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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
This book is about the meaning of meaning, the interpretation of interpreting, thinking about thinking, and being about being. Due to the nature of this book, I think it safe to say that there will be as many takes on it as there are people who read it. I tip my hat to Hofstadter, whose masterpiece is truly in a category of its own, reaching out into the world unlike any book I've encountered (yet).
Do not let the size or density of this book prevent you from going through it! The return, though hard to define, is much greater than the investment it demands.
The general effect is that, upon reading it, you get the feeling that it was about... something? Something to do with an artist, a composer and a mathematician, all linked together in a strange loopy kind of way. It can be confusing as hell, but slowly the ideas presented in the book seep in, and you get a - slightly - better understanding of the themes in the book.
I say "a misunderstood classic" because most people who attempt to describe the book (myself included) can only do so in the broadest terms; the actual book is far more complex, much like a fractal can appear simple but is really subtly intricate. Furthermore, the author laments in his follow-up "I Am A Strange Loop" that most of the readers only saw the outer layer of "a book with a bunch of weird themes and stories" and totally missed his underlying message; that the whole of any given system, such as mathematics (or human self-identity), can behave totally logically and consistently within itself but also allow bizarre concepts that both follow the rules and break them at the same time.
In short, no self-contained system is foolproof, or paradox-proof.
Are you with me so far?
Read the book, and judge for yourself!
This is one of those books you read, and then remember forever.
Using Godel the mathematician, Escher the patternist painter/artist and Bach the composer, Douglas Hofstadter, in this timeless book unites mathematics, art and music through thought illustrations (then problem/questions) and informative Platonic-inspired dialogues (including the composite character Aunt Hillary, the massed intelligence of an ant colony.
It's a must read. Supposedly, it was written for high school age nerdish boys, but I greatly enjoyed it in my mid-20's and fondly remember it in my late 60's.
A truly timely book, with my highest recommendation.