Dissecting Godel Escher Bach

I just finished reading Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid - a 1979 book by Douglas Hofstadter. The name is often shortened to GEB.

GEB is a phenomenal book for many reasons that we’ll go into that make it an “unclassifiable classic”. It’s impacted generations of readers into deepening their view of cognition, and introduced many to a wide array of subjects of computer science, mathematics and biology. However it’s unclassifiable because the author creates a sprawling web of links between mathematics, music, art, biology, logic, computer science and even physics that make it hard to categorize his work.

GEB mentions several times the Epimenides paradox, that describes a contradtion:

Epimenides was a Cretan who made one immortal statement: “All Cretans are liars.”

I think before we get into the details, it can help to make our own version of the Epimenides paradox expressing the breadth of GEB’s theses:

The main point of GEB is that GEB does not have a main point. Instead, the reader is given a look into the wide and sometimes confusing tangle of ideas and images that Hofstadter creates to convey his view of cognition and self-reference, as in how we perceive ourselves.

He illustrates these ideas by borrowing and developing of mathematics, biology and many other fascinating disciplines to our own cognition. For example, he uses formal systems and explains Godel’s incompleteness theorem to build an intriguing link with human thinking.

Another differentiating factor of this novel is the heavy use of short stories called “Dialogues” that follow every chapter, and introduce new themes in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner, as we follow the conversations and adventures of imaginary characters.