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Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age
Cybernetics—the science of communication and control as it applies to machines and to humans—originates from efforts during World War II to build automatic anti-aircraft systems. Following the war, this science extended beyond military needs to examine all systems that rely on information and feedback, from the level of the cell to that of society. In The Cybernetics Moment, Ronald R. Kline, a senior historian of technology, examines the intellectual and cultural history of cybernetics and information theory, whose language of “information,” “feedback,” and “control” transformed the idiom of the sciences, hastened the development of information technologies, and laid the conceptual foundation for what we now call the Information Age. Kline argues that, for about twenty years after 1950, the growth of cybernetics and information theory and ever-more-powerful computers produced a utopian information narrative—an enthusiasm for information science that influenced natural scientists, social scientists, engineers, humanists, policymakers, public intellectuals, and journalists, all of whom struggled to come to grips with new relationships between humans and intelligent machines. Kline traces the relationship between the invention of computers and communication systems and the rise, decline, and transformation of cybernetics by analyzing the lives and work of such notables as Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, Warren McCulloch, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Herbert Simon. Ultimately, he reveals the crucial role played by the cybernetics moment—when cybernetics and information theory were seen as universal sciences—in setting the stage for our current preoccupation with information technologies.
Since the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, the concept of “species” in biology has been widely debated, with its precise definition far from settled. And yet, amazingly, there have been no books devoted to Charles Darwin’s thinking on the term until now. David N. Stamos gives us a groundbreaking, historical reconstruction of Darwin’s detailed, yet often misinterpreted, thoughts on this complex concept. Stamos provides a thorough and detailed analysis of Darwin’s extensive writings, both published and unpublished, in order to reveal Darwin’s actual species concept. Stamos argues that Darwin had a unique evolutionary species concept in mind, one that was not at all a product of his time. Challenging currently accepted views that believe Darwin was merely following the species ascriptions of his fellow naturalists, Stamos works to prove that this prevailing, nominalistic view should be overturned. This book also addresses three issues pertinent to the philosophy of science: the modern species problem, the nature of concept change in scientific revolutions, and the contextualist trend in professional history of science.
Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World
Jesus and Darwin do battle on car bumpers across America. Medallions of fish symbolizing Jesus are answered by ones of amphibians stamped "Darwin," and stickers proclaiming "Jesus Loves You" are countered by "Darwin Loves You." The bumper sticker debate might be trivial and the pronouncement that "Darwin Loves You" may seem merely ironic, but George Levine insists that the message contains an unintended truth. In fact, he argues, we can read it straight. Darwin, Levine shows, saw a world from which his theory had banished transcendence as still lovable and enchanted, and we can see it like that too--if we look at his writings and life in a new way.
Although Darwin could find sublimity even in ants or worms, the word "Darwinian" has largely been taken to signify a disenchanted world driven by chance and heartless competition. Countering the pervasive view that the facts of Darwin's world must lead to a disenchanting vision of it, Levine shows that Darwin's ideas and the language of his books offer an alternative form of enchantment, a world rich with meaning and value, and more wonderful and beautiful than ever before. Without minimizing or sentimentalizing the harsh qualities of life governed by natural selection, and without deifying Darwin, Levine makes a moving case for an enchanted secularism--a commitment to the value of the natural world and the human striving to understand it.
Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution
Using place, politics, and rhetoric as analytical tools, historical geographer David N. Livingstone investigates how religious communities sharing a Scots Presbyterian heritage engaged with Darwin and Darwinism at the turn of the twentieth century. His findings, presented as the prestigious Gifford Lectures, transform our understandings of the relationship between science and religion. The particulars of place—whether in Edinburgh, Belfast, Toronto, Columbia, or Princeton—shaped the response to Darwin’s theories. Were they tolerated, repudiated, or welcomed? Livingstone shows how Darwin was read in different ways, with meaning distilled from his texts depending on readers' own histories—their literary genealogies and cultural preoccupations. That the theory of evolution fared differently in different places, Livingstone writes, is "exactly what Darwin might have predicted. As the theory diffused, it diverged." Dealing with Darwin shows the profound extent to which theological debates about evolution were rooted in such matters as anxieties over control of education, the politics of race relations, the nature of local scientific traditions, and challenges to traditional cultural identity. In some settings, conciliation with the new theory, even endorsement, was possible—demonstrating that attending to the specific nature of individual communities subverts an inclination to assume a single relationship between science and religion in general, evolution and Christianity in particular. Livingstone concludes with contemporary examples to remind us that what scientists can say and what others can hear in different venues differs today just as much as they did then.
