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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read for all aspiring thinkers
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...
Published on July 9 2004 by Amazon Customer

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3.0 out of 5 stars Standing by my remarks
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...
Published on Nov. 9 1999 by John S. Ryan


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read for all aspiring thinkers, July 9 2004
By 
Amazon Customer (Lebanon, IN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (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. These stories which star Achilles and the Tortoise of Lewis Carroll fame, are illustrations of the points which Hofstadter brings out in the chapters. They also serve as a guidepost to the careful reader who finds clues buried inside of these sections. Hofstadter introduces these stories by reproducing "What the Tortoise Said to Achilles" by Lewis Carroll. This illustrates Zeno's paradox, another example of a strange loop.
In GEB Hofstadter comments on the trouble author's have with people skipping to the end of the book and reading the ending. He suggests that a solution to this would be to print a series of blank pages at the end, but then the reader would turn through the blank pages and find the last one with text on it. So he says to print gibberish throughout those blank pages, again a human would be smart enough to find the end of the gibberish and read there. He finally suggests that authors need to write many pages more of text than the book requires just fooling the reader into having to read the entire book. Perhaps Hofstadter employs this technique.
GEB is in itself a strange loop. It talks about the interconnectedness of things always getting more and more in depth about the topic at hand. However you are frequently brought back to the same point, similarly to Escher's paintings, Bach's rising canon, and Gödel's Incompleteness theorem. A book, which is filled with puzzles and riddles for the reader to find and answer, GEB, is a magnificently captivating book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and *still* misunderstood!, June 30 2003
By 
Michael J. Edelman (Huntington Woods, MI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars overrated, but still very good, Feb. 28 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My third copy, May 25 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars literary style demonstrates book's themes, Nov. 28 2001
By 
brianvotaw (astoria, ny United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
a cursory glance at a random passage of godel, escher, and bach, will likely appear to be jabberwocky, with its unapologetic, evolving vocabulary and sparkles of inside jokes based on such, this is ironic, because the right arm of this book is recursion, which implies that the whole is implied by each part, far from while reading, one most certainly must read godel, escher, and bach in its sequential order, too funny
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5.0 out of 5 stars A readable Mobius strip, June 24 2004
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This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
If you have never read this book, then I'd like to say that it has a lot of the most greatest knowledge out there. It doesn't just deal with math, art, and music, but also with zen, philosophy, self-ref, self-rep, holism, reductionism, and everything else that is considered pure knowledge of cognitive science and general intelligence. I don't know why some of the people rating it have no idea of what's it about; it's not about Godel's theorem like many think it is, it's about consciousness and how the power of the mind and the "I" comes out of the inanimate matter that creates us. That's not it, the second part of the book talks about computer programming and AI. Can a computer program ever have a sense of self or compose meaningful music? Hofstadter's response to the second one was: "Only if that AI could go through the maze of life on it's own, fighting it's way through it and feeling the cold of a chilly night, the longing for a cherished hand, the inaccessibility of a distant town, the regenaration after a human death, the...and only then can it be considered to do so."
This book really has more than that. I can't say all of the things mentioned in it, not in this tiny little review, but I can say that you should probably read it and hopefully understand it because it truly is a masterpiece.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book that is about more than Godel, Escher, and Bach, June 17 2004
By 
underwater girl "underwater_girl" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
This book is an excellent introduction to several ideas in cognitive science, biology, mathematics, linguistics, computer science, art, and other fields. It cleverly reveals how different fields influence each other in a cross disciplinary fashion and actually "embeds" this structure inside the book. I won't go into more detail, but as soon as you read the book, you will see how this is done. The writing is crisp and engaging, almost as if Lewis Carroll, Noam Chomsky, and your favorite professor in college gave birth to a book. The concepts are revealed through parables, koans, and other forms involving characters named Tortoise, Achilles, and Crab and at one point involve a metagenie.(...)
The only criticisms that I have about the book are
1)Some radically new things have been discovered/done in many of the fields discussed in the book, especially artificial intelligence. The book doesn't talk about some of these developments, and some of the statements in the book are inaccurate or outdated (ex: chess playing computer that can beat human will never be built, replication in biolgy is A LOT more complicated/different than its rather cursory rendering in this book)
2)This book is more helpful as an introduction to spark your interest in various topics than a detailed guide to the many interesting ideas that have arisen in science. After reading about concepts in the book, if they are interesting, it would be helpful to read a more detailed and recent book on the topic.
3)Sometimes, but not usually, the author's desire to be witty or find connections overwelms the actual truth of his statements--at these points the connections made are rather weak.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, April 8 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
GEB is a great jumping point into issues of the philosophy of the mind, the underpinnings of mathemetical logic and the possibility of artificial intelligence and consciousness.
The book explores a number of themes - one of the most important is joining together disparate forms of 'strange loops' - paradoxical self referential constructs that pop up in in art (Escher and Bach fugues), mathematics (Godel's theorem), religion (Zen buddhism), AI and various other places.
I agree with another reviewer - everything in GEB leads towards an understanding the mind (Hofstadter's field is of course AI/cog science) - it's not just a random romp - but it's a misleading exagerration to say GEB is trying to provide a bottom-up theory!
It is true, some of the foundations of AI such as propositional logic are explored and various metaphors for the mind are developed as well as the importance of circular self-referentiality, and emergence of complex behavior from simple primitives - but the implications for AI and cognitive science are always rather vague and the HOW is mostly left as an open-ended question.
