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21 July 2006

I'm about to start reading Gödel, Escher, Bach. Is there anything I should do to prepare? Should I keep paper and pencil handy at all times? Are there any resources/footnotes/annotations/cliff's notes I should keep handy (or bookmarked)?
I didn't find it to be a book that needed preparing for, actually--it is intellectually dense, but it's quite easy to read. Hofstadter deliberately repeats himself with slight variations, so that his more complex ideas are likely to stick in your head. As for annotations, the book is more or less completely self-contained, so any annotations might be more of a distraction than a help, at least the first time through. Anything that needs a gloss has already been glossed by Hofstadter.

I remember the middle of the book containing the most difficult material, with the easiest bits being the beginning and end.
posted by Prospero 21 July | 10:14
Jesus, man, just read it. And work the few problems he suggests.
posted by Wolfdog 21 July | 10:21
Ha ha, ok. I guess I was expecting something more like Foucault's Pendulum, with all sorts of obscure facts and some hidden things (in the overview, he mentions hidden acrostics in one section). I'm eager, I just don't want to miss anything.
posted by Eideteker 21 July | 10:40
You should probably expect to have to read it twice. Because of the way the book builds upon itself, you'll find a second read ties things together a little better.
posted by tommasz 21 July | 10:48
No. But Wolfdog's right -- you should definitely do the exercises.
posted by tangerine 21 July | 11:47
"I have studied Aristotle, Socrates, William Fredrick Hegel, Bertrand Russel...I have toured college campuses, debating the virtues of dialectic versus symbolic syllogism...I have written scholarly articles on the need for a new, more dynamic logic...but nothing in my life has prepared me
for the workings of the Thomas Magnum mind."
posted by Smart Dalek 21 July | 12:02
Fast for five days drinking only onion soup. Every evening, beat yourself about the head and shoulders using an olive tree branch while singing "O Sole Mio", being careful not to expose your skin to the moonbeams. During the fast, also take care to genuflect while facing eastwards every time you hear someone curse. Genuflect twice and spin around in a circle if the person cursing is you. Finally, apply willow bark poultices to your armpits before bed and call out the first 59 digits of pi when you wake up. Once you have completed all this, feel free to read the book.
posted by ooga_booga 21 July | 12:46
^ marked as fav
posted by iconomy 21 July | 14:14
posted by eriko 21 July | 15:15
I agree with Prospero and Wolfdog. You don't need the pen and paper; do the exercises.
posted by halonine 21 July | 18:15
If you read it lightly, don't expect much from a single read. I read it that way the first time, and didn't do any of the pencil-and-paper work, and although I thought I learned something from it, it was very shallow.

On the other hand, I think you can probably be too zealous, as well.

I've read it three times, the second with diligence and most of the problem work, the third more lightly for enjoyment. Of course I sort of think that's ideal.

I've been meaning to actually work through Godel's theorem for years now, it really doesn't require any math preparation except some familiarity. But he's very, very dense in what he does. (I do know people who are educationally very familiar with the theorem.)

I think I would advise a bit of skepticism as to how far-reaching the theorem actually is in the philosophical context Hofstadter presents it. There's a very good argument that says that it's relevant only to things like Russell and Whitehead's project and that it means only exactly what it says and no more. Being that I'm heavily influenced by this book and these ideas, I've been pushing that interpretation for the last ten years as a sort of personal corrective. Certainly it's a much-needed corrective to how the theorem is presented popularly.

I have a aquaintence/friend whose girlfriend was Hofstadter's babysitter. One day he was with her when she discovered that she has a flat tire and was nearby to Hofstadter's house. They walked over there and rang his bell and asked him if he had a tire-jack. He replied, "Yes I do." They asked him if they could borrow it. "Oh, well, it's in my car in California."
posted by kmellis 21 July | 22:03
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