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on May 31, 2000
I found this book to be too distracted to be good science, too unpersuasive to be good philosophy, too cute to be good math, and too annoying to be good poetry. With no disdain or contempt for the many people and prize committees who have found their lives or minds enriched by this book I have to say I found nothing here that helped me.
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on March 21, 2002
I'm afraid I must also be one of the naysayers of this work. I found it to be greatly overrated and highly pedantic. I think it gives many people an incorrect idea about what Godel's theorem really means. The major points of this book could have been summed up in under 100 pages, yet it drones on for 700+ pages.
In making such a long tome about Godel's theorem, Hofstadter in a sense, set up a huge set of axioms to describe Godel's theorem, which is the very thing Godel showed you cannot do! You've got to love the irony, that this monstrous description of Godel's Theorem is necessarily incomplete because of Godel's Theorem at work. Talk about your "strange loops".
Many topics are included that really don't belong, for instance molecular biology and virus assembly. I did my Ph.D. dissertation on viral assembly and I can tell you there is nothing "Godelian" about it. Its a matter of protein-protein interactions and thermodynamics. Another example is Zen buddhism. I am tired of everyone including something about Zen anytime they want their work to have a mystical or undefinable feel. Any Zen master will tell you Zen is nothing special outside of daily life, and that trying to make it extraordinary is to miss the point. Further, I found the dialogues between Mr. Tortoise, Achilles and Mr. Crab to be a bit juvenile.
The preface to the 20th anniversary edition sounded more like an excuse not to update the book (the gist of the preface is: "Its perfect now, why ruin perfection?" although it takes Hofstadter 23 pages to say so). Many of the ideas in the book are way out of date (by about 20 years, go figure).
I found nothing earth-shattering, life-changing or deeply meaningful about this book. I suspect many people read it because they want to be members of the "I am smart because I read GEB club".
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on November 16, 1999
'Anyone who disagrees with the contents of this book must be distraught because Hofstatder stepped on someone's philosophical toes.'
This sort of sophomoric argumentum ad hominem (and perhaps ad baculum as well) is innuendo, not a defence of the ideas contained in this volume. Such nonsensical remarks about the *motives* of those who disagree with Hofstadter are more worthy of cultism than of genuine philosophical enquiry.
Hofstadter's contentions about the origins of mind are highly debatable to say the least. Moreover, the 'picture theory of meaning' has indeed been 'discredited' in the only way philosophical ideas are ever discredited: by reasoned argumentation. It was revived earlier this century by the tyro Wittgenstein, who seems never to have read a work of actual philosophy in his life. Had he done so, he would not have offered his remarkable naive theory.
The theory becomes no less naive when it is couched in the language of 'isomorphism'. Even if Hofstadter were using this term in its mathematically precise sense (which he most assuredly is not), it would still be false that the existence of a mathematical mapping from one set to another is sufficient to create *meaning* if mind is not already present. But this is the view to which Hofstadter is committed if he intends his work to support the contention a reviewer has quoted below, regarding the origins of consciousness and 'selfhood'.
That reviewer was too kind. Hofstadter's reductionist 'explanations' of mind belong next to those of his comrade Daniel Dennett - in the trash bin.
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on April 23, 1997
This grossly overrated book has little to recommend it. Rather than clarifying the important ideas of Godel, Turing, and others, H makes them _harder_ to understand by embedding them in a hodge-podge of unfunny jokes, half-baked analogies, and bad writing
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on December 14, 2013
Many people see it as a holy grail and Hofstader has no writing skills. His ideas are mixed in a very wierd way and he try to explain very simple thinghs in a very complicated way. His stories and characters remind my "flat catolic jokes" after all he does it in the spirit of the createor of NARNIA!.
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on October 29, 1999
I think Steve Keppel-Jones has missed the point of the previous reviewer.