This open-endedness perhaps contributes to the rambling feeling of the book. Of course these questions are great mysteries and it's not surprising that GEB doesn't provide a neat theory to tie it all together.
At it's size it is a rather daunting book to read in one go, but since a lot of chapters are rather independent it is possible to dip into it from time to time, i find myself picking it up occasionally and re-reading random chapters, usually i notice something new to ponder on.
For me the most unique contribution of this book is the pointing out the importance of 'strange loops' in so many areas of thought (although they're never formally defined). I found myself constantly linking this idea to other things - for example Jacques Derrida's notion of deconstruction seems to me most easily understood as about creating a linguistic strange-loop to point out the limitations of language and philosophy itself.
I don't think the book has really dated much at all the central ideas are timeless and AI and cognitive science haven't advanced to a point that invalidates anything, although Fermat's theorem has now been solved.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An epic intellectual journey, Feb. 24 2004
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
This book tries to explore several interrelated and complicated questions. These are "what makes a self?", "how is a self related to computers and formal systems?", "how is meaning created?" and "to what extent is self-reference essential for meaning?". To try and answer these questions (and he admits that there are currently no satisfactory answers), the author embarks on a journey touching physics, maths, art, biology, computer science, cognitive science, music, Zen etc etc etc. This is a huge book in terms of length, scope and meaning. That's probably why it's been quite popular for over 20 years.
The book starts with an introduction to formal systems as rules for manipulating objects which can be represented as strings. He then links up to mathematical concepts to see how we can examine these systems and attach representation to them. Recursion is also introduced along with TNT (a special system of basic number theory), as well as some non-formal ways of thinking about systems (such as Zen).
In the second part of the book, computers and cognitive science are linked to formal systems. Finally, using TNT as an example, Godel's incompleteness theorem is explained in a manner that's relatively easy for the layman to understand, as well as its implications with respect to meaning. Then, the book talks about self-reference on a more general sense as well as the progresses in AI and what this all has to do with the search for meaning and the investigation of our thinking selves.
This may sound like a huge heap of tpoics and it is - but that's what makes the book special - its ways of connecting things from Godel's incompleteness theorem to Escher's self-referential prints to Bach's finely structured music which gives the "formal system" of musical notes an extra meaning.
One of the enjoyable things about the book is that each chapter has a dialogue before it which introduces the subject in an easy and intuitive matter. The dialogues carry along the Socratic tradition with the main players being Achilles and the Tortoise.
The book has hundreds of tables, diagrams and drawings to allow all readers to ponder at their level.
Even if you don't agree with many of Hofstadter's theories, I hope you will still consider this a great book. It combines humour, philosophy, science and keen observation in an enriching way.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Remember: We're in Planesville, Jan. 22 2004
By 
Jerome K. Bradenbaugh "Jeromeo" (Venice, FL) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Paperback)
I give this book high marks. The read is difficult, I concede. However, remember that in order to make progress, oftentimes we must take a leap of faith. The book even argues that proving something to be true requires you to "just believe" because logic eventually runs out upon deconstruction. See chapter VII.
I have had similar trouble that others report. I have had to re-read parts to make sure I get his points, whether I agree or not. And yes, he conveys his ideas in what some may consider an offhand way. There is much value in the saying, "To be great is to be misunderstood."
You dont have to like this book. Just make sure you're certain why you do or don't like it. Is it because the Hof doesn't know what he is talking about, or because he "wastes" your time with his lingo and fictional prancing about? Or is it because there's a chance that you don't understand? I am not condescending readers who don't like GEB, but we too often rate someone's ideas based on our inability to understand and yes, sometimes be entertained immediately. Don't expect him to do all the work. What are you bringin' to the party?
This book is challenging. Once you have spent enough time with it, you might see that it requires you to challenge your understanding of things, take that leap of faith (it's not all about logic), suspend judgment, then see what you think when you get to the other side. Consider the section devoted to the topic of Euclidean vs. non-Euclidean geometry:
Euclid of Alexandria perfected the art of rigor in his Elements, becoming arguably the most influential mathematician in times of antiquity. He made a most convincing case for the accuracy and truthfulness of much of the fundamental geometry we know today. He did so by using five principals upon which to base the remainder of his volumes of assertion. Four of the five principles were based on truths quite simple and so understandable, for the most part we hold them to be self-evident. One of those (the first) was the notion of a straight line, as simple and direct as connecting point A to point B.
His work seemed universal, truthful, and beyond reproach, especially considering the painstaking efforts he went to prove the seemingly most basic of concepts. This all seemed well and good, until others, implicitly or otherwise, began to question the notion or suggest what a different version of what a straight line is. In other words: What if there was more than one type of straight line? How could this be?
To make a long story only slightly longer, we find that there in fact IS more than one type of straight line (what's the difference between a straight line drawn on a piece of paper and a straight line drawn on a basketball? hmmmm....), which spawned elliptical and spherical geometries. Turns out that Euclidean geometry is actually a subset of geometry, not the entire geometry. All these years we thought that a piece of the pie was the whole pie.
The point here is that you must endeavor to see outside what you know to be true. It's not always comfortable or seemingly conceivable, but we must accept a degree of uncertainty before we can realize a new level of certainty.
Give the book a shot. Maybe two. Suspend your judgment and take the hit. You'll see. Regards.
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Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter (Paperback - Feb. 5 1999)
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