Douglas Hofstadter

From Academic Kids

Douglas Richard Hofstadter (born February 15, 1945) is an American academic. He is probably best known for his book Gdel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, published in 1979, which won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. This book, also known as GEB, has inspired thousands of students to begin their careers in computing and artificial intelligence.

The son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter, he 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 at Bloomington, where he directs the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition (

Hofstadter is multilingual, having spent one year of his youth in Geneva. He spent a few years in Sweden in the mid 1960s and understands Swedish. He speaks Italian, English, French, German and some Russian (he translated parts of GEB into Russian). 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 themes of the mind, creativity, consciousness, self-reference, translation, and mathematical games. At Indiana University at 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.

He appears not to publish much in conventional academic journals (except in 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 invented the concept of Reviews of This Book, a book containing nothing but cross-referenced reviews of itself. He introduces the idea 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."

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

Activity since 'Marot'

The Copycat project has grown into 'Metacat' and has been worked on by Hofstadter and several assistants. A 2002 overview can be found here:

Published works

The books published by Hofstadter are:

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 N. Kokinov (eds.) The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press/Bradford Book, 2001, pp. 499-538.

In addition Hofstadter wrote over 50 papers that were published through the Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, See [1] (

Hofstadter wrote forewords for or edited the following books:

The film Virus of the Brain was based on Hofstadter's work, and was co-directed by philosopher Daniel Dennett, who co-authored The Mind's I with him.

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:

See also

External links


es:Douglas Hofstadter nl:Douglas R. Hofstadter pl:Douglas Hofstadter zh:道格拉斯·理查·郝夫斯臺特


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