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Douglas Hofstadter: Gödel, Escher, Bach

FWIW, I received this book as a gift. It's a fantastic book, but I probably wouldn't give it to someone studying or practicing programming or computer science today. For a high schooler with a budding interest, or for people who like to ponder math, science, philosophy and CS but haven't studied CS directly, it'd be a great gift. For a college or post college CS major, GEB spends so much of its time explaining topics that are now well known and well covered in class that the delight of discovery in the book is a bit lost and wasn't as exciting to read as it could have been if I'd read it earlier.

The book is pretty old, yes, and many of the topics are not uptodate any more (I just cannot believe how fast genetic research has developed in the last 20 years and the Internet was not even there when the book was written). But then - GEB never was a book for the classroom to teach computer science. The original intention, as confirmed by the author in the preface of a german anniversary edition of GEB in 2015, was to provide a graspable access to Gödels proof for a general audience. The project then escalated from an intended essay to the epic work it is.

I read it at the age of 19, multiple times, and for me it was the ultimate primer for everything: whatever you deal with, take it apart, change the context in which you are looking at it, look from the distance, look close and from all sides, extract patterns and apply them somewhere else, combine, prescind, generalize, play, be curious about each and everything and then - while reading the book, and on other occasions in life - enjoy brief moments of epiphany. And for this purpose - to open the mind for another perception of everything - GEB is timeless.

I gave it as a gift to a colleague at work, with whom I regularly ended up in funny, crazy scientific discourses. And I keep two shrink-wrapped copies from 1989 for each of my two kids - if I am gone and the kids ever want to know how I perceived the world, they just have to break the seal and read.

GEB is not about learning something that can be covered in class; it is about achieving enlightenment.

A nice book to pair with GEB is /From Frege to Godel: A Source Book in Mathematical Logic/. Certainly also better for someone who might find GEB a bit too idiosyncratic.

And, of course, if you want to simply read the proof, there's Nagel's /Gödel's Proof/.

I tried to read this book but never quite understood it. What's it really about?

It's about the thing it's about.

Maybe you should add "spoiler alert"? ;)

Nah. if you haven't read GEB, your brain won't evaluate the previous statement correctly, and you won't gain any information.

Neurolinguistic hacking! (it works, just ask Stephenson)(JOKE)

Yeah, right, I know, your comment was hilarious! I was adding joke to joke, but I guess I failed, someone else even downvoted my bad joke. Did my smiley make it feel snarky?

Look, I don't know. I didn't down you.

At its base, it's an exploration of how a conscious mind can arise from unconscious matter. For anyone who's attempted to read the thing and never quite gotten what Hofstadter's on about, the central theme is encapsulated in the dialogue ... Ant Fugue, with the emergence of the character Aunt Hillary from her component ants, who don't directly participate in "her" consciousness. Literally everything else is a long explanation -- from various angles -- of how, given sufficient complexity, the rules don't adequately describe the system, and the system need not be aware of the rules that give it rise. The mathematics, computer science, music, art and "spirituality" are all frames of reference for exploring and (to a limited extent) proving the central thesis: consciousness is an emergent phenomenon.

Thinking about thinking.

Recursion, formal languages, math, the general structure of things.

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