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Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  31,846 Ratings  ·  1,303 Reviews
Douglas Hofstadter's book is concerned directly with the nature of “maps” or links between formal systems. However, according to Hofstadter, the formal system that underlies all mental activity transcends the system that supports it. If life can grow out of the formal chemical substrate of the cell, if consciousness can emerge out of a formal system of firing neurons, then ...more
Paperback, 20th Anniversary Edition, 822 pages
Published 1999 by Basic Books (first published 1979)
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Roger Merritt An axiom is something that is just assumed to be true. It is not based on logic or reasoning. It is said to be self-evident. The truth of it is…moreAn axiom is something that is just assumed to be true. It is not based on logic or reasoning. It is said to be self-evident. The truth of it is supposed to be so obvious that it need not be proven. Indeed, it cannot be proven.

A theorem is an assertion of fact. It usually is not obvious. Its truth can only be proven by arguing according to a set of rules called "logic." Its truth depends on the truth of the premises, so if you can start with axioms and follow the rules and reach the assertion, then the theorem is considered "proven," and "true," and can be used as the basis for further argument to prove other theorems.(less)

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Mar 28, 2008 Daniel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like thinking about thinking about thinking.
If you open up the "20th Anniversary Edition" of GEB, you'll see that the first thing Douglas Hofstadter does in the introduction - the very first thing - is grouse that nobody seems to understand what his book is about. Not even its publishers or readers who just absolutely love it. A quick glance at the back cover will give you the same impression - even the glowing, two-sentence blurbs are hilariously vague, all of them variations on the theme of "Well, that certainly was ... something! Yes, ...more
Dec 16, 2008 Manny rated it really liked it
This is a nice book if you want to understand the Gödel incompleteness proof, and get an account that is both accessible and reasonably rigorous. There's a lot of other fun stuff as well, but it's the Gödel proof that's the core of the book, and if that doesn't turn you on then you aren't really going to think GEB is worth the effort.

Personally, I would say that this is one of the most amazing things ever. The more you think about it, the more bizarre it gets... there are mathematical theorems
As I work my way through this dense book, I am reminded of the Zen tale of 4 blind men and an elephant. To settle a dispute between townspeople over religion, the Zen master had 4 blind men and an elephant led in. With the men not knowing it’s an elephant, the Zen master had each feel a part of the elephant. Each blind man gave a varying but inaccurate guess of what it was he felt. In conclusion, the Zen master exclaimed that we are all like blind men. We have never seen God, but can only guess ...more
Andrew Breslin
Jul 02, 2010 Andrew Breslin rated it it was amazing
I could not with a clear conscience recommend this book to everyone, because I'm simply not that cruel. It would be like recommending large doses of LSD to everyone: some small minority will find the experience invaluably enlightening, but for most people it's just going to melt their brain.

While you do not need to be a professional mathematician to appreciate this, you really have to like math a lot. You can't just sort of like it. You can't just differ with the masses in not hating mathematics
Jul 31, 2015 Forrest rated it it was amazing
If I were clever enough, I would write this review as a fugue. This is the formal structure that Hofstadter uses throughout Gödel, Escher, Bach. Whether the whole book is a fugue, I'm not smart enough to tell. But the fugue is used as a metaphor for layers of brain activity, thoughts, superimposed over the “hardware” of the brain, the neurons.

In fact, though I would recommend starting at the beginning of the book, I suppose one might begin anywhere and read through and back again, a'la Finnegan'
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Dec 05, 2012 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
The reading of a book and its interpretation are determined in part by the cytoplasmic soup in which it is taken up. This reader’s soup consists of a large portion of metaphiction.

This is how Hofstadter apparently intended to structure his work: a Lewis Carroll styled dialogue between Achilles and Tortoise (and friends) introducing a subject followed by a rigorous but popularly accessible explication of that topic.

This is how I read Hofstadter’s book: as a crab canon. A crab canon, as our musi

from Randall Munroe. Mouseover says: 'This is the reference implementation of the self-referential joke.'


