Most of my reaction to this book is incidental to its content: First, it's funny what once passed for pop science. The reviews on the back from the Sa Most of my reaction to this book is incidental to its content: First, it's funny what once passed for pop science. The reviews on the back from the Saturday Evening Post and others hail its readability for the layman, yet at least 10% of the pages are devoted to difficult equations and proofs, and I had to skip a couple of chapters because the math was way, way over my head.
Second, much of the science Wiener pioneered has been obviated by the development of more powerful tools in neurology and computing, among others. One on hand, his ruminations on the potential of the machine to perform this or that task feel lost in a hastening genealogy of technological developments.
On the other hand, Wiener was both philosopher and scientist. As a scientist he was evidently peerless at the time; as a philosopher he reads as ... quirky. But at least he's trying. A dyed-in-the-wool materialist, his assertion that the body is a machine - a wonderfully complex machine, but a machine nevertheless - apparently had not been so internalized by his intended audience (again, a mathematically literate lay audience) that it was unnecessary to make the point. But this hardly exhausts his argument. Wiener was clearly an instrumentalist, and explicit in his theory of the human body is the idea that the workings of neurons, synapses, and brain waves could be translated to computing technologies for many applications, good or bad, which he discusses at length in other books like "The Human Use of Human Beings." It was prophetic of Wiener to predict that computing power would scarcely be limited, except by the efficiency of the vessel in which the computer operated, including considerations like energy conservation.
The last and most pressing reason that the book is interesting is because Wiener, probably the highest authority in the world on the science of intelligence at the time the book was written, was clearly committed to a program of ethical research and development. He warned of the danger of developing dangerous computing applications, and dismissed the idea that we can always "turn off" machines that we don't like, since it isn't always clear that the danger exists until after the damage is done. We have to be careful lest we find ourselves cobras fighting mongooses (mongeese?)
The gramophone, film, and typewriter are storage technologies, ways of recording life that skew increasingly toward the digiPlayful, narrow, paranoid.
The gramophone, film, and typewriter are storage technologies, ways of recording life that skew increasingly toward the digital, with computing situated at the end of history. History ends because people cease to have an influence over its fate, or so goes the narrow, paranoid argument. Sure, we can all relate to the fact that no one memorizes phone numbers anymore - our phones themselves are surrogate memories - but that doesn't make the technology valueless. It's hard to read the bottom line of the book as being much deeper than Terminator - not that Terminator wasn't deep, but its point was articulated quite a while ago. I guess this book was written around the same time, which makes sense. The cover should have more neon.
In any case, the most compelling parts of the book are: the instances in "Gramophone" where he talks about how then-recent musical technologies (the vocoder etc) were invented for military purposes (encryption, usually). These are just interesting anecdotally; I don't at all buy his insinuation that their historical situation makes human reception irrelevant or even less relevant. AND the other compelling things are the colorful fictions and historical anecdotes he uses (sometimes reprinting them wholesale within the text) to illustrate this or that point.
It's also illuminating to consider modern collections of knowledge as media themselves, particularly in the internet age where the things that make "the media" equivalent to "the message" have as much to do with systems of logic as with the materiality of storage devices, which now and probably for a long time into the future are 1's and 0's. To Kittler, this is the end of the reign of humanity, the point at which the logic of the machine surpasses us, leaving behind any possibility for a Romantic-Classical resurgence. We can certainly see instances of this in things like Spam poetry, whose purpose is wildly abstracted from our lives and essentially makes up one side in an ongoing (probably endless) war between purely computational entities. But we still make determinations. I was happy to read that article in Wired this month about how Second Life isn't working out like the brave new world that some corporations hoped, because its engines are outdated and no one is there. Undoubtedly, Second Life will be replaced by a better metaverse, and it will be abandoned. Don't the 1's and 0's disappear when we pull the plug?
In sum, the history of music should be rewritten as a political effort to channel violence through noise, which by its nature is unwieldy and acts as In sum, the history of music should be rewritten as a political effort to channel violence through noise, which by its nature is unwieldy and acts as a safety valve, to put it too simply. This effort is as old as power.
Specifically, music is said by Attali to have been first created as a way to commit symbolic violence against the other, to preempt the need for ritual murder which in "ancient" societies was the act that identified a scapegoat, an other, thereby giving everyone else a sense of tribal in-ness.
As time went on, music became a representation, a mirror of its original purpose whose aim was to stand as spectacle. This period in musicality includes all of concert music and lasts into the 19th or 20th century.
Finally, music moved into a period of repetition, where spectacle was no longer possible because everything was always the same. This was made possible by the advance of capitalism and technology. Even concerts, in this stage, trailed the mass-produced object in meaning and importance.
Finally, there may yet be a final stage in musicality, a stage of composition, where people produce music for their own pleasure, without profit or repetition.
Attali's purpose in tracing this history is economic and prophetic. (By training he is an economist, and he worked as a finance minister under Mitterand. Now he runs a microfinance NGO.) Because the production of music requires no labor, humanity can mold it infinitely almost as soon as it imagines some new political possibility. So relations are enacted through music that will eventually come to inform other areas of society, including economics and government. Thus we can look to music as a foreshadowing, which Attali demonstrates historically.
A beautiful book, an equally beautiful read. Tufte seems to have been the first acknowledged expert in ethical statistical graphic design, though some A beautiful book, an equally beautiful read. Tufte seems to have been the first acknowledged expert in ethical statistical graphic design, though some of the pioneers he cites worked as early as the 18th century.
The idea is that the graphic representation of data - in newspapers, journals, and everywhere else - has the potential to be uniquely informative and even beautiful, but that low standards and inattention can lead to deceptive or useless renderings.
Picture a "USA Today" graphic with, say, four barrels of oil, getting bigger from left to right, and the barrels labeled with years and numbers representing an increase in consumption. Tufte argues that if a picture like this overstates the numerical difference in the size of the pictured barrels by more than a reasonable margin, then the graphic is lying to us. He proposes a "lie factor" to make the degree of this deception precise. But relational exaggeration is just one among many problems that good graphics, according to Tufte, should avoid.
The graphics Tufte uses are incomparable, and span generations as well as fields. His praiseworthy examples are stunning, and his ugly ones comically inept. He has a real knack for elegance and clarity.
If I had an argument with him, it was the same one I have with elegance in science more generally; that is, that the drive to be beautiful and simple may obscure the messiness of the actual object of study, which may itself be illuminating. But Tufte is only concerned with representation, not methodology.
He insists that artistic decisions always be secondary to the clarity of the graphic, and that the maximizing of data-ink ratio trump the misplaced desire to have big, bubbly bar graphs just for show. No appeal whatsoever should be made to the senses in constructing a great statistical graphic. The beauty is in the rich story told by the data, and if aesthetic beauty happens to emerge then that's just serendipity, and should be neither avoided nor courted. Quoting Ben Shahn: "Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds." And I'm sure he considers himself an artist, as most anyone who reads this book will.
Four histories of human beings and plant life with a thesis that, evolutionarily, desirable plants favor certain traits in order to be selected for cuFour histories of human beings and plant life with a thesis that, evolutionarily, desirable plants favor certain traits in order to be selected for cultivation. In this view an apple is the agent of its evolutionary destiny at least as much as the people who imagine themselves as the botanists.