Customer Review

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clever, very readable, 4 Feb. 2006
This review is from: Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Penguin philosophy) (Paperback)
‘GEB’ is a hodge-podge of maths, philosophy, music, art and computer science, centred around a single idea that was captured mathematically in the early 20th century. known as Gödel’s theorem. It is difficult to describe briefly (indeed it takes a few hundred pages for it to become clear in the book) but it is, basically, an idea which states that it is impossible to have a complicated system governed by formal rules in which everything which is supposed to be in the system is described by those rules, and those rules alone are sufficient. Although Gödel’s theorem refers to number theory specifically, he realised that it would also apply to anything which could be described in number theory which, as Hofstadter demonstrates, is pretty much everything. Thus, things that we like to think of as being governed by formal rules (up to and including our own thought) actually can’t be. This expansion of Gödel’s theorem is mind-blowing.
Although ‘GEB’ follows the development of a mathematical idea, the book doesn’t require the reader to have a great maths brain. Hofstadter approaches Gödel’s theorem obliquely from all angles (particularly maths, music and art), partly because it has implications for all of these, but partly because it is so difficult to think about it directly that indirectly thinking about its implications is the easiest way of understanding it. (Hofstadter draws an informative analogy with Zen Buddhism, in that it is very Un-Zen to study Zen directly). He builds up a huge array of analogous systems with which to think about the problem, but builds them up so skilfully that you start to see the relationships between them easily, and flipping between music, art and maths becomes conceptually simple. I am not a mathematician, but had no problem understanding the importance of Gödel’s theorem.
As well as been very scholarly, ‘GEB’ is also very entertaining. The chapters are separated by dialogues featuring Achilles and the Tortoise, and other characters. In the dialogues, the characters discuss Bach’s music, Gödel’s maths and Escher’s art. The subject of the dialogue helps to illustrate the following chapter, but each also has many layers of meaning, with the structure mirroring a Bach fugue or Escher drawing. This helps to draw the apparently disparate strands underpinning the book together. These dialogues were very entertaining, and helped break up what would otherwise have been a slightly heavy read.
Overall, ‘GEB’ is clever, entertaining and informative. It illustrates an extremely difficult, but astoundingly important, idea very well, and its application to thought as a whole was mind-blowing, and felt like a revelation to me. It does get difficult in places, but never discouragingly so. Some of the latter chapters (after I had got the point) did drag on a little. Nevertheless, this is a brilliant book, and I would recommend it to anyone prepared to challenge their world view.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
Name:
Badge:
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
 
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in
 


Review Details

Item

4.5 out of 5 stars (46 customer reviews)
5 star:
 (34)
4 star:
 (7)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
Used & New from: £2.49
Add to wishlist
Reviewer


Location: London, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 207,575