Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures

Noam Chomsky

“Chomsky’s most accessible statement on the nature, origins and current concerns of the field of linguistics. Much of this discussion revolves around our understanding of basic human nature—that we are unique in being able to produce a rich, highly articulated and complex language on the basis of quite rudimentary data—and it is here that Chomsky’s ideas on language relate to his ideas on politics. From lectures given at the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua, in March 1986.”

Publisher: MIT
Paperback: 205 pages

About Time: Inventing the Fourth Dimension

William J. Friedman

About Time explores the mysteries of time from the perspective of psychology. Our sense of time is not derived so much from direct perception as from elaborate temporal modeling within the mind, as though time were a ghost which we must throw a sheet over to see. A diversity of experiments and studies are presented which examine and define the complex interplay of neurological, psychological, linguistic, social and cultural factors which contribute to the elaborate inner edifice of temporal perception. No unifying theory is argued here, nor are the secrets of time travel “revealed”; rather, this is a delicate investigation of this singularly metaphysical of human experiences, the experience of time. DN

Publisher: MIT
Paperback: 147 pages

Consciousness and the Computational Mind

Ray Jackendoff

“An overview of the mental representations invoked by the language, visual and musical faculties. Describes how they are used in perception, production, imagery and thought… exploring how these representations determine the character of conscious awareness, arriving at the 'Intermediate Level Theory' of consciousness.”

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 356 pages

The Evolution of Allure: Sexual Selection From the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk

George L. Hersey

A racy but serious history of physiognomy as it relates to sexual selection and mass culture, this book will make you understand exactly why Baywatch is the most popular television show on the planet. MG

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 219 pages

The Sexual Brain

Simon LeVay

Nature versus nurture has long been the key question when probing the roots of sexual orientation. Written with the educated lay-person in mind, The Sexual Brain puts forward the case that the diversity of human sexual behavior and feelings is best viewed in terms of the development, structure and function of the brain circuits that produce them. In particular, LeVay posits that the hypothalamus size in homosexual men’s brains may be on average smaller than the hypothalamus of heterosexual men. While critics have questioned the diversity and size of the population group in this text’s underlying study, LeVay’s work has identified a possible physiological link in the determination of sexual orientation and will no doubt act as impetus for succeeding generations of researchers. JAT

Publisher: MIT
Paperback: 192 pages

The Age of Intelligent Machines

Raymond Kurzweil

The author of this illuminating overview of the development of artificial intelligence approaches his subject matter not as a glib science journalist or obfuscating academic but as a hands-on pioneer in applied artificial-intelligence (AI) devices. Kurzweil is credited as the inventor of optical character recognition (OCR), the Kurzweil Reading Machine, and the polyphonic music synthesizer (at the suggestion of Stevie Wonder, who was an early reading machine client), among other advances in applying AI to technology. Kurzweil sees AI as a second Industrial Revolution, creating machines that will extend, multiply and leverage our mental abilities as opposed to physical abilities. Appropriately, he begins with an examination of the history of automation and a brief discussion of the Luddites (the only organized opposition to technology in history). The theoretical roots of AI and its basis in “logical positivist” philosophers such as Kant and Wittgenstein are also explained.
Surprisingly human tragedies emerge from amidst the logic gates and subroutines. One such account is a portrayal of Alan Turing, who built the first electromagnetic computer to crack the mechanical intelligence of the Nazi Enigma code machine, thus allowing the RAF to win the Battle of Britain. A closeted gay man, he committed suicide with a potentially brilliant career ahead of him. Then there is the Ken Russellesque drama of the obsessed Cambridge mathematician Charles Babbage, who in the 1860s created the prophetic Difference Engine and Analytical Engines (which, although mechanical, laid the theoretical basis for IBM’s Mark I). He had an ill-fated affair with the beautiful Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron and the first computer programmer).
Kurzweil hits other high points on the way to the creation of machine intelligence, such as the invention of keypunch machines for the 1890 census and the subsequent rise of IBM, the invention of the original, gigantic tube computers such as the ENIAC and the UNIVAC, Norbert Wiener and the science of cybernetics, the shift from analog to digital information, the stillborn original neural net known as the Perceptron, pixels, robotics and much more.
The compilation ends with a speculative AI chronology which demonstrates the sadly uncritical gee-whiz mentality of the generation still leading the AI assault: “Early 21st century—the entire productive sector of society is operated by a small number of technicians and professionals.” Does that mean the rest of us will be permanently on vacation? Somehow it never seems to work out that way. SS

