Summer reading 2012

Posted on June 6, 2012

Last updated on February 28, 2013

This is another update on the books I’ve read recently.

1 I Am a Strange Loop

“I Am a Strange Loop” is a book by Douglas Hofstader, author of the amazing GEB (“Godel Escher Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid”), and I only decided to read it because of the high enjoyment I got out of GEB.

“I Am a Strange Loop” explores the concept of “self”, so one could call it a psychology/philosophy book. But there is more to it. The author builds up his idea using concepts from mathematics, particularly mathematical logic. We are explained how our concept of self can be compared to a Godelian self-referential system.

The non-technical explanation would go somewhat as follows. We are born without a “soul” or “self”, and only through experience and the self-referential feedback system that we are, our “self” grows in soulness.

Even though the book itself does not have a single equation (I assume Hoffstader wanted to reach a wider audience), but the truth is that explanations of Godelian self-reference and the proof of Godel’s incompleteness theorem are simply better and easier explained using simple mathemaical equations. Here, the author makes elaborate metaphors involving self-referential theatre play or whatnot, that just complicate matters. The explanation of the incompleteness theorem and Godel’s findings was much better executed in GEB, but GEB was probably meant at a little bit different audience.

I have enjoyed the book and the concepts it provided me with. Beforehand, I haven’t really put much thought into how my brain forms concepts, or how thoughts flow through my head, merge with others, and create new thoughts. I now see my brain more as a device capable of getting input and processing/storing it, but also capable of self-introspection. I would recommend this for people interested in the topic of “what is self”, but I would recommend you read GEB first, which not only is a much better book, but will explain to you the concept of Godel’s incompleteness theorem in a more sane way.

2 The Alchemist

“The Alchemist” seemed like a very hyped up book with high praise, so I went ahead and read it in one day.

I was severely disappointed. The story is that of a young shepherd finding his way to what is valuable in life and where it can be found, although it is done in a way that brings too much religion and mysticism into the picture. Overall, felt like a collection of aphorisms written in a boring and uninteresting style.

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