American Railroad Accidents and Safety, 1828–1965
For most of the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, railroads dominated American transportation. They transformed life and captured the imagination. Yet by 1907 railroads had also become the largest cause of violent death in the country, that year claiming the lives of nearly twelve thousand passengers, workers, and others. In Death Rode the Rails Mark Aldrich explores the evolution of railroad safety in the United States by examining a variety of incidents: spectacular train wrecks, smaller accidents in shops and yards that devastated the lives of workers and their families, and the deaths of thousands of women and children killed while walking on or crossing the street-grade tracks. The evolution of railroad safety, Aldrich argues, involved the interplay of market forces, science and technology, and legal and public pressures. He considers the railroad as a system in its entirety: operational realities, technical constraints, economic history, internal politics, and labor management. Aldrich shows that economics initially encouraged American carriers to build and operate cheap and dangerous lines. Only over time did the trade-off between safety and output—shaped by labor markets and public policy—motivate carriers to develop technological improvements that enhanced both productivity and safety. A fascinating account of one of America's most important industries and its dangers, Death Rode the Rails will appeal to scholars of economics and the history of transportation, technology, labor, regulation, safety, and business, as well as to railroad enthusiasts.
Life on Freighters of the Great Lakes
Long before popular television shows such as Dirty Jobs and The Deadliest Catch, everyday men and women---the unsung heroes of the job world---toiled in important but mostly anonymous jobs. One of those jobs was deckhand on the ore boats. With numerous photographs and engaging stories, Deckhand offers an insider's view of both the mundane and the intriguing duties performed by deckhands on these gritty cargo vessels. Boisterous port saloons, monster ice jams, near drownings, and the daily drudgery of soogeying---cleaning dirt and grime off the ships---are just a few of the experiences Mickey Haydamacker had as a young deckhand working on freighters of the Great Lakes in the early 1960s. Haydamacker sailed five Interlake Steamship Company boats, from the modern Elton Hoyt 2nd to the ancient coal-powered Colonel James Pickands with its backbreaking tarp-covered hatches. Deckhand will appeal to shipping buffs and to anyone interested in Great Lakes shipping and maritime history as it chronicles the adventures of living on the lakes from the seldom-seen view of a deckhand. Mickey Haydamacker spent his youth as a deckhand sailing on the freighters of the Great Lakes. During the 1962 and '63 seasons Nelson sailed five different Interlake Steamship Company ore boats. He later went on to become an arson expert with the Michigan State Police, retiring with the rank of Detective Sergeant. Alan D. Millar, to whom Haydamacker related his tale of deckhanding, spent his career as a gift store owner and often wrote copy for local newspaper, TV, and radio.
Life after the Reading Railroad
What happened when the US government stopped investing in railroads and started investing in highways and air travel? By the late 1970s, six major eastern railroads had declared bankruptcy. Although he didn’t like trains, Howard H. Lewis became the primary lawyer for the Reading Railroad during its legendary bankruptcy case. Here, Lewis provides a frank account of the high-intensity litigation and courtroom battles over the US government’s proposal to form Conrail out of the six bankrupt railroads, which meant taking the Reading's property, leaving the railroad to prove its worth. After five grueling years, the case was ultimately settled for $186 million—three times the original offer from the US government—and Lewis became known as a champion defender of both the railroad industry and its assets.
Descartes's works are often treated as a unified, unchanging whole. But in Descartes's Changing Mind, Peter Machamer and J. E. McGuire argue that the philosopher's views, particularly in natural philosophy, actually change radically between his early and later works--and that any interpretation of Descartes must take account of these changes. The first comprehensive study of the most significant of these shifts, this book also provides a new picture of the development of Cartesian science, epistemology, and metaphysics.
No changes in Descartes's thought are more significant than those that occur between the major works The World (1633) and Principles of Philosophy (1644). Often seen as two versions of the same natural philosophy, these works are in fact profoundly different, containing distinct conceptions of causality and epistemology. Machamer and McGuire trace the implications of these changes and others that follow from them, including Descartes's rejection of the method of abstraction as a means of acquiring knowledge, his insistence on the infinitude of God's power, and his claim that human knowledge is limited to that which enables us to grasp the workings of the world and develop scientific theories.
Geology and Power in Early New York
David I. Spanagel explores the origins of American geology and the culture that helped give it rise, focusing on Amos Eaton, the educator and amateur scientist who founded the Rensselaer School, and on DeWitt Clinton, the masterful politician who led the movement for the Erie Canal. DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton shows how a cluster of assumptions about the peculiar landscape and entrepreneurial spirit of New York came to define the Empire State. Spanagel sheds light on a particularly innovative and fruitful period of interplay among science, politics, art, and literature in American history. New Yorkers' romantic views of natural majesty and ideas about improving the land influenced scientific ideas and other features of contemporary culture. The life of Amos Eaton provides a lens through which readers gain fresh awareness of scientific knowledge, economic planning, and cultural values during the first half of the nineteenth century. Scientists of the time were fascinated by questions such as: How old is the earth? When did time begin? How might the passage of time have shaped and reshaped the original landscape? In the United States, New Yorkers of the mid-1820s mounted the most concerted effort to find answers to these large questions of natural history. Both geographic conditions and historical forces led Amos Eaton and his wealthy patron Stephen Van Rensselaer to open the Rensselaer School at Troy, New York, in 1826. Eaton thus gave America its first generation of professional scientists, many of whom formed professional organizations and standards of practice still active today. Deeply researched, this book will interest historians of nineteenth-century American arts and science, politics, and technological development.