Of course, we must review some of the past to contour our present situation.
There are several small windows of human history where the mechanical expanded up and down human experience and everywhere. Almost always there was a convergence of population growth in an given area (sometimes the entire world), material/chemical innovation, changes is social bonds due to catastrophe or rapid change, adoption of scientific method and more. In the last 200 years the mechanical was thought to be and very much was the root of this convergence.
various taxonomies of recent history, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_Age http://openbookproject.net/courses/intro2ict/history/history.html https://tcf.ua.edu/AZ/ITHistoryOutline.htm
Another take on last 5000 years https://usefulcharts.com/products/timeline-of-world-history
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuCn8ux2gbs — a must watch condensation of deep history. and funny too.
We tend to over-prioritize the recent past for quality ideas. In fact, humans have rediscovered the same ideas, perspectives and tools often many times over. On one hand a case can be made that good ideas get passed around perhaps somewhat indirectly. On the other hand a different case can be made that knowledge, ideas, and strategies are not so easily controlled and codified. It is worth pondering whether the it is conditions of the wider world that must converge for the same ideas to form and hang around, and not so much an aspect of the beings claiming to have the ideas.
Without ignoring the furthest back history, because we will return to the earliest periods, the amazingly long history of humans (most of it is poorly named “pre-history”) let’s pick out a period we have decent “records” about. Consider the Ionians and their philosophy, nearly 2500 years ago. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionian_School_(philosophy) ) The concept of Isonomia is of particular note. Here some 2500 years before modern democracy:
“The rule of the people has the fairest name of all, equality (isonomia), and does none of the things that a monarch does. The lot determines offices, power is held accountable, and deliberation is conducted in public” — Herodotus 3.80
Ideas of governing are one of humankinds first large scale resource management. Humans have many times happened upon a more distributed and more organic way of navigating the complexity of the world. Ionians were certainly not the first group of humans to philosophically strive and engineer a world of less command and control but they do have written accounts that we can still follow today.
And they, like all humans, came upon their ideas through the conditions of their world (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVKlJueJbTw) , their received opinions of their forebears, the wars of the age, the climate and economics. Such were the conditions of the time that Xenophanes, a natural philosopher of the era, offered up this lucid account of the many faceted connectedness of the world.
The sea is the source of water and of wind,
For without the great sea, there would be no wind
Nor streams of rivers, nor rainwater from on high
But the great sea is the begetter of clouds, winds, and rivers.
These ideas aren’t restricted to Pre-Socratic Greece. Buddhism was also coming to resolution around the same time on earth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Buddhism As well as Taoism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taoism ). Basically everywhere humans walked or travelled a different kind of organizing of life and resources was taking place. What was remarkable about all of these ontologies of humans and humans in relation to the universe is how much they were about interconnectedness and finding ways of organizing resources with less and less formal structures. (This is a very simplistic interpretation as an entire library of books would be required to compare and contrast and fully document what was going on and how to think about it. The big point is that human life was changing rapidly and there were new ways of viewing it all and new technologies and procedures to get “organized” that came along with it.)
Christianity arrived a little bit later, again in response to the considerable complexification of the human experience — trade routes, population explosions, rapidity of idea transfers, integration of new economic systems and so on.
The Adjacent Past — Explosion of People, Machines and Confusions
The mechanical literally made sense in a world where humans had little knowledge of deep ecology, biology, cosmology. The world for about the last 5 years was one in which humans were almost always able to scout, locate and terraform the earth with ever larger machines to reach new heights and increase perceived prosperity. The mechanical literally made sense by making our world.
Shipmap.org Screen capture
Telegeography Internet Map 2018 https://www2.telegeography.com/global-internet-map
Our recent past was as much of a world of seemingly endless ability to control as much as it was spinning out of control.
Of course this orthogonal experience collided for decades of World Wars, atomic bombs, cold wars, and empire breakdowns. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKPFT-RioU — The Fallen of World War II
NASA simulated image of spiralling and colliding black holes
Now we have 15 billion plus computing devices we’ve manufactured as species and trillions more in nature that we know how to forensically extract computation from. From storing digital images in DNA to computing the moment two swirling blackholes collide from their faint gravitational ways we can compute in any and every way possible. Everything is literally connected, more or less. And there is no singular operating system for any of the individual units of computation nor any connected subset nor the connected whole. If we are to continue to take advantage of this hard re-won insight and capability we should abandon the mechanical ideas of the last 500 years and, ironically, re-establish computation (and our awareness) on a more biological concept.
Writing in 1952, Lewis Mumford, leading theorist, critic and survivor of the Machine Age, summed up the underlying drift of its experiments in form: ‘’The great problem of our time is to restore modern man’s balance and wholeness: to give him the capacity to command the machines he has created instead of becoming their helpless accomplice and passive victim; to bring back, into the very heart of our culture, that respect for the essential attributes of personality, its creativity and autonomy, which Western man lost at the moment he displaced his own life in order to concentrate on the improvement of the machine.’’
The Ever Present Recursive Uncertainty Struggle of Humankind
The Mechanical becomes Mechanical
It was a convenient thought for centuries that the human body and nature itself was literally a very large set of notched gears in vast machines, more or less (https://io9.gizmodo.com/your-body-the-machine-literally-1639677357) .
“Any one who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in a state of sin.”
“Various techniques used in connection with random digits” by John von Neumann in Monte Carlo Method (1951) edited by A.S. Householder, G.E. Forsythe, and H.H. Germond
But if you go back before our engineered modern mechanical computers and calculators and look at the mathematical theory of computation of Godel, Turing, Church, Lovelace, Babbage, and even further back you’ll see that even the theory was basically a hunting for ever more fine tuned knobs to turn knobs. Turing’s turing machine, the major 20th century jumping off point for modern computing and computational theory, was an abstraction of mechanical thinking to a very general form. But in the end it is still very mechanical in that all its notions are around discrete stats and deterministic outcomes (calculate or halt) and so on. The mechanical model is obviously unbelievably powerful. We have used it to craft a world in which we can go to the moon or communicate wirelessly everywhere on the globe and upload everything we can document to a world wide collection of general computers. That said, no matter how much we compute with mechanical means there is still an infinite universe that we cannot reach. And it is that which we cannot reach that keeps us see-sawing culturally and technically.
Human Complexity as just a build up of Machines within Machines
The Mechanical’s Utility is Also The Achilles Heel
Unsurprisingly the mechanical’s penchant for being exceedingly useful is what has now become our limit in terms of getting even more utility out of the machines and the human ability to use the machines in a way that doesn’t physically hurt them. The mechanical model is not reality nor is it even that close a model of reality. The model isn’t even why machines and machined process work so well. The mechanical is perfectly representative of the class of phenomena in reality that is deterministic or bounded by deterministic limits. These are the types of things we encounter that are repetitive, reducible, haltable, namable and/or countable. There are a lot of these things, some of them very complicated, some of them almost magical. And yet, they are not even close to everything or even the most fundamental things of reality.
But wait… what else do humans do other than repeat, reduce, halt, name and count?