Their definition of an analogy is an instance where a current thought, experience, or linguistic device is compared to another so that it can be fully comprehended. All thing have an analog to some other thing. Without analogy, they claim, modern thought and language fall apart. This is a very interesting proposition mainly due to the fact that we need language to define the pieces of language and therefore everything has to compared to everything else. It’s a wonderfully tight system. It also compares English language analogies to other foreign languages to help define a perspective for certain modes of thinking, which I think is a rather astute inclusion.

The problem comes, however, after reading 400 or so pages of same basic argument with each nuance painfully drawn out until there’s no more juice left to think with. Hofstadter and Sander do a good job of providing examples for each of their arguments and propositions, but they, more often than not, provide way too many examples. You don’t just get one or two—you get a good half-page’s worth. This can get tedious after a while. Now, I enjoyed just how enthusiastic the authors were about philosophy and logic, but I probably won’t pick this up again for a good long while.