Steve says self-rep and self-ref depend not an outside observer but on the properties of the system itself. But that's an example of the same sort of hand-waving the earlier reviewer was talking about: an isomorphism (a mathematical version of 'resemblance') isn't the same thing as a reference. (In some respects Kilamanjaro resembles Everest, and Everest Kilamanjaro; do the two mountains therefore *mean* each other?)
Hofstadter and Keppel-Jones are implicitly relying here on a thoroughly discredited 'picture theory of meaning' dressed up in mathematical language. Isomorphisms do indeed require minds in order to count as references, and - as the earlier reviewer said - there must be a mind in the system already in order for this to occur within the system itself. Otherwise the 'meaning' is imported from an observer outside the system.
By the way, if Hofstadter claims that consciousness doesn't require simulation of the neuronal level, then doesn't that mean self-rep and self-rep *are* sufficient conditions for consciousness to occur? Or is he speaking only of 'simulated consciousness' (whatever that might be)?
What, in short, does Keppel-Jones mean in saying that 'mind can be *represented* by symbol-manipulating systems'? Is this more hand-waving?
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on July 5, 2003
This author only writes thick books (e.g. Metamagical Themas, etc.) Combined with the fact that there are nearly 200 reviews here, one must conclude that GEB is popular -- nay, fashionable; it seems that it's considered cool to have read it (though I wonder how many have actually done so.)
I, however -- due to my limited mental capacity, no doubt -- found GEB excrutiatingly dry, pedantic, boring and tortuous right from the beginning; that realized, I immediately quit. All of the above reminded me of the following proven wisdom of my favourite writer, Arthur Schopenhauer (whose few books aren't anywhere as thick, nor do they sport hundreds of reviews):
"The art of *not* reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public in any particular time. When some [book] is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. - A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short."
I shall, as I have on many an occasion, follow this shrewd advice this time as well. Like the Greeks used to say, Mega biblia -- mega kaka.
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on December 2, 2003
Hello Folks,
I consider myself something of a seeker. I'm an avid reader of Lucid Dreaming, Zen Buddhism, Carl Jung, Herman Hesse, W. Somerset Maugham, Ghandi, Einstein and other amazing intellectuals......When I first heard about this book, I was positively thrilled. What an amazing idea I thought. Unfortunately, I was deeply disappointed. It is a laborious read, and I don't know that my understanding has broadened significantly by reading this all fairness, I haven't finished the book yet, and maybe the last few pages will tie everything together nicely. But I'm a little annoyed that I bought this book. I won't tell you not to buy it. But I highly recommend browsing through it at a book store or library. It's a great title, and a terrific premise. However, it's extremely logical (for those of you who haven't taken logic/statistics or higher math, you're in for 800 pages of confusion). Perhaps if I was a programmer, this book would have done something different for me. I know that I'm in the minority here, but I offer this review based on my own experiences. Reader reviews is a great resource, but obviously it should not be the end-all be-all of your buying decision. It was for me, and I'm out $15 for a book that I don't really care for. Choose wisely my friends.
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on July 27, 2003
First of all, I would guess that the vast majority of people who purchase this book never finish it. It's philosophically simple, though it is very clever. I had more fun reading "Windows XP for Dummies" to be quite honest (it also made more sense).
Clever, but not worth the time or effort. I'm not sure why it has been such a success or gets such rave reviews. That's just as much a mystery to me.
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on June 23, 2004
I quite agree with the reviewer from East Hartford. Maybe I am not extremely eligible to comment on the portions dealing with Escher and Bach, respectively (I have no appetite for Escher. I like chamber music of Bach and somtimes play his keyboard music but my performance level is, of course, that of amateur.)
But I must say the part dealing with Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness is *complete garbage*. I am convinced anyone with a degree of mathematics will agree with me: for those who have no background in mathematics, I assure you that Gödel's theorem concerns a problem in "formal logic" and has nothing to do with human-cogno-something.
If this book were meant to be a cult literature, that would be okay: I don't care anyway.
But if this is meant to be an entertainment for people with no scientific background, I rate this alchemy or pseudo-science at best.
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