Derek's Reviews > Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter
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really liked it
bookshelves: 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 the computation and was ready to get in there and grapple with Gödel's theorems and Escher's twisty pictures (like many of my ilk, if you didn't have an M.C. Escher print on your dorm room wall, you had a Rush poster). But I was unprepared for where Hofstadter was going, from calculation to cognition to identity as it relates to strange loops, and emergent behaviors on top of an inviolate level as substrate--

Strange Loop, Tangled Hierarchy, and Inviolate Level should all be Ship names in some Iain M. Bank's Culture novel, by the way. If they aren't, then someone has missed a trick

--especially given the ties back to protein coding and transcription as a thoroughly complex formal system mixing program and data and interpreter and language. If it sounds like this book is all over the map, then you are correct.

The takeaway for me was pretty strange (loop), tying back to the nature of decidability. The twisty curlicue line between provable and unprovable (for any sufficiently powerful system, there are true statements that cannot be proven using that system) is to see the face of God. Gödel, Church, Tarski, and Turing have put terrifyingly stark limits on calculation by formal system, which encompasses everything from number theory to computer programming to the human mind (prove me wrong, says Hofstadter) and there is no access to any more powerful system. Where lies the Mind of God but outside our Tangled Hierarchy, in a place where Gödel has no sting?
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Reading Progress

September 19, 2011 – Shelved
October 12, 2018 – Started Reading
December 22, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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Forrest Great review! This is a book I need to reread again.


message 2: by Derek (last edited Dec 23, 2018 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Derek Forrest wrote: "Great review! This is a book I need to reread again."

Thank you. Good luck on a reread.

Your review cracks this nut in a different and very interesting direction. In the grand scale of things, you have it much closer to the mark.


Forrest I remember that being one of the most difficult reviews I've ever written. That nut can be cracked in so many ways. That fact is, to me, one of the marks of a "good book".


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