These wide-ranging discussions of art, music, mathematics, philosophy, technology, and language at times suggest the stream-of-consciousness technique of James Joyce. Like Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), Gödel, Escher, Bach is a maze, but a maze not without a plan. On the dust jacket and again before parts 1 and 2 Hofstadter presents a figure that he carved from a single block of wood. When light shines through this figure in three directions, it casts shadows that form the letters GEB (Gödel, Escher, Bach) or EGB (eternal golden braid). Physically, Gödel, Escher, and Bach are thus joined in a single carving; linguistically, their initials stand for the interlocking strands described in the book’s subtitle. More fundamentally, Hofstadter regards his wooden figure as the representation of a deep truth: “Gödel and Escher and Bach [are] only shadows cast in different directions by some central solid essence.”
For Hofstadter, art, music, mathematics, philosophy, linguistics—indeed, all disciplines—depend on a limited number of basic principles. He thus allies himself with structuralists rather than particularists such as Noam Chomsky, who argue that a task such as language acquisition is so complex that it can have nothing to do with any other field of knowledge. Structuralists such as Jean Piaget claim that only a few logical-mathematical operations underlie all thought. At Carnegie-Mellon University,...
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