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Hofstadter's collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think. Hofstadter's collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think.


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Hofstadter's collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think. Hofstadter's collection of quirky essays is unified by its primary concern: to examine the way people perceive and think.

30 review for Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Sánchez Keighley

    - This is the self-referential sex hotline, where people who suffer from premature ejaculation finish after hearing the antecedent of this description. How can I help you? - Hi. It’s my first time, so I’m not very sure how this works. - This sentence would inform you someone else is available if it didn’t end in a full stop. - I’m sorry, who is available? - I’m implying you’ll have self-referential sex with me. - Dirty. Go on. - With this sentence I’m beginning the foreplay to the self-referential pho - This is the self-referential sex hotline, where people who suffer from premature ejaculation finish after hearing the antecedent of this description. How can I help you? - Hi. It’s my first time, so I’m not very sure how this works. - This sentence would inform you someone else is available if it didn’t end in a full stop. - I’m sorry, who is available? - I’m implying you’ll have self-referential sex with me. - Dirty. Go on. - With this sentence I’m beginning the foreplay to the self-referential phone sex. - Oh yes. - The tone in which this statement is pronounced is intended to make you feel horny. - You better believe it’s working. Tell me what you’re wearing. - I am not telling you what I am wearing. - That’s so hot. - I am thinking of something to say but am in fact telling you something else. - Oh yes, don’t stop. Tell me it’s your first time. - I am telling you it’s my first time. - Go on. - If it is my first time, the last sentence I said is not true. - Oh, God. - ♭♭♭This ♭♭sentence ♭is ♮chromatic. - Epimenides paradox, give me an Epimenides paradox! - All self-referential sex hotline workers are liars. - Yes, yes, use-mention distinction, go on! - ‘My voice’ doesn’t turn you on, but my voice does. - Oooh, argh… click, beep, beep, beep...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Breslin

