The Mind’s I

The Mind’s I by Douglas Hofsdater and Daniel Dennett is a collection of short stories and excerpts focusing on meaning of self, consciousness and artificial intelligence. Each chapter consists of a story or excerpt followed by reflections of Hofsdater and Dennett.

The book is divided in parts and each part has a specific theme that is common to all stories in it. Parts are named as A Sense of Self, Soul Searching, From Hardware to Software, Mind as Program, Created Selves and Free Will, The Inner Eye.

I quite liked how the book invited me to ponder over themes presented in it. Many texts could be interpreted as thought experiments and often I found myself staring outside of the window and thinking after finishing a chapter. One common question was “what happens if you replace something natural with a perfect artificial imitation?” If the resulting system is indistinguishable from the original, can you repeat the process until everything natural has been replaced with artificial? In a sense, it’s similar question as Ship of Theseus.

The book was mostly easy to read (and hard to digest, but I liked it that way). However, there was one chapter “Minds, Brains, and Programs” by John R. Searle that I found hard to read. I really had to resist the urge to skip the chapter completely as I was working through it. Other stories were much more enjoyable and I was delighted that Trurl and Klapaucius from The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem were featured as were the Tortoise and Achilleus by Hofsdater (A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain was one of my favourite chapters of the book).

At the end of the book there’s a short recap of the themes of the book and list of suggested reading. I expect some of the books mentioned there to end up in my reading list in the future.

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