Experience the MIT book on experience that’s filled with actual experiences

From a heat-sensitive cover to ink impregnated with human pheromones, Experience offers a reading experience like no other.


With qualities such as a heat-sensitive cover by artist Olafur Eliasson, “Experience: Culture, Cognition, and the Common Sense” (MIT Press) offers the reader a sensory experience as a physical object that resonates with the intellectual experience of the book’s ideas.

By Caroline Jones, David Mather, and Rebecca Uchill

“Becoming sensitive requires taking account of the everyday experience of being.”

— Bruno Latour

Our new edited collection, Experience: Culture, Cognition, and the Common Sense (MIT Press), takes on the category of “experience” from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Its material features, artistic interventions, and intellectual provocations not only comment on, but produce, experience.

The first publication of the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, Experience starts a conversation with artists, musicians, philosophers, anthropologists, historians, and neuroscientists who explore experience across scientific, sensorial, and cultural realms.

In making the book as an object, we invited leading contemporary artists to produce aesthetic experiences for readers:

A heat-sensitive cover

A special heat-sensitive thermal cover (photo above) by Olafur Eliasson incorporates both tactile and “cosmic” concepts. When exposed to heat, the changing ink reveals typeset words, powerful colors, and an Eliasson drawing underneath the all-black cover.

Endpapers with human pheromes

A special ink on the front and back endpapers is impregnated with encapsulated, synthesized human pheromes.

Carsten Höller designed front and back endpapers in the form of the Zöllner illusion printed with a special ink impregnated with encapsulated synthesized human pheromones, Estratetraenol and Androstadienone. (As the names suggest, these are generated as chemical signals within female and male hormone systems.)

Oscillating colors

Manipulating the book reveals a dramatic shifting affect of oscillating colors.

Artist Tauba Auerbach designed the book’s outer edges. Gradient Flip, a design in complementary colors bleeding off the outer margins, appears to be green-fading-to-magenta on one side of the book, and the reverse pattern on the other side. When the book is manipulated, the colors oscillate for a dynamically shifting effect.

The book as an musical instrument

An original musical composition instructs the reader “play” the book as an instrument.

Renowned experimental composer and sound artist Alvin Lucier produced an original musical composition for the book. The score Closed Book instructs the reader to “play” the volume as an instrument by tapping on the object of the book in certain rhythmic patterns.

Wild, web-like bookmarks

A tangle of bookmarks cascades over spiderweb prints.

A sculptural intervention by Tomás Saraceno tangles the reader in a set of wildly extended bookmarks that cascade from the center of the book when opened. They emerge from a backdrop of his inked spiderweb prints. These bookmarks invite readers to contemplate Saraceno’s interest in “social spiders,” whose individual silks combine with others’ to create dynamic collective structures.

Visual poetry

Renée Green, an artist and professor in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology, contributed a reflective piece of design and visual poetry from her deeply colorful Space Poems series, which can be seen as an exploration of artistic process.

Through evocations of experience offered by the book’s material and aesthetic form, as well as the many conceptualizations of experience framed by its contributors, the reader is given an array of means for comprehending the world — socially, politically, and poetically.

The book also includes new essays by Adam Frank, Vittorio Gallese, Stefan Helmreich, Douglas Kahn, Bruno Latour, Mara Mills, Michael Rossi, Natasha Schüll, and Josh Tenenbaum, as well as classic texts by John Dewey, Michel Foucault, Edmund Husserl, William James, Alva Noë, Jacques Rancière, and Joan W. Scott.

This book was designed by Kimberly Varella with Becca Lofchie, Content Object Design Studio.

Caroline A. Jones is professor of art history in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art program of the Department of Architecture at MIT.

David Mather is an assistant professor of art history in the Art Department at the State University of New York Stony Brook.

Rebecca K. Uchill is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow with the Center for Art, Science & Technology at MIT.



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