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Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology Reprint Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 000-0262521121
ISBN-10: 0262521121
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Editorial Reviews

Review

The small and cheerful book at hand, by a well-known researcher on the brain from Tübingen, has exploited the virtues of the style with unprecedented consistency, originality and aptness. His thought experiments are not analytic efforts to extract what principles lie behind an imagined observation but are instead synthetic constructions. They are little toys of the mind, devised out of simple if fictional components, entirely functionally described...[A] crisp, cogent book full of intellectual delights.

(Philip Morrison Scientific American)

About the Author

Valentino Braitenberg was a director of the Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics and Honorary Professor of Information Science at the University of Tübingen, Germany.
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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; Reprint edition (February 7, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262521121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262521123
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Braitenberg uses simple elecro-mechanical vehicles to demonstrate how very simple rules and designs can create surprisingly complex behavior.
I used the vehicles to teach simple electronics concepts in a college level 'Electronics 101' course. The students were not only fascinated by the vehicles themselves, but could directly experience the effects of electronic components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, etc.)
But the true value of the book comes from the delightful writing and stimulating ideas. After reading it through the first time, I knew it would entrance and motivate students.
There is no need to construct any of the vehicles Braitenberg describes (in fact, I'm sure the author didn't intend that), but if you're a tinkerer, you probably won't be able to resist!
I must respectfully disagree with the first reviewer's comments and rating. Granted, the book is neither a hard science book, nor is it an engineering cookbook. You won't learn any formulas or electronic theory, nor will you learn a new theory of intelligence. Instead, you'll find a wonderful romp through fun ideas drawn from complexity theory, artificial intelligence, perception, and philosophy. You may even see hidden (but not too deeply) a sneaky critique of behavioralism.
I recommend this book highly to students and educators, tinkers and engineers. It's a good book. Definitely worth a read!
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Format: Paperback
With respect, I think the previous reviewer has missed the point of this excellent book. Yes, Braitenberg "personifies" simple electro-mechanical relationships. But his whole point in doing so is to make us aware of how readily we personify animate objects in our environment, including each other.
With a playfulness not usually found in the writings of neuroscientists, Braitenberg starts with very simple machines or vehicles that respond to their environment. He shows that, despite the simple internal workings of these machines, we would be likely to impute feelings and desires to them. As the book goes on, Braitenberg discusses increasingly complicated machines, although remaining firmly in the realm of things that could potentially be built. The later machines appear to be capable of impressive feats of memory, planning and foresight, and yet they are ultimately made up of "simple electro-mechanical relationships". By the close of the book, one realizes belatedly that Braitenberg has sketched out (in fable-like form) a possible history of the evolution of intelligence.
For all those fascinated by the question of how the complexities of human and animal behaviour arise from the relatively simple world of the neuron, this book is a must.
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Format: Paperback
This great book is for those not looking for an end but seeking a book that acts as a guide through the world of complexity. It is a starting place for new ideas and has been quoted several times by several people doing important research because it is such a great text.
Once again, no disrespect to the bottom reviewer but they completely missed the point of this fine work. This is not a summation book on the field but a starting point for new and creative ideas.
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Format: Paperback
How people react to this book tells me a lot about them. Vehicles is one of a half-dozen books that changed the way I see the world. It is not a standard science book. Instead, each chapter presents a small but powerful idea; each elaborates on the prior chapters until a view of a world is build (in thought).

I personally think it should be on the list of "anti-intelligent design" books -- it shows you that complex visible behavior may originate from much simpler sources than we usually think. It is not a long book, but it is a big book in it's own way. A must-read for anyone interested in AI, cognitive psychology, animal behavior, or evolutionary behavior. I would love to see a follow-up by the author on what he's learned since then.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Braitenburg could not be more obvious in the subtext of this book. His message is that synthesis is always easier than analysis. Creating something that, on the surface, acts complex is easier than analyzing what, on the surface, looks like a complex system. If we see X, what do we assume are the mechanisms behind what will happen next? The clarity with which the author illustrates the assumptive traps in which we can fall is not only wonderfully insightful, but cautionary. Add this reading to the writings of Braitenberg's contemperary James Gleik ("Chaos") and one can get the AHA! experience that speaks to the richness of simple rules creating bafflingly sophisticated behaviors. "Vehicles" is an amazing book, and in my opinion, one of those that rate up there with those works that not only focus our experience, but are true to it, and take us beyond it. I smack my forehead with my palm, and thank him that he makes it so easy.
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Format: Paperback
I read "Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology" when it first came out in the 1980's, and I thought it was one of most charming and intellectually stimulating books I have ever read. I had long since lost my original copy, having pushed it on many friends, so I recently bought another. Rereading it some 15+ years later, the book is as good and charming as ever.
I know of no other book that combines such intellectual stimulation with a tone of warmth, wit, and charm. I think Braitenberg has produced a book that deserves to be a classic for the centuries, and not just for our time.
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