Fresh at thirty

Hofstadter‘s Gödel, Escher, Bach is now, of course, a classic, but it was only this year that I’ve finally read it. All I can say is that it is worth every gram of the hype. The main thesis of the book is that semantics (and cognition, thinking and even consciousness) may emerge from seemingly simple components. More than that, he argues that some systems, because of auto-reference effects, simply cannot avoid developing semantics, even if at the lower levels they are purely syntactic.

In order to reach this conclusion, the author visits many major themes in Mathematics, Philosophy of Mind, Music and Aesthetics. Because of this long detour, people tend to have different views on what the book “is about” and the author felt the need to explicitly develop the idea of “strange loop“, both in the preface of the 20th anniversary commemorative edition, and in a new book (that I’ve bought but haven’t read yet).

I am somewhat taken aback by the fact that when this book was first published, I was barely one year old — the book will be 30 years old next May, and yet it remains so fresh! I regret not having read it ten years ago, but I’m glad I’ve finally done it. Though I suspect that, by now, everyone interested in Mathematics or Cognitive Sciences has at least skimmed it, I vividly recommend those who didn’t to put it on the top of the stack of their bedside tables.

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