I know, I know, I know. I'm just kidding myself. I'm as likely to read this as a book on string theory. (Please don't. Please don't tell me I have read a book on string theory, I'm trying to forget the whole sordid story.) But. I hope you like this.

A friend of mine established The Harvester Press in the 1970s. He did it on a wing and a prayer, he was a young teaching a
Mark Lawrence
Nov 11, 2016 Mark Lawrence rated it it was amazing
Expand your mind! Not for the faint of heart & yet by no means dry.

Hofstadter makes some fascinating observations about emergent properties (such as intelligence) and diverts us into the extremely heavy mathematics of Godel via the self referencing systems that are Bach's fugues and Escher's 'optical illusion' style artwork.

Before too many chapters have passed though you'll be firmly in number theory land, albeit doled out as painlessly as is possible with such stuff, leavened with imagined
Aug 23, 2007 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Conversation overheard at a diner in Upstate NY between Rabbit and Dante. They have been arguing about the existence of God. Dante has been arguing against the proposition.

Rabbit: I have been recently reading a book which helps me to counter many of your points Dante. You should take a look at it. Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter carries within it the seed of an answer to your skepticism. Hofstadter argues, using the pictures of Escher, the music of Bach and
Jan 28, 2012 Xing rated it it was amazing
Absolutely beautiful. GEB reads like a collection of sparks, produced when the mind is working at its primed, relaxed, hyper-aware and associative best. I read this over numerous nights, curled up in bed, each time feeling as if I was with a wonderful best friend, with whom I could discuss any topic or previously-unformed idea, exercise my memory indexing resources, and unabashedly release the inner infovore. Few things have allowed me to unwind, concentrate, and harness my mental energy as quic ...more
Mar 04, 2011 Matt rated it did not like it
This book was very disappointing, especially after recieving so much hype. I was struggling along through it in a workman like fashion, trying to follow his arguments (which to me often seemed like so much dribble and unnecessary obfuscation and nothing like a fun puzzle), when I got really stuck and so I went to the MIT website and started reading the class notes on this book. That only made me more disgusted with the book, since it turns out that the book is riddled with historical errors wher ...more
May 30, 2010 Barbara rated it did not like it
This book told me something about intelligence - the smartest thing to do is to avoid this book's overly lengthy babblings of a self-important graduate student who is way too impressed with himself. It took this guy over 700 pages to illustrate by analogy his not-particularly novel theory which he sums up (finally) as follows:

"My belief is that the explanations of 'emergent' phenomena in our brains --for instance, ideas, hopes, images, analogies, and finally consciousness and free will--are base
Feb 07, 2010 Rob rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: deepest of deep geeks
Deep geekery. Let's build logic from its component parts. And then after by-hand fabricating that nomenclature, we'll use it to talk about intelligence, problem-solving, heuristics, etc. building up to general intelligence (generally) and artificial intelligence (specifically). Deep, heavy, at times extremely fun. Took me five years to read it.

And so somewhat in the spirit of the text:

GEB is like this incredibly attractive, incredibly smart, incredibly funny/witty woman that you meet through a f
Colin Murchie
Jun 30, 2007 Colin Murchie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GEB is an astonishing achievement in popularizing mathematical philosophy (!), and among the few truly life-changing books I've read.

The central thesis is that under certain conditions sufficiently complex, recursive self-editing systems can develop arbitrarily complex behavior without reference to external organization - and given an author who spends his days coding AI systems, you can see where he's going.

That's dense, dense stuff, but helped by the author's charming expository style and vas
Cassandra Kay Silva
Apr 28, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, mathematics
This is an absolutely phenomenal work. Let me break it down for you. Topics covered: DNA and RNA replication, Artificial Intelligence, Zen Buddism, Eschers artwork, Computer programming, Bachs fugues, a whole host of literary paradoxes and critical thinking exercises wow fun! Now let me tell you what all of this great information rests in, the framework of mathematics housed by Godels own theorems and proof. Yikes! Luckily the author understands that not all of us think mathematically. Don't get ...more
Jun 18, 2011 Kaylee rated it it was ok
After an entire tome about the workings of the mind and what it means to be intelligent, you'd think the author would be more self-aware by the end of the book than to say, "indirect self-reference is my favorite topic".