    While this is clearly not a "better" book than the incomparable Godel Escher Bach, I would have to say that I enjoyed it more. Because I understood almost all of it the very first time through while GEB took me about a year to digest, chewing slowly over each cognitive morsel, sometimes metaphorically regurgitating it a few times before getting it through the cerebral equivalent of my lower intestines. Metamagical Themas is food for thought, but it’s simple sugars, perhaps a fruit smoothie to GE While this is clearly not a "better" book than the incomparable Godel Escher Bach, I would have to say that I enjoyed it more. Because I understood almost all of it the very first time through while GEB took me about a year to digest, chewing slowly over each cognitive morsel, sometimes metaphorically regurgitating it a few times before getting it through the cerebral equivalent of my lower intestines. Metamagical Themas is food for thought, but it’s simple sugars, perhaps a fruit smoothie to GEB’s heavy proteins and complex carbohydrates. GEB was work to read. Immensely satisfying, but work nonetheless. This was a stroll in the park by comparison, and what a delightful park indeed. This book introduced me to many fascinating concepts, and had a lasting influence on me in two significant ways. 1) I tried to develop my very own personal font. And 2) It inspired me write my own book about game theory. I finished writing the book. The font remains an unrealized fantasy. But definitely something with serifs. The title, by the way, is an anagram of “Mathematical Games.” This is appropriate, because games are, by definition, fun. And you’d have to look far and wide to find so much fun in mathematics.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    I don't recall how or where I got this book as a young teenager; I swear my aunt gave it to me but she denies it. This book is a collection of Hofstader's essays and columns, many of which were published in Scientific American. I'd say the first time I read this book I understood about an eighth of what he was talking about; I dare say if I read it again I might barely be above half. Not because the writing is difficult, but because the topics are diverse and deep. Hofstader's column in Scientif I don't recall how or where I got this book as a young teenager; I swear my aunt gave it to me but she denies it. This book is a collection of Hofstader's essays and columns, many of which were published in Scientific American. I'd say the first time I read this book I understood about an eighth of what he was talking about; I dare say if I read it again I might barely be above half. Not because the writing is difficult, but because the topics are diverse and deep. Hofstader's column in Scientific American was intended to bridge the literary and the scientific, and does. The book - titled after the column - contains essays on self-referential sentences ("The reader of this sentence exists only while reading me" is one of my favorites); the mathematics of Frederic Chopin's compositions; a taxonomy of Rubik's Cube variations; the emerging studies of chaos and compexity; metafonts; artificial intelligence and machine learning; what the word "I" means; and a deep study of the mechanics and ethics of cooperation. This book was probably the most influential book I read growing up, as I think it set me on the path to study computer science. But its effect was even broader. Metamagical Themas encouraged me to play with ideas, with words and with the world around me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This book is huge - like a massive dictionary - and packed with a bunch of essays on a range of topics too broad to even try to describe. Some of them were great and either made you laugh or think about things you hadn't before, though a few weren't as good. But overall, if you can make it through this book, it's worth the interesting journey. This book is huge - like a massive dictionary - and packed with a bunch of essays on a range of topics too broad to even try to describe. Some of them were great and either made you laugh or think about things you hadn't before, though a few weren't as good. But overall, if you can make it through this book, it's worth the interesting journey.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Metamagical Themas consists of 33 essays written by Douglas Hofstadter. The topics covered are broad; from the concept of self-reference applied to language and law, to defining creativity and exploring its relations to artificial intelligence, to biology and game theory. My favourite essays and sections of their content are listed below. World Views in Collision: The Skeptical Inquirer versus the National Enquirer A great psychology article discussed is Ray Hyman's "How to Convince Strangers tha Metamagical Themas consists of 33 essays written by Douglas Hofstadter. The topics covered are broad; from the concept of self-reference applied to language and law, to defining creativity and exploring its relations to artificial intelligence, to biology and game theory. My favourite essays and sections of their content are listed below. World Views in Collision: The Skeptical Inquirer versus the National Enquirer A great psychology article discussed is Ray Hyman's "How to Convince Strangers that You Know All About Them". Hyman, who studied manipulators such as salesmen and evangelists, illustrates the susceptibility of human's to manipulation. Using a newsstand astrology book, Hyman came up with a generic description: "Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, weary, and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You pride yourself on being an independent thinker and do not accept others' opinions without satisfactory proof..." Students were told this description was specific to them and were asked to rank how accurate ‘their’ description was on a scale from 0 to 5. In response, 87% of the students rated the description as 4 or above! One size fits all personal reflection. Other interesting points: "Where is the borderline between open-mindedness and stupidity? Or between closed-mindedness and stupidity?" "For every debate in science itself, there is an isomorphic debate in the methodology of science" A Coffeehouse Conversation on the Turing Test On the similarities of models used by computers and human: "SANDY: Computers certainly can make mistakes -and I don't mean on the hardware level. Think of any present day computer predicting the weather. It can make wrong predictions, even though its program runs flawlessly. PAT: But that's only because you've fed it the wrong data. SANDY: Not so. It's because weather prediction is too complex. Any such program has to make do with a limited amount of data-entirely correct data-and extrapolate from there. Sometimes it will make wrong predictions. It's no different from a farmer gazing at the clouds and saying, "I reckon we'll get a little snow tonight." In our heads, we make models of things and use those models to guess how the world will behave. We have to make do with our models, however inaccurate they may be, or evolution will prune us out ruthlessly-we'll fall off a cliff or something. And for intelligent computers, it'll be the same. It's just that human designers will speed up the evolutionary process by aiming explicitly at the goal of creating intelligence, which is something nature just stumbled on. PAT: So you think computers will be making fewer mistakes as they get smarter? SANDY: Actually, just the other way around! The smarter they get, the more they'll be in a position to tackle messy real-life domains, so they'll be more and more likely to have inaccurate models. To me, mistake-making is a sign of high intelligence!" On the Seeming Paradox of Mechanizing Creativity "It is tempting, therefore, to imagine that good melodies are producible from some sort of recipe or mathematical formula, or, what comes to nearly the same thing, to think that the amount of beauty in a melody could be measured by some sort of machine, just as the amount of radioactivity in a sample of ore can be measured by a scintillation counter. You would stick your proposed string of notes into a machine and out would come a number called its "CQ" ("catchiness quotient"). If you doubt that the very idea of such a number is coherent, just remember that attached to every piece of existent music there really is a measure of its catchiness-namely, how often it actually is listened to, at the present time." Analogies and Roles in Human and Machine Thinking The exploration of analogies is a humorous exercise which showcase our impressive ability to deal with abstractions. For example, who is the president of England? Though incorrect, the thought of Boris Johnson comes to mind, which illustrates the slipperiness of language in mapping one related concept onto another. Analogies are complex, and establishing generalised mappings precisely is yet to be achieved. We use analogies as the basis for our legal systems - precedent cases - however, general definitions of these analogies have not been formed in language comprehensible to AI. Hofstadter terms this the inability of computers to understand the 'spirit of an idea', the slipperiness of concepts which goes beyond dictionary definitions. Ultimately, this is a barrier to general AI and the ability of AI to express genuine creativity. The Prisoner’s Dilemma Computer Tournaments and the Evolution of Cooperation As discussed in Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, in a competition of iterated Prisoner's Dilemma strategies, the winner was the TIT FOR TAT strategy. This strategy entails co-operating with the opponent and cheating for one following turn if the opponent cheats. An interesting point, which runs counter to the much touted logical paradox of the Prisoner's Dilemma, is why it won: "TIT FOR TAT won the tournament, not by beating the other player, but by eliciting behavior from the other player which allowed both to do well. TIT FOR TAT was so consistent at eliciting mutually rewarding outcomes that it attained a higher overall score than any other strategy in the tournament. So in a non-zero-sum world you do not have to do better than the other player to do well for yourself. This is especially true when you are interacting with many different players. Letting each of them do the same or a little better than you is fine, as long as you tend to do well yourself. There is no point in being envious of the success of the other player, since in an iterated Prisoner's Dilemma of long duration the other's success is virtually a prerequisite of your doing well for yourself." The Tale of Happiton The parable The Tale of Happiton strongly reminded me of The Fable of the Dragon Tyrant by Nick Bostrom. Both present a village faced with an increasingly fatal threat, but one which could ultimately be overcome if the villagers collaborated deliberately. I enjoyed them both, though they differ slightly in theme; Bostrom's is an allegory for the avoidable mortalities of disease, while Hofstadter's is an exposition of game theory. In this tale, Happiton falls prey to the Tragedy of Commons in a comical, though resonant, fashion. While simple, I believe Hofstadter nails human selfishness, summarised in an earlier quote: "People strongly resist seeing themselves as parts of statistical phenomena, and understandably so, because it seems to undermine their sense of free will and individuality. Yet how true it is that each of our 'unique' thoughts is mirrored a million times over in the minds of strangers!" Hofstadter suggests that the survival of a meme which “asserts the logical, rational validity of cooperation in a one-shot Prisoner's Dilemma.” is the ultimate determinant of extinction or not

