Surfaces and Essences

  • by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander
  • Narrated by Sean Pratt
  • 33 hrs and 52 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Analogy is the core of all thinking.
This is the simple but unorthodox premise that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Hofstadter and French psychologist Emmanuel Sander defend in their new work.
Hofstadter has been grappling with the mysteries of human thought for over 30 years. Now, with his trademark wit and special talent for making complex ideas vivid, he has partnered with Sander to put forth a highly novel perspective on cognition.
We are constantly faced with a swirling and intermingling multitude of ill-defined situations. Our brain's job is to try to make sense of this unpredictable, swarming chaos of stimuli. How does it do so? The ceaseless hail of input triggers analogies galore, helping us to pinpoint the essence of what is going on. Often this means the spontaneous evocation of words, sometimes idioms, sometimes the triggering of nameless, long-buried memories.
Why did two-year-old Camille proudly exclaim, "I undressed the banana!"? Why do people who hear a story often blurt out, "Exactly the same thing happened to me!" when it was a completely different event? What did Albert Einstein see that made him suspect that light consists of particles when a century of research had driven the final nail in the coffin of that long-dead idea?
The answer to all these questions, of course, is analogy - making - the meat and potatoes, the heart and soul, the fuel and fire, the gist and the crux, the lifeblood and the wellsprings of thought.
Analogy-making, far from happening at rare intervals, occurs at all moments, defining thinking from top to toe, from the tiniest and most fleeting thoughts to the most creative scientific insights. Like Gödel, Escher, Bach before it, Surfaces and Essences will profoundly enrich our understanding of our own minds.

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What the Critics Say

"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." Steven Pinker (Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Lots of verbiage, few insights. Don't bother.

If you are on the fence about whether to buy this book, then skip it. Don't bother. The book contains very few insights.

If you were a fan of Gödel Escher Bach and are hoping for an equally insightful book, then look elsewhere. This book is nothing like that previous book.

I'm sold on the author's main thesis, that analogies underlie much of human thought, and that analogizing and categorization are the same process. I have no argument with that notion.

However, the author doesn't really investigate analogies or categorization very deeply, in spite of the book's length. What exactly is categorization? The authors never really investigate this question.

I'm not fan of narrator Sean Pratt. Pratt injects too much intonation and too much feeling into each sentence. Pratt wants each sentence to deliver a bit of drama. His sing-songy delivery distracts from the authors' train of reasoning, which develops over paragraphs and pages, and not in each sentence.
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- Tim

A dance on the street is worth 2 in the club.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I already have demanded several people get it.


Who was your favorite character and why?

Category, that guy was tricky always trying to act like he's not an analogy.


Which scene was your favorite?

The one where I had to stop listening and have an argument with an idea for ten minutes before I could continue.


Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This book demands reaction, it makes you want to yell, "of course Doug, get on with it." Then you realize he's pretty accurate at predicting how you think even though he's never met you. You probably won't cry but I ended of laughing at myself a lot.
This is all about thinking and you want it to be wrong, you want to believe your thoughts are ordered and consistent. Instead you're left knowing that your thoughts are arranged as needed and in ways that contradict past and future arrangements.


Any additional comments?

If you've read his other works this one is simpler and more focused in its idea. Therefore it takes a lot more effort to understand it. The premise makes Jungian psychology seem more relevant, Mel brooks more genius, and Einstein more like an average guy.
If you think you know the definition of words like; much, and, but, grow, time or play, you should get this book.

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- Bryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-25-2013
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC