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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid…

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (original 1979; edition 1999)

by Douglas R. Hofstadter

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9,78481296 (4.35)2 / 186
Title:Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Authors:Douglas R. Hofstadter
Info:Basic Books (1999), Edition: 20 Anv, Paperback, 832 pages
Collections:Your library, Currently reading

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Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (1979)

Recently added byWill-90, jamesblaha, rochelle12, mind-gloaming, bloodrizer, private library, avere, thomax, brikis98, fxmarc
Legacy LibrariesIris Murdoch
  1. 101
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (Zaklog)
    Zaklog: Cryptonomicon strikes me as the kind of book that Hofstadter would write if he wrote fiction. Both books are complex, with discursive passages on mathematics and a positively weird sense of humor. If you enjoyed (rather than endured) the explanatory sections on cryptography and the charts of Waterhouse's love life (among other, rarely charted things) you should really like this book.… (more)
  2. 60
    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis (tomduck, EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: An obvious suggestion (surprised it's not here already). Both are creative and fictional riffing off of formal logic and incompleteness.
  3. 30
    Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel by Rebecca Goldstein (michaeljohn)
  4. 20
    A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper by John Allen Paulos (heidialice)
    heidialice: GEB is a thousand times as intense, but if you enjoyed the parts about self-referentiality it's worth a skim. Conversely, if GEB is just too much, Paulos' concise introduction to the theme is very accessible.
  5. 20
    Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern by Douglas Hofstadter (JFDR)
  6. 00
    Things to make and do in the fourth dimension by Matt Parker (Lorem)
    Lorem: Things in 4D I consider a more accessible version of GEB in its breadth and how it does get to complex topics. If you enjoyed the more complicated parts of 4D, definitely look at GEB and if GEB was a little too much, 4D might remind you why math(s) are never boring… (more)
  7. 00
    Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers (hippietrail)
  8. 00
    Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: A few similar themes (Bach, human cognition) come up in similar ways.
  9. 33
    A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram (Anonymous user)
  10. 03
    The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (P_S_Patrick)
    P_S_Patrick: Arturo Perez-Reverte has recieved inspiration for his excellent mystery thriller from Hofstadter's Godel Escher Bach, even without some of the chapter introduciton quotes, that much is clear. He uses the bewildering Escherian theme of worlds within a world, Godels incompleteness theorum is alluded to in the monologue of one character, and Bach is discussed in relevance to the mystery too, along with a few miscellaneous paradoxes which are also slipped in, in a similar spirit in which they permeate the more complex non-fictional work. Non-fiction readers who have enjoyed GEB should be amused by the Flanders panel, and I think they should enjoy it even if they do not often dip into fiction. It would be harder to recommend GEB to fans of the Flanders Panel, due to its sheer length, but if you were intrigued by the themes in the story then it should at least be worth finding GEB in a library and dipping into it.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 77 (next | show all)
This is a book of brilliant insights separated by hundreds of pages of tangents.

It touches on a ridiculous number of topics: number theory, music theory, fugues, art, physics, linguistics, literature, cognition, calculus, logic, programming, recursion, molecular biology, Zen, and much more. Many of these are used as the basis for understanding cognition, knowledge and AI; some make for superb analogies to make it easier to understand these complicated topics; unfortunately, Hofstadter sometimes goes into way too much detail on these tangential topics, and occasionally, it just feels like he's showing off his (undeniably impressive) intellect.

It's a shame, because all of this extra material makes the book much harder to get through and actively distracts from some of the gems hidden within. If a good editor had chopped out ~300 pages, the book would've been perfect. As it is, it's only worth reading if you're willing to put in a ton of effort to get to some of the delightful parts.

My absolute favorite is the analogy that compares the human mind to a colony of ants; this is the absolute closest I've come to a vague understanding of how an intelligence could emerge from a bunch of simple, unintelligent parts. If you are skimming the book, make sure not to skip that chapter :)

Some great quotes:

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

Tesler's Theorem: "AI is whatever hasn't been done yet".

“How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some "gullibility center" in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.”

“The paraphrase of Gödel's Theorem says that for any record player, there are records which it cannot play because they will cause its indirect self-destruction.”

"Relying on words to lead you to the truth is like relying on an incomplete formal system to lead you to the truth. A formal system will give you some truths, but as we shall soon see, a formal system, no matter how powerful—cannot lead to all truths."

"What is sacrificed is, of course, strict accuracy; what is gained is, I hope, a little insight."

"The naive assumption that all knowledge should be coded into passive pieces of data is actually contradicted by the most fundamental fact about computer design: that is, how to add, subtract, multiply, and so on is not coded into pieces of data stored in memory; it is, in fact, represented nowhere in memory, but rather in the wiring patterns of the hardware."

"When a human forgets, it most likely means that a high-level pointer has been lost - not that any information has been deleted or destroyed."

"It is amazing how deep this problem with the word 'the' is. It is probably safe to say that writing a program which can fully understand the top five words of English - 'the', 'of', 'and', 'a', and 'to' - would be equivalent to solving the entire problem of AI, and hence tantamount to knowing what intelligence and consciousness are."

"Perhaps the greatest contradiction in our lives, the hardest to handle, is the knowledge 'There was a time when I was not alive, and there will come a time when I am not alive.'"