  6. 5 out of 5

    Keenan

    It's hard to give up on a book 200 pages in, but this collection of essays by Douglas Hofstadter really doesn't present anything new that other authors haven't done better. I got past all his stuff about self referential sentences (a few gems in the rough), a political science game where the rules keep changing (total yawnfest), some opinions about people's gullibility to the supernatural (meh), and the inability of most to properly estimate large numbers (also not terribly interesting). His pos It's hard to give up on a book 200 pages in, but this collection of essays by Douglas Hofstadter really doesn't present anything new that other authors haven't done better. I got past all his stuff about self referential sentences (a few gems in the rough), a political science game where the rules keep changing (total yawnfest), some opinions about people's gullibility to the supernatural (meh), and the inability of most to properly estimate large numbers (also not terribly interesting). His post scriptums don't add much to the original essays beyond tangential rambling, and with hundreds of pages to go this is going to be a definite pass from me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    While this is not exactly a review, I thought I'd leave a few comments here. I recently got this on Kindle, so I've been slowly revisiting a few choice bits here and there. For what it's worth, I was dumbfounded to see this was available on Kindle. Given that his most popular and best selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach is still not available for Kindle, I took it for granted that none of his books were available on Kindle (except, perhaps, I am a Strange Loop, published, if I recall correctly, aft While this is not exactly a review, I thought I'd leave a few comments here. I recently got this on Kindle, so I've been slowly revisiting a few choice bits here and there. For what it's worth, I was dumbfounded to see this was available on Kindle. Given that his most popular and best selling book Gödel, Escher, Bach is still not available for Kindle, I took it for granted that none of his books were available on Kindle (except, perhaps, I am a Strange Loop, published, if I recall correctly, after Kindles were already on the market). Anyway, after downloading this, I started flipping through the chapters wondering which I should reread and was a bit stunned to be reminded that there are 3 chapters on Lisp. What's interesting about this is imagining this text appearing in Scientific American. While I have fond memories of what SciAm used to be, it's hard to gel that with the image of SciAm that I currently have in my head. The days of meaty, tangible material in technical magazine that you could actually sit down and do something with (c.f., Byte), seem so long ago (Make and the recently deceased, in print format, Linux Journal, not withstanding) that it's hard to picture actual articles on Lisp appearing in what was, in fact, a fairly popular science magazine. This is not to say that SciAm is not still of good quality, but it's certainly a very different beast than what it used to be. These days, I would basically call it a nicer version of Discover (again, not to denigrate that magazine, but it certainly lacks depth in most cases). To be continued...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This is (mostly) a collection of Hofstadter's Scientific American columns. As a result the content is even more diverse in this book than in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and reading a few columns in a row left me a little bewildered. A couple of the essays seemed a little dated. For example, he gives a discussion of large numbers with frequent references to Rubik's Cube - but maybe my dislike of the reference is just because I'm terrible at that thing. That said, Hofstadter is a wonderfully imaginative a This is (mostly) a collection of Hofstadter's Scientific American columns. As a result the content is even more diverse in this book than in Gödel, Escher, Bach, and reading a few columns in a row left me a little bewildered. A couple of the essays seemed a little dated. For example, he gives a discussion of large numbers with frequent references to Rubik's Cube - but maybe my dislike of the reference is just because I'm terrible at that thing. That said, Hofstadter is a wonderfully imaginative and entertaining writer, and there were some themes underlying the whole book which anybody familiar with Hofstadter will be able to guess, such as the nature of intelligence and consciousness and the concept of self-reference. Each essay is small and self-contained, making this book one I will feel comfortable going back to and re-reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    The thing I loved about this one is the playfulness involved. Sometimes I thought my head was going to explode from the weird wonderfulness of the ideas. The two chapters on self-referential sentences were absolutely delightful. Some I recall: "It goes without saying that" "Let us make a new convention that any thing shown in triple quotes, for instance '''I've changed my mind, when you reach the close of the triple quotes, just go directly to the period at the end of the sentence, and ignore eve The thing I loved about this one is the playfulness involved. Sometimes I thought my head was going to explode from the weird wonderfulness of the ideas. The two chapters on self-referential sentences were absolutely delightful. Some I recall: "It goes without saying that" "Let us make a new convention that any thing shown in triple quotes, for instance '''I've changed my mind, when you reach the close of the triple quotes, just go directly to the period at the end of the sentence, and ignore everything up to that point''' should not even be read or given the slightest attention, much less actually obeyed. "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation" yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation. Definitely a great read!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jimi Olivo

