And now, for something completely different: GEB virtual course

I’ve been thinking of finding some folks to “take” one of MIT’s OpenCourseware classes together.

After thinking through various possibilities (face-to-face bookclub, social networks, listserv, etc), here’s my proposal:

  1. Use my blog as the meeting place and record of conversation for the MIT course: SP.258 / ESG.SP258 Gödel, Escher, Bach

  2. The Penrose triangle, also known as the tribar, is an impossible object. It appears to be a solid triangle made of three straight beams of square cross-section which meet at right angles. It is featured prominently in the works of artist M.C. Escher, whose earlier depictions of impossible objects partly inspired it. (Image by MIT OCW.)

  3. Here’s the course description:

    How are math, art, music, and language intertwined? How does intelligent behavior arise from its component parts? Can computers think? Can brains compute? Douglas Hofstadter probes very cleverly at these questions and more in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Gödel, Escher, Bach”. In this seminar, we will read and discuss the book in depth, taking the time to solve its puzzles, appreciate the Bach pieces that inspired its dialogues, and discover its hidden tricks along the way.

  4. In the bricks-and-mortar version of the course, they met twice a week for an hour. In our virtual version, we’ll discuss two sections in a week starting after Labor Day. We’ll follow this reading/listening schedule which follows the same order of the original MIT course. I’ll create a post for each of the reading and listening assignments (one on Mondays and the second on Thursdays). You can join in the discussion at any time during that week but make sure you have done the reading/listening first! It will be most productive if we move through the material together as much as possible. I reserve the option to close comments after a week, so that we keep moving forward and focus on the discussion for the most current reading/listening. However, if you get behind, you should feel free to jump back in later in the semester.
  5. There will be an optional chat discussion once a week. We’ll figure out the format (iChat, AIM, Google chat, etc) and the day and time once I know who is interested.

Who’s interested?

UPDATE: There is now a page (see tab in the blue bar above) for the “Gödel, Escher, Bach” Course Schedule. This page has the reading and listening schedule and links to MP3 files for the music referenced. The dates listed are for when the discussion on the reading/listening will commence (so be prepared ahead of time). If you cannot keep up with the full schedule, you are welcome to participate in whatever chapters you are able to prepare for.

Another resource: MIT’s Highlights for High School recorded six lectures from a summer course (2007): Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey. A good overview of the main concepts in the book. You need RealPlayer to view the one-hour lectures.

17 thoughts on “And now, for something completely different: GEB virtual course

  1. Ros

    It really sounds fascinating, but I don’t think I have time to commit to it now. I’ll be following the discussions, though.

  2. Pingback: If I only had the time… « Conversational Theology

  3. Karyn Post author


    Glad you are interested!

    It’s not in iTunes, you can download the materials directly from the MIT OpenCourseware site. Just click on the title of the course above (or the picture of the Penrose Triangle) and it will take you to the right place. On the right hand side of that page is a link to download the course materials (you can also view them online by following the navigation links on the left side of that page).

    I’ll be posting links to the listening assignments.

  4. Karyn Post author


    The only audio links that we will have will be to the music that is assigned to accompany the chapter readings. This is just a discussion class, not a lecture class. I have not posted the links to the “listening” assignments yet.


  5. Mindy Withrow

    Seriously tempting!!! Bach is, of course, my favorite musician, and I’ve been intrigued by Godel ever since I read Janna Levin’s novel about him and Turing. I’m leaving early tomorrow for several days away, but when I get back I’ll look up the course materials and let you know if I can commit at all realistically. Great idea!

  6. Carl Hostetter

    I’ve been meaning to read this book, well, since it was first published! So I’m gonna give it a try, and hope I can keep up.

  7. Carl Hostetter

    Does anyone here know whether the 20th Anniversary Edition differs in any way significant to this course from the original paperback edition (which is what I already own)?

  8. Jason

    Sandra and I are thinking about it. We’ll try to decide if we can devote enough time to it with a 9mo old.

    –Jason (it’d be nice to stretch our brains)

  9. cbovell

    You never know where you’ll end up once you start following people’s links but I’m glad I did and found my way here. Is this open to all? Room for one more?

  10. Mark Traphagen


    I have the 20th anniversary edition. It adds nothing new other than an extensive preface by the author. He decided to leave the text virtually untouched.

  11. Karyn Post author

    Jason, you and Sandra should participate as much as your little one allows you to! It will be a good stretch for all of us.

    Welcome, CBOVELL (can we call you by your first name?).
    You’ll be a great addition to the discussion. If my memory serves me correctly, you have an undergrad degree in Math, right? (Note to everyone else: a math degree is not necessary to “get” the book!)


  12. Jason

    Sandra and I are looking forward to this. We’ve got the book.

    Have you decided in what form/forum the discussions will take place?

    Have you decided when in the day they will? (night time EST I assume? 7:00 or so?) Nights != Tuesday will be my preference…

    (Background: I’m a compsci nerd, the wife has done art and music)

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