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Godel, Escher, Bach Paperback – 5 Feb 1999
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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.
Hofstadter's great achievement in Gödel, Escher, Bach was making abstruse mathematical topics (like undecidability, recursion, and 'strange loops') accessible and remarkably entertaining. Borrowing a page from Lewis Carroll (who might well have been a fan of this book), each chapter presents dialogue between the Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other characters who dramatize concepts discussed later in more detail. Allusions to Bach's music (centering on his Musical Offering) and Escher's continually paradoxical artwork are plentiful here. This more approachable material lets the author delve into serious number theory (concentrating on the ramifications of Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness) while stopping along the way to ponder the work of a host of other mathematicians, artists, and thinkers.
The world has moved on since 1979, of course. The book predicted that computers probably won't ever beat humans in chess, though Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. And the vinyl record, which serves for some of Hofstadter's best analogies, is now left to collectors. Sections on recursion and the graphs of certain functions from physics look tantalizing, like the fractals of recent chaos theory. And AI has moved on, of course, with mixed results. Yet Gödel, Escher, Bach remains a remarkable achievement. Its intellectual range and ability to let us visualize difficult mathematical concepts help make it one of this century's best for anyone who's interested in computers and their potential for real intelligence. --Richard Dragan
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.
"Even without the contemporary relevance lent the book by the specter of global warming. The Little Ice Age would be an engrossing historical volume."See all Product description
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Written in the 70s the concepts presented in this book are timeless. There are lots of things I would want to highlight that has stuck with me after reading this.
Formal systems: The concept of formalizing anything into boundaries. This is the heart of any scientific advancement we have seen as a human civilization since our species started to calculate. The beauty of trying to formalize anything is that you cannot formalize anything. The strange paradox keeps looping in again and again in all sorts of subjects and Hofstadter has asked a lot of interesting questions around this area that directly correlates Science and Philosophy.
Artificial Intelligence: Hofstadter lays all the building blocks needed to clone the human intelligence and what it really takes to completely replicate how a human thinks. Obviously, he himself did not find a solution or gathered one. However, the challenges that face straight on for moving the field of AI forward are clearly laid out. Not just laid out, his attempts to “formalize” them and the difficulties that are faced only suggest that Human species and our “life” is one of the rarest things that ever could have happened and makes us think how many of our limited days we are wasting in hatred, guilt, jealousy, greed. That is why this book gets super interesting when you dive deep into ‘formalising’ anything.
Since the book could get dry at few places, he tells some of the wonderful stories with some fantasical characters that have no least relationships with each other: Achilles, Tortoise, Crab being the main recurring characters. You also get to meet Sloth, Anteater, Author Himself, Charles Babbage, and Alan Turing. A story or a narration takes place between these characters which are highly intriguing in themselves and then is followed by theoretical/mathematical approach towards the subject that was just discussed.
This review is just an attempt and it is impossible to capture all the meta-nuances that this book covers. One thing guaranteed is that you are bound to enjoy the concepts in this book given you have basics of Music and a decent understanding of Mathematics. Since I am in the Engineering field, this book was an amazing journey. Digest it slowly, you will definitely cherish it!
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