Sunday, January 8, 2012

Behold the Machine

We, as human beings, and indeed all living organisms, are biological machines. No doubt this is surprising, even off-putting at first hearing it. A machine is defined as "an apparatus consisting of interrelated parts with separate functions, used in the performance of some kind of work." This definition is wholly applicable to us. Our bodies are made up of many delicate interrelated parts, the organs: brain, heart, lungs, liver, esophagus, stomach, etc. that have separate functions, all of which allow us to perform the work of living when they function correctly.

We are very intricate machines, fragile and more complex than any others, containing parts that are yet to be fully understood. If even the slightest part malfunctions, the consequences are grave, upsetting the body as a whole in many cases. Remarkable indeed, observing the bottom-up development this machine took with evolution by natural selection, in contrast to our top-down development of inorganic machines.

Our relationship to machines, especially those which resemble us in some way that once were fictional but increasingly can be seen developing, has occupied great expanses of literature, film and other culture. While they are certainly a fascinating thing and have the potential to change our very existence, we should remember, looking in the mirror: the machines are here already. We are them, simply composed of flesh, blood, bone and genes rather than metals or artificial materials. And we are the most wondrous yet to arise.