    I'd always wanted to solve the Rubik's Cube. Then, while reading his chapter on the principles of the cube, specifically 'Partial Inverses', I had the flash of insight I needed, and BLAMMO: cube solved. This isn't a joke, it really happened. I expect most people will have similar flashes of insight in every chapter. Buy this book. Read it. Forget treating it well. Destroy the book while reading it. Take it to the beach. Write in the margins. Scribble out words and replace them with improved appro I'd always wanted to solve the Rubik's Cube. Then, while reading his chapter on the principles of the cube, specifically 'Partial Inverses', I had the flash of insight I needed, and BLAMMO: cube solved. This isn't a joke, it really happened. I expect most people will have similar flashes of insight in every chapter. Buy this book. Read it. Forget treating it well. Destroy the book while reading it. Take it to the beach. Write in the margins. Scribble out words and replace them with improved approximations. Spill coffee on it. Throw it against the wall. Forget you left it on the bed and fuck on it. Dog ear the pages. Skip chapters and never look back (you'll be back). Do everything you can to get through it. No judgments. Feeling comfortable with these ideas will enrich your life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael A.

    Pick up this book, and you will find yourself returning to it again and again. Not only is Metamagical Themas a great source (and resource) in itself, but it will lead you to other fascinating books--to wit books that deal not only with science but with literature and music. I owe Hofstadter a debt of gratitude for providing me with his wonderful introduction to the works of Allen Wheelis.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paige McLoughlin

    This is an amazing follow-up to Godel, Escher, Bach. I read this soon after reading GEB, and I honestly at times like it more than the first book. It is a collection of pieces that Hofstadter wrote at the Scientific American in the mid-1980s in a regular section called Mathematical Games that he inherited from Martin Gardner he rearranged Gardner's title to the section to the Book title. One of my favorite articles was the game he invented called Mediocre. Frankly, I am Mediocre at it, I don't This is an amazing follow-up to Godel, Escher, Bach. I read this soon after reading GEB, and I honestly at times like it more than the first book. It is a collection of pieces that Hofstadter wrote at the Scientific American in the mid-1980s in a regular section called Mathematical Games that he inherited from Martin Gardner he rearranged Gardner's title to the section to the Book title. One of my favorite articles was the game he invented called Mediocre. Frankly, I am Mediocre at it, I don't want to brag, though. It is a many splendored thing to behold. Really interesting and charming articles that will expand your mind.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aron

