The MIT Press New Book Release

What's Left of Human Nature?
Posted: Wed, 07 Feb 2018 21:27:02 +0000
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A Post-Essentialist, Pluralist, and Interactive Account of a Contested Concept

Human nature has always been a foundational issue for philosophy. What does it mean to have a human nature? Is the concept the relic of a bygone age? What is the use of such a concept? What are the epistemic and ontological commitments people make when they use the concept? In What’s Left of Human Nature? Maria Kronfeldner offers a philosophical account of human nature that defends the concept against contemporary criticism. In particular, she takes on challenges related to social misuse of the concept that dehumanizes those regarded as lacking human nature (the dehumanization challenge); the conflict between Darwinian thinking and essentialist concepts of human nature (the Darwinian challenge); and the consensus that evolution, heredity, and ontogenetic development results from nurture and nature.

After answering each of these challenges, Kronfeldner presents a revisionist account of human nature that minimizes dehumanization and does not fall back on outdated biological ideas. Her account is post-essentialist because it eliminates the concept of an essence of being human; pluralist in that it argues that there are different things in the world that correspond to three different post-essentialist concepts of human nature; and interactive because it understands nature and nurture as interacting at the developmental, epigenetic, and evolutionary levels. On the basis of this, she introduces a dialectical concept of an ever-changing and “looping” human nature. Finally, noting the essentially contested character of the concept and the ambiguity and redundancy of the terminology, she wonders if we should simply eliminate the term “human nature” altogether.

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Strange Attractor Journal Five
Posted: Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:09:03 +0000
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After seven years of silence, the acclaimed Strange Attractor Journal returns with a characteristically eclectic collection of high weirdness from the margins of culture. Covering previously uncharted regions of history, anthropology, art, literature, architecture, science, and magic since 2004, each Journal has presented new and unprecedented research into areas that scholarship has all too often ignored.

Featuring essays from academics, artists, enthusiasts, and sorcerers, Journal Five explores matters including the folklore of foghorns; the occult origins of the dissident surrealist secret society the Acéphale; the pleasures of heathen falconry; the dark cosmological mysteries of Bremen’s Haus Atlantis; a provisional taxonomy of animals with human faces; a twentieth-century crucifixion on Hampstead Heath, and an unpublished horror script by David MacGillivray and Ken Hollings.

Journal Five sees Strange Attractor continuing in its mission to celebrate unpopular culture.

Join us.

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The Honoured Dead
Posted: Fri, 06 Oct 2017 15:07:00 +0000
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London Cemeteries in Old Photographs

Since they were established in the 1830s, London’s great cemeteries have inspired countless artists and photographers to record their quiet beauty and solemn majesty. 

Not just resting places for the city’s honoured dead, they also serve as great repositories of social, architectural, and geographic history, reflecting our changing attitudes to the great inevitable.

Featuring over 170 images, along with comprehensive notes, The Honoured Dead presents a rarely seen collection of archival postcards, drawings, and photographs gathered over many years by author and former funeral director Brian Parsons.

As well as the celebrated “Magnificent Seven” necropolises—Highgate, Kensal Green, West Norwood, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton, and Tower Hamlets—the book also documents cemeteries and burial sites throughout Greater London and its environs, some of them now themselves buried by time.

Providing a unique perspective on London’s past, and its shifting visual representation, The Honoured Dead is a collection to be remembered with flowers.

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The Essential Tversky
Posted: Tue, 03 Oct 2017 18:57:04 +0000
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Amos Tversky (1937–1996) was a towering figure in the cognitive and decision sciences. His work was ingenious, exciting, and influential, spanning topics from intuition to statistics to behavioral economics. His long and extraordinarily productive collaboration with his friend and colleague Daniel Kahneman was the subject of Michael Lewis’s best-selling book, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds. The Essential Tversky offers a selection of Tversky’s best, most influential and accessible papers, “classics” chosen to capture the essence of Tversky’s thought.

The impact of Tversky’s work is far reaching and long-lasting. In 2002, Kahneman, who drew on their joint work in his much-praised 2013 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow (and who contributes an afterword to this collection), was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for work done with Tversky. In The Undoing Project, Lewis (who contributes a foreword to this collection) describes his discovery that Tversky and Kahneman’s thinking laid the foundation for Moneyball, his own ode to number-crunching. The papers collected in The Essential Tversky cover topics that include cognitive and perceptual bias, misguided beliefs, inconsistent preferences, risky choice and loss aversion decisions, and psychological common sense. Together, they offer nonspecialist readers an introduction to one of the most brilliant social science thinkers of the twentieth century.

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The Weight of the Earth
Posted: Wed, 14 Feb 2018 20:57:00 +0000
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The Tape Journals of David Wojnarowicz

In these moments I hate language. I hate what words are like, I hate the idea of putting these preformed gestures on the tip of my tongue, or through my lips, or through the inside of my mouth, forming sounds to approximate something that's like a cyclone, or something that’s like a flood, or something that’s like a weather system that’s out of control, that's dangerous, or alarming . . . . It just seems like sounds that have been uttered back and forth maybe now over centuries. And it always boils down to the same meaning within those sounds, unless you’re more intense uttering them, or you precede them or accompany them with certain forms of violence.
—from The Weight of the Earth

Artist, writer, and activist David Wojnarowicz (1954–4w`1992) was an important figure in the downtown New York art scene. His art was preoccupied with sex, death, violence, and the limitations of language. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Wojnarowicz began keeping audio journals, returning to a practice he’d begun in his youth. The Weight of the Earth presents transcripts of these tapes, documenting Wojnarowicz’s turbulent attempts to understand his anxieties and passions, and tracking his thoughts as they develop in real time.

