Douglas Hofstadter II: Return of the Golden Braid

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Freshly back from vacation, I’m going to “kick things off” with a pro forma link to some piece I wrote for the magazine! Actually this is a hugely important piece to me, in a personal way, because it’s about Douglas Hofstadter, the guy who wrote Godel, Escher, Bach (no, we’re not doing umlauts today), an incredibly brilliant, funny synthesis of math, art, music, philosophy, artificial intelligence, logic, Zen, wordplay, and assorted other intellectual bricabrac. It was published in 1979 and deeply influenced a whole generation of nerdly thinkers in diverse fields. When I was growing up Godel, Escher, Bach was basically a third parent to me and my siblings.

But I knew almost nothing about Hofstadter before I began to prepping to interview him. I didn’t know, for example, that his dad was Robert Hofstadter, who won a Nobel prize for physics in 1961. Since GEB came out Hofstadter has published on a bunch of other topics, and done a lot of work with computer models of consciousness at the University of Indiana, but his new book, I Am a Strange Loop, is sort of his grand return to the themes of GEB. It’s a very different book: not as flamboyantly playful as GEB, more stringently mathematical and more focused on his ideas about human consciousness. But it’s still brilliant. It’s also colored by the death of Hofstadter’s wife, which was a colossal personal tragedy for him.

In the piece I briefly reference my sister’s work as a mathematical sculptor. It seemed sort of mercenary to mention her name in the article, but I’ll do it here: her name is Bathsheba Grossman, and you can see her stuff at her site.