I no longer intend to continue with my ``Recommended Reading'' articles and largely regard that name as having been a mistake. It's difficult to find books that I've read and can universally recommend which are also interesting and lesser-known. I've not recommended any books I find unworthy of such and the eleven I've recommended so far are all fine, even if all aren't necessarily my first choice, due to issues locating some books; in any case, eleven is a fine prime to leave this and to continue with general reviews. I may continue reviewing in the future, on the fifteenth of each month, but I may find myself reviewing more than books.
The book being reviewed is ``Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid'' by Douglas Hofstadter (ISBN 978-0-465-02656-2). Information concerning it may be found here.
The reason why I chose to review this book now is because I actually finished it this year. I began reading in February of 2016 and finished in October of 2019, with many months and even a over a year without reading it. Unbeknownst to me, this book apparently has a reputation for sitting unmolested on its owners' shelves. I bought the book, unaware of its topic, because it had a cool cover.
The author describes in the foreword transitioning from a letter, to a pamphlet, to the book and I'm inclined to believe him. If brevity is the soul of wit, which seems to be the case, this book lacks such soul and just as the author believes humans lack souls.
I've no issue reading dense technical documents many hundreds of pages long, and yet I struggled the trek through this work, because it is deeply repetitive and circumlocutory. It alternates between a story of Achilles with his animal friends and normal chapters explaining the ideas behind the story. The stories do make interesting use of various linguistic tricks and the hand-drawn figures are nice and yet there is no good reason for this book to be so very long as it is. I considered making this review unnecessarily long, to add to the mockery, but that wouldn't be appropriate. The book has an interesting and unique layout with good typesetting. The book certainly has some character.
The book ostensibly concerns the similarities between mathematics and visual and audible art; a many simple logical systems are defined for explanatory purposes. I must note the musical references are lost on me, but I generally agree with the similarities between the other two.
A major aspect of the book is the author's belief that the human mind is a formal system, which must mean it's restricted in the same ways machines are. I vehemently disagree, if only because I refuse to accept theoretical and unproven restrictions on humanity, which reduce it to a collection of such machinery, and find this unreasonable to do. In the final chapter, he gives an argument I very much agreed with regarding how humans are such informal systems, but merely as a ``devil's advocate'' and only to disagree with it, I think unsatisfactorily, on the basis that humans and machines both exist physically. The ``strange loops'' described throughout the book and mostly in the final chapter are mere layered systems in which the rules of each layer can be changed by other layers, noticing there is also a deepest layer which can't be modified; comparing this to humans, with the brain as deepest layer, seems to ignore the various ways human behaviour is influenced purposefully or not by outside influences, such as physical injury or surgery. The very physical systems which compose reality may not be strictly deterministic, with perhaps that being a base of intelligence, yet I don't recall an argument to such effect being mentioned therein.
The author does share interesting ideas concerning the organizations of thought by machine, but none of these are comprehensive, or he'd be known far more for such work; the discussion of mental symbol manipulation and meaning across transformations of language and others is suitably interesting.
The author is very fond of tangential considerations including: koan sophistry, zen, nonsense in the guise of art, and other silly things. The ending story is ``Six-Part Ricercar'', which mostly seems concerned with constructing acronyms of ``RICERCAR'' and congratulating the author as a character of the story itself.
Such may seem unduly harsh, but I'm inclined to believe few or perhaps even none of the author's own ideas are interesting and the primary value of this book is in exposing those ideas of others to the reader. I will list some as they come to and please me: