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Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern (original 1985; edition 1996)

by Douglas Hofstadter

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Title:Metamagical Themas: Questing For The Essence Of Mind And Pattern
Authors:Douglas Hofstadter
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Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern by Douglas Hofstadter (1985)

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
While this is not exactly a review, I thought I'd leave a few comments here. I recently got this on Kindle, so I've been slowly revisiting a few choice bits here and there. For what it's worth, I was dumbfounded to see this was available on Kindle. Given that his most popular and best selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach is still not available for Kindle, I took it for granted that none of his books were available on Kindle (except, perhaps, I am a Strange Loop, published, if I recall correctly, after Kindles were already on the market).

Anyway, after downloading this, I started flipping through the chapters wondering which I should reread and was a bit stunned to be reminded that there are 3 chapters on Lisp. What's interesting about this is imagining this text appearing in Scientific American. While I have fond memories of what SciAm used to be, it's hard to gel that with the image of SciAm that I currently have in my head. The days of meaty, tangible material in technical magazine that you could actually sit down and do something with (c.f., Byte), seem so long ago (Make and the recently deceased, in print format, Linux Journal, not withstanding) that it's hard to picture actual articles on Lisp appearing in what was, in fact, a fairly popular science magazine. This is not to say that SciAm is not still of good quality, but it's certainly a very different beast than what it used to be. These days, I would basically call it a nicer version of Discover (again, not to denigrate that magazine, but it certainly lacks depth in most cases).

To be continued...

( )
1 vote tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
This book has probably influenced my brain chemistry in all sorts of subtle and stealthy ways. I think I've read it at least four times. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
Not quite as good as Godel, Escher and Bach, but still great ( )
  hcubic | Jan 30, 2013 |
In this entertaining and provocative book named after his recent column in Scientific American, Douglas Hofstadter presents a dazzling array of observations and ideas about how we perceive and think. With profound insight and an irrepressible sense of fun, he explores such subjects as artificial intelligence; sexist language in Chinese; experiments with the Prisoner's Dilemma; genetic evolution and its software counterpart; beautiful mathematical shapes known as "strange attractors"; nuclear war; and even National Enquirer hoaxes. Balanced between art and science, magic and logic, humor and rigor, Metamagical Themas (a rearrangement of the letters in "mathematical games") probes the deepest paradoxes and mysteries of the human mind and heart.
2 vote rajendran | Jan 20, 2008 |
Even though I adored Godel, Escher, Bach (GEB), I had been putting off reading Metamagical Themas because of its immensity (800 small-type pages) for almost a year... but as soon as I read the first essay I realized my mistake and happily finished the book in a week and a half.

This is a collection of Hofstadter's Scientific American articles, published between 1981 and 1983, with an additional seven essays. Each piece comes complete with an newly-published postscript of considerable length.

Topics covered by these essays include: self-reference, self-replication (memes), games (Nomic, number games), skepticism, understanding large numbers, gender in language, chopin, parquet deformations, nonsense, the nature of creativity, typefaces, rubik's cube, strange attractors and turbulence, recursiveness in programming (LISP), Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, molecular biology, the Prisoner's Dilemma, nuclear war, Turing, and artificial intelligence as it pertains to Turing Tests, creativity, analogy, free will, perception, and pattern recognition. Throughout it all, puzzles, paradox, strange ideas, deep thoughts, and weird concepts are shared.

Hofstadter consistently presents complex ideas in a manner that any intelligent layperson can grasp. Of the 33 chapters, only one deeply mathematical section passed into the zone of inscrutability for me. Most of the time, a careful reading of his clear and precise prose leads you through these complex thoughts gracefully.

Each section opens with a simplified example of what Hofstadter calls “Whirly Art” - a personal creative diversion he has practiced for years in secret. It consists of drawing an image on ticker-tape to reflect an imaginary fugue, or canon. This endlessly fascinating man's closet is filled with these things and they need to somehow be published. I would be first in line for the inevitable 5 foot long coffee table book.

Obviously, I have barely touched on the magic that appears between these covers. Be assured that if you enjoyed GEB, you will enjoy this – but if you have not read that masterpiece, you should do so before reading this book.

Keylawk's review below, "Hofstadter cheerfully extrapolates a gloomy prognosis for human kind because of irrational greed", seems to me to be patently unfair for several reasons:

1. Hofstadter restricts discussion of nuclear war to approx 30 pages of the 800 page book

2. The discussion involves Prisoner's Dilemma, statistics, and cognitive science topics addressed throughout the book

3. Hofstadter is overly optimistic throughout the book, and the only time he is "gloomy" is when real world experiments with the Prisoner's Dilemma contradict his optimistic outlook

4. Any residual gloominess can be excused by the fact that this was written in the early to mid eighties, the height of the Cold War, when nuclear war was a fear that was shared by most rational people. ( )
3 vote princemuchao | Jul 7, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Douglas Hofstadterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maters,TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The drawing on the cover is a somewhat atypical example of a non-representational form of art I devised and developed over a period of years quite a long time ago and which my sister Laura once rather light-heartedly dubbed "Whirly Art".
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465045669, Paperback)

Hofstadter’s collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

These brilliant essays (mostly from Scientific American, but several previously unpublished) look at chaos and Chopin, grammar and genetics, racism and Rubik's cube, and countless other subjects. From all this, Hofstadter makes a rich tapestry and throws startling new light on his central theme: how people - and machines - think and feel.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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