I am excited to announce that this week my new book appeared. There’s the cover, just above. It is called The Brain from 25000 Feet (Springer), and is about my research discoveries on brain complexity, animal shapes, illusions, the vagueness of natural language, and the riddle of induction.
What! You didn’t know I was working on this book? You knew about my vision book, and the upcoming music/language one. But this book just came out of nowhere! How is that possible?
Well, it didn’t really come out this week. It was published in 2003. Why haven’t you heard about it before?
You’ve never heard about it because it was, for eight years, $129. And, really, if you have a book priced that high, there’s a good argument to be made that you don’t have that book at all. As my grandfather used to day, “If a book is carved from a forest tree but is one hundred and twenty nine dollars, does it really exist?”
Why the high price? Is the book ten times fancier than my more recent books? No. Are the discoveries ten times more important? No again. (And how could any book have more important discoveries?!)
The book was expensive because it was an academic monograph (in contrast to trade, or popular, books, like my two more recent ones). These books have a lower bar for entry, and are usually aimed at other academics. (Although in my case I tried my best to write for any intelligent laymen.) And the publishers publish a lot of them. Rather than aiming for sales to individual people, they aim only for library sales; libraries are, for some inexplicable reason, willing to pay this much.
But just this week my book’s price fell to $40, and now lower to $36. That’s nearly a factor of four! A little lower and real humans may actually start buying it!
Why now, after eight years trying their best to make sure no one ever read it, has Springer had this eureka-shift in price? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a sign of the times e-book times. Or maybe it’s that my more recent trade books have enough real people interested in it.
At any rate, I’m delighted. Let me tell you a little about it. Like my more recent books it is about my research discoveries, although my first one was more diverse. Here are rough descriptions of the four chapters…
The first chapter concerned three largely distinct topics, (a) why brains change as they do as they enlarge from mouse to whale, (b) universal laws that seem to apply to various sorts of language-like systems in nature, and (c) why animals have as many limbs and digits as they do.
The second chapter is about my theory of illusions, and how they are due to your brain trying to correct for the neural latencies from eye to brain. At that time I had not realized that my theory radically generalizes to explain whole swathes of other sorts of illusions, something I discuss in The Vision Revolution.
The third chapter concerns why words in language are vague. E.g., why are there, for nearly any word, cases where the word seems to neither apply nor its negation apply. I show that this is a fundamental consequence of the computational limits found for any thinking machine. It is not some sort of human quirk at all.
My fourth and final chapter is, in my view, one of my best ideas, and it concerns a solution of sorts to perhaps the most foundational philosophical question in the philosophy of science: the riddle of induction. This issue concerns the justification of empirical knowledge.
UPDATE: Later on the day that it fell to $36, it rose back up to $129. !! One can still buy used books in the $30 range. [shaking head]
Mark Changizi is Director of Human Cognition at 2AI, and the author of The Vision Revolution (Benbella Books, 2009) and the upcoming book Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Benbella Books, 2011). His first book was The Brain from 25000 Feet (Springer, 2003).