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Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,503 ratings  ·  86 reviews
Hofstadter's collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think.
Paperback, 880 pages
Published April 5th 1996 by Basic Books (first published 1985)
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Paul Sánchez Keighley
- This is the self-referential sex hotline, where people who suffer from premature ejaculation finish after hearing the antecedent of this description. How can I help you?
- Hi. It’s my first time, so I’m not very sure how this works.
- This sentence would inform you someone else is available if it didn’t end in a full stop.
- I’m sorry, who is available?
- I’m implying you’ll have self-referential sex with me.
- Dirty. Go on.
- With this sentence I’m beginning the foreplay to the self-referential pho
Andrew Breslin
Jul 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
While this is clearly not a "better" book than the incomparable Godel Escher Bach, I would have to say that I enjoyed it more. Because I understood almost all of it the very first time through while GEB took me about a year to digest, chewing slowly over each cognitive morsel, sometimes metaphorically regurgitating it a few times before getting it through the cerebral equivalent of my lower intestines. Metamagical Themas is food for thought, but it’s simple sugars, perhaps a fruit smoothie to GE ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I don't recall how or where I got this book as a young teenager; I swear my aunt gave it to me but she denies it. This book is a collection of Hofstader's essays and columns, many of which were published in Scientific American. I'd say the first time I read this book I understood about an eighth of what he was talking about; I dare say if I read it again I might barely be above half. Not because the writing is difficult, but because the topics are diverse and deep. Hofstader's column in Scientif ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
This book is as good as Godel, Escher, and Bach (1979)because it goes Meta with the material. It is a collection of articles that Hofstadter wrote for the Scientific American magazine in the early 1980s after his hit with Godel, Escher, and Bach. It explores a myriad of topics related to the original plus his fears of the day like sexism and the nuclear arms race and of course, the philosophical and mathematical ideas are timeless and perennial.
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is huge - like a massive dictionary - and packed with a bunch of essays on a range of topics too broad to even try to describe. Some of them were great and either made you laugh or think about things you hadn't before, though a few weren't as good. But overall, if you can make it through this book, it's worth the interesting journey.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
It's hard to give up on a book 200 pages in, but this collection of essays by Douglas Hofstadter really doesn't present anything new that other authors haven't done better. I got past all his stuff about self referential sentences (a few gems in the rough), a political science game where the rules keep changing (total yawnfest), some opinions about people's gullibility to the supernatural (meh), and the inability of most to properly estimate large numbers (also not terribly interesting). His pos ...more
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
While this is not exactly a review, I thought I'd leave a few comments here. I recently got this on Kindle, so I've been slowly revisiting a few choice bits here and there. For what it's worth, I was dumbfounded to see this was available on Kindle. Given that his most popular and best selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach is still not available for Kindle, I took it for granted that none of his books were available on Kindle (except, perhaps, I am a Strange Loop, published, if I recall correctly, aft ...more
Oct 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is (mostly) a collection of Hofstadter's Scientific American columns. As a result the content is even more diverse in this book than in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and reading a few columns in a row left me a little bewildered. A couple of the essays seemed a little dated. For example, he gives a discussion of large numbers with frequent references to Rubik's Cube - but maybe my dislike of the reference is just because I'm terrible at that thing.

That said, Hofstadter is a wonderfully imaginative a
Jul 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
The thing I loved about this one is the playfulness involved. Sometimes I thought my head was going to explode from the weird wonderfulness of the ideas. The two chapters on self-referential sentences were absolutely delightful. Some I recall:

"It goes without saying that"

"Let us make a new convention that any thing shown in triple quotes, for instance '''I've changed my mind, when you reach the close of the triple quotes, just go directly to the period at the end of the sentence, and ignore eve
Jimi Olivo
Aug 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'd always wanted to solve the Rubik's Cube. Then, while reading his chapter on the principles of the cube, specifically 'Partial Inverses', I had the flash of insight I needed, and BLAMMO: cube solved. This isn't a joke, it really happened.