    A collection of Hofstadter's columns written for the Scientific American. Very wide-ranging, illuminating read on a variety of concepts (ranging from logic, through mathematics, to art and physics). More accessible than GEB. A collection of Hofstadter's columns written for the Scientific American. Very wide-ranging, illuminating read on a variety of concepts (ranging from logic, through mathematics, to art and physics). More accessible than GEB.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Assaad

    Another book added to my personal favorite! This book is just amazing, I liked it even more than the mystical Godel Escher Bach. I bought the book originally just to have the honor to read the original article of Dr. Hofstadter on Superrationality in game theory, and I was completely stunned by the diversity of articles presented in the book. Surely my best part of the book is the last 100 pages where he tackled game theoretical problems and experiments. The best passage ever, is the one that I Another book added to my personal favorite! This book is just amazing, I liked it even more than the mystical Godel Escher Bach. I bought the book originally just to have the honor to read the original article of Dr. Hofstadter on Superrationality in game theory, and I was completely stunned by the diversity of articles presented in the book. Surely my best part of the book is the last 100 pages where he tackled game theoretical problems and experiments. The best passage ever, is the one that I have waited all along my reading, the recursive definition of superrational players: “Supperational thinkers, by recursive definition, include in their calculations the fact that they are in a group of superrational thinkers." What a beautiful mind on Dr. Doug. All my respects!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    There's some gems hidden in here, but it's pretty scattered. Be prepared for extensive and expansive discourse regarding calligraphy, typography and the design of fonts. Possessing a dysfunctional visual aesthetic sense and being generally wary of anything requiring more than UTF-8 and a console font to render meaningfully, I find these singularly uninteresting topics. Your meterage may very. There's some gems hidden in here, but it's pretty scattered. Be prepared for extensive and expansive discourse regarding calligraphy, typography and the design of fonts. Possessing a dysfunctional visual aesthetic sense and being generally wary of anything requiring more than UTF-8 and a console font to render meaningfully, I find these singularly uninteresting topics. Your meterage may very.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Sunset

    I read this book in high school (A long time ago) and it was over my head. As I progressed in life I have reread it many times and its a gem full of quirky essays about patterns and self-reference and paradoxes. Highly recommended for a ride into an forest of bizarre thoughts from a brillant thinker.

  17. 5 out of 5

    James Swenson

    First, read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. If you love that, then read this, which is mostly a collection of the author's columns from Scientific American. First, read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. If you love that, then read this, which is mostly a collection of the author's columns from Scientific American.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Totally incredible. If you want to get closer to/further away from understanding the world and yourself while being entertained and amazed, read this book. Or just parts of it. It's a series of columns on different topics, no need to be intimidated by the 800 pages. Totally incredible. If you want to get closer to/further away from understanding the world and yourself while being entertained and amazed, read this book. Or just parts of it. It's a series of columns on different topics, no need to be intimidated by the 800 pages.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mark Schiffer

    A supreme joy. I can dip into this book anytime, and gain something from what I read (even if I can't entirely grasp it). "The Tale of Happiton" is one of the best pieces regarding nuclear disarmament I have read. A supreme joy. I can dip into this book anytime, and gain something from what I read (even if I can't entirely grasp it). "The Tale of Happiton" is one of the best pieces regarding nuclear disarmament I have read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Read this BIG book after college. Enjoyed it then...about 30 years ago! Just wondering if any of my friends online are familiar with it? We are going through our books. Thinking of reading it again...

  21. 5 out of 5

    John McIlveen

    My God this is deep! But rewarding!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Fearon

    I read this a long time ago and as I remember it was completely amazing, thus my 5 star rating. I'm going to pick it up again soon and see if I still love it as much as I once did. :) I read this a long time ago and as I remember it was completely amazing, thus my 5 star rating. I'm going to pick it up again soon and see if I still love it as much as I once did. :)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ruhegeist

