Sunday, August 12, 2007

Reader's Diary #276- Douglas R. Hofstadter: Godel, Escher, Bach (FINISHED!!!)

"Of course, this project is not the kind of thing that one does in just one sitting- it might take a couple of dozen sessions."

- Douglas R. Hofstadter (on the very last page of Godel, Escher, Bach)

Sorry Mr. Hofstadter, if I quickly lose interest in Escher paintings, I surely won't be attempting this monster of a book again.

But, undoubtedly it would help. Reading the Amazon reviews, it looks like most fans have given it multiple reads. The more complex parts must begin to make more sense the 3rd or 4th time around. The final dialogue in the book also seems to suggest that the book was written with an Escher sort of loop in mind, meaning multiple readings might be necessary to appreciate the artistry.

Godel, Escher, Bach could simply be entitled Godel as far as balance is concerned. Essentially Bach and Escher are just used as examples, whereas math philosopher Godel seems to be the major preoccupation. And just as I commented earlier that Hoftstadter touches upon just about every academic field there is, again the reader should know that they aren't given equal attention: artificial intelligence is the real focus.

That is not to say that readers can't enjoy the occasional diversion. After struggling through the heavy math of the first third of the book, it did become a lot more understandable- even interesting at times. I particularly enjoyed the discussions on psychology and on the arts. Unfortunately, these weren't enough to make me enjoy the book as a whole. Quite frankly, I think the book was a mess. I get the sense that Hofstadter overextended himself trying to make artificial intelligence interesting to everyone. "Look, AI can be applied to music!" "Look, I can link AI to biochemistry!" But instead of reaching me, he just muddled my brain. I forgot how topics related, I was confused, and I just didn't care. I think with better writing, AI could have been made comprehensible and interesting to those who perhaps hadn't given it a second thought before. But I'm not sure I'd recommend this to anyone who isn't already interested in the topic.


Rob Hardy said...

Congratulations! Now, if you're looking for another big nonfiction book to read, I highly recommend David Quammen's "The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions." The subtitle makes it sound daunting, but it's really a brilliant, compulsively readable book. A brilliant mixture of science, history, and travelogue. It's near the top of my list of favorite nonfiction.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I htink I'll just stick to looking at some Escher paintings. Congratulations for finishing!

Anonymous said...

I read it in high school right after "The Tao of Physics" but I am sure I would understand it better if I read it now. Had in mind to buy it and you reminded me.

John Mutford said...

Rob: Thanks for the recommendation. It has been added to my TBR pile! Which means I look forward to reading in 2014- or possibly sooner ;)

Barbara: I don't know if congrats are in order. I don't feel like I accomplished much.

May: Haven't read the The Tao of Physics. I did read The Tao of Pooh but something tells me they don't have much in common.