[Humanist] 29.161 machines, machines everywhere

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 13 02:32:34 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 161.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 12 Jul 2015 17:17:00 +0200
        From: "Dr. Hartmut Krech" <kr538 at zfn.uni-bremen.de>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 29.158 machines, machines everywhere
        In-Reply-To: <20150711203850.B876E2F4C at digitalhumanities.org>

Dear Willard

As Tim Smithers has already pointed out, "Nature is not an Engineer, or a
Designer": "Calling some Naturally evolved thing a machine, or engine,
doesn't make it one. So, appearing to say that Nature built things are
machines, can be, and is, confusing."

Thinking by analogy has of course its own dignity as a means of acquired
creativity, if it is not a technique of creative writing to make familiar
things look strange. There may have been too much thinking by analogy in
Postmodern writing, and never must we cede trying not to fall victim to the
words we are using, but can we ever escape from the language we are speaking
and not lose its meaning for us and for those who are trying to understand

From its beginning as a technical term that is defined and reflected upon,
mechanics in the meaning of "design" (from the same root as "to make") has
been used in opposition to autopoetic nature. As Pseudo-Aristotle writes in
the introduction to his Mechanica: "One marvels at things that happen
according to nature, to the extent the cause is unknown, and at things
happening contrary to nature, done through art for the advantage of
humanity. Nature, so far as our benefit is concerned, often works just the
opposite to it. [...] So whenever it is necessary to do something counter to
nature, it presents perplexity on account of the difficulty, and art
[techne] is required. We call that part of art solving such perplexity a
mechane." (tr. Thomas N. Winter

When Siegfried Giedion began to write his seminal "Mechanization takes
Command, a contribution to anonymous history" in 1941, he was convinced that
"[t]he coming period has to reinstate basic human values. [...] It has to
bridge the gap that, since the onset of mechanization, has split our modes
of thinking from our modes of feeling." (1948, v) Giedion's conclusion of
"Man in equipoise" or "Man in a dynamic equilibrium" may be as relevant
today as ever. To think of computers within the humanities as "machines" (as
Willard has tentatively suggested), introduces difficulties that miss the
problem. Computers are man-made and man is part of nature. Little within a
human body is a machine, apart from a pacemaker perhaps. We must invent a
new language and and a new way of thinking to comprehend the system nature
and ourselves have created so that we may survive. If we may survive. The
current situation within and around Europe is a lesson to learn from.

Best regards

Dr. Hartmut Krech

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