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Old 04-06-2017, 10:09 PM
Acsenray Acsenray is offline
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Do I have to be really smart to get Gödel Escher Bach?

A book I'm reading — The Magician King by by Lev Grossman —makes several references to Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.

I feel like I've seen that book in a lot of places throughout my life, but for some reason I never got around to finding out what it was.

Grossman makes it sound like some kind of mystical tome for mathematicians. I went to the Wikipedia page — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gödel,_Escher,_Bach — and I don't really feel like I really get it.

So, should I go to the library and pick it up? It all sounds like something that is going to make me feel not smart enough.

Anyone here able to boil it down to something tangible? Tell me whether I have to be very interested in higher mathematics in order to grasp it?

What am I missing if I don't read Gödel Escher Bach?
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Old 04-06-2017, 10:52 PM
Prof. Pepperwinkle Prof. Pepperwinkle is offline
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It's math and physics, but written at a popular level. It's not a dissertation, it's a series (or maybe a fugue) of articles explaining aspects of repetition and self-reflection (and other things). There's a lot of humor.
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Old 04-06-2017, 11:28 PM
kenobi 65 kenobi 65 is online now
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My college roommate (one of the smartest people I've ever known) owned it (this was '84-'85), and I read parts of it. Very deep, a lot of the math went over my head, but it's also where I learned about Zen koans.
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Old 04-07-2017, 12:07 AM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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I read it decades ago, and understood it. I still own the book, but I think today it'd be over my head. Not as smart as I used to be.
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Old 04-07-2017, 01:37 AM
jtur88 jtur88 is offline
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It's been a long time, but as I recall, I pretty much got the gist of it.
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Old 04-07-2017, 01:45 AM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is online now
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It's not hard or especially trchnical, but it is dense. You aren't going to read it in a weekend, or indeed, in a month and get everything out of it. I've read sections of about t repeately for over a decade and still get new insights from it.

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Old 04-07-2017, 03:20 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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I devoured it when young (well, 30) and loved every page and I'm just a layman when it comes to physics and the higher math. It shouldn't be beyond the average Doper.

Last edited by aldiboronti; 04-07-2017 at 03:21 AM.
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Old 04-07-2017, 07:22 AM
elbows elbows is offline
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Read it, and loved it, while at uni. (And I was an arts major with no science background whatsoever!)

Now you've made me wonder how I'd find it, if I was to pick it up today? I no longer have my copy, gave it to a friend. Maybe I'll check it out next time I'm in a bookstore. Is it still in bookstores I wonder?
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Old 04-07-2017, 08:09 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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It's a wittily written book that's loosely about Gödel's theorem ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B...eness_theorems ). If you're not a professional mathematician or a math major, then if you know anything about it, you know that it shows that no mathematical system can be complete. There are inherent limiations in any math system.

More completely (ha!), no system can be completely true and completely universal. This seems weirdly mystical and beyond proof, but Gödel published his theorems in 1931, so there must be something to it. Hofstadter ruminated on it while pursuing his own degree in mathematical physics. Since Gödel's proof relies on the study of self-referential systems, Hofstadter drew parallels with the incremental compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach and the art of M. C. Escher, since these are arguably self-referential, in a way. Hence the title of the book. He also played around with how these works related more directly to the math, which allowed him to make bizarre puns like Shrdlu -- Toy of Man's Designing (A reference to the Bach cantata section Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring and to Terry Winograd's computer program SHRDLU, which gets its name from....aww, just read the damned book.

Amidst all the self-referential puns and statements Hofstadter wanders up to and through ac demonstration of Gödel's theorem. It's worth the reading, although it's not, as already noted, light reading.
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Old 04-07-2017, 08:28 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I'd use the same adjective that Stranger on a Train did, dense. It took me longer than a single library loan to read it all the first time. You'll typically want to read a single chapter, or sometimes even just a single page, and think about it for a bit before moving on.
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Old 04-07-2017, 08:43 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Yes. Hofstadter at one point invites the reader to do a bit of programming in an unfamiliar language (his own, I think, but it's been a while since I read it). I have to admit that I skipped that part.