In these taped diaries, Wojnarowicz talks about his frustrations with the art world, recounts his dreams, and describes his rage, fear, and confusion about his HIV diagnosis. Primarily spanning the years 1987–1989, recorded as Wojnarowicz took solitary road trips around the United States or ruminated in his New York loft, the audio journals are an intimate and affecting record of an artist facing death. By turns despairing, funny, exalted, and angry, this volume covers a period largely missing from Wojnarowicz’s written journals, providing us with an essential new record of a singular American voice.

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The Mobile Workshop
Posted: Mon, 16 Oct 2017 19:39:02 +0000
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The Tsetse Fly and African Knowledge Production

The tsetse fly is a pan-African insect that bites an infective forest animal and ingests blood filled with invisible parasites, which it carries and transmits into cattle and people as it bites them, leading to n’gana (animal trypanosomiasis) and sleeping sickness. In The Mobile Workshop, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga examines how the presence of the tsetse fly turned the forests of Zimbabwe and southern Africa into an open laboratory where African knowledge formed the basis of colonial tsetse control policies. He traces the pestiferous work that an indefatigable, mobile insect does through its movements, and the work done by humans to control it.

Mavhunga’s account restores the central role not just of African labor but of African intellect in the production of knowledge about the tsetse fly. He describes how European colonizers built on and beyond this knowledge toward destructive and toxic methods, including cutting down entire forests, forced “prophylactic” resettlement, massive destruction of wild animals, and extensive spraying of organochlorine pesticides. Throughout, Mavhunga uses African terms to describe the African experience, taking vernacular concepts as starting points in writing a narrative of ruzivo (knowledge) rather than viewing Africa through foreign keywords. The tsetse fly became a site of knowledge production—a mobile workshop of pestilence.

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The Heart of the Brain
Posted: Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:47:02 +0000
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The Hypothalamus and Its Hormones

As human beings, we prefer to think of ourselves as reasonable. But how much of what we do is really governed by reason? In this book, Gareth Leng considers the extent to which one small structure of the neuroendocrine brain—the hypothalamus—influences what we do, how we love, and who we are.

The hypothalamus contains a large variety of neurons. These communicate not only through neurotransmitters, but also through peptide signals that act as hormones within the brain. While neurotransmitter signals tend to be ephemeral and confined by anatomical connectivity, the hormone signals that hypothalamic neurons generate are potent, wide-reaching, and long-lasting. Leng explores the evolutionary origins of these remarkable neurons, and where the receptors for their hormone signals are found in the brain. By asking how the hypothalamic neurons and their receptors are regulated, he explores how the hypothalamus links our passions with our reason. The Heart of the Brain shows in an accessible way how this very small structure is very much at the heart of what makes us human.

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Critical Theory and Interaction Design
Posted: Tue, 03 Oct 2017 18:57:02 +0000
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Why should interaction designers read critical theory? Critical theory is proving unexpectedly relevant to media and technology studies. The editors of this volume argue that reading critical theory—understood in the broadest sense, including but not limited to the Frankfurt School—can help designers do what they want to do; can teach wisdom itself; can provoke; and can introduce new ways of seeing. They illustrate their argument by presenting classic texts by thinkers in critical theory from Althusser to Žižek alongside essays in which leaders in interaction design and HCI describe the influence of the text on their work. For example, one contributor considers the relevance Umberto Eco’s “Openness, Information, Communication” to digital content; another reads Walter Benjamin’s “The Author as Producer” in terms of interface designers; and another reflects on the implications of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble for interaction design. The editors offer a substantive introduction that traces the various strands of critical theory.

Taken together, the essays show how critical theory and interaction design can inform each other, and how interaction design, drawing on critical theory, might contribute to our deepest needs for connection, competency, self-esteem, and wellbeing.

Contributors
Jeffrey Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell, Olav W. Bertelsen, Alan F. Blackwell, Mark Blythe, Kirsten Boehner, John Bowers, Gilbert Cockton, Carl DiSalvo, Paul Dourish, Melanie Feinberg, Beki Grinter, Hrönn Brynjarsdóttir Holmer, Jofish Kaye, Ann Light, John McCarthy, Søren Bro Pold, Phoebe Sengers, Erik Stolterman, Kaiton Williams., Peter Wright

Classic texts
Louis Althusser, Aristotle, Roland Barthes, Seyla Benhabib, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Arthur Danto, Terry Eagleton, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault, Wolfgang Iser, Alan Kaprow, Søren Kierkegaard, Bruno Latour, Herbert Marcuse, Edward Said, James C. Scott, Slavoj Žižek

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Situations and Syntactic Structures
Posted: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 18:57:02 +0000
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Rethinking Auxiliaries and Order in English

Research in syntax has found that there is a hierarchical ordering of projections within the verb phrase across languages (although researchers differ with respect to how fine grained they assume the hierarchy to be). In Situations and Syntactic Structures, Gillian Ramchand explores the hierarchy of the verb phrase from a semantic perspective, attempting to derive it from semantically sorted zones in the compositional semantics. The empirical ground is the auxiliary ordering found in the grammar of English. The “situation” in the title refers to the semanticists’ notion of eventuality that is the central element of the ontology of the formal semantics of verbal meaning. Ramchand discusses the semantic notion of situations in relation to the hierarchical ordering evidenced in syntactic structures and tries to bridge semantic and syntactic ontologies. She proposes and formalizes a new theory of semantic zones, and presents an explicitly semantic and morphological analysis of all the auxiliary constructions of English that derive their rigid order of composition without recourse to lexical item–specific ordering statements.

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