    perhaps this before GEB.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    Douglas Hofstadter is a strange man. He obviously likes building systems of thought; but he resists often solidifying his conjectures into systems. He resists building systems. The reason why is that he takes a STEM approach to things; that for that he has a system. Instead, in these conjectures he dovetails into other areas that are not hand-science (like that of philosophy of mind or philosophy or linguistics) but he utilizes a STEM approach. The problem with this is that STEM approaches like a Douglas Hofstadter is a strange man. He obviously likes building systems of thought; but he resists often solidifying his conjectures into systems. He resists building systems. The reason why is that he takes a STEM approach to things; that for that he has a system. Instead, in these conjectures he dovetails into other areas that are not hand-science (like that of philosophy of mind or philosophy or linguistics) but he utilizes a STEM approach. The problem with this is that STEM approaches like all sciences attempts to focus on defining its content in terms of what that content does -- which is NOT the only way humans create meaning. For instance, people can reason by metaphor or analogy. These can work in order to highlight the avenues of sensemaking for humans; with that sensemaking we know what options we have, even if the content is non-literal. Doing science requires content that is literal however; attempting to treat alchemy like science, for instance, will fail because the content of alchemy is littered with cultural modes of reason, like the medieval elements of air, earth, fire and water -- literally not true. But for the purposes of highlighting which medicines to take (based on cultural knowledge) it can work... sometimes. Anyway, because Hofstadter focuses on content one of the "trippy" areas he delights in is exploring where form and content interrelate because that boundary is ill defined in STEM thinking, so he will look at something in terms of form, and then in terms of content and then mix the two together, seeing them flip inside and out. Interesting perhaps, but I, like many of us "serious" readers, like "insight-porn" and so he is providing me with inkling of tidbits but lacks the sophisticated terminology to really systematize his thinking. So to me that is sad and a waste of time. For instance, his exploration of fonts is interesting but it leads nowhere because he doesn't avoids developing the language of graphology or iconography in order to truly answer his questions (like "what makes the letter "A" "A" when we change fonts radically?) He could go into some early machine learning techniques -- he is certainly smart enough to do so -- but resists that too, because this is just an intellectual game for him, not something that has deeper implications in to other areas. He often finds interesting relationships but then resists extending them into other areas (although sometimes he does extend them into other areas!) But I suspect this limitation is because he adopts a STEM view in which only certain descriptions are worthy of nominalization and only certain methods can yield consistent truths... Still, towards the end when he looks at game theory that is very interesting, and that made this otherwise somewhat disappointing book worth reading. I like his arguments for how to reason in terms of game theory because it takes a meta-approach that positions the thinker among those he thinks about, and that my friends is totally fantastic, because it relates to things like metamodernism and post-structuralism in a fascinating way... but that is for a different topic. My opinion of Hofstadter is that he is a brilliant man, an engaging writer but for me, he lacks the methods really needed to answer the questions he asks. Instead he asks them and is pleased to look at what he examines in wonder. And that wonder is a great attitude to have, even though if he was a little more critical I think he would see much more available. Still that attitude is something we can all learn from, and for me, reading him in HS, that was a great influence even though decades later I am a little muffled at what looks like close attempts at developing new avenues of thinking -- but ultimately it is thwarted because the author is too busy playing in the muckity-muck to really see what he has done.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    When I first read this (it was during the summer, I remember, at my grandparents' house-- 1989, maybe? so about 30 years ago) it opened my eyes to a hundred new ideas. I found his meta- play endlessly funny, and was awestruck by the cleverness and thoughtfulness displayed on every page. It was playing with ideas in a way I had never seen. I had enjoyed Godel Escher Bach, but a lot of it had gone over my head. This book however, was right at my level and it just grabbed me. It's probably a big pa When I first read this (it was during the summer, I remember, at my grandparents' house-- 1989, maybe? so about 30 years ago) it opened my eyes to a hundred new ideas. I found his meta- play endlessly funny, and was awestruck by the cleverness and thoughtfulness displayed on every page. It was playing with ideas in a way I had never seen. I had enjoyed Godel Escher Bach, but a lot of it had gone over my head. This book however, was right at my level and it just grabbed me. It's probably a big part of why I am an AI researcher today: the questions he asked -- about how thinking happens, analogies, the nature of concepts, the depth of connotations, what it means to understand, the source of creativity -- never left me. Since that time, though, I feel like many of those questions have been answered to my satisfaction. For example, one of the essays is about what would need to happen to create a machine capable of inventing new typefaces. There's been research on that, and with Generative Adversarial Networks and artistic style transfer I feel like the problem is more than half-solved. He raises the issue of how a concept, as represented by a computer, can carry all the richness of association that human concepts do. But in the General Pretrained Transformer networks, they've really captured that. It's just as amazing as he hinted that it would be. Hofstadter himself, though, has been left behind. He no longer keeps up with the relevant research in the field. His last lecture that I saw online was a grouchy complaint that Google Translate was unable to handle famously difficult, heavily constrained ancient Chinese poetry. Which, yeah. Hofstadter himself taught me, though, that the ability to be creative in little ways (translating everyday French to English, say) is not a difference in kind from creative genius. It's just a matter of degree, and degree translates to processing power, which we get more of every year. So I feel this deep frustration that he has refused to carry on his arguments into the present day, to respond to the miraculous achievement of many of his dreams in his clever, thoughtful way. (Which I know is not his fault, exactly.) In many ways, he is still ahead of time in this book, though. In the last five years or so, people have begun to talk about what pronouns they want to be called by, and at least two people I know personally go by "they/their." And we have generally moved away as a society over the last 30 years from "default male" language patterns, like "early man", "all men are created equal", "fireman", and "he" meaning "he or she." But Hofstadter goes a step beyond this, showing how embedding gender information into pronouns at all is, in a Sapir/Whorf way, sexist at a very deep level. I also have a better understanding of consciousness than I did back then. In the early 80s, you could still (as Hofstadter frequently does in this book) talk about "consciousness" to philosophers and not get called on it. Today, though, we routinely separate access consciousness from phenomenal consciousness, sentience, wakefulness, transitive consciousness, and so forth. We can talk about how they are related or distinct. I think if Hofstadter could clarify with modern vocabulary which he was talking about, a lot of the clouds surrounding his ideas would be dispelled-- maybe to their benefit, but also maybe to their detriment. At several times as I read the book, I paused to see if GPT-2 could continue his line of thinking, or his lists of examples. It did an amazing job on continuing the self-referential story, in which every sentence is self-referential. I want to write a detailed paper in response, addressing his points one by one. Who would read it, though? The arguments have moved on.

