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Codename ‘Brain Hacks’

I’m writing a book, with my friend Matt, for O’Reilly, codenamed ‘Brain Hacks’

The book is a selection of 100 design quirks of consciousness – ways in which constraints from neurobiology or evolution have produced unexpected features in cognition.

O’Reilly are an American publisher who produce computer books. One series they do, the Hacks series covers tips, tricks, unorthodox methods and functional insights for well known bits of software. This book will be the same, but covering for the bugs and features of the human operating system. A selection of functional anecdotes about the construction of conscious experience and behaviour. A smash and grab on the intellectual goodies of cognitive neuroscience!

Writing the book is going really well, and we’ve got some great people contributing. It’s great fun putting together practical demonstrations of important computational and cog neuro principles, and it’s even fun being driven slightly mad as I start to notice all the ways in which my experience of the world is constructed from the raw data available to my senses, and the ways my actions are delegated to different, intermeshed, subsystems.

There’s loads more to say, but for now I’m going to get back to writing the book. Swing over to Matt’s blog if you want to read a bit more about the project – and of course check back here over the next month (until I fly to Burning Man when this blog will go a bit quiet for a couple of weeks).

10 replies on “Codename ‘Brain Hacks’”

We’re all posthuman now

We’re all posthuman now. Perhaps the greatest book project ever: Matt Webb and Tom Stafford’s ‘Brain Hacks’ for O’Reilly. It’s all about, well, let me dig out our original pitch. It’s: 100 practical and understandable probes into the design quirks…

I like the idea of a “smash and grab” of the interesting bits of functional CNP 🙂 When can your adoring fans read the finished product??

You may have to wait a couple of months for the finished product, but you – my adoring fan – can start reading right away, as long as you agree to proof-read 🙂

I think you’re going to have to start the book with a REALLY CLEAR definition of what constitutes a hack. Went for a drink with my buddy Tom-D last night, who’s convinced that driving straight over roundabouts when there’s no other traffic is a ‘road hack’. I checked out the publisher’s website, interesting stuff, I think a brain hacks book will fit in really well with their other titles. Nice!

Why is that a road hack? I always thought that hacking was finding a route in through the back door, or at least that what i made it mean when someone tried to explain what computer hacks did to me.

The second half of the above sentence is a bit of a garden path sentence by accident, Tom. I’m trying to work out why and its to do with “to me” being attached to either of the noun phrases “someone tried to explain to me” or “what the computer hacks did to me”. So if its read through and held by the buffer and parsed in the most ‘common’ way you automatically infer that the computer hacks did something to helen. Except the parser also uses a frequecy evaluation thingy so that you go “huh?”.

Hey Ewan, how are you? Tell your friend that driving over roundabouts isn’t clever as he may kill lots of plants 😉

For me (and i’m willing to take correction on this) a hack is using deeper-than-surface knowledge of how a system actually works to get it to do something you want it to, whether that was part of the intended use of the system or not. A connotation is a crude, quick, solution to a problem, but i prefer the ‘understanding-system-mechanics’ interpretation.

I’ve also heard from a reliable geek that ‘hacking’ means ‘building’, as in ‘hacking together a programme’, using programming, which is the proper use of the term ‘computer hacking’. It has been used improperly by the film industry to mean breaking into a programme or system (see ‘War Games’- I love that film) and that is actually more properly described as ‘cracking’ apparently. This definition suffers from me not remembering the actual source of the information imparted to me. Either way, I think Tom’s definition/the O’Reilly publisher’s definition seem to do the trick! Work sucks today.

Someone asked if we take submissions for the book. We do! Mail us if you want to talk about it. We also take suggestions and handy hints, just send ’em in

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