My favorite parts were the dialogues between Achilles and the Tortoise, expanding upon Zeno's Paradox. There were several of these, often wonderfully bizarre. In one of them, they play with conditional statements while watching baseball on TV. "I wonder how the game would have gone if he'd caught that ball." "I wonder how that game would have gone if pi was a rational number.")

He does one in which there are multiple levels of storytelling -- stories within stories within stories, as in some of the Arabian Nights adventures, or in the book (though not the movie) Cloud Atlas. The clever thing is, he deliberately doesn't completely dig himself out of the "hole" of stories -- at the end of the dialogue, we're still a level or two down, and haven't re-emerged at the level we started at.
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Old 04-07-2017, 08:44 AM
scabpicker scabpicker is offline
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I'd agree that it's written to be accessible, but it is dense. When I read it, it was more a case of when I did understand it, I was smarter than before. If you read it, I recommend occasionally getting out a pencil and paper and working with the systems that he describes.
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Old 04-07-2017, 10:34 AM
DrCube DrCube is offline
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If you just want the gist, "I am a Strange Loop" has the same thesis, but written concisely and clearly over a couple hundred pages when Hofstadter was older and more mature.

GEB is over a thousand pages and more of a journey than a destination, if you know what I mean. It's very interesting if you like that sort of thing (math and science mixed with philosophy). It opened my mind to a lot of questions I didn't even know I had, and then either answered them, or brought great insight into them.

But it's also just as much a fun game. I mean, there's no reason a scientific book needs weird palindromic dialogues between anthropomorphic tortoises and ancient Greek mythical characters, but hey, it works if you're in for the ride and not trying to go anywhere fast.
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Old 04-07-2017, 10:52 AM
Robot Arm Robot Arm is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
He does one in which there are multiple levels of storytelling -- stories within stories within stories, as in some of the Arabian Nights adventures, or in the book (though not the movie) Cloud Atlas. The clever thing is, he deliberately doesn't completely dig himself out of the "hole" of stories -- at the end of the dialogue, we're still a level or two down, and haven't re-emerged at the level we started at.
Yes, and the characters in the story discuss a parallel construction in musical compositions. Classical music, like that of Bach, can start in one key, then shift to another, but it has to come back to the original key before it ends or else it leaves the listener feeling anxious and unsettled.

There was actually a scene in Reservoir Dogs that reminded me of that. One character is an undercover police officer. We see a flashback of him being trained by his handler in how to create a backstory for his undercover persona, and how to naturally share the details of it to ingratiate himself with the gang he's trying to infiltrate. Then we see him telling this story and it segues into a flashback. It's a flashback within a flashback. It's also something completely made up; even within the universe of the movie this is an event that did not happen, yet we are seeing it onscreen.

If you can appreciate that deftness of storytelling, while also enjoying the story, you might enjoy GEB.
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Old 04-07-2017, 11:06 AM
ftg ftg is offline
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It was astonishingly overhyped. It's really not a very good read. Hofstadter is very verbose and then some. He had the Math-games column in Scientific American but didn't last long because the columns were overly long and rambling.

As to level of difficulty, read the Wikipedia page on the Grelling–Nelson paradox. Can you get the gist of that? Now imagine a fifty page chapter with the same information with a bunch of references, real and imaginary, to sort of similar things.

Read the Cliff notes or equivalent and you'll be fine.
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Old 04-07-2017, 12:39 PM
Kimballkid Kimballkid is offline
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Originally Posted by elbows View Post
Now you've made me wonder how I'd find it, if I was to pick it up today? I no longer have my copy, gave it to a friend. Maybe I'll check it out next time I'm in a bookstore. Is it still in bookstores I wonder?
Amazon has it. Ebay does too. So does Ebay Canada.

