"Machine is derived via the Latin machina and from the Greek mechane , meaning tool or machine -- especially an instrument to lift heavy objects, a crane, or a military engine. Perhaps the original word is mëxos, which means an artificial device, especially used against misfortune and troubles.
The entire body of modern science rests on Descartes's metaphor of the world as a machine, which he introduced in Part V of the Discourse on Method as a way of understanding organisms but then generalized as a way of thinking about the entire universe. "I have hitherto described this earth and generally the whole visible world, as if it were merely a machine in which there was nothing at all to consider except the shapes and motions of its parts." One essential aspect of the machine is that it consists of clearly distinguishable bits and pieces, each of which has a determined causal relationship to the movement of other bits and pieces. In science, the machine metaphor is the rationale for reductionism. The Cartesian emphasis on "clear and distinct" ideas, a conception which united rationnalists and empiricists, can be seen as part of the mechanical view, because the idea of the individual part, the basic unit, is thought to be fully independent of any complex assembly.
The classic definition by "the first great morphologist of the machine,"Franz Reuleaux, is that a (simple) machine is " a combination of resistent bodies so arranged that by their means the mechanical forces of nature can be compelled to do work accompanied by certain determinate motions." (Reuleaux, The Constructor. A Handbook of Machine Design, Philadelphia, 1894)
Lewis Mumford gives a gloss of this definition in The Myth of the Machine, referring to Reuleux's definition as "a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function, operating under human control, to utilize energy and perform work." For Mumford, "The machine was a counterfeit of nature, nature analyzed, regulated, narrowed, controlled by the mind of men." (Mumford, Technics and Civilization, p.52) Following Marx, Mumford saw the machine primarily as a social formation.
In his analysis of the division of labor in Capital, vol 1, Karl Marx developed the parallel between the different parts of a machine and the division of labor which produces those parts, as a mechanism which compels the collective worker to work with the regularity of a machine, (p.469) which divides up the individual himself in order to transform him into the "automatic motor of a detail operation." (481) For Marx, "the machine is a means for producing surplus value" (the labor which the worker gives the capitalist for nothing.) Because its raison d'etre is the accumulation of surplus labor, capitalism subordinates men to machines instead of using machines to liberate men from the burden of mechanical and repetitive work. As production becomes mechanized under capitalism, the rhythm and and work content of living labor are subordinated to the mechanical needs of machinery itelf. (see clock) (see also André Leroi-Gourhan's description of the individual's smooth performance of "mechanical operational sequences" in everyday life in Gesture and Speech, eg. p.232)
"The machine has suffered for the sins of capitalism; contrariwise, capitalism has often taken credit for the virtues of the machine." (Mumford, p.21)
Ernest Mandel outlines three quantum leaps in the evolution of machinery under capital: Machine production of steam-driven motors since 1848, machine production of electric and combustion motors since the 1890's, and machine production of electronic and nuclear-powered apparatuses since the 1940's. These correspond to the three stages of capitalism: market capitalism, monopoly or imperialist capitalism, and "postindustrial" or multinational capitalism. (Late Capitalism) (Frederic Jameson identifies postmodernism with the last phase.)
How is a machine distinguished from a tool? For Mumford, the essential distinction between a machine and a tool lies in the degree of independence in the operation from the skill and motive power of the operator. But is the difference simply in the source of motive power? Although he notes that tools can be distinguised from machines on the basis of their motor forces, this is not the important element for Marx. He describes the transformation of the instruments of labor from tools into machines as the removal of the instruments of labor from the hands of the worker. (alienation) The machine takes the place of the worker, not of the tool. "The machine ... is a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations as the worker formerly did with similar tools." (Capital, Vol 1, NY, Intl. Pub. pp 374-79, Chapt 15 pp 492-) Marx also distinguishes the social organization of machine from that of tool-users, primarily in its need for a reliable organization of knowledge.
