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Douglas Hofstadter

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Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945 in New York, New York) is an American academic. He is probably best known for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (abbreviated as GEB) which was published in 1979, and won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. This book inspired thousands of students to begin careers in computing and artificial intelligence.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


The son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter, he graduated in Mathematics at Stanford University and received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Oregon in 1975. As of 2005, he is a College Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science; Adjunct Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and Psychology at Indiana University Bloomington, where he directs the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition.

Hofstadter is multilingual; he spent a few years in Sweden in the mid-1960s where he learned Swedish. In addition to English, his mother tongue, he speaks Italian, French, and German; his knowledge of these languages can be partly attributed to having spent a year of his youth in Geneva. He also speaks some Russian: he translated parts of GEB into Russian, and published a verse translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. In Le Ton beau de Marot (written in memory of his late wife Carol) he describes himself as a "pilingual" (conversant in 3.14159... languages) and an "oligoglot" (speaker of few languages).

His interests include music, themes of the mind, creativity, consciousness, self-reference, translation, and mathematical games.


At Indiana University Bloomington he co-authored with Melanie Mitchell and others, a cognitive model of "high-level perception", Copycat, and several other models of analogy making and cognition. The Copycat project has since grown into 'Metacat' and 'Magnificat' and has been worked on by Hofstadter and several assistants. A 2002 overview can be found here (PDF). Other new models based on the Copycat 'FARGitecture' include SeekWell and SeqSee, which model cognition and analogy in musical and number sequence domains respectively.

Hofstadter has not published much in conventional academic journals (except during his early physics career, see below), preferring the freedom of expression of large books of collected ideas. As such, his great influence on computer science is somewhat subversive and underground - his work has inspired countless research projects, but is not always formally referenced.

When Martin Gardner retired from writing his Mathematical Games column for Scientific American magazine, Hofstadter succeeded him with a column entitled Metamagical Themas (an anagram of "Mathematical Games"). Hofstadter also invented the concept of Reviews of This Book, a book containing nothing but cross-referenced reviews of itself (the idea was introduced in Metamagical Themas):

[it] is just a fantasy of mine. I would love to see a book consisting of nothing but a collection of reviews of it that appeared (after its publication, of course) in major newspapers and magazines. It sounds paradoxical, but it could be arranged with a lot of planning and hard work. First, a group of major journals would all have to agree to run reviews of the book by the various contributors to the book. Then all the reviewers would begin writing. But they would have to mail off their various drafts to all the other reviewers very regularly so that all the reviews could evolve together, and thus eventually reach a stable state of a kind known in physics as a "Hartree-Fock self-consistent solution". Then the book could be published, after which its reviews would come out in their respective journals, as per arrangement.

— Douglas Hofstadter, 'Metamagical Themas'

Apparently, Idries Shah has attempted this, or at least something similar, with The Book of the Book (ISBN 090086012X).

Published works


The books published by Hofstadter are (the ISBNs refer to paperback editions, where available):


Hofstadter wrote, among many others, the following papers:

  • "Energy levels and wave functions of Bloch electrons in rational and irrational magnetic fields", Phys. Rev. B 14 (1976) 2239.
    • Written while he was at the University of Oregon, this paper was enormously influential in directing further research. Hofstadter predicted that the allowed energy level values of an electron in this crystal lattice, as a function of a magnetic field applied to the system, formed a fractal set. That is, the distribution of energy levels for large scale changes in the applied magnetic field repeat patterns seen in the small scale structure. This fractal structure is generally known as "Hofstadter's butterfly", and has recently been confirmed in transport measurements in two-dimensional electron systems with a superimposed nano-fabricated lattice.
  • "A non-deterministic approach to analogy, involving the Ising model of ferromagnetism", in E. Caianiello (ed.), The Physics of Cognitive Processes. Teaneck, NJ: World Scientific, 1987.
  • "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 4,2 (1995) pp. 109-121.
  • "Analogy as the Core of Cognition", in Dedre Gentner, Keith J. Holyoak, and Boicho Kokinov (eds.) The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press/Bradford Book, 2001, pp. 499-538.
  • Hofstadter also wrote over 50 papers that were published through the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, See [1].

Involvement in other books

Hofstadter wrote forewords for or edited the following books:


  • The film Victim of the Brain was based on The Mind's I, a book which was co-edited with him by philosopher Daniel Dennett.
  • He published an audio CD with piano music composed by himself and performed by Jane Jackson, Brian Jones, Dafna Barenboim, Gitanjali Mathur and himself.


Some of Hofstadter's former students have also become famous:

Hofstadter's Law

Main article: Hofstadter's Law

In Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter states the oft-cited Hofstadter's Law, a self-referencing adage, which reads as follows:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.


See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

de:Douglas R. Hofstadter

es:Douglas Hofstadter fr:Douglas Hofstadterhe:דגלאס הופשטטר nl:Douglas Hofstadter no:Douglas Hofstadterru:Хофштадтер, Дуглас sv:Douglas Hofstadterzh:道格拉斯·理查·郝夫斯臺特

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