Last edited by Kimballkid; 04-07-2017 at 12:42 PM.
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Old 04-07-2017, 12:43 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is online now
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Originally Posted by DrCube View Post
If you just want the gist, "I am a Strange Loop" has the same thesis, but written concisely and clearly over a couple hundred pages when Hofstadter was older and more mature.
I Am A Strange Loop is thematically a little different, focusing more on the experience of awareness and experiences as 'shared' memory and identity. While it is considerably shorter and slightly cheaper than GEB (and lacks the convenient acronym) it is equally dense, albeit with fewer literary allusions and allegories within stories, a more direct and personal meditation. It also has a heartbreaking requiem to Hofstadter's wife, Carol, who died suddenly of an undiagnosed brain tumor in 1993, leaving him a widower with two very young children. From Chapter 16: "Grappling with the Deepest Mystery":
What hit me by far the hardest was not my own personal loss ("Oh, what shall I do now? Who will I turn to in moments of need? Who will I cuddle up beside at night?") -- it was Carol's personal loss. Of course I missed her, I missed her enormously -- but what trouble me much more was that I could not get over what she had lost: the chance to watch her children grow up, see their personalities develop, savor their talents, comfort them in their sad times, read them bedtime stories, sing them songs, smile at their childish jokes, paint their rooms, pencil in their heights on closet walls, teach them to ride a bike, travel with them to other lands, expose them to other languages, get them a pet dog, meet their friends, take them skiiing and skating, watch old videos together in our playroom, and on and on. All this future, once so easily taken for granted, Carol had lost in a flash, and I couldn't deal with it.
...
On day, as I gazed at a photograph of Carol taken a couple of months before her death, I looked at her face and I looked so deeply that I felt I was behind her eyes, and all at once, I found myself saying, as tears flowed, "That's me! That's me!" And those simple words brought back so many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that welded us together into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized then that although Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it lived on very derminedly in my brain.
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  #18  
Old 04-07-2017, 12:43 PM
hogarth hogarth is offline
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I liked it, but I wouldn't blame you for skimming over some of the more technical parts (like the computer language bits or his "SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS0" notation) and spending more time on the Achilles/Tortoise dialogues.
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Old 04-07-2017, 12:46 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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It's provocative on a philosophical level but doesn't involve a lot of arcane parsing of formulas etc. I found it pretty accessible at 23 when I first read it, with only a high school education. I've threatened to choose it for "next book" for our little book club ... but the length alone would have the others pelting me with things.
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Old 04-07-2017, 12:50 PM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is online now
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
It was astonishingly overhyped. It's really not a very good read. Hofstadter is very verbose and then some. He had the Math-games column in Scientific American but didn't last long because the columns were overly long and rambling.
Also, War and Peace, incredibly overrated, very boring, too heavy to read while on the toliet. Tolstoy can't even write in English, very sad, should be deported.

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  #21  
Old 04-07-2017, 01:01 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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Originally Posted by Stranger On A Train View Post
Also, War and Peace, incredibly overrated, very boring, too heavy to read while on the toliet. Tolstoy can't even write in English, very sad, should be deported.

Stranger
Even worse, he wrote in two different languages (French and Russian). Couldn't he make up his mind?
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Old 04-07-2017, 01:25 PM
Inner Stickler Inner Stickler is offline
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I was fascinated by the tortoise and achilles dialogues when I was in middle school. The concept of a record player that could play anything and an album that couldn't be played on the record player blew my tiny little mind.
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Old 04-07-2017, 05:49 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Mu.
  #24  
Old 04-07-2017, 05:56 PM
Damfino Damfino is offline
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Ět's worth reading for the Achilles/Tortoise dialogues alone. Some of the mathematical parts may be skimmed through without harming the gist. You may need some time: I read it over a vacation, pen and paper to hand for the few """exercises for the reader" I attempted.

When I finished I had the same sense of epiphany I'd had on completing Darwin's Origin of Species .

Go for it.


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