I read Gödel, Escher, Bach (GEB) a few years ago. I still think of it from time to time.

I think there are good and bad reasons to read this book.

Good reasons:

  • It’s an exquisite, mind-bending work of art. The kind of person who enjoys Escher or Bach may also enjoy GEB.
  • It covers many topics in an entertaining and interesting way. Formal systems, molecular biology, etc.
  • I really enjoyed it as a meditation on metaphor. You could say the whole book is a metaphor.

Bad reasons:

  • You’re looking for useful ideas about artificial intelligence.
  • You’re looking for deep connections between Gödel’s incompleteness theorem and human cognition. Douglas Hofstadter is happy to provide those connections, but it strikes me as fanciful thinking. Good fiction, bad description of reality.

The book was a slog to get through, despite being entertaining at times. I took about a month to read it—most of a winter break.
It occupied most of my waking attention during that time.

I think GEB does serve as a social signal among computer scientists and mathematicians. “I am very sophisticated for having read this book.” Am I engaging in signaling by writing this post? I leave this as an exercise to the reader.

The book sometimes comes up in conversation with nerdy company—fellow CS grad students, for example. It isn’t uncommon for someone to tell me they read it in high school. “Oh, great,” I think to myself. “I wonder what you could have gotten out of it.”

Ultimately, I think the payoff from reading GEB probably isn’t worth the investment of time and effort for most people.

\( \blacksquare\)