Gödel, Escher, Bach

When I was in high school, a bunch of the honors English students had copies of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. They swore it was an awesome book. I was not an honors English student (I did terrible in high school) but I still hung around them because I was on the Speech and Debate team (one of the things I was actually really good at doing, and the only part of high school I genuinely enjoyed). I bought a copy because I figured they were on to something if they had all read it. Personally, I think some of them bought it because it looked cool in a nerdy sort of way and only claimed to have read it.. But I can’t criticize them for that because I bought it for the very same reason. Just by thumbing through it has an appealing pretentiousness. I found a copy for cheap at a used book store, and cracked it open.

I must have tried reading this book several times over the years, but I clearly was not equipped to read something like that (which spurned and fueled my doubts about most of the honors English students’ claims). I knew nothing of computer science and high-level mathematics, much less any formal knowledge of philosophy. I was still very much held onto the incorrect notion that much of philosophy was so much navel gazing about the universe. The book read like a foreign language to me. These were English sentences, but the words had little to meaning to me. So, I put it away, and did not open it again for another 30 years. Still, I lugged that thing around with a ton of other books I had, from apartment to apartment and even across the country, because it still has that nerdy cache that can be used to impress friends the way it was used to impress me (albeit falsely but I think we all do that one way or another).

Just recently, I was looking for a book for a friend in my personal library, and came across my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach. I soon realized I was equipped with at least the rudimentary tools to approach this book, because when I graduated Harvard Extension, I walked away with a Computer Science concentration and Government minor, the latter being grounded in political philosophy, with some moral philosophy and logic thrown in for good measure, and with honors. So, I if I could tackle all of that, I could tackle this book.

Last night, I cracked it open one more time, read the overview, and all of it made sense. I decided right then I’m going to read it finally. It is clearly as pretentious as it appears, but I will have a good time with it all the same, just as I did hanging out with the honors English students while on the Speech and Debate team.