Eiseley Blog Post

1. Eiseley compares machines to living things, considering especially whether the latter can be conceptually reduced to the former.

2. Although he concedes the impressive advancements made by technology, Eiseley gives a negative answer to his question: living things fundamentally transcend mechanistic characterization.

3. Interesting quotations:

  • “It’s life I believe in, not machines.” This rather provocative statement assigns a fundamental significance to life as opposed to machines. It also implies that machines are not alive, a cornerstone of his argument.
  • “But what man will do to himself he doesn’t really know” This implies not only that man perpetrates changes to himself, but further that he does this as a result of some unconscious life force within himself.

4. Confusing quotations:

  • “It leaves a nice fine indeterminate sense of wonder that even an electronic brain hasn’t got, because you know perfectly well that if the electronic brain changes, it will be because of something man has done to it.” That machines only change due to man’s influence seems patently false: nature surely takes effect on them (e.g. a laptop’s memory is corrupted when coffee is spilled on its keyboard). Along a similar vein, could the changes on man which he interprets as resulting from forces within his own self actually result from nonliving external forces? This seems to be one of the crucial pegs on which Eisely’s argument hangs.
  • “I can never bear to see a bird imprisoned.” Then why does he hunt two in the following paragraphs? Whatever reason he had for hunting them, did he ever really intend to keep them in captivity indefinitely?

5. The Earth is a Machine This article addresses a similar question to that addressed in Eiseley’s article: “Ought one consider the earth to be a machine?” However, Newitz arrives at the opposite conclusion: the subject (the earth, which includes life forms) should be considered as a machine.


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