Beyond the Machine Metaphor

The idea that animals are machines halts progress.

Many people who have not studied science are baffled by scientists’ insistence that animal and plants are machines, and that humans are robots too, controlled by computer-like brains with genetically programmed software. In Richard Dawkins’ vivid phrase, we are “lumbering robots.”

It seems more natural to assume that we are living organisms, as are animals and plants. Organisms are self-organising; they form and maintain themselves, and have their own ends or goals. Machines, by contrast, are designed by an external mind: their parts are put together by external machine-makers and they have no purposes or ends of their own. If you get into a car and it’s in working order, it will go wherever you want. If you get onto a horse, it might have its own ideas about where to go.

The starting point for modern science was the rejection of an organic view of the universe. In the seventeenth century, the machine metaphor

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