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Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  46,895 ratings  ·  2,057 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, 756 pages
Published 1999 by Basic Books (first published April 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 suppos…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)
Brian I think it's fun. I come from programming and music theory so the way he discusses ideas is not unfamiliar. It depends on how you consume heavily abst…moreI think it's fun. I come from programming and music theory so the way he discusses ideas is not unfamiliar. It depends on how you consume heavily abstract writing. There are almost certainly parts you'll have to reread several times, but it's not dissimilar from any other logic-dense academic writing. (less)

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Mark Lawrence
Jan 24, 2012 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 phi
Dec 14, 2008 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
Jan 10, 2010 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

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
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was so metal. Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which states that all consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions, is certainly a large part of what made the book so fascinating and addictive. The issues of self-reference and self-awareness, and how they relate to both human and potential artificial intelligence, were likewise extremely compelling. But the magic is in the math.

Here is a brief summary of the Gödel in the book:

The above image knocked
May 13, 2010 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
Oct 07, 2012 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'
Infinite Jen
Apr 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
From the vault of James O. Incandenza.

The Balkanization of Disciplinary Fields Via Academic Fiat and Truncated Lifespans. Year of the Eric Clipperton Action Figure With Frighteningly Realistic Gun Shot Mediated Demapping Accessories. Post-irony-sincerity (Stephen Fry; voiced by Stephen Fry; appearing as Stephen Fry) claymation superimposed on background of ubiquitous irony, represented by (Aleister Crowley; voiced by Ozzy Osborne; as vast as the horizon and undergoing various geometrical manipul
Gödel, Escher, Bach is really something unique and special. The book attempts to put forward the outline of a theory of intelligence, by drawing from an incredibly wide array of disciplines - not just the three (mathematics, art and music), which are implied by the title – but also logical systems, computer science, genetics (there are really too many to list) as well as a considerable amount of literary flair.

The core argument is speculative, and more philosophical than scientific. However the
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is quite a remarkable book: a repository of many brilliant, provocative and insightful ideas (although occasionally not fully developed), and a contributor of much food for thought in disparate areas such as neurosciences, AI, mathematical logic, computer science, molecular biology, even art and music.

A unique endeavor that, while not always successful in the pursuit of a coherent and convincing elucidation of the author's theses, represents something of a classic that must be read for its
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
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
Xing Chen
May 06, 2010 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
Andrej Karpathy
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a must read or at least must selectively skim for anyone interested in intelligence. Some of the ideas regarding intelligence and how it should be implemented are perhaps slightly outdated (you would see much more statistical reasoning if you asked experts today), which is largely absent in "old AI" approaches to intelligence. ...more
Jun 27, 2015 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’
Riku Sayuj
Less flourish, more focus. That would have been a better braid.

Jef Sneider
Aug 23, 2007 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
Oct 11, 2007 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
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
E. G.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to E. G. by: Tara S.
Preface to GEB's Twentieth-anniversary Edition
List of Illustrations
Words of Thanks

--Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Jun 17, 2008 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
Jun 27, 2007 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
Cassandra Kay Silva
Oct 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics, science
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
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was an intellectual and a delightful journey. Quite long. Quite tough. For a person who never liked math and biology (and wasn't good at many others as well), who only loved listening to music (the sort which didn't help with the book at all), who is part of a conservative (not much art and questions I mean) profession and society, this book was sort of a nightmare. Noticed paradox in my statements. You wont mind them much after reading the subject book...

So it all starts with a simple but
I have always wanted to be brilliant. So this was the book I chose to make myself brilliant. Not super. Not smart. Not nerdy. Just brilliant.

Alas, it didn't work. It's taken me years (yes, literally years) to get through this tome. If you asked me what it is all about, I couldn't tell you, Alfie. I remain blitheringly stupid. That's why they make British baking shows, for dunces such as I.

Tough read. This should be part of a Marines-type training course for readers. Much admiration for those who
Ian Scuffling
A mind to marvel at. Douglas R. Hofstadter may be the most brilliant man alive, and his genius is a staggering machine that perceives the infinitesimal operations that are within operations that are within operations. The Eternal Golden Braid that is Gödel, Escher, Bach is as fully realized in its structure, form, and content as any of the greatest novels I’ve ever read in my life—the beauty of a complex simplicity, even in its most inscrutable moments, left me brain drunk on connectivity, recur ...more
Colin Murchie
Jun 27, 2007 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
Katia N
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: consciousness
Even the author has struggled to summarise what is the book about... In the broad sense, it is a classic on a theory of information and formal systems for the readers without particular special knowledge in the area. It was written in the 70s, I think, and has won Pulitzer prize then. He approaches this subject from the variety of angles: logic, neuroscience, mathematics, music and visual art and finds a lot of analogies in these areas. The structure of the book is interesting: a chapter of a di ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
I think I mentioned in a couple of posts that I was trying to get through Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. It is heady reading to be sure. I was able to follow the discussion up to BLooP, FLooP and GLooP pretty much, but he has lost me now in the proof-pair chapter. I am a self-proclaimed nerd, fine but perhaps I need to be a dweeb and geekster too to fully comprehend some of this stuff. OK, so the incompleteness theory, I got that. I understand the complexity now of fu ...more
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bucket-list
I first encountered this 'way back in the day, as an adjunct to the required Theory of Computation courses while working on my B.S. Truthfully there are portions which that person of twenty five years ago would appreciate more (everything ending with "you can prove this for yourself"), and there are portions which require the extra maturity. And truthfully there were portions that would have hurt for either version of myself (I'm looking right at you, "Ant Fugue").

I was prepared for the math and
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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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