- Publisher: BASIC BOOKS
- Format: Paperback | 824 pages
- Dimensions: 170mm x 231mm x 56mm | 1,134g
- Publication date: 5 February 1999
- Publication City/Country: New York
- ISBN 10: 0465026567
- ISBN 13: 9780465026562
- Edition: 20
- Edition statement: 20th Anniversary ed.
- Sales rank: 1,960
Douglas Hofstadter's book is concerned directly with the nature of "maps" or links between formal systems. However, according to Hofstadter, the formal system that underlies all mental activity transcends the system that supports it. If life can grow out of the formal chemical substrate of the cell, if consciousness can emerge out of a formal system of firing neurons, then so too will computers attain human intelligence. Godel Escher and Bach is a wonderful exploration of fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science: meaning, reduction, recursion, and much more.
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By Michael Gilding 22 May 2013
Godel, Escher, Bach is easily my favourite book, and has been for the thirty-odd years since I first read it.
Douglas Hofstadter combines and links the various themes associated with the characters in the title (and some others) in fascinating and imaginative ways. He explores similarities between Art, Philosophy and Science and relates these to the nature of intelligence, and the possibilities of artificial intelligence. It helps if you have some basic understanding of formal logic and an affinity with structures such as recursion, fugues and self-reference. But I doubt if any of this is necessary. There are sections that look a little dated now, after so much advance in genetics and computing in particular. However, I don't think this detracts much, if anything, from this thoroughly thought-provoking read.
Although there is a gradual building of concepts through the book, its structure is almost fugal with sections on competing themes alternating and sometimes combining in original and amusing ways. Having read it once, I found that I could dip in to re-read sections for pleasure, each time noticing new details. There are so many interesting insights and so much variety that I am never bored.
If I had to chose my desert island book, this would certainly be it. It is one of a kind.
"Even without the contemporary relevance lent the book by the specter of global warming. The Little Ice Age would be an engrossing historical volume."