User:Wehpudicabok/Gödel, Escher, Bach

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Gödel, Escher, Bach (often referred to by the abbreviation "GEB") is a book by Douglas Hofstadter. In the opinion of at least one RationalWiki editor, it is, to borrow a phrase, the most logical book ever written.

It's not the sort of book you'd be able to appreciate if you aren't a philosopher, but bear in mind that "being a philosopher" doesn't mean you have to have written a book on philosophy, or even read one. You just need to have a curiosity about some basic but very important questions. One of the most basic and most important questions is:

What is consciousness?

If you're a believer in philosophical naturalism, you have to have an explanation for consciousness within the bounds of what can at least in principle be observed physically. If you aren't, you probably believe that souls are responsible for consciousness. This is a legitimate position, but not a simple one, and if you think questions of consciousness can be answered by saying "God will sort out the details," you'd make a lousy philosopher. The questions of consciousness a believer in souls would have to answer include "What sorts of physical objects can have souls?" and "What is the nature of the interaction between souls and the natural world?" Ultimately, both naturalists and soulists must answer this question, which is really just an elaboration on the first:

What physical structures are necessary for consciousness?

It is the belief of many (though by no means all[1]) philosophers that consciousness is not a phenomenon unique to the sorts of organic brains that have evolved on Earth. These philosophers would argue that computers are at least in principle capable of consciousness, when they have reached a certain level of complexity. For them, the above question becomes:

What mathematical structures are necessary for consciousness?

The purpose of this book is to explore this question. Hofstadter's proposed answer is the phenomenon he terms the "strange loop," which is an odd concept that occurs in a variety of diverse fields; the title refers to its presence in the works of Gödel (his incompleteness theorems in particular), Escher, and Bach. It can take a variety of forms, including self-reference, the representation of an idea on multiple levels of information, and recursion.


  1. Prominent philosophers who dissent from this idea include J.R. Lucas and John Searle. The former's arguments against artificial intelligence are discussed and countered in depth in GEB; the latter's primary work on this subject, the infamous Chinese room argument, was published after GEB.