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Is there one central mechanism upon which all human thinking rests? Cognitive scientists Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander argue that there is. At this core is our incessant proclivity to take what we perceive, to abstract it, and to find resemblances to prior experiences—in other words, our ability to make analogies.

In The Essence of Thought, Hofstadter and Sander show how analogy-making pervades our thought at all levels—indeed, that we make analogies not once a day or once an hour, but many times per second. Thus, analogy is the mechanism that, silently and hidden, chooses our words and phrases for us when we speak, frames how we understand the most banal everyday situation, guides us in unfamiliar situations, and gives rise to great acts of imagination.

We categorize because of analogies that range from simple to subtle, and thus our categories, throughout our lives, expand and grow ever more fluid. Through examples galore and lively prose peppered, needless to say, with analogies large and small, Hofstadter and Sander offer us a new way of thinking about thinking.

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Surfaces and Essences
Average rating
5 / 5
A powerful summary of ideas.
July 19th, 2015
This book is a joy to read thanks to the writing talents of the two authors who have crafted their words very effectively. The argument of the book that analogies in various forms are a key component of human reason is very compelling and fleshed out in some detail. The argument seems to achieve something in allowing us to penetrate a little further into woolly notions of how thought occurs in human beings and how it might be induced in people or simulated by machine. However I was aware that reading this as someone not familiar with the details of the field that this book could have two problems that I can not evaluate. One is that its definitions fail to come to grips with aspects of human reasoning that other research and work have brought to light that make their broad definition of analogy that is key to their argument inappropriate. The second danger I see is that they have more redescribed human thought and analogy rather than giving any substantive insight into its underlying aspects. Despite these worries I enjoyed reading this book and felt I learned something from it.
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