This book by Douglas R. Hofstadter has been one of the most difficult books I have ever read, yet also the most interesting. In the introduction it takes about 6 pages just to explain what this book is supposed to be about and even after reading 3 chapters I can say I’m still not entirely sure what this book is about. Nevertheless, it is still one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.
In an attempt to summarize what I have read so far, Hofstadter has opened his book with trying to explain the idea of “strange loops” which the whole book circles around. He uses the mathematician Godel, the artist Escher, and the musician Bach to explain the kinds of connections that he has made in his own head surrounding these “strange loops” and what these strange loops have to do with human reasoning and thought. He then makes connections back to computers and what kind of process they would run compared to the thought process that humans would have. On page 36 he makes a great comparison using systems involving theorems, axioms, and rules where he says that a computer might run forever trying to find the correct answer to an impossible theorem while a human will give up very soon after they discover it’s impossible. Many of the connections lead back to talking about the possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The information covered in this book is something that you would likely find in a textbook, and one could even compare this writing to the style of writing in a textbook, but there are writing styles in GEB that would never be found in a textbook. For example, Hofstadter constantly talks in first person. He may list of facts and theories that people have come up with, but he always applies them back to his own thoughts and opinions. He often interjects what he thinks, making his style “authorial intrusion”. He also refers directly to the reader as “you”, making it a second person perspective too.
In GEB, Hofstadter also uses short scripts to explain certain concepts, giving the reader a third-person objective view where they are simply only watching what is happening between characters. These different perspectives come as refreshing in a book where there are many facts to read and retain. It’s keeps it from being a boring textbook read.
Overall, I have enjoyed the book so far, even if it is difficult to get through at times. I am interested to read more about “strange loops” and what they have to do with human intelligence.