Monthly Archives: April 2015


Lately I’ve been thinking how complicated our world is, how interrelated everything is, and how each of us has only a tiny understanding of our part in the grand scheme of things. This awareness is not new, of course. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and others have explored this idea. I was thinking this morning, driving to work, how machines are very much like living organisms. By machines I mean anything with moving parts, from automobiles, to toys, to atomic energy electrical plants. We wouldn’t include things like hand tools, tools like saws, and screwdrivers, and hammers, tools that don’t have moving parts. Some tools do have moving parts, like pliers, but are operated by humans, and are really extensions of ourselves. An electric hedge clipper, though, would be a machine, as it has a motor and has parts that operate, at the command of the operator, but with their own internal operation. In comparing machines with living organisms, what is the difference? Of course, a machine doesn’t have a life of its own – it’s not a living, pulsating organism, able to self-repair and reproduce – and those are significant differences.

The key feature of an organism is life, that is, it has continuous biological processes that require fuel (food) for survival (continuance); it expels waste, and produced some kind of activity (work) that is to its benefit. The key features of machines are that they require an energy source (fuel), have waste products, and perform work. The also have machinery, that is often very complicated, which allows the work to be performed. You might question, “What about machines that don’t have waste products?” It’s true that machines that run on electricity don’t appear to have waste products, but look out the window at the electric plant’s smokestack. That’s where your waste product is.

There is something else that organisms have that machines don’t have, and that’s autonomy, the ability to control, within environmental limitations, their activity. There are organisms that have very limited autonomy, because they’re programmed to perform certain tasks, like worker ants or bees. They can function independently, but within very narrow constraints.

Let’s look at one of our favorite machines. They’re made to look enticing to us homosapiens, but their appearance isn’t really related much to their function. Like the male peacock’s bright feathery and impressive tail, they’re designed to draw humans’ attention – and hopefully their cash. Automobiles are what they are because lots of people came together, with incredibly complex organization and created them. But what do they have and do? They have very complex machinery inside. They utilize fuel to function, fuel that is converted into work of various sorts. They have waste products. They have very complex innards, but they lack life and autonomy. Even the self-driving car of the future will not be autonomous; it will be programmed; it’s activity, though appearing independent will be managed by someone’s control, control from a living organism. Nevertheless, the comparison of my Toyota and other machines with living organisms points out their remarkable similarity.

In looking at organisms and machines, we see that there are lots of similarities, although virtually any organism is incredibly more complex – yes, even more complex than anything humans have yet designed – if you start looking at the molecular level. But there may be levels of human activity where the similarity and differences between human-organized activity and true organisms can get confusing. There’s a level of seemingly organismic activity of humans that is apparent if you move up into the stratosphere and look down. Do you see all those objects moving around. Oh, there’s a hospital. Look. It has electrical lines hooked up to it. It has trucks bringing things to it daily. And, Look! It has garbage trucks leaving daily. People go in and out. They go in in one state and leave in another state. Hmm. Those cars seem like organisms themselves from way up here. If I had only this perspective and were unable to get closer, I’d think that those things that people call cars and trucks are really organisms, and I’d think that that big thing that they call a hospital is just a really big organism.

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Turn on the news at any time and there are catastrophes everywhere. Of course, they’re worse at this time in those areas where there is armed conflict; but there are areas in the world where starvation and abuse of women and children don’t often come to the attention of journalists and the public.

The real catastrophe is individual; the individual child, woman, or man who suffers from deprivation, abuse, loss of home, possessions, educational and productive opportunities, and community. We’re talking about tragedy. Tragedy is an individual thing; but it is also corporate. An entire culture disrupted by conflict is a terrible blow to culture. In the daily news we see pictures of disruption, injuries from conflict to innocents. How do aggressors justify what they do? Corporate aggression is usually driven by greed and ideology. An attempt by a stronger aggressor to impose its mandates on a weaker society.

We see in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in multiple areas in Africa how ideology and greed are fueling conflict. In the West and in the Americas, we are certainly not free from the same tendencies to press our ideology on others, and if you look at the past actions of our beloved United States, we must acknowledge our errors of the past: the extermination of native American Indians and their cultures, slavery, the Jim Crow era consequent to the “Emancipation” of African-Americans, which lasted 100 years!

We hear lots of bellicose talk from nations leaders, presently primarily from Putin, Netanyahu, The Supreme Leader of Iran. There is a secondary level of bellicose talk from people who want to be leaders, like from some of our Presidential hopefuls.

The solution is something we homo sapiens have been working on for thousands of years, but that we haven’t got quite right – although there are places where we’re doing a pretty good job. The solution is negotiation and compromise. Which means, of course, that people have to give up somewhat, often what they think are their most cherished ideas or possessions, reflecting a change from near-delusional understanding of what’s best for them and right for them.

We’re learning; but it’s a very slow process; and a lot of us in our own country (the United States) don’t get it.

Those atomic weapons are still poised to go off; it’s not just atomic bombs, but hydrogen warheads. Do you know how lethal they are?
That’s crazy!

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