I expect most people will have similar flashes of insight in every chapter. Buy this book. Read it. Forget treating it well. Destroy the book while reading it. Take it to the beach. Write in the margins. Scribble out words and replace them with improved appro
Michael A.
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Pick up this book, and you will find yourself returning to it again and again. Not only is Metamagical Themas a great source (and resource) in itself, but it will lead you to other fascinating books--to wit books that deal not only with science but with literature and music. I owe Hofstadter a debt of gratitude for providing me with his wonderful introduction to the works of Allen Wheelis.
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A collection of Hofstadter's columns written for the Scientific American. Very wide-ranging, illuminating read on a variety of concepts (ranging from logic, through mathematics, to art and physics). More accessible than GEB.
Another book added to my personal favorite!
This book is just amazing, I liked it even more than the mystical Godel Escher Bach. I bought the book originally just to have the honor to read the original article of Dr. Hofstadter on Superrationality in game theory, and I was completely stunned by the diversity of articles presented in the book.
Surely my best part of the book is the last 100 pages where he tackled game theoretical problems and experiments. The best passage ever, is the one that I
Nick Black
Oct 13, 2008 rated it liked it
There's some gems hidden in here, but it's pretty scattered. Be prepared for extensive and expansive discourse regarding calligraphy, typography and the design of fonts. Possessing a dysfunctional visual aesthetic sense and being generally wary of anything requiring more than UTF-8 and a console font to render meaningfully, I find these singularly uninteresting topics. Your meterage may very.
Patrick Sunset
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in high school (A long time ago) and it was over
my head. As I progressed in life I have reread it many times and its a gem full of quirky essays about patterns and self-reference and paradoxes. Highly recommended for a ride into an forest of bizarre thoughts from a brillant thinker.
James Swenson
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
First, read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. If you love that, then read this, which is mostly a collection of the author's columns from Scientific American. ...more
Totally incredible. If you want to get closer to/further away from understanding the world and yourself while being entertained and amazed, read this book. Or just parts of it. It's a series of columns on different topics, no need to be intimidated by the 800 pages.
Mark Schiffer
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A supreme joy. I can dip into this book anytime, and gain something from what I read (even if I can't entirely grasp it).
"The Tale of Happiton" is one of the best pieces regarding nuclear disarmament I have read.
Apr 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Read this BIG book after college. Enjoyed it then...about 30 years ago! Just wondering if any of my friends online are familiar with it? We are going through our books. Thinking of reading it again...
John McIlveen
Sep 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
My God this is deep! But rewarding!
Jenna Fearon
Aug 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this a long time ago and as I remember it was completely amazing, thus my 5 star rating. I'm going to pick it up again soon and see if I still love it as much as I once did. :)
Mar 30, 2012 marked it as to-read
perhaps this before GEB.
Alex Lee
Douglas Hofstadter is a strange man. He obviously likes building systems of thought; but he resists often solidifying his conjectures into systems. He resists building systems. The reason why is that he takes a STEM approach to things; that for that he has a system. Instead, in these conjectures he dovetails into other areas that are not hand-science (like that of philosophy of mind or philosophy or linguistics) but he utilizes a STEM approach.

The problem with this is that STEM approaches like a
Douglas Summers-Stay
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
When I first read this (it was during the summer, I remember, at my grandparents' house-- 1989, maybe? so about 30 years ago) it opened my eyes to a hundred new ideas. I found his meta- play endlessly funny, and was awestruck by the cleverness and thoughtfulness displayed on every page. It was playing with ideas in a way I had never seen. I had enjoyed Godel Escher Bach, but a lot of it had gone over my head. This book however, was right at my level and it just grabbed me. It's probably a big pa ...more
George Marshall
Dec 01, 2018 rated it liked it
It was enjoyable to read, but by the end I was simply happy to be done. The topics are numerous, and interesting, some more than others. And I even have a basic affinity for much of the author's views. I was just weary of him speaking in a way. And I can't put my finger on directly why.

Maybe it is the repetition. Individual articles overlap significantly in theme. But even within a single article a particular nail can be hit with a colorful assortment of hammers, pipe-wrenches, violin cases and
Apr 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book has taken me a while to read, but apart from two or three chapters I failed to get into, I have really enjoyed it. Douglas writes in a pleasant conversational style, only occasionally seeming outdated.

Of course, the most important aspect of this book was the ideas, many of which have worked their way into my skull and will continue to to dance around in there for months to come. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on self-referential sentences, and I found the the iterated Prisoner's D
Bohdan Pechenyak
A whale of a book, but totally worth it - a collection of the author's columns from "Scientific American" in the early 1980s, each with its own "Post-script", which in some cases exceeds the original column, depending on the topic. If the sub-subtitle - "An Interlocked Collection of Literary, Scientific, and Artistic Studies - doesn't give enough of a clue, maybe the section names will: "Snags and Snarls", "Sense and Society", "Sparking and Slipping", "Structure and Strangeness", Spirit and Subs ...more
Gilles Achache
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A collection of those articles written by Hofstadter for Scientific American.....& quite a few of which I'd already read, but I enjoyed them being collected together, & finding a few I hadn't seen before. It was not a good move on the part of Scientific American to change it's foreword writer (which he did for each issue for a long time) for the reason of the Computer Age.....the writer who took over from Hofstadter for Scientific American just did not have as much character, in fact I can't eve ...more
Dan Cohen
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it

A wide-ranging book collated from articles written by the author for his column in Scientific American. It is mind-bending and astounding as one would expect from the author of "Godel, Escher, Bach" and covers much of the same ground, but it also covers more practical aspects of AI and, in particular, aspects of cognitive science such as creativity. Along the way there is material on the Rubik's cube, on the nuclear arms war, on typefaces, on the Lisp programming language, and on game theory. It
Alethea Hammer
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I first read this book in the early spring of 1986. I read it 2 or 3 more times but not in the past decade. This time, I found many of the chapters very dated because the whole field of AI has simply exploded in the intervening years. Some of the chapters are more relevant than ever such as Chapter 5 World Views in Collision. It presents a sort of preview to the kind of dueling realities we see online every day now. Also the chapters on Alan Turing are always a good read and the discussions on c
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Douglas Richard Hofstadter is an American scholar of cognitive science, physics, and comparative literature 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 physici

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