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Nature and Mechanism

Though serving as a model of nature, mechanism is unnatural by definition. It is the very thing nature cannot produce. This is because the machine is an isolated system and a product of intention and top-down design, whereas in nature there are no isolated systems and no designer: the natural world is found, not made. Furthermore, intention is a byproduct of nature, not (as idealism holds) the other way around. There is therefore considerable irony in the fact that the machine has been adopted as the very plan of nature; that organisms are regarded as natural machines; that even the cosmos as a whole continues to be regarded as a vast machine or (lately) a computer. The obsession with mechanism chases its own tail: the machine concept, abstracted and idealized from experience with natural systems, is projected back upon nature as the organizing principle behind the very life and consciousness that creates the machine concept. But far from being a reasonable model for understanding nature, mechanism is, in fact, the very opposite of nature. Mechanism and nature are disjunct in the way that mind and matter are, dualities in both cases resulting from an imposed way of looking and acting. Mechanism is proposed as the means to control nature—including human nature—but nature does not consist of isolated systems controlled from the outside, and creatures are not machines that have been programmed from the top down.

RELATED TAGS: [model of nature, top-down design, design argument, natural machine, cosmic computer, machine concept/metaphor, external control, mechanist view of nature]

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