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Genesis Redux

Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life

Genesis Redux

Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life

Since antiquity, philosophers and engineers have tried to take life’s measure by reproducing it. Aiming to reenact Creation, at least in part, these experimenters have hoped to understand the links between body and spirit, matter and mind, mechanism and consciousness. Genesis Redux examines moments from this centuries-long experimental tradition: efforts to simulate life in machinery, to synthesize life out of material parts, and to understand living beings by comparison with inanimate mechanisms.

Jessica Riskin collects seventeen essays from distinguished scholars in several fields. These studies offer an unexpected and far-reaching result: attempts to create artificial life have rarely been driven by an impulse to reduce life and mind to machinery.  On the contrary, designers of synthetic creatures have generally assumed a role for something nonmechanical. The history of artificial life is thus also a history of theories of soul and intellect.

Taking a historical approach to a modern quandary, Genesis Redux is essential reading for historians and philosophers of science and technology, scientists and engineers working in artificial life and intelligence, and anyone engaged in evaluating these world-changing projects.

336 pages | 57 halftones, 10 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Computer Science

History of Science

Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind

Philosophy of Science


“Each of the essays in this volume ranges widely across technical and philosophical domains. They examine both familiar automatons from throughout history and delight us with yet more that will likely be unfamiliar to most readers. But the real treat of the essays is how they will make Artificial Life researchers squirm as they recognize their own intellectual sleights of hand exposed for all to see. Those researchers and the Genesis Redux contributors are all ultimately interested in what it is that truly distinguishes us beings from other lumps of matter.”

Rodney Brooks, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Panasonic Professor of Robotics

"Exceptionally satisfying food for thought."

Nancy Princethal | Art in America

"The strength of Genesis Redux lies in its scholarship and range of topics. Clockworks, mechanical toys and their influence on biological concepts are presented in fascinating detail."

Greg Bear | Nature

"These eclectic essays will entertain and educate. . . . This volume can be recommended to anyone interested in the history of artificial-life research, and the history of the life sciences more broadly."

Jacob Stegenga | British Journal for the History of Science

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
List of Illustrations

1 Introduction: The Sistine Gap
Jessica Riskin
One Connections
2 The Imitation of Life in Ancient Greek Philosophy
Sylvia Berryman
3 The Devil as Automaton: Giovanni Fontana and the Meanings of a Fifteenth-Century Machine
Anthony Grafton
4 Infinite Gesture: Automata and the Emotions in Descartes and Shakespeare
Scott Maisano
5 Abstracting from the Soul: The Mechanics of Locomotion
Dennis des Chene
6 The Anatomy of Artificial Life: An Eighteenth-Century Perspective
Joan B. Landes
Two Emergence
7 The Homunculus and the Mandrake: Art Aiding Nature versus Art Faking Nature
William R. Newman
8 Sex Ratio Theory, Ancient and Modern: An Eighteenth-Century Debate about Intelligent Design and the Development of Models in Evolutionary Biology
Elliott Sober
9 The Gender of Automata in Victorian Britain
M. Norton Wise
10 Techno-Humanism: Requiem for the Cyborg
Timothy Lenoir
11 Nanobots and Nanotubes: Two Alternative Biomimetic Paradigms of Nanotechnology
Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
12 Creating Insight: Gestalt Theory and the Early Computer
David Bates
Three Interactions
13 Perpetual Devotion: A Sixteenth-Century Machine That Prays
Elizabeth King
14 Motions and Passions: Music-Playing Women Automata and the Culture of Affect in Late Eighteenth-Century Germany
Adelheid Voskuhl
15 An Archaeology of Artificial Life, Underwater
Stefan Helmreich
16 Booting Up Baby
Evelyn Fox Keller
17 Body Language: Lessons from the Near-Human
Justine Cassell

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