Putting it out to consultation

I have some birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, and I’m wondering whether to spend it on a copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter.

Part of me has thought this book looks kinda-sorta interesting for years, without ever getting round to actually reading it. Maths, Bach, pictures of recursive frogs – what’s not to like?

On the other hand, part of me thinks that a book with a subtitle as painfully pretentious as “An eternal golden braid” should be read while one is a sixth-former, or not at all. And that perhaps I ought to finish that Roger Penrose book before I start on another vast doorstop of a “popular” science book.

Anyone care to give me some guidance on this?

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8 Responses to Putting it out to consultation

  1. JR Hermeneut says:

    I’ve never read that book but, way back when, I always wanted to. Metamagical Themas, however, had been one of my all-time favourites which I’d read it several times. It’s basically a collection of his Scientific American essays – in which my young little mind was first introduced to things like recursion and LISP, and of course, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Don’t take any of this as a recommendation however. I bought that book whilst in Grade 13 (Ontario’s equivalent of “sixth form” at the time). So…

    Why don’t you buy a real book on Bach, like Durr or Chafe or Eggebrecht?

    Unless, of course, it’s the Gödel and Escher you’re after, in which case ignore everything I’ve said.

  2. John H says:

    Unless, of course, it’s the Gödel and Escher you’re after, in which case ignore everything I’ve said.

    Not just the Göedel and Escher, but I was planning to restrict the Bach stuff to breezy, pseudish generalisations about the great man’s involvement in eternal braids, rather than actual musicology, thx all the same. 😉

    Metamagical Themas looks interesting. Speaking of SciAm, I still can’t quite forgive them for dropping Mathematical Recreations.

  3. JS Bangs says:

    I read the book, and I found it to be merely alright.

    The Godel parts and the discussion of formal proof, limits of mathematics, etc. was fascinating and educational. The parts about Escher and Bach were interesting color. But what the book cover doesn’t tell you is that there is a long discussion of Zen koans, which struck me as irredeemably pretentious and reeking of 1970’s faux-spirituality. Keep in mind that I thought this back in 11th grade when I read the book, and I suspect that my appetite for pretension has fallen since then.

    So if you do read the book, be prepared for that.

  4. John H says:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’ve now reserved a copy at the local library, so once that arrives I’ll be able to take a look and make a decision about reading/buying it (I’m more likely to read it if I buy it rather than keeping it on loan for weeks/months on end).

    The parts about Escher and Bach were interesting color.

    “Interesting color”. Somehow that’s more gloriously and persuasively dismissive a comment than your (highly-pertinent) warnings about the Zen bits. Like saying it’s “mostly harmless”. 🙂

  5. Lito Cruz says:

    For get the book, read first Godel’s Incompleteness Proof. 😉

  6. John H says:

    Lito: I think I did, once. I was “studying” (read: flailing around uncomprehendingly) formal logic as part of my university maths degree, and while the course didn’t make it as far as Goedel’s theorem, I remember flicking ahead in the textbook to check out what it said. I didn’t even understand the notation. 😦

    The problem I had with formal logic was the whole business of, “These are just symbols manipulated according to formal rules. No meaning to see here, folks. Move along.”

    I greatly preferred geometry, where drawing pretty pictures actually counted as proof*. Whoa. Now that’s what I call maths.

    * Well, it did if you were being lectured by Roger Penrose. *clunk*. Oops, sorry, better just pick that name up I dropped…

  7. Penny says:

    I started reading when it when I was long past school age. It is quite a dense book: not something that you could read it a few sittings (or at least not something I could read in a few sittings). So far – I’m about page 60, having put it aside for a while – it hasn’t opened up new ways of looking at the world, but it is an enjoyable read for when I need something to get my thoughts around.

  8. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » 205,263,363,600 steps to happiness

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