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Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Paperback – February 5, 1999
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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.
From the Inside Flap
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this book applies Godel's seminal contribution to modern mathematics to the study of the human mind and the development of artificial intelligence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The content is well within reach of everybody except for, perhaps, some subtle metaphors or proofs. The style is clear and engaging. It makes you ponder on existence, self reference, meaning, etc.in ways you surely didn't consider before.
My only complaint is with consistency. The author is obviously a highly intelligent individual and shows prowess in teaching and explaining esoteric issues. The problem I have is that this is not always the case. I am absolutely certain if the author was shown some areas of the book and asked if that is the absolute best way he could explain something he would have to answer no. There is just no way he can spend 2-3 pages explaining something with such finesse and clarity that a third grader could understand it and a half a page on something else with none of the privileges normally granted to a largely lay audience with respect to subjects in the book(I'm assuming most of the people who read this book are not math or physics PhDs).
He went from expounding a theme or point beautifully to dropping a rather complex and esoteric issue with basically no explanation. I'm not sure if this is only my sentiment but there are definitely major issues I felt needed to be talked about a little more. As he sort of gave us a bottom-up development of the math and notions he was putting forth, slacking in a few areas is really detrimental to appreciation of the book.
Even with that said, though, the book is amazing. If you don't understand 95% of what is going on it might still even be worth reading.
The style of the book also makes it interesting, specially with the Caroll-style of dialogues, and the meta-references to it's own structure.