Surface and Essences

Douglas R Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sadler

When I was a 13-year-old nerd, I toted around a copy of Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid until it fell apart and I had to buy my grandfather a new copy. Apart from a collection of his columns for Scientific American, I haven’t read any of his work since then: I think I got a bit tired of it. Reading his new work, which is an exploration of the role analogy plays in human consciousness, made both these old feelings return – first the enthusiasm, and then the fatigue. Unlike GEB,which has lots of variety – dialogues, Escher reproductions, musical scores, whole chapters on foundational logic – Surfaces and Essences is uniform, prosy, long and rather relentless. I think I agree with Hofstadter and Sadler’s thesis, but it’s a shame that most of the books argument takes the form of thought experiments rather than, say, psychological studies. Mostly, it made me want to re-read GEB for the first time in years.

I did enjoy the chapter towards the end of the book about Einstein, but I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of well-written explanations of relativity.


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