Up the Infinite Corridor: Mit and the Technical Imagination

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In Up the Infinite Corridor, Fred Hapgood explores the mental landscape of engineering a style of thought, a mode of operation, a particular form of creativity that increasingly defines the trajectory of modern life. With the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as his point of reference, Hapgood traces the emergence of the profession from its mud-on-the-boots days preoccupied with canals and roads to its present absorption with cyber-space and micromachines. He also shows the evolution in how engineers are ...
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Overview

In Up the Infinite Corridor, Fred Hapgood explores the mental landscape of engineering a style of thought, a mode of operation, a particular form of creativity that increasingly defines the trajectory of modern life. With the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as his point of reference, Hapgood traces the emergence of the profession from its mud-on-the-boots days preoccupied with canals and roads to its present absorption with cyber-space and micromachines. He also shows the evolution in how engineers are trained, from the apprentice working alongside the older man, to "build and test," to the postwar emergence of engineering science and its focus on developing general principles about the natural behavior of artifacts. But it is when Hapgood explores a selection of research projects currently going on at the Institute that he actually takes us inside the process, bringing to life the struggle to design an artificial human knee that in every way mimics nature, the creation of all automated navigational system for cars, the attempt to infuse a piece of silicon with the capacity for vision, the construction of a human-powered airplane, and the development of robot mice for maze racing in international competition. In so doing, Hapgood gives us a glimpse into an alternate universe he calls "solution space," the black box of possibilities which the engineer moves inside, searching along its various pathways, confronting key to true innovation. MIT is a rich culture that has always had its bizarre projects and its even more bizarre personalities, and Hapgood guides us through its history, the folkways and legends of undergraduate life, the twisted sense of humor emerging from the pressures and insecurities of a place in which everyone has the intellectual accelerator wired to the floor. The engineering sensibility that emerges is nothing like the dry "nuts and bolts" cliche. Rather it is an ethos based on reverence for "the fitness of things," the existential ple
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Editorial Reviews

Bryce Christensen
An institution (MIT), a profession (engineering), and a mindset (technological)--these are the subjects for this remarkably reflective and perceptive book. As he takes the reader into the laboratories of America's most prestigious engineering school, Hapgood explains more than electronics, biophysics, and computers. He fathoms the psychology of men (and, increasingly, women) who pit themselves against seemingly insoluble problems--making a computer chip that can "see," for instance, or a prosthetic knee that can walk and run. Those not well versed in the hard sciences will find tough sledding at a few points, but generally the author successfully develops analogies and metaphors to translate the concepts that preoccupy the brilliant minds of MIT's specialists. Indeed, one of the book's most intriguing insights is that contemporary engineers are groping toward a new metaphysics in which making things do what they want is less important than detecting the uncanny fit between mind and nature. Widely regarded as "nerds" (a label they wear with pride), the heroes of this book have left behind the constraints of their predecessors and are developing projects vital to the nation's future.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465006571
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 8/1/1980

Table of Contents

Caveats
Acknowledgements
1 Solution Space 1
2 The Infinite Corridor 13
3 A Different Variety of Mind 25
4 The Architecture of Solution Space 47
5 Engineering Science 63
6 The Tech Model Railroad Club 89
7 The MIT Knee 109
8 The Media Lab 129
9 Nanotechnology 145
10 Technical Sports 157
11 The Vision Chip 173
Selected Bibliography 193
Index 197
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