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 564 pages

Manhole Covers

Mimi Melnick

Coffee-table tome for street- and sewer- life aficionados. “They lie underfoot, embellished and gleaming,” cast-iron lids on a dark world where “liquids such as beer, milk, ice cream or orange juice flow unseen down secret avenues.” They’re waffled, starred, sunburst, checkered and grooved. “Part history of material culture, part exercise in obsessive photographic cataloguing, part crypto-Pop artist’s book. There’s a crisp and even elegant matter-of-factness to their writing and their pictures, a spare functionalist precision.” Photographed directly from above, a hefty collection of metal presented in lustrous black and white, the pictures aesthetically satisfy “a certain organicist longing for closed forms.” GR

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 252 pages

Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde

Edited by Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead

Titled after an essay by the founder of Italian Futurism, F.T. Marinetti, this sleek volume comprises a selection of early artistic responses to the audio and radiophonic technologies—several composed on or about the time of these developments—interspersed with corresponding analyses and theoretical appraisals from some of the leading voices of the so-called new music and radio arts. The editors identify their subject as “sound art,” which is neither songs, symphonies nor any of the more conventional modes of sound production and broadcasting. Rather than attempt an exhaustive survey of this admittedly narrow field, they instead visit and revisit certain key themes which have attended the automation of sound from the start, and which continue to exert a profound influence over present-day creators. The first of these themes is proposed by writer Raymond Roussel, who instinctively identified the record/playback relay as a form of reanimation—a machine for returning the voice of the dead. Accordingly, Roussel’s book Locus Solus is interpreted as a series of bodily metaphors for the inscription, reproduction and transmission of sound.
Synaesthesia is another recurring concept—an idée fixe among the Surrealists, who produced very little soundwork per se, but employed the technology of recording in the most general sense as a model for the operations of the unconscious. Their primary modus of automatic writing is only the most striking example of the sort of technical incorporations which fill these pages. The mind as machine, the machine as mind—the prosthetic motif works both ways. From the chance compositions of Marcel Duchamp to the narrative cut-ups of William Burroughs by way of the Russian Constructivists and their dream of a vast aural archive, the lock-and-key symbiosis between phonographic disc/magnetic tape/wireless transmitter and human consciousness is subjected to all kinds of tinkering, a series of experiments aimed at nothing less than a total overhaul of the human psyche. JT

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 452 pages

Cinema, Censorship, and the State

Nagisa Oshima

Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima is a brilliant theorist on, and critic of, the Japanese political/cultural system. All of the tracts in this book eventually come back to what it was like to be a youth living in postwar Japan. Paralleling the student/Situationist strikes in Paris of 1968, the Tokyo university students’ insurgence of the late ‘60s was the main springboard—politically and artistically—for Oshima’s cinematic and textual work. These essays (from 1956 through 1986) fully articulate his progression from political activity to filmmaking. In his cinema, there is a sense that bridges are being destroyed. One of the interesting aspects of Oshima’s films and writing is his attempt to elicit change in his country’s mythology concerning sexuality and racism. Oshima writes and films about the outcasts in Japanese society with a conviction that must seem audacious to a Japanese audience.
On its surface, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1982) is a film about the cultural differences between the Japanese and their prisoners during World War II. Upon closer inspection, the film becomes a commentary on sensuality and how it relates to Eastern and Western cultures The prison camp is a fish bowl, where one can watch objectively as the participants joust for power and sexual roles. Lawrence is also an exploration of the SM relationship between the characters portrayed by pop stars David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Death by Hanging (1968) not only looks capital punishment, but questions who is being killed by the state. The longest piece in the book concerns Oshima’s battle with Japanese censors over his erotic masterpiece Ai No Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses, from 1976). He won the case eventually, but it seems Oshima felt no great victory in this. Cinema, Censorship and the State is outstanding not only revealing for Oshima’s unique position in Japanese cinema, but for profiling a stimulating thinker who is struggling with the concept of being an artist in a country that may not care for modern cinema. TB

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 308 pages

Gas Tanks

Bernd and Hilla Becher

“The famous Düsseldorf photographers’ formal investigation of industrial structures displays their serenely cool, rigorous approach to the structures they photograph as variations on an ideal form. The Bechers make no attempt to analyze or explain their subjects. For more than 35 years, the Bechers have been creating a monument to the most venerable buildings of the industrial era through their photographic art. They have re-awoken the forgotten or unnoticed beauty of water towers, gas holders, lime kilns and blast furnaces, and their photographs have told the story of the process of industrialization. Their head-on, deadpan photographs express an almost Egyptial sense of man’s heroic effort to put his mark on the landscape. Gas Tanks presents four principally different forms of gas holders or gas tanks taken over three decades.”

Publisher: MIT
Hardback: 144 pages