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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 1st Edition

33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0394745022
ISBN-10: 0394745027
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Editorial Reviews

Everything is a symbol, and symbols can combine to form patterns. Patterns are beautiful and revelatory of larger truths. These are the central ideas in the thinking of Kurt Gödel, M.C. Escher, and Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the three greatest minds of the past quarter-millennium. In a stunning work of humanism, Hofstadter ties together the work of mathematician Gödel, graphic artist Escher, and composer Bach. Gödel, Escher, Bach, a Pulitzer prize-winning treatise on genius, explores the workings of brilliant people's brains with the help of historical examples and brainteaser puzzles. Not for the dim or the lazy, this book shows you, more clearly than most any other, what it means to see symbols and patterns where others see only the universe. Touching on math, computers, literature, music, and artificial intelligence, Gödel, Escher, Bach is a challenging and potentially life-changing piece of writing.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 777 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (September 12, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394745027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394745022
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 8 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Gerald J. Nora on August 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
Douglas Hofstadter uses the art of M.C. Escher, the music of J.S. Bach, and Kurt Goedel's mathematics as the centerpieces for a magnificent inquiry into the nature of the mind. Along the way you will encounter Bertrand Russel, Carroll Lewis, particle physics, molecular biology, Magritte's paintings, and Zen koans. These are all used to probe recursion and the mystery of how we form thoughts. But the list of topics alone is not what makes this book great, it's the playful, joyful sense that characterize's Hofstadter's treatment of this. This sense of wonder is critical, as without it this highly challenging book would be very frustrating. The book's style itself is based on Bach's canons, and the chapters are interspersed with dialogues between the Tortois and the Hare, in the style of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The result is an artistic as well as scientific or philisophical masterpiece. I am currently a triple-major in molecular biology, physics, and philosophy, and much of my curriculum has been influenced by the beauty of Hofstadter's book. This will go down as one of the 20th Century's bests books.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Mark Sando on May 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Hofstadter has done a superb job of presenting an intriguing melange of disciplines that are seemingly unrelated. The author manages to quickly show that Godel's theorems, Escher's art, and Bach's music have much more in common than most would think. In a lengthy but VERY worthwhile read, he manages to get the reader to analyze many of the assumptions commonly held about the nature of thought and why it is so devilishly difficult to formalize the thought process with rigid rules, among other topics.
That he manages to entertain as well (he writes with a wry sense of humor on what are typically handled as rather dry subjects) and manages to reach the layman is what sets this volume apart as the masterpiece that it is. Although it is accessable to the layman, the book does become progressively more challenging and I strongly recommend completing his suggested exercises before moving on, otherwise you will likely find yourself unable to grasp the point he's trying to make several pages later.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Atlanta Journal Constitution describes Gödel, Escher, Bach (GEB) as "A huge, sprawling literary marvel, a philosophy book, disguised as a book of entertainment, disguised as a book of instruction." That is the best one line description of this book that anybody could give. GEB is without a doubt the most interesting mathematical book that I have ever read, quickly making its place into the Top 5 books I have ever read.
The introduction of the book, "Introduction: A Musico-Logical Offering" begins by quickly discussing the three main participants in the book, Gödel, Escher, and Bach. Gödel was a mathematician who founded Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, which states, as Hofstadter paraphrases, "All consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions." This is what Hofstadter calls the pearl. This is one example of one of the recurring themes in GEB, strange loops.
Strange loops occur when you move up or down in a hierarchical manner and eventually end up exactly where you started. The first example of a strange loop comes from Bach's Endlessly rising canon. This is a musical piece that continues to rise in key, modulating through the entire chromatic scale, ending at the same key with which he began. To emphasize the loop Bach wrote in the margin, "As the modulation rises, so may the King's Glory."
The third loop in the introduction comes from an artist, Escher. Escher is famous for his paintings of paradoxes. A good example is his Waterfall; Hofstadter gives many examples of Escher's work, which truly exemplify the strange loop phenomenon.
One feature of GEB, which I was particularly fond of, is the `little stories' in between each chapter of the book.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Hofstadter has pulled off a miracle with this book. If you like ideas and like reading about how ideas fit together, then get this book. Definately not a one-sitting book (at least for me) but very interesting and worthwhile. It's like listending to your favorite comedian lecture as a highschool teacher on a subject you can't help but be amazed at. He melds art, music, math, computer science, Zen, and more into a beautiful tapestry of fascination. Highly highly recommended.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Cloudy Skies on March 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
Telling people not to read "Gödel, Escher, Bach" is like telling people not to read Harry Potter. This book has become so much of a cultural touchstone that everyone should read it, just to see what the hype is about. In fact, Hofstadter has written a very careful exploration of the nature of consciousness. Now, I don't find the questions that he raises, of self-reference or the consistency of systems of axioms, very interesting, but reading "Gödel, Escher, Bach" reminded me of all the problems that *do* interest me. In that respect, the book's "negative space" had a very deep influence on me, and, since one of the book's themes is negative and positive space, I like to think that my reading is in a spirit that Hofstadter would approve of.

If you're interested in theories of consciousness or Gödel's theorem, this book may appeal to you, especially if you appreciate a playful treatment of these topics and don't mind the author's long-windedness. Now, I was not enthusiastic to begin with, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the flaws in the book's argument. But I will recommend 3 other books on related topics which complement "Gödel, Escher, Bach" nicely, even for more sympathetic readers.

A more accessible, better contextualized, and more enlightening treatment of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem can be found in "Logicomix" by Doxiadis and Papadimitriou.

Descartes' theory of consciousness assumes, like Hofstadter's, that consciousness is an individual (rather than a social) phenomenon. Descartes' approach is axiomatic without taking into account problems of self-reference. (You might say that Hofstadter tries to update Descartes for the post-Gödel era, which forces Hofstadter to place less faith in deductive reasoning.
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