What We Are Reading Today: The Mechanization of the Mind by Jean-Pierre Dupuy

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Updated 18 October 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Mechanization of the Mind by Jean-Pierre Dupuy

In March 1946, some of the greatest minds of the 20th century — among them John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Warren McCulloch, and Walter Pitts — gathered at the Beekman Hotel in New York City with the aim of constructing a science of mental behavior that would resolve at last the ancient philosophical problem of mind and matter. The legacy of their collaboration is known today as cognitive science.
Jean-Pierre Dupuy, one of the principal architects of cognitive science in France, reconstructs the early days of the field here in a provocative and engaging combination of philosophy, science, and historical detective work.
He shows us how the ambitious and innovative ideas developed in the wake of that New York meeting prefigured some of the most important developments of late-20th-century thought. Many scholars, however, shunned the ideas as crude and resented them for being overpromoted.
This rejection, Dupuy reveals, was a tragic mistake and a lost opportunity.


What We Are Reading Today: Calling Philosophers Names by Christopher Moore

Updated 27 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Calling Philosophers Names by Christopher Moore

Calling Philosophers Names provides a groundbreaking account of the origins of the term philosophos or “philosopher” in ancient Greece. Tracing the evolution of the word’s meaning over its first two centuries, Christopher Moore shows how it first referred to aspiring political sages and advice-givers, then to avid conversationalists about virtue, and finally to investigators who focused on the scope and conditions of those conversations. Questioning the familiar view that philosophers from the beginning “loved wisdom” or merely “cultivated their intellect,” Moore shows that they were instead mocked as laughably unrealistic for thinking that their incessant talking and study would earn them social status or political and moral authority.
Taking a new approach to the history of early Greek philosophy, Calling Philosophers Names seeks to understand who were called philosophoi or “philosophers” and why, and how the use of and reflections on the word contributed to the rise of a discipline.


What We Are Reading Today: The Discrete Charm of the Machine by Ken Steiglitz

Updated 26 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Discrete Charm of the Machine by Ken Steiglitz

A few short decades ago, we were informed by the smooth signals of analog television and radio; we communicated using our analog telephones; and we even computed with analog computers. Today our world is digital, built with zeros and ones. Why did this revolution occur? The Discrete Charm of the Machine explains, in an engaging and accessible manner, the varied physical and logical reasons behind this radical transformation.
The spark of individual genius shines through this story of innovation: The stored program of Jacquard’s loom; Charles Babbage’s logical branching; Alan Turing’s brilliant abstraction of the discrete machine; Harry Nyquist’s foundation for digital signal processing; Claude Shannon’s breakthrough insights into the meaning of information and bandwidth; and Richard Feynman’s prescient proposals for nanotechnology and quantum computing. Ken Steiglitz follows the progression of these ideas in the building of our digital world, from the internet and artificial intelligence to the edge of the unknown.


What We Are Reading Today: Reading Old Books: Writing with Traditions by Peter Mack

Updated 25 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Reading Old Books: Writing with Traditions by Peter Mack

In literary and cultural studies, “tradition” is a word everyone uses but few address critically. In Reading Old Books, Peter Mack offers a wide-ranging exploration of the creative power of literary tradition, from the middle ages to the twenty-first century, revealing in new ways how it helps writers and readers make new works and meanings. Reading Old Books argues that the best way to understand tradition is by examining the moments when a writer takes up an old text and writes something new out of a dialogue with that text and the promptings of the present situation. The book examines Petrarch as a user, instigator, and victim of tradition. It shows how Chaucer became the first great English writer by translating and adapting a minor poem by Boccaccio.


What We Are Reading Today: The War for Gaul: A New Translation by James J. O’Donnell

Updated 24 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The War for Gaul: A New Translation by James J. O’Donnell

A translation that captures the power of one of the greatest war stories ever told—Julius Caesar’s account of his brutal campaign to conquer Gaul. Imagine a book about an unnecessary war written by the ruthless general of an occupying army—a vivid and dramatic propaganda piece that forces the reader to identify with the conquerors and that is designed, like the war itself, to fuel the limitless political ambitions of the author. Could such a campaign autobiography ever be a great work of literature—perhaps even one of the greatest?


What We Are Reading Today: Ballad of the Bullet by Forrest Stuart

Updated 23 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Ballad of the Bullet by Forrest Stuart

How poor urban youth in Chicago use social media to profit from portrayals of gang violence, and the questions this raises about poverty, opportunities, and public voyeurism.
Amid increasing hardship and limited employment options, poor urban youth are developing creative online strategies to make ends meet. Using such social media platforms as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram, they’re capitalizing on the public’s fascination with the ghetto and gang violence.
But with what consequences? Ballad of the Bullet follows the Corner Boys, a group of 30 or so young men on Chicago’s South Side who have hitched their dreams of success to the creation of “drill music.” Drillers disseminate this competitive genre of hyperviolent, hyperlocal, DIY-style gangsta rap digitally, hoping to amass millions of clicks, views, and followers — and a ticket out of poverty. But in this perverse system of benefits, where online popularity can convert into offline rewards, the risks can be too great.