  26. 5 out of 5

    George Marshall

    It was enjoyable to read, but by the end I was simply happy to be done. The topics are numerous, and interesting, some more than others. And I even have a basic affinity for much of the author's views. I was just weary of him speaking in a way. And I can't put my finger on directly why. Maybe it is the repetition. Individual articles overlap significantly in theme. But even within a single article a particular nail can be hit with a colorful assortment of hammers, pipe-wrenches, violin cases and It was enjoyable to read, but by the end I was simply happy to be done. The topics are numerous, and interesting, some more than others. And I even have a basic affinity for much of the author's views. I was just weary of him speaking in a way. And I can't put my finger on directly why. Maybe it is the repetition. Individual articles overlap significantly in theme. But even within a single article a particular nail can be hit with a colorful assortment of hammers, pipe-wrenches, violin cases and ant farms. Maybe it would have been better to read all these articles serialized in the magazine, without all the commentary and post post post scriptums. They were interesting though! Martin Gardner. I get it. Awesome guy, great puzzler and writer. Magician, I suppose? But I find myself unenthused. And Hofstadter's role with Scientific American, its dependence on Gardner, and their friendship, all make his repeated mention understandable. But at some point you tire of it. I think the author does well-enough of making his own voice and mood clear, especially toward the very end. But by then it was too late. I wasn't reading to hear about Gardner, magic or puzzles. I was reading because of my interest in math, intelligence, logic, language, and what I saw as Hofstadter's shared interest. All related, for sure, but not the same. Obviously, he is quite interested in the puzzle side of tackling these things, and I not so much. Or maybe that is just a facet of his approach, attempting to popularize these topics. So that is on me I suppose, and not any failure he owns. Then there are the repeated mentions of Gödel, Escher, Bach. Yes, that is maybe what most people are familiar with in relation to the author. But I found myself thinking, was the column just a reheat of GEB, or does he have something novel, a new twist or thought to offer? Actually, his columns on analogy in this book offered some benefit over GEB, and I found that section all the more enjoyable for it. Unfortunately this is coming off more negative than I would like, and this is due to my "mood" concerning it at the finish. But it was enjoyable. There are many, many nuggets to grab hold of and twist in the brain in prolonged study: for example, analogy and its centrality to human-like thought (or is it all thought?), the barrier/boundary between connectedness and symbol manipulation and its relevance to both artificial and "real" intelligence or consciousness, and I was enthralled by the column concerning Chopin, different as it was, yet echoing in a lovely way. So, happy I read it. But also happy to read something else for a change.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Duncan

