Machines They Were Born…

Once I was talking with G. in Moscow. I was speaking about London, where I had been staying a short time before, about the terrifying mechanization that was being developed in the big European cities and without which it was probably impossible to live and work in those immense whirling “mechanical toys”.


“People are turning into machines,” I said. “And no doubt sometimes they become perfect machines. But I do not believe they can think. If they tried to think, they could not have been such fine machines.”


“Yes,” said G. “that is true, but only partly true. It depends first of all upon which mind they use for their work. If they use the proper mind they will be able to think even better in the midst of all their work with machines. But, again, only if they think with their proper mind.”


I did not understand what G. meant by “proper mind” and understood it only much later.


“And secondly,” he continued, “the mechanization you speak of is not at all dangerous. A man may be a man” (he emphasized this word), “while working with machines. There is another kind of mechanization which is much more dangerous: being a machine oneself. Have you ever thought about the fact that all people are themselves machines?”


“Yes,” I said, “from the strictly scientific point of view all people are machines governed by external influences. But the question is, can the scientific point of view be wholly accepted?”


“Scientific or not scientific is all the same to me,” said G. “I want you to understand what I am saying. Look, all the people you see,” he pointed along the street, “are simply machines – nothing more.”


“I think I understand what you mean,” I said, “And I have often thought how little there is in the world that can stand against this form of mechanization and choose its own path.”


“This is just where you make you’re greatest mistake,” said G. “You think that there is something which chooses its own path, something that can stand against mechanization, you think that not everything is equally mechanical.”


“Why of course not!” I said, “Art, poetry, thought, are phenomena of quite a different order.”


“Of exactly the same order,” said G. “These activities are just as mechanical as everything else. Men are machines and nothing but mechanical actions can be expected of machines.”


“Very well,” I said. “But are there no people who are not machines?”


“It may be that there are.” Said G, “only not those people you see. And you do not know them. That is what I want you to understand.”


I thought it rather strange that he should be so insistent on this point. What he said seemed to me obvious and incontestable. At the same time, I had never liked such short and all-embracing metaphors. They always omitted points of difference. I, on the other hand, had always maintained that differences were the most important thing and that in order to understand things it was first necessary to see the points in which they differed. So I felt that it was odd that G. insisted on an idea which seemed to be obvious provided it were not made too absolute and exceptions were admitted.


“People are so unlike one another,” I said, “I do not think it would be possible to bring them all under the same heading. There are savages, there are mechanized people, there are intellectual people, there are geniuses.”


“Quite right,” said G., “people are very unlike one another, but the real difference between people you do not know and cannot see. The difference of which you speak simply does not exist. This must be understood. All the people you see, all the people you know, all the people you may get to know, are machines, actual machines working solely under the power of external influences, as you yourself said. Machines they were born and machines they will die. How do savages and intellectuals come into that? Even now, at this very moment, while we are talking, several millions of machines are trying to annihilate one another. What is the difference between them? Where are the savages and where are the intellectuals? They are all alike…


But there is a possibility of ceasing to be a machine. It is of this we must think and not about the different kinds of machine that exist. Of course there are different machines; a motorcar is a machine, a gramophone is a machine, and a gun is a machine. But what of it? It is the same thing – they are all machines.”


– P.D. Ouspensky. In Search of the Miraculous.(P 17-19)




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