LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Even though I adored Godel, Escher, Bach (GEB), I had been putting off reading Metamagical Themas because of its immensity (800 small-type pages) for almost a year... but as soon as I read the first essay I realized my mistake and happily finished the book in a week and a half. This is a collection of Hofstadter's Scientific American articles, published between 1981 and 1983, with an additional seven essays. Each piece comes complete with an newly-published postscript of considerable length. Topics covered by these essays include: self-reference, self-replication (memes), games (Nomic, number games), skepticism, understanding large numbers, gender in language, chopin, parquet deformations, nonsense, the nature of creativity, typefaces, rubik's cube, strange attractors and turbulence, recursiveness in programming (LISP), Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, molecular biology, the Prisoner's Dilemma, nuclear war, Turing, and artificial intelligence as it pertains to Turing Tests, creativity, analogy, free will, perception, and pattern recognition. Throughout it all, puzzles, paradox, strange ideas, deep thoughts, and weird concepts are shared. Hofstadter consistently presents complex ideas in a manner that any intelligent layperson can grasp. Of the 33 chapters, only one deeply mathematical section passed into the zone of inscrutability for me. Most of the time, a careful reading of his clear and precise prose leads you through these complex thoughts gracefully. Each section opens with a simplified example of what Hofstadter calls “Whirly Art” - a personal creative diversion he has practiced for years in secret. It consists of drawing an image on ticker-tape to reflect an imaginary fugue, or canon. This endlessly fascinating man's closet is filled with these things and they need to somehow be published. I would be first in line for the inevitable 5 foot long coffee table book. Obviously, I have barely touched on the magic that appears between these covers. Be assured that if you enjoyed GEB, you will enjoy this – but if you have not read that masterpiece, you should do so before reading this book. Keylawk's review below, "Hofstadter cheerfully extrapolates a gloomy prognosis for human kind because of irrational greed", seems to me to be patently unfair for several reasons: 1. Hofstadter restricts discussion of nuclear war to approx 30 pages of the 800 page book 2. The discussion involves Prisoner's Dilemma, statistics, and cognitive science topics addressed throughout the book 3. Hofstadter is overly optimistic throughout the book, and the only time he is "gloomy" is when real world experiments with the Prisoner's Dilemma contradict his optimistic outlook 4. Any residual gloominess can be excused by the fact that this was written in the early to mid eighties, the height of the Cold War, when nuclear war was a fear that was shared by most rational people.