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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Paperback – Feb 5 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 196 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 824 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 20 Anv edition (Feb. 5 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465026567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465026562
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 196 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #614 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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.

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"Even without the contemporary relevance lent the book by the specter of global warming. The Little Ice Age would be an engrossing historical volume."

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Paperback
I've been reading reviews of GEB for years, and the most fascinating thing about them, aprt from the near-uniform enthusiasm of the readers, is that almost none of the enthusiatic readers have any idea of what the book is actually about! The typical reader seesm to think of GEB as a jouyous romp through any number of fascinating bits of logic, math and science without any idea as to what Hofstader's actually doing.
Yes, it's about Goedel, and recursion, and "strange loops", and linguistics Bach and ants and all that- but only trivially. The bulk of the book is taken up with what amounts to a very entertaining tutorial that sets the reader up for the real thesis of the book. What Hofstadter has attempted in GEB is nothing less than a concise, bottom-up theory of mind. You can read it as a theory of AI, or a theory of human intelligence, but either way he's telling you how to construct an intelligent entity.
True, he doesn't really have a theory of *how* a self-aware being should arise from his metaphorical anthill, but then, neither does anyone else. But he does have a very good story as to how intelligence does arise in such conditions.
If you've read this book before without understanding what his aim was, read it again, with that notion in mind. And if you haven't read it, and you're the sort of person who enjoys mathematic and scientific amusements of any sort, well, read it and discover how much fun a speculative theory can be.
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By A Customer on May 25 2002
Format: Paperback
I have just purchased my third copy of this book. I bought the first copy when it first came out decades ago.
Why, you ask 3 copies -- because I lent my two previous copies out to people who lent them out to people who ...
They never came back.
The book is that good that I'm willing to buy another copy.
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Format: Paperback
No book could live up to this hype and praise, but still very worthwhile. It is best when describing difficult concepts of logic and computer science, weak when dragging in Zen and a tedious detour into molecular biology.
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I thank my critic for his comments, but I am afraid I shall have to stand by my points. Here is Hofstadter himself on p. 709 of this very book: "My belief is that the explanations of 'emergent' phenomena in our brains -- . . . [including] finally consciousness and free will -- are based on a kind of Strange Loop, an interaction between levels in which the top level reaches back down towards the bottom level and influences it, while at the same time being determined by the bottom level. In other words, a self-reinforcing 'resonance' between different levels . . . . The self comes into being at the moment it has the power to reflect itself. This should not be taken as an antireductionist position. It just implies that a reductionistic explanation of a mind, _in order to be comprehensible_ [Hofstadter's emphasis], must bring in 'soft' concepts such as levels, mappings, and meanings. In principle, I have no doubt that a totally reductionistic but incomprehensible explanation of the brain exists; the problem is how to translate it into a language we ourselves can fathom." In short, Hofstadter has indeed done exactly what I said he did: speculated that consciousness and "selfhood" arise when a system acquires sufficient power to represent itself. And not because anything causal happens at that "higher" level; on the contrary, the "higher" level serves only the purpose of making a completely reductionistic explanation "comprehensible" _to us_. Hofstadter argues, then, that consciousness comes into being when a system becomes sufficiently complex to represent itself.Read more ›
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