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Bookworm 2013: Reality Check

Posted on | December 31, 2013 | No Comments

Douglas R Hofstadter - Godel Escher BachWell, it almost took a full year. I started reading Douglas R. Hofstadter’s Goedel, Escher, Bach in late July 2012, and finally brought it to an end in late March 2013. In the meantime, I’ve nibbled at it, took it slow, worked through some of the proofs and puzzles, took some short breaks, then took some longer breaks, suffered slight headaches, had a few profound revelations, and was, generally very, very satisfied with the entire exercise. This is one of those books that, should I have been able to read it as a teenager, would probably have turned my world upside down, much like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos did when I was ten. However, I am pretty certain that, as a teenager, I would have had to give it up at some point – it is so far from an easy read, it might just be the most difficult book I have ever plowed through. The fact that I used to be a programmer did help with some of the chapters (some were, even, banal for me – like the concepts of function recursion), other required mathematical and/or cognitive skillsets I do not posess. Though nominally about the proof of Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem, on a fundamental level, if you strip away the silly imaginary dialogues and the occasional Bach metaphor, the book deals with Hofstadter’s concept of Strange Loopsa sort-of recursion-like idea of feedback between various levels of complex systems, and how this gives rise to various emergent phenomena, including our consciousness. But along the way it touches on a myriad different issues that, taken all together, illuminate not only the way our minds work, but also many other natural phenomena – I was particularly intrigued about the bit on ad-hoc problem-solving networks in insect hives, only to encounter the idea, in a strange bit of synchronicity, in one of the SF novels I cut my stint in GEB with. The author does, at times, come off as a pompous arse, full of false modesty and overly insistent on how Bach’s baroque fugues are the pinnacle of music (personally, I can’t stand baroque in general, and Bach in particular), but the thing is, he kinda does back up his pompousness with an excellent, illuminating book chock full of novel ideas.

David Byrne - Bicycle DiariesOf course, not all non-fiction I read is meant to burst a capillary in my brain tissue. David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries are a delightful little romp through a number of cities worldwide, from the perspective of an avid cyclist, full of photographs, anecdotes and thoughts on the future of both city landscapes in general, as well as the future of urban cyclists in particular. A breezy and quick read, this sort-of travelogue does not require you to be interested in bicycles – only in human habitations and habits, art, music, and the world in general.

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    Written in minutes and fact-checked in seconds via Google. May contain unsafe levels of self-righteousness. Past cleverness is no guarantee of future results.
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  • Goodreads

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
    From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
    The Ophiuchi Hotline
    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    Green Eyes
    Crackpot Palace: Stories
    The Fractal Prince
    The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter

    Sebastian's favorite books »