"By the way, in passing, it is interesting to note that all results essentially dependent on the fusion of subject and object have been limitative results. In addition ot the limitative Theorems, there is Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which says that measuring one quantity renders impossible the simultaneous measurement of a related quantity. I don't know why all those results are limitative."

( )
1 vote brikis98 | Nov 11, 2015 |
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Where do I start? The book's theme is Gödel's proof that any system of logic can be shown to be incomplete--one can't get to all truths using it. This is was a revolutionary thought to mathematics and still is. But Douglas Hofstadter uses this as a unifying theme for his theory of how human intelligence and consciousness emerges from the underlying structure of neurons. He uses Bach's fugues and Escher's self referential paintings to illustrate the contradictions introduced in mathematics and logical hierarchies. He proposes such self references, such "strange loops" give rise to our intelligence.

Have I mentioned the book is entertaining? Hofstadter fills the book with amusing stories and dialogues depicting his points as well as puns and jokes. Just imagine Lewis Carroll mixed with a book on computer programming. He also devotes several chapters inventing special purpose programming languages and theorems for illustrative purposes.

The first time I read it, about 1981, I was was mesmerized by his intellectual tour de force. The second time, 2015, I saw clearly his bias in favor of a mechanistic understanding of human intelligence. If your interested in human and computer intelligence, programming, and philosophy, this should be your cup of tea. ( )
1 vote jjvors | Aug 2, 2015 |
This was an eye-opening book in a lot of ways: it was just plain interesting in that it expanded my horizon on what "I" was, it explained the Godel theorem in a way that I've been trying to get to in a long time, and it made me appreciate art and music in a more scientific way which I enjoyed. But, what it did more than anything else was draw a stark contrast between it and all the other books I've read. I realized that, even with all the books I've previously read, they were all pretty synonymous to T.V. shows: there was the entertainment and the documentaries but it was more to show you cool things/keep you occupied than really teach you more than facts. This book did that. What more could I ask for. ( )
  Lorem | Jan 11, 2015 |
Here's where I first learned about formal linguistic systems, which forever changed the course of my intellectual pursuits. Worth read and rereading. ( )
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
This is probably one of the most consistently difficult and enlightening books I've ever come across. Completely wonderful - it took me three tries over five years to finish it the first time, and every time I feel like I learned more than I'd previously known was possible. I've read it several times since, and each time I've found new ideas I hadn't worked through before.

It's possible that this book is actually infinitely deep: that it will continue to unfold new ideas to you as long as you continue to read it. I don't know if that's true - but I'm going to keep testing it. ( )
3 vote kiparsky | Feb 17, 2014 |
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Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, came to power in 1740.
In its absolute barest form, Gödel's discovery involves the translation of an ancient paradox in philosophy into mathematical terms. That paradox is the so-called Epimenides paradox, or liar paradox. Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: “All Cretans are liars.”
Whereas the Epimenides statement creates a paradox since it is neither true nor false, the Gödel sentence G is unprovable (inside P.M.) but true. The grand conclusion? That the system of Principia Mathematica is “incomplete”—there are true statements of number theory which its methods of proof are too weak to demonstrate.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0465026567, Paperback)

Twenty years after it topped the bestseller charts, Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is still something of a marvel. Besides being a profound and entertaining meditation on human thought and creativity, this book looks at the surprising points of contact between the music of Bach, the artwork of Escher, and the mathematics of Gödel. It also looks at the prospects for computers and artificial intelligence (AI) for mimicking human thought. For the general reader and the computer techie alike, this book still sets a standard for thinking about the future of computers and their relation to the way we think.

Hofstadter's great achievement in Gödel, Escher, Bach was making abstruse mathematical topics (like undecidability, recursion, and 'strange loops') accessible and remarkably entertaining. Borrowing a page from Lewis Carroll (who might well have been a fan of this book), each chapter presents dialogue between the Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other characters who dramatize concepts discussed later in more detail. Allusions to Bach's music (centering on his Musical Offering) and Escher's continually paradoxical artwork are plentiful here. This more approachable material lets the author delve into serious number theory (concentrating on the ramifications of Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness) while stopping along the way to ponder the work of a host of other mathematicians, artists, and thinkers.

The world has moved on since 1979, of course. The book predicted that computers probably won't ever beat humans in chess, though Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. And the vinyl record, which serves for some of Hofstadter's best analogies, is now left to collectors. Sections on recursion and the graphs of certain functions from physics look tantalizing, like the fractals of recent chaos theory. And AI has moved on, of course, with mixed results. Yet Gödel, Escher, Bach remains a remarkable achievement. Its intellectual range and ability to let us visualize difficult mathematical concepts help make it one of this century's best for anyone who's interested in computers and their potential for real intelligence. --Richard Dragan

Topics Covered: J.S. Bach, M.C. Escher, Kurt Gödel: biographical information and work, artificial intelligence (AI) history and theories, strange loops and tangled hierarchies, formal and informal systems, number theory, form in mathematics, figure and ground, consistency, completeness, Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, recursive structures, theories of meaning, propositional calculus, typographical number theory, Zen and mathematics, levels of description and computers; theory of mind: neurons, minds and thoughts; undecidability; self-reference and self-representation; Turing test for machine intelligence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:11 -0400)

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A scientist and mathematician explores the mystery and complexity of human thought processes from an interdisciplinary point of view.

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