Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Gödel, Escher, Back: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter is one of those books that are somewhat hard to describe. On a first glance it seems that the book is just a collection of funny stories, puzzles and anecdotes about codes, mathematics and music, while sometimes touching things like biology. Upon further inspection a theme appears that is woven through each and every chapter: what is consciousness and how can it emerge from simple mechanical constructs.

Gödel, Escher, Bach (often shortened simply as GEB) is probably one of my all time favourite books. I have read it couple of times and most likely will reread it again in the future, as it seems that every time I read it, I discover something new inside of it.

Tone of the book is very friendly and easy to read, which is really good thing as some of the chapters are packed full of content that takes time to digest and process. Moreover, there are two types of alternating chapters in book. Half of them are discussing theme of the current chapter, presenting it to the reader and maybe even contain an excercise or two for reader to try their hand with. Another half of the chapters read more like stories, where Achilleus, Tortoise and other creatures live their everyday life and usually end up either discussing or directly experiencing things discussed in other chapters. I liked how these two different types of chapters were intervowen and gave book certain rhythm to read.

Among many things discussed in the book is topic of information and meaning. It was interesting to read how information and meaning is always coded in a way or another. It seems that some codes are so common that we don’t really treat them as codes anymore (which sometimes leads into confusion, as one party can have slightly different intepretation of the code than the other). The book also highlights how the message alone, be it coded or not, isn’t sufficient to carry the message. There’s always some mechanism or way that must be present when the message is read, in order for the message to have the meaning that the sender intended it to have: you can’t play record without record player (records are featured very often in the book) or process DNA without all kinds of entsymes needed for it.

Towards the end book started to feel slower and slower to read, probably because it was getting deeper and deeper into the themes it discussed. My advice is to take time reading the book (including the easier chapters in the beginning) and let it to really sink into, before continuing further. At the beginning of the book I was reading at the pace of a chapter in evening, but towards the end it was closer to a chapter in a week.

I would recommend book to people who are curious to read what Hofstadter has to say about information, knowledge and consciousness. While the book touches things like mathematics, philosophy and music time to time, they really aren’t the focus of it. They have more of a supportive role, while things like Gödel’s incompleteness theorem or ricercars are discussed.

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