Book Club: Godel, Escher, Bach - by Douglas Hofstadter

The first book we will tackle in the monthly Book Club meetings will be the fabulous Pulitzer Prize winning opus by Douglas Hofstadter-- Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid.

From Amazon:

Twenty years after it topped the bestseller charts, Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is still something of a marvel. Besides being a profound and entertaining meditation on human thought and creativity, this book looks at the surprising points of contact between the music of Bach, the artwork of Escher, and the mathematics of Gödel. It also looks at the prospects for computers and artificial intelligence (AI) for mimicking human thought. For the general reader and the computer techie alike, this book still sets a standard for thinking about the future of computers and their relation to the way we think.

Topics Covered: J.S. Bach, M.C. Escher, Kurt Gödel: biographical information and work, artificial intelligence (AI) history and theories, strange loops and tangled hierarchies, formal and informal systems, number theory, form in mathematics, figure and ground, consistency, completeness, Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, recursive structures, theories of meaning, propositional calculus, typographical number theory, Zen and mathematics, levels of description and computers; theory of mind: neurons, minds and thoughts; undecidability; self-reference and self-representation; Turing test for machine intelligence.

We will tackle this 777 page tome over 3 months, to everyone who wishes to time to read it carefully and for the group discussions to plumb as deeply as possible.  For this first meeting we will concentrate on the first, approximately, third of the work.  For these Book Club meetings, I do request that you do your best to read the material, as opposed to all the other types of meeting where no preparation is required.

We should be able to have lots of fun with this one, and learn alot as well!  I think the world would be a better place if everyone had studied this treasure of a book, so I'll do my part to encourage its spread.  See you there!

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  • Connie

    very good....

    February 1, 2013

  • Lauren

    Sorry I missed it! Little mini drama on the home front! See ya for the next one!

    February 1, 2013

  • Curt G.

    Here's Hofstadter from a 2007 interview, which talks about the change in AI and gets at the reductionist/emergent levels issue (http://www.americanscientist.or...­):

    DH: "And as far as computer models go, one of the big sea changes that took place after GEB came out in 1979 was the enormous swing in computer modeling away from what they now call symbolic AI to connectionism or neural nets. That was a very big thing that took place in the 1980s. It didn't invalidate or stop the work in symbolic AI, but it simply opened up a whole new dimension, so to speak. ... in fact I think it had one bad consequence, which is that a lot of people got so deeply involved in the idea that "everything is neurons" that they sort of forgot about the idea that when you're trying to explain how, let's say, a heart works, you don't focus on the cells of the heart, but you focus on the overarching fact that it pumps, that a heart has a higher-level description."

    1 · January 31, 2013

  • John R

    Great discussion guys! I wish I had read some GEB to really keep up with everything :-/

    Anyone interested in some thoughts Malcolm Gladwell's assertions by geneticists/physicist/etc can check this out:­ Especially relevant is the first post, which quotes Steven Pinker, the world famous Harvard biologist. You can also see links to the studies I mentioned about eminent scientists and IQ.


    January 31, 2013

  • Harland

    Thanks to those who came out, it's great to see other people interested in thinkin'!

    January 31, 2013

  • Kim

    Good discussion! I found this all a bit mind-boggling, but feel I grasp the overall concepts better now. In a very general sense...

    January 31, 2013

  • SJ

    I have staggered/slogged thru half of it, and can appreciate the many rapturous reviews on the internet, but, Harland, I'm not sure why you think the world would be a better place if everyone had studied this treasure of a book.

    Can you explain why you think the world would be a better place if everyone had studied this treasure of a book?

    January 21, 2013

    • Will D.

      I guess the assumption in need of proving is that the ideas in this book are "good" ones.

      January 29, 2013

    • John R

      I would argue that books do not solely serve the purpose of "making the world a better place"--just like art can be art for its sake rather than some higher ideal. Sometimes sex is "making love"; sometimes it's just sex. Godel, Escher, Bach strikes me as a intellectual adventure that enriches your understanding of a multitude of topics and how they are intertwined, and it That should be enough. :-) (And if you define that as "making the world a better place," great.)

      1 · January 29, 2013

  • John R

    Hey Harland and others, there's a Reddit devoted to Godel, Escher, Bach, here:­

    In it, people typically band together and work through sections together to discuss it. There's a MIT lecture series on GEB that may be interesting to supplement learning as well.

    Might be good to look at to get ideas about how the reading of this book might go.

    January 21, 2013

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