The Mechanistic Worldview

The mechanical view of nature now taught in most western schools is accepted without question as our everyday, common sense reality–a reality in which matter is made up of atoms, colors occur by the reflection of light waves of differing lengths, bodies obey the law of inertia, and the sun is in the center of our solar system. This worldview is a product of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. None of its assumptions were the commonsense view of our sixteenth-century counterparts. Before the scientific revolution, most ordinary people assumed that the earth was in the center of the cosmos, that the earth was a nurturing mother, and that the cosmos was alive, not dead.


As the unifying model for science and society, the machine has permeated and reconstructed human consciousness so totally that today we scarcely question its validity. Nature, society, and the human body are composed of interchangeable atomized parts that can be repaired or replaced from outside. The “technological fix” mends an ecological malfunction, new human beings replace the old to maintain the smooth functioning of industry and bureaucracy, and interventionist medicine exchanges a fresh heart for a worn-out, diseased one.


The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature–the most far-reaching effect of the scientific revolution. Because nature was now viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external rather than inherent forces, the mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism.


– Carolyn Merchant. “Science and Worldviews” pp. 41-60 in Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World(New York: Routledge, 1992).





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