No, Mr. Hofstadter, blatant self-reference is your favorite topic.

I'm notoriously bad at distancing the creation from the creator, so perhaps I was biased from the start -- reading the 20th anniversary intro was like listening to a narcissist who insists he's modest. I didn't fin
Sep 13, 2007 Ethan rated it really liked it
It's quite impenetrable, but if you can hang in there, you can learn a lot about a lot of seemingly unrelated things. I don't know why mathematicians feel like they have to write like it's 1885. Hofstadter himself encourages you to just open the book at random, read a few pages, skip around, look at the pictures, listen to some Bach, etc, and that certainly helped me get a foothold.
Mar 12, 2016 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to be the only one who uses a gif in their review of GEB, aren't I? I'm definitely going to be the only one who uses a Legally Blonde gif. Fuck it.


Part 1 deals with catching the reader up to speed on formal logic, number theory, and Godel’s incompleteness theorem. It’s the more tedious part of the book, to be sure. I took formal logic in university, and in Hofstadter’s more recent book, “I Am A Strange Loop,” he gives a pretty good overview of Godel and his relevance, so this wasn’
Jun 22, 2007 Eric rated it it was amazing
Synopsis: Two books, interwoven. The first is a series of comedic dialogues in which characters created by Lewis Carrol engage in friendly battles of wit and skill, or just conversations, each dialogue being modeled after music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The second is a prosaic exploration of the nature of artificial intelligence, self-reference, and free will. The two halves intertwine with eachother and refer to eachother.

This book was made with great care, and is a masterpiece. It is the most
Koen Crolla
Pretentious crap. Hofstadter is about as interesting and insightful as a 14-year-old stoner who got a hold of some of his dad's reference books. The actual content of this book could fit in under a hundred pages, but Hofstadter feels it necessary to pack on pages upon pages upon pages of barely-relevant filler, much of it apparently just to show off with the fact that he read some classical Greek poetry once.

To be fair, it is a very ambitious book, and one that could have turned out very interes
Mar 30, 2008 Anni rated it liked it
Well, this is not really my sort of thing at all, or at least, not at all the sort of thing I usually read. I more or less stumbled upon it by accident. But then again, maybe it is my sort of thing after all as I have been trying to be more diverse in what I read and sometimes enjoy the infuriating (I'm sure this is due to some combination of my education and my upbringing by a smartass engineer).

So here are some things I think I can say about this book:

It's dense with connections among various
Jul 05, 2012 Tasha rated it liked it
Shelves: science
WOW! I finished it. I think I deserve a cookie.

I'll be honest, I struggled with this book. It was a good struggle though, one I hope has improved me. I started out really enjoying playing with the number sets, but that got old after a couple of chapters. I think spending more time on this book and rereading segments would be a good idea.

The point seems to be that if a system becomes sufficiently complex to be self referential and self replicating or at least self editing, then intelligence follo
Christopher tm
Dec 02, 2012 Christopher tm rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I've gone back to it again and again over the past - what - 20 years or so, and I'm pretty-sure that I still don't get it. At all. But, oh, what a beautiful and wondrous quandry to hold in one's hands and peel apart like a mysterious bejeweled artichoke of ... mystery.


Start again. It's a large book and confusing. It contains many many drawings and pictures that only serve to further one's sense of "WaitaminuiteIgottarerereadthatagain". And then, click, something ... clicks ... and you try to
Robert Kroese
Aug 14, 2009 Robert Kroese rated it it was amazing
GEB: EGB is basically an exploration of the idea of intelligence, artificial and otherwise. Hofstader's goal is to shed some light on how intelligence / consciousness / self-awareness happens. Hofstader believes that self-awareness -- the "I" -- ultimately arises from recursion. To put it very simply, at the highest levels the brain is a system that deals with symbols, and the "I" is the symbol for the system itself.

