Worst of nightmares
Can a full human 'I'
Be stamped on a chip made

These issues alarm me
And that's why I spoke
Not to answer all questions
But to prod and provoke

- Douglas Hofstadter
"Frederic Chopin versus EMI Chopin: Glory or Tragedy?"


Douglas Hofstadter may be the smartest man alive today.

- Roy Christopher

Mathematician and philosopher Douglas Hofstadter loves thinking. Thinking about thinking. He also loves staying busy as referenced by his current resume: College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science; Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and Psychology; director of the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition; distinguished author. In this writeup we will examine his early life, ideologies and methodologies, as well as some of his current projects.

Born in 1945, Hofstadter already had an edge on his future career path. His father, Robert Hofstadter, was a distinguished physicist holding positions such as Assistant Professor of Physics at Princeton University and Associate Professor of Physics at Stanford University. In 1961 his father won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering studies of electron scattering in atomic nuclei and for his thereby achieved discoveries concerning the structure of the nucleons (Nobel Foundation, 2001). Hofstadter followed in his father's footsteps graduating with a degree in mathematics from Stanford in 1965 and receiving his Doctorate in Physics from the University of Oregon in 1975. (Great Minds, 2000).

In 1979 he followed up his degree with the book "Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" which won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. This work contains over 800 pages of Hofstadter's analysis on mind, machine, art, language and everything else crossed-self-referenced with Chaos Theory, AI methodology, and his own wit (Christopher, 2000). This style of writing is the norm for Hofstadter who approaches the mind from the perspective of the computer sciences, in that there are both hardware and software aspects of human intelligence (Stoa del Sol, 2000). In addition, his research is driven by a long-standing interest in creativity and consciousness. In order to bring these abstract ideals into a scientific study method Hofstadter, in collaboration with his graduate students, has worked on designing and implementing computer models of high-level perception and analogical thought in carefully designed idealized domains. These models have helped forward thinking on the cognitive mechanisms underlying analogy making and the creative process. (Great Minds, 2000)

The fruits of Hofstatder's research are continuing to blossom. One project, the Metacat project, is an attempt to computationally model certain key aspects of human cognition. The Metacat project has its roots in another project entitled Copycat taking the idea of nondeterministic, stochastic processing distributed among a large number of small computational agents working simultaneously and extending it in a way that will allow it to create much richer representations of the analogies it makes. It order to extend the model of Copycat, Hofstatdter introduces the idea of 'self-watching' - the ability to perceive and remember patterns that occur in its own processing as it solves analogy problems. This will allow Metacat to eventually perceive analogies between analogies (Hofstadter, 2002).

Another of Hofstadter's current projects - the Letter Spirit - attempts to model central aspects of human high-level perception and creativity on a computer. It is based on the belief that creativity is an automatic outcome of the existence of sufficiently flexible and context-sensitive concepts also known as fluid concepts. The specific focus of the project is the creative act of artistic letter-design. "Starting with one or more seed letters representing the beginnings of a style, the program will attempt to create the rest of the alphabet in such a way that all 26 letters share that same style, or spirit" (Hofstadter, 2002). The aim is to model how the 26 lowercase letters of the Roman alphabet can be rendered in many different but internally coherent styles. Hofstadter believes that the full realization of such a model will "shed light on the mechanisms of human creativity" (Hofstadter, 2002).

It has been stated that Hofstadter is not afraid of the difficult questions, and is always working on the answers. From his beginnings as a writer and scientist throughout his current projects, this statement is evident. He continues to pioneer research of cognitive phenomena, and provide stimulating conversation for students around the world.


  • Hofstadter, D. R., Goedel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, NY: Basic Books, 1979.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul, together with Daniel C. Dennett, (Eds.) NY: Basic Books, 1981.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern NY: Basic Books, 1985.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., Ambigrammi: un microcosmo ideale per lo studio della creativita Florence, Italy: Hopeful Monster, 1987.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (together with the Fluid Analogies Research Group), NY: Basic Books, 1995.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language NY: Basic Books, 1997.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., 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, 1995, London/New Jersey: World Scientific Publ., 217-267.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., On seeing A's and seeing As. Stanford Humanities Review 4,2 (1995) pp. 109-121.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., and Marshall, J. B. D. A Self-Watching Cognitive Architecture of High-Level Perception and Analogy-Making. TR 100, Indiana University Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, 1993.
  • Marshall, J. B. D., and Hofstadter, D. R., Beyond copycat: Incorporating self-watching into a computer model of high-level perception and analogy-making, In M.Gasser (ed.), Online Proceedings of the 1996 Midwest Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science Conference.
  • Hofstadter, D. R., and Marshall, J. B. D. From Copycat to Metacat: Developing a Self-Watching Framework for Analogy-Making. TR 115, Indiana University Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, 1997.
  • To appear in Tony Veale (Ed.), Proceedings of the Mind II: Computational Models of Creative Cognition Conference, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland, 1997.


  • Indiana University - Douglas Hofstadter, 2002
  • Stoa del Sol - Perspective of Mind: Douglas Hofstadter, 2000
  • Disinformation - Douglas Hofstatdter, 2000
  • Brown Daily Herald - Hofstadter lectures on computer intelligence and music, 1999
  • Great Minds - Dr. Douglas Hofstadter, 2000

Node what you don't know!

I saw Douglas Hofstadter give his lecture on "The Pervasive Power of Analogies in the Progress of Physics" (mentioned above by Halo) this evening. This was the first overhead projection of the lecture, given as part of his preface to the topic of the role of analogy in theory formation:

Structure of the Standard Physics Talk:

What I remember: analogy

Everyone laughed, which I took as an indication that this description was astute - my own experience with physics lectures being limited to, um, not many. But for those with a curiosity for content, the main body of the lecture traced Newton's F=MA through iterations born of analogy-based adaptations. I.e., Newton describes force quantitatively by F=MA in 1665; a century later Legendre constructs an analogous description for gravitational potential, Poisson borrows Legendre in 1811 to express his notion of electric potential, and so on (it's pointless for me to try to explain it without the ability to adequately represent the formulae in question and their morphology) leading up to Weyl's adaptation of Poisson brackets to express Heisenberg's noncommuting quantities - as described in his first paper on matrix theory - in the sense that this important move was made possible by Weyl's perception and development of an actionable analogy (as it was in the earlier cases). I got a little jammed up on the correlation of isomorphism and analogy, but attribute that to my misspent youth as an English major. It's entirely possible that my notion of analogy is a flatlandish atavism, but I gamely tried to keep up with Hofstadter anyway. The net result was, for me, ironic - because the analogy about analogy given at the beginning certainly corresponded to my own experience. Mmeh.

My lecture notes have explody-head pictures in the margins and lots of slashy question marks. Anyone who msgs me and asks for elaboration will be summarily treated to a raspberry. Because frankly, I got plenty lost somehow (hahaha) during the description of how Minkowski's interpretation of Einstein's relativistic coordinate transformations as rotations in a 4-D space led Weyl to hypothesize asymmetry between the four vectors and then develop gauge transformation to describe same, although I got that Einstein really didn't like Weyl's guage transformations and put the smack-down on him in a published paper after which Weyl really didn't say much ever again. Then there was a whole bunch of math, and some more physics jokes, and then we all went out for coffee, the end. Also, according to one of my professors Hofstadter's history and philosophy of physics was wack, which is forgivable considering that's not really his gig, but I should mention that this reportage does not constitute endorsement, understanding, or ability to defend the lecturer's conclusions.

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