I would like to talk about a peculiar book I found about a year ago. It all started when I saw the title “Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid” (Hereby known as GEB) as a definite recommendation by MIRI researcher Elizier Yudkowsky. I became curious to find out more about this book. A short search brought up the keywords “consciousness, intelligence, mathematics, art, music” which served to pique my interest into the book. All of these concepts? In a single book? How come? It would only be a matter of time before I purchased GEB.
The book is, as the cover reads, “A Metaphorical Fugue on Minds and Machines in the Spirit of Lewis Carroll” written by the Pulitzer Prize winning Cognitive Scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter. Good credentials, but I would have to see for myself the value of the book before making any judgement through authority. A quick flip of the pages show images of codes, art, and music all springled around the book. About 750 pages without the extras.
At first glance, it seems rather obscure and heavy, but there is a certain light-hearted tone that Douglas uses which causes the reader to think they are reading a fictional book, rather than a bland undergraduate textbook. This serves to ease the introduction of the abstract concepts which form the basis of the book.
The preface involves Douglas’s own journey of writing the book and thereafter, up until its twentieth-anniversary in 1999. His strong interest into symbolic logic and self-referential systems apparently started when he read James R. Newman‘s little book “Gödel’s Proof” when he was a teenager. After being disillusioned with the arcane, technical, and dull mathematics courses at university, he returned to it with new-found excitement after stumbling upon Howard DeLong‘s “A Profile of Mathematical Logic“. From there, one event after the other, he finally managed to finish GEB, ready for publishment. He then goes on about how the structure of the book came to be, and finishes on the merits and demerits of changing the book 20 years later. He decides not to.
Let us see what the main chapters of the book will bring!