    This book has taken me a while to read, but apart from two or three chapters I failed to get into, I have really enjoyed it. Douglas writes in a pleasant conversational style, only occasionally seeming outdated. Of course, the most important aspect of this book was the ideas, many of which have worked their way into my skull and will continue to to dance around in there for months to come. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on self-referential sentences, and I found the the iterated Prisoner's D This book has taken me a while to read, but apart from two or three chapters I failed to get into, I have really enjoyed it. Douglas writes in a pleasant conversational style, only occasionally seeming outdated. Of course, the most important aspect of this book was the ideas, many of which have worked their way into my skull and will continue to to dance around in there for months to come. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on self-referential sentences, and I found the the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma chapter to resonate strongly and provide much food for thought. The two rapturous chapters on the Rubik's Cube and the notation for solving it were amusing in their enthusiasm, but I must admit I flipped through most of the details. The idea of Parquet deformations inspired me to try to think of of a way to create animations of them. I had a brief assignation with Lisp with an app on my phone after Hofstadter's Lisp: Recursion and Generality chapter, and enjoyed the silly food-related expanding acronyms. In all it has been a fairly long journey, but a very enjoyable one. There are ideas in my head now which would be worthwhile thinking and writing about, even if for the sole reason that it would be a shame to let them diffuse into my my brain without recalling a definite impression.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bohdan Pechenyak

    A whale of a book, but totally worth it - a collection of the author's columns from "Scientific American" in the early 1980s, each with its own "Post-script", which in some cases exceeds the original column, depending on the topic. If the sub-subtitle - "An Interlocked Collection of Literary, Scientific, and Artistic Studies - doesn't give enough of a clue, maybe the section names will: "Snags and Snarls", "Sense and Society", "Sparking and Slipping", "Structure and Strangeness", Spirit and Subs A whale of a book, but totally worth it - a collection of the author's columns from "Scientific American" in the early 1980s, each with its own "Post-script", which in some cases exceeds the original column, depending on the topic. If the sub-subtitle - "An Interlocked Collection of Literary, Scientific, and Artistic Studies - doesn't give enough of a clue, maybe the section names will: "Snags and Snarls", "Sense and Society", "Sparking and Slipping", "Structure and Strangeness", Spirit and Substrate", "Selection and Stability", "Sanity and Survival". In short, it's a whirlwind tour through cognitive science (self-reference, recursion, meaning of "self", rationality), computer science (artificial intelligence, subcognition computation, Alan Turing), music and art reviews (as seen through cognitive science and philosophy of mind - Chopin, mechanizing and creativity, typography, etc.), social commentary (i.e. on the sexist language use), mathematics (Rubik's cube, patterns, chaos theory), and more (game theory, genetics). Any engaged reader is bound to come out a different person after reading this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gilles Achache

    A collection of those articles written by Hofstadter for Scientific American.....& quite a few of which I'd already read, but I enjoyed them being collected together, & finding a few I hadn't seen before. It was not a good move on the part of Scientific American to change it's foreword writer (which he did for each issue for a long time) for the reason of the Computer Age.....the writer who took over from Hofstadter for Scientific American just did not have as much character, in fact I can't eve A collection of those articles written by Hofstadter for Scientific American.....& quite a few of which I'd already read, but I enjoyed them being collected together, & finding a few I hadn't seen before. It was not a good move on the part of Scientific American to change it's foreword writer (which he did for each issue for a long time) for the reason of the Computer Age.....the writer who took over from Hofstadter for Scientific American just did not have as much character, in fact I can't even remember his name - Hofstadter's predecessor was Martin Gardner, without looking anything up - I also bought the collection of his Scientific American articles ~ Mathematical Games - The Entire Collection of Martin Gardner's Scientific American Articles, yes, both volumes. Much much better than "the Computer Age guy", that is all he is to me, S. A. could have done without becoming so self-conscious as society changed with the advent of computers, it decided to ditch its best writer. O o. There's a few things said there!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Dan Cohen

    A wide-ranging book collated from articles written by the author for his column in Scientific American. It is mind-bending and astounding as one would expect from the author of "Godel, Escher, Bach" and covers much of the same ground, but it also covers more practical aspects of AI and, in particular, aspects of cognitive science such as creativity. Along the way there is material on the Rubik's cube, on the nuclear arms war, on typefaces, on the Lisp programming language, and on game theory. It A wide-ranging book collated from articles written by the author for his column in Scientific American. It is mind-bending and astounding as one would expect from the author of "Godel, Escher, Bach" and covers much of the same ground, but it also covers more practical aspects of AI and, in particular, aspects of cognitive science such as creativity. Along the way there is material on the Rubik's cube, on the nuclear arms war, on typefaces, on the Lisp programming language, and on game theory. It's not quite the integrated tour-de-force that GEB is, but still extremely thought-provoking. Despite the natural and easily-read writing, the book is overall not an easy read due to the depth and complexity of the themes, but it's well worth the effort.

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