From Thomas Paul, in MD: I am reading "Godel, Echer, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas R. Hofstadter. (Actually this is the fifth time I am reading it.)
Thomas had a point in mentioning this book in another context. I didn't want to hijack his thread, so I'm starting this one. I just wanted to say I loved this book; read it twice, although the second time was more than ten years ago; maybe I should read it again. It's a meditation on the natures of information, meaning, and intelligence, and recursion is central theme. I think every programmer should read it; it's an eye-opening experience. [ September 11, 2003: Message edited by: Thomas Paul ]
In an exchange of emails, Map suggested to me that all of human evolution was geared to creating Douglas Hofstadter. I have read G�del, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid every 4 or 5 years since I bought it in 1980. It is a difficult book to describe. On the surface it appears to be about everything from Bach fugues, to Zen, to Lewis Carrol, to number theory, to more and more. But underneath, the book is about human thinking and whether it can be mechanized. Hofstadter was and is very interested in how human thinking works as his specialty is AI. This is from amazon:
Topics Covered: J.S. Bach, M.C. Escher, Kurt G�del: biographical information and work, artificial intelligence (AI) history and theories, strange loops and tangled hierarchies, formal and informal systems, number theory, form in mathematics, figure and ground, consistency, completeness, Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, recursive structures, theories of meaning, propositional calculus, typographical number theory, Zen and mathematics, levels of description and computers; theory of mind: neurons, minds and thoughts; undecidability; self-reference and self-representation; Turing test for machine intelligence.
I am a fan also, one recommendation is to avoid getting bogged down. It's complex and interesting enough that you can grind to halt after a few pages. I'd say just keep plowing through, even if you're not sure you've 'got' everything as you go along.
Spot false dilemmas now, ask me how!
(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
My first programming job, a college co-op job, was with a small financial software firm with three employees, whose NeXT workstations were named Godel, Escher, and Bach. (And a Sun fileserver named tumbolia). I was fortunate in having worn a geeky Escher tie at my interview. ;^)
While I have never read GEB, I have been reat to from it. It is a facinating book. Hofstadter came to Swarthmore College and gave a lecture about six years ago. This was a big thing among my friends, but only about 50 people showed up for the talk. It was by far the most interesting lecture that I attended at college. My wife and I make a very good cognitive scientist. She was a music major with a linguistics minor, and I was a religion major with a computer science minor. Hofstadter's talk that evening bridged all of these diciplines (well, except for the religion) in discussing EMI, a computer program that was trying to learn to write music in the style of the Great Composers. A Mozart piece and an EMI-generated Mozart piece were played and the audience had to guess which was which. Then the same exercise was repeated with Chopin. About 95% of the audience correctly identified the Mozart piece, but the Chopin piece split the audience 50-50. (From which we can tell something about the quality of the composers themselves, if not the program --no offense intended to any Chopin-lovers out there.) And the best part about the lecture: it was delivered entirely in rhyming iambic pentameter couplets.
Piscis Babelis est parvus, flavus, et hiridicus, et est probabiliter insolitissima raritas in toto mundo.