There is much, much more to this book. There are lengthy tangents into mathemat
Andrij Zip
Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel Escher Bach is a legitimate masterpiece, a book humming with ideas and life. GEB explores Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem, the art of MC Escher and Rene Magritte, the music of Bach and John Cage, the work of Alan Turing and Ramanujan, recursion, symmetry, tessellations, paradoxes, Zen, Fibonacci numbers, prime numbers, Fermat's Last Theorem, loops, puzzles, haiku, isomorphism, logic, symbols, infinity, DNA, pattern recognition, the collective consciousness of ants, ...more
Jul 02, 2016 Blair rated it it was amazing
This is a truly great book. I read it a while ago, but sometimes bring it out to read parts of it again. It is written on many levels, so I think it should be accessible to those without much mathematical background, if they skip over that parts they do not understand to the next chapter. My first and only course on number theory was an unhappy but valuable one. It taught me that mathematics is based on an arbitrary set of assumptions, and by changing those assumptions you get an equally valid f ...more
Dec 17, 2009 DJ rated it really liked it
WARNING: If you're reading a review of this book, then a friend or random stranger on the street has likely already fell to the ground before you and wailed that the geek prophet has arrived. Any attempt at a thorough description of this incredible (and incredibly strange) mash-up of thoughts on intelligence and meaning is bound to sound like the ravings of a newly-branded cult member, so I'll just offer a few thoughts.

Come one, come all! for this book has something for everyone. Passages on mus
Sep 19, 2007 Jacob rated it it was amazing
A friend of mine calls this a book for "pretentious teens and people who are too busy reflecting on their own existence to do anything productive" -- with a bit of self-mockery, I'm sure. My early, tentative take on GEB is that it's decidedly unpretentious, almost certainly written to be as accessible as its subject matter will allow. (If anything, it's a little corny at times.) The subject matter is artificial intelligence, a field which I suppose could turn out to be a dead end in the long run ...more
Stefan Kanev
Oct 23, 2013 Stefan Kanev rated it it was amazing
It is hard to talk about this book.

I first got a copy in early 2007. Ever since, I attempted to read it three times. The first one I came quite close to the end (chapter XVI), but could not finish it. The later ones I didn't progress as much. I have finally finished it. It's easy to relate the sense of accomplishment of finishing a book you started seven years ago. It is much harder to relate the sense of wonder and awe this book left me in.

When I first started reading it, I noticed this strange
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A classic? really? 4 87 Feb 03, 2016 03:07PM  
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The Aspiring Poly...: Godel, Escher, Bach 15 190 Jan 28, 2014 11:20AM  
  • Gödel's Proof
  • The Society of Mind
  • e: the Story of a Number
  • Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles and the Frailty of Knowledge
  • How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
  • The Emperor's New Mind Concerning Computers, Minds and the Laws of Physics
  • The Colossal Book of Mathematics
  • A Mathematician's Apology
  • The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine
  • Consciousness Explained
  • Journey through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics
  • Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty
  • An Imaginary Tale: The Story of the Square Root of Minus One
  • Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics
  • Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries)
  • Chaos: Making a New Science
  • The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics
  • A History of Mathematics

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Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American academic whose research focuses on consciousness, thinking and creativity. He is best known for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, first published in 1979, for which he was awarded the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Hofstadter is the son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Hofstadter. Douglas grew up on the campus of St
More about Douglas R. Hofstadter...

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“Meaning lies as much
in the mind of the reader
as in the Haiku.”
“How gullible are you? Is your gullibility located in some "gullibility center" in your brain? Could a neurosurgeon reach in and perform some delicate operation to lower your gullibility, otherwise leaving you alone? If you believe this, you are pretty gullible, and should perhaps consider such an operation.” 43 likes
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