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Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

"Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event." So wrote Martin Gardner in the July, 7973 Scientific American in an entire article devoted to the book.

The subject of the book — and the frequent preoccupation of its deities, mathematician Kurt Godel, artist M.C. Escher, composer J.S. Bach, and writer Lewis Carroll — is self-reference . . . what the author calls "strange loops" or "tangled hierarchies." It is the domain of extreme paradox, where math, art, religion (lots of zen in the book, honestly employed), and epistemology collide.  It is the fearless exploration of black holes of the mind.

Hofstadter set out to make Godel's Incompleteness Theorem accessible to the lay thinker, and happily he succeeds in that.  Along the way he illuminates a world of music, mathematics, computer intelligence land gossip), and philosophy.   The book confirms the suspicion I've had for years that perhaps the most adventurous and fruitful human frontier we have these days is the hall of mirrors, Lewis Carroll's looking glass.
The unusual form of this book, thick with graphic devices, deserves comment.  We may be seeing a development as profound as the invention of the cartoon strip.  Hofstad-ter's images do not illustrate his words, and the words are not caption to the pictures — they are both the text. It's interesting that we have here the first popular work by a computer bum, and it a masterpiece.  Could his imaginative form of discourse be a by-product of the new tool he lives with?

The death of good writing among the young has been widely deplored. Maybe they're on the way to coming up with good something else.

[Suggested by R. W. Bigham]

A friend said to me, "My uncle was almost President of the U.S.I"  "Really?" I said.  "Sure," he replied, "he was skipper of the PT 108."  (John F. Kennedy was skipper of the PT 109.)

In everyday thought, we are constantly manufacturing mental variants on situations we face, ideas we have, or events that happen, and we let some features stay exactly the same while others "slip". What features do we let slip? What ones do we not even consider letting slip? What events are perceived on some deep intuitive level as being close relatives of ones which really happened? What do we think "almost" happened or "could have" happened, even though it unambiguously did not? What alternative versions of events pop without any conscious thought into our minds when we hear a story? Why do some counterfactuals strike us as "less counterfactual" than other counterfactuals? After all, it is obvious that anything that didn't happen didn't happen. There aren't degrees of "didn't-happen-ness."  And the same goes for "almost" situations. There are times when one plaintively says, "It almost happened," and other times when one says the same thing, full of relief.  But the "almost" lies in the mind, not in the external facts.

There are three authors — Z, T, and E.  Now it happens that Z exists only in a novel by T.  Likewise, T exists only in a novel by E. And strangely, E, too, exists only in a novel — by Z, of course. Now, is such an "authorship triangle" really possible?

Of course it's possible.  But there's a trick ... All three authors Z, T, E, are themselves characters in another novel — by M!   You can think of the Z-l -E triangle as a Strange Loop, Or Tangled Hierarchy; but author H is outside of the space in which that tangle takes place — author H is in an inviolate space. Although Z, T, and E all have access — direct or indirect — to each other, and can do dastardly things to each other in their various novels, none of them can touch H's life!  They can't even imagine him — no more than you can imagine the author of the book you're a character in.  If I were to draw author H, I would represent him somewhere off the page. Of course that would present a problem, since drawing a thing necessarily puts it onto the page . . . Anyway, H is really outside of the world of Z, T, and E, and should be represented as being so.


ISBN: 0465026567

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