Every time I see someone write about Godel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter I can’t resist writing about it myself. It’s a sickness, I know.
This book spends 700 pages that feel like an infinity explaining things a clever 12-year-old can understand in an afternoon.
It’s a work of trite, hackneyed garbage. It’s the Gladwell-esque Outliers of cognitive science. It’s the Guns, Germs and Steel of formal systems and AI.
FUCK. THAT. BOOK.
How it achieved such cultural ubiquity and universal praise, I have no idea at all. Perhaps because most of the ideas were at the time relatively new to the intellectual set? And it was of course a big, imposing “status” tome that looked good on a bookshelf and identified your caste unambiguously.
Yes, I’ve read the whole thing. Parts of it twice, to see if I was missing something. (I wasn’t.) Seldom have I so sorely regretted wasting so much time.
Like Gladwell, like Lehrer, like Diamond this is one of those books where the more you know about the areas Hofstadter covers, the more dubious it all becomes. I’m no expert in any of those fields, but apparently neither is Hofstadter.
In his defense, it was written in 1979 and has not at all aged well. However, even in 1979 80% of it was already wrong, unfounded, or just plain delusional.
For one thing (and I’ll stop here), Gödel’s theorems have fuck-all to do with cognitive anything, but rather are concerned with the provability of certain axioms in formal systems. Hofstadter is trying to bridge the unbridgeable, and doing it poorly to boot. And that is the first of a million objections!
And god, now I am wasting more time on that rubbish book.