For Mumford, "the machine" is shorthand for the technological complex, which "swept over our civilization". According to Mumford, "Men had become mechanical before they perfected complicated machines to express their new bent and interest; and the will to order had appeared...in the monastery and the army and the counting-house before it finally manifested itself in the factory." (Mumford, Technics and Civilization, p. 3) Gilles Deleuze echoes this statement when he claims that "machines are social before they are technical." (Deleuze, Foucault, pp 39-40) According to Mumford, "If the invention of the mechanical clock heralded the new will-to-order, the use of the cannon in the fourteenth century enlarged the will to power; and the machine as we know it represents the convergence and systematic embodiment of these two prime elements." (p84)
For Deleuze and Guattari, the machine is the ontology of production. "As for the great capitalist machines, their basic mechanisms were proliferative: first urban, then royal state machines, commercial and banking machines, navigational machines, monotheistic religious machines, deterritorialized musical and plastic machines, scientific and technical machines, and so forth." (Félix Guattari, "Machinic Heterogenesis") Mumford calls the invisible structure which includes all the political and economic, military, bureaucratic and royal components that make the immense work-output and grand designs of collective social organization the megamachine --its technical equipment, "megatechnics." "The problem was to turn a random collection of human beings...into a mechanized group that could be manipulated at command. The secret of mechanical control was to have a single mind with a well-defined aim at the head of the organization, and a method of passing messages... (to)the smallest unit. " (The Myth of the Machine, pp 191-2) Thus all forms of social regimentation, limiting the actions and movements of human beings to their bare mechanical elements, belongs to the physiology, if not to the mechanics, of the machine age. (Technics and Civilization, p. 41) (These descriptions of disciplinary mechanisms are part of what Michel Foucault would call the "anatomo-politics of the human body". (see biopower) "As statements are inseparable from systems, so visibilities are inseparable from machines. A machine does not have to be optical; but it is an assembly of organs and functions that makes something visible and conspicuous." (Deleuze,Foucault, p. 58)
Mumford's arguments, echoed by Deleuze and Guattari, link the machine to universality and homogeneity. (cf smooth / striated ) All of these descriptions stress the social coordination, the plane of organization, the coherence of machine assemblies. (see big science )
E.J. Dijksterhuis describes the rise of modern science as the "Mechanization of the World Picture." (see representation) One sense in which he interprets this idea is to think of the physical universe as a great machine, which, once it has been set into motion, by virtue of its construction performs the work for which it was called into existence, (p.495) such that God becomes a "retired engineer." (see closed / open systems) The prime artifact of the mechanical universe is the clock. Dijksterhuis distinguishes between finalist pictures of the machine and a study that only wonders by what cause a particular part is moved, without considering the object of the motion. He describes this analysis as the study of a mechanical system as opposed to a machine.
Dijksterhuis gives another sense to his thesis by describing the tendency among physicist to look for hidden mechanisms, and to assume that these would be essentially of the same kind as the simple instruments used to relieve work, such that a skilful mechanical engineer would be able to imitate the real course of events. For Dijksterhuis mechanization is best interpreted as "with the aid of a concept of mechanics", which would be better named (mathematical) kinetics. By defining force purely as the product of an acceleration (a purely kinematic magnitude--from Greek kineo, referring to constrained or controlled motion) and a mass (a coefficient to be determined empirically), modern science eliminated both the metaphysical terminology and psychological origins of the concept of force. "The mechanization of the world-picture during the transition from ancient to classical science meant the introduction of a description of nature with the aid of the mathematical concepts of classical mechanics; it marks the beginning of the mathematization of science, which continues at an ever-increasing pace in the twentieth century." (V:9) (see also quantitative / qualitative)
The mechanical 'world view" has also been criticized as a general tendency to think of events as happening to passive things and to conceive all causes as efficient and extrinsic. The central paradigm of this sort of action is the colliding billiard balls of mechanics, in which it is supposed that the balls have no intrinsic, active powers of motion. In this view, there is no place for a paradigm of agency, such as spontaneous human action. When the body is compared to a machine, it is in terms of energy intake and expenditure (oxidation). The comparison is also made through artfacts such as the clock--both as models and as direct influence. See, for instance "The Body is a Machine," in H.G. Wells and Julian Huxley, The Science of Life.
Another strain of philosophical thought is more critical of the mechanical world picture. In Monadology, Leibniz refuted the mechanical explanation of perception: "Supposing there were a machine whose structure produced thought, sensation, and perception, we could conceive of it as increased in size until one was able to enter into its interior, as he would proceed into a mill. Now, on going into it he would find only pieces working upon one another, but never would he find anything to explain perception."
Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his explorations of the relations between meaning and use, discusses the machine as symbolizing its actions. (Philosophical Investigations, paragraphs 193-4) "We talk as if these parts could only move in this way, as if they could not do anything else. How is this--do we forget the possibility of their bending, breaking off, melting, and so on?" He concludes that "the movement of the machine-as-symbol is predetermined in a different sense from that in which the movement of any given actual machine is predetermined."
Wolfgang Köhler distinguished Gestalt theories from "machine theory," that is, technological conceptions of science, life, and mind that equated knowledge of nature with its effective manipulation and control. The gestalt theorists attempted to introduce an aesthetic dimension of inherent order, meaning, and simplicity into the evaluation of scientific theories, and into the fabric of experience and nature itself. (Mitchell G. Ash, Gestalt Psychology in German Culture, 1890-1967, p.1)
Michel de Certeau describes the tactics of use, manipulation, and diversion as creatings a "certain play in the machine" through a stratification of different and interfering kinds of functioning. (Practice of Everyday Life, p.30)
Another approach to machines frees them from any fixed functional objective and sees a form of creativity in them. For Elizabeth Grosz, machines are "heterogeneous, disparate, discontinuous assemblages of fragments brought together in conjunctions or severed through disjunctions and breaks." This description ressembles the forms of bricolage or tinkering described by Claude Levi-Strauss and derives from the descriptions of machines in the Anti-Oedipus. (see desiring machines)Félix Guattari talks about the theme of the machine as an affective object, rather than in mechanistic terms. D+G distinguish the machine from the mechanism, which is rigid and unmoving. Guattari wants to tear down the "iron curtain" between being and things. Instead he sees being "differentiating itself qualitatively".. "as the very extension of the creativity of machinic vectors." and ascribes to machines a "protosubjectivity." (See "On Machines" in Andrew Benjamin, ed. JPVA no.6, issue entitled Complexity: Architecture/Art/Philosophy) "A pile of stones is not a machine, whereas a wall is already a static protomachine, manifesting virtual polarities, an inside and an outside, a high and a low, a left and a right." (Guattari, "Machinic Heterogenesis")
Jacques Monod, in Chance and Necessity; contrasts machines, whose design agency is outside of them, from organisms, that are formed internally. A machine presupposes a conscious and intelligent maker who has constructed it and makes it operate to realize a particular object. (This is the "cryptoteleological" aspect of machines) See Kant's distinction in mechanism / vitalism. See also autopoesis. The study of artifical life assumes that it is possible to organize a population of machines in such a way that their interactive dynamics is "alive." For Richard Dawkins, "Machines are the direct products of living objects, and they are diagnostic of the existence of life on a planet." (Blind Watchmaker, p. 2) Reversing the traditional interpretations of organism as machines, Georges Canguilhem argues that "machines can be considered as organs of the human species." (cf prosthesis) With their greater range of activity, organisms suggest a model "less bound by purposiveness and more open to potentialities." Viewed as organic products, machines can be seen as "the direct or indirect products of a technical activity that is as authentically organic as the flowering of trees," products of an ingenuity" based on instinct, and developing along Darwinian notions of variation and natural selection, as extensions of human behavior or life processes.
In the structuralist framework, machines articulate the categories of language and society. Thus, if ritual is described as a machine for transforming diachrony into synchrony, and play is, conversely, a machine for transforming synchrony into diachrony, the two can be regarded as a single machine, a single binary system which is articulated accross two categories which cannot be isolated and across whose correlation and difference the very functioning of the system is based. (Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History, p.74)
For Van Doesburg,"every machine is the spiritualization of an organism." For de Stijl , machinery hastened the spiritualization of life by separating man from nature. "The machine is, par excellence, a phenomenon of spiritual discipline." If handicraft reduced men to the level of machines, for Van Doesburg, "the proper tendency for the machine is as the unique medium of the very opposite, social liberation." (see Banham, p.151) Banham considers these statements the passage to the machine aesthetic, where, in Severini's words, "we may conclude that the effect produced on the spectator by the machine is analagous to that produced by the work of art." This is neither Rationalist materialism nor Futurist mechanolatry, but rather a bridge to a depersonalized, metropolitan, "new style."
"a machine is essentially the physical embodiment of a process which occurs in time." (Collins, Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, p. 163) -- this concept may be closer to the organic than to the machine.