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I have just completed a course on computability and logic which was an interesting course. The lecturer recommend a few books on his slides, which include "Gödel, Escher, Bach". I can see the book is quite famous, and looks very interesting. But I have a few questions to ask regarding its content.

  1. Is the content still valid today? I guess most theoretical stuff doesn't change over night, but are there any major points which no longer hold today that I should be aware of?

  2. I assume we actually HAVE made some progress in the last 30 years or so. Can any of you recommend a book on the subject which includes this progress (logic, AI, computability)?

Another question: Do I have to know about Escher and Bach?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by MichaelT, gnat, GlenH7, Michael Kohne, Bart van Ingen Schenau Oct 1 '13 at 13:09

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

GEB is completely obsolete; all those guys are dead. – kevin cline Jan 11 '12 at 18:51
You do not need any previous knowledge. – user1249 Aug 13 '12 at 6:35
up vote 36 down vote accepted

Is the content still valid today? I guess most theoretical stuff don't change over night, but is there some major points which does not hold today which I should be aware of?

The content is logic and math. It doesn't change in any substantial way, not only over night. It will be valid forever.

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Thanks for answering :) I know there is stuff in it about AI - I guess some of it can change. "It will be valid forever." <- hhm, yes, but there is still unsolved problems which may have been solved since. – Lasse Espeholt Oct 10 '10 at 10:28
GEB:EGB's still an excellent read. – Frank Shearar Oct 10 '10 at 10:57
@lasseespeholt - indeed there are still unsolved problems, and there always will be. Some connected to this might have been solved in the intervening time, but GEB:EGB didn't cover everything anyway. – Don Roby Oct 10 '10 at 15:27
@Frank Shearar: looking at GEB:EGB I wonder why he didn't call it BGE:EGB (never finished the book itself to be honest) – mojuba Nov 20 '10 at 20:00
@mojuba: I'm wondering whether he liked the sound of "GEB" better, or thought it a more complicated permutation rather than a simple reversal. – Frank Shearar Nov 20 '10 at 20:35

Gödel, Escher, Bach is a very unusual book. A lot of concepts are presented and need a LOT of digestion to appreciate. All you need to know is presented in the book, and you might find the explanation of Gödels Theorem (which is done quite well) and the various Turing-concepts fascinating.

Also the way he narrates a story similar to a six-part fugue still intrigues me. And all the self-references, and the ALMOST-self references...

A fantastic book!

(and for fellow readers, I found the real ending to the book :) )

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Heh, we are so different. I wanted to like the book, but couldn't -- Hofstadter spends so much time elaborating simple concepts, that it makes me scream in my head "I get it! move on!". I've been fascinated by textbooks on functional analysis and Hilbert spaces, but GEB simply puts me to sleep. The book has its merits, but should have been edited down to at most 50% of its current size. Hofstadter in his foreword says that he considers his work a finished perfect piece of writing -- I admire his self-admiration! – quant_dev Jan 11 '12 at 9:57
@quant_dev perhaps you were overqualified for some of the sections? I found the computer science background stuff somewhat long winded too, but I liked the narrative sections especially with the Gödel number well. – user1249 Jan 11 '12 at 11:44

I can tell you for a fact that it is still entertaining today, which is a lot more than some of our ancient tomes can say.

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What did you get out of the book? :) "Just" entertainment or? – Lasse Espeholt Oct 11 '10 at 18:03
I read the book while taking Intro to Theory of Computing, it was a great supplement to the course. Although, I can't remember much more than recursive djinn and the TNT language - I can't remember much from Theory of Computing either! – Peter Turner Oct 11 '10 at 18:09

There are a few outdated references in the book, but most of the content is still valid. One particular point I'm thinking of is his discussion about AI and how computers can't even beat human's in chess, and he's not sure if that will ever happen. Of course, that DID happen, but it was due to faster harder and larger databases of moves, not any revolutionary new algorithms in AI.

His ideas about logic and such are still quite valid and good though. If you have any interest in computer languages, the entire book is very useful as he discusses a lot of the fundamental concepts behind the design of language and symbolic notations.

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+1 Thanks for answering a question this old :) I really appreciate your contribution and I thinks it is very useful. – Lasse Espeholt Nov 20 '10 at 19:55
  1. If you like listening to Bach, you will like reading the book.
  2. The books by Daniel Dennett contain quite some challenging views on algorithms and life
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Thanks, I'll look into it :) – Lasse Espeholt Oct 11 '10 at 7:13
in particular the book "the mind's I" where Hofstadter is co-author and "Darwin Dangerous Idea" as well as "Consciousness explained" are related to GEB – poseid Oct 11 '10 at 7:55

It is an interesting read (and a difficult one at times), but it won't make you a better programmer/developer/etc. As donroby said, it is still valid because it's about math and logic (and a lot more).

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Thanks... I don't respect to be a better C# (etc.) developer - but I expect to see some things in a different light (as the course did) with regard to logic, AI etc. What did you get out of the book? – Lasse Espeholt Oct 11 '10 at 10:45
Should be "expect" instead of "respect". And also, please see my added question "Do I have to know about Escher and Bach?" – Lasse Espeholt Oct 11 '10 at 18:02
@lasseespeholt - it didn't change how I view or understand things, mostly because many of the ideas raised in the book are similar to my owns and the book only served to illustrate them more "poetically". It does tackle great programming subjects like recursion and AI, but to a programmer, there's not much knew. It's an interesting read, but I had to force myself to complete it and I didn't appreciate it all that much (many parts yes, many others not). – mbillard Oct 11 '10 at 18:38
From the sample chapters in this book (, it appears to be a very simplified version of "Godel, Escher, Bach". It appears to be targeted for kids, but I enjoyed the sample chapters myself. It might be worth looking at it. – mbillard Jan 12 '12 at 18:56

Do I have to know about Escher and Bach?

Not at all! The book introduces some of their work to illustrate some concepts, so you'll learn enough about them by the way.

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To answer the other question (belatedly) about having to know about Escher and Bach, I can say: no, you don't have to know about their work.

All relevant ideas and facts will be right there in Hofstadter's text: he includes some of Escher's graphical work (where it really helps to focus the reader's mind) and sometimes mentions Bach.

However, I didn't get into Bach until after I had read GEB, and I don't feel I have missed out on anything. If you get curious about Bach's compositions, you can easily just listen to a few of them and quickly get the gist thanks to Hofstadter's ideas rather than the other way around.

On a tangent: I was really only familiar with Escher's work (although I hadn't considered it in depth) and not even with Gödel's ideas until I read GEB. I have to admit that I didn't initially understand Gödel's theorem -- I read the book when I was still studying Classical Philology -- until I did some (actually: a lot of) reading on the side.

So in conclusion: you don't need to know about Escher and Bach but you do need to understand Gödel's ideas. You can however start reading up on Gödel after you have begun reading GEB, when Hofstadter starts incorporating Gödel's ideas.

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