Man. A Machine?

“We ought then to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state and the cause of the one which is to follow. Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it – an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit this data to analysis – it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present in its eyes.”

The above quote is by Pierre-Simon Laplace (yes, the very same Laplace who screwed us with his differential equations) and represents a view known as mechanistic materialism which is to say that the world and everything in it acts as a machine.


Materialism is one of the view used to solve the mind-body problem, which addresses the relationship between the physical world and the intelligible one; or put more simply, the relationship between the brain and the mind. What gives humans the ability to think, imagine and reason? What makes this blob of goo inside our skulls capable of mental activities? Materialism argues that matter is the ultimate reality of all things.

The full impact of mechanism reveals itself as one thinks more about it. It is not only that things act according to immutable laws of physics. Everybody believes that. It is to say that everything is caused in such a way that it could not have been otherwise. That everything is completely predetermined by infinitely long and converging chains of blind irrational antecedent causes. That somehow if you could find a machine that can comprehend all the forces in the universe and account for them, then you would be able to predict every detail in the universe at any point in the past or the future.

In a book written by La Mettrie, titled “Man a Machine”, he argues that man, with his thoughts, sensations and emotions is the sum of his organs, nerves, impulses, reflexes, pumping heart and the like; simply the physical counterparts of springs, cogs, wheels, wire and so on, all reducible to physics and chemistry. He compares the brain secreting thought in the same way that the liver secretes bile and that what we refer to as the soul is nothing but an empty word used to describe the part of us that thinks; an advanced machine.

I have always been inclined to believe in only what can be scientifically tested and proven, so maybe man is but a machine. Yet the idea of reducing everything in the world to a series of infinite reactions highly disturbs me. It simply removes free will. Then everything; my writing this post right now, you reading this very sentence, is predetermined by a blind irrational chain of events. I guess for some it is easier to believe that things are above us, that when something doesn’t work out, it is because something or someone didn’t want it to. But that ultimately makes everything pointless. Then all we are is puppets in the hands of their master.


Source used for writing the post: “Questions That Matter” b Ed L. Miller

4 responses to “Man. A Machine?

  1. Well it’s pretty true, we don’t have that much of a free will as much as we think we do. The reason you are writing this post is because you have access to these ideas, and you are inclined to look them up because you have that kind of personality that reads and looks stuff up, which is probably caused by something in the past, maybe a relative or an awesome science/social studies teacher.


    you also have the free will to change what you want if you want to. If you focus enough to create new thoughts in your head and think from other perspectives, you create new habits and new actions, new reactions to the given world. Then again you might be able to do that because you’re an indecisive person, with many influences (western and eastern), meaning each influence has an opposite pull on you, hence we have such a lost youth in our time. Do they have free will? Yes, are they able to use it? If they stuck to one culture they probably could I think, because their will is pulled/moved by their influences as kids/adults by greater forces. When you agree or disagree with something, it defines how you will react to other things. Every time you react or interact with anything/anyone, the chance of your actions being more easily read increases.

    Maybe that’s why people say we’re being controlled in our lives. If the government controls what influences us, we pretty much end up doing what they want us to do (technically).

    Mind-fucking isn’t it? I think we all have a choice though.

  2. That’s REALLY interesting!

  3. Interesting and very challenging spiritual journey. To find the real source of absolute knowledge prior to finding knowledge is extremely challenging and controversial. Whether it is through reason or through faith is a question that has been debated since the beginning of the human intellect until this day. I personally feel that reason is limited. Actually this is what reason and science tell us! The scientific notion of the “Uncertainty Principle” in the quantum mechanical world creates another dilemma for those who choose science and reason to be their ultimate source of knowledge. This is of course in addition to the philosophical approach carried out by skeptic philosophers like Al-Ghazali and Descartes who where skeptic about their “real” existence and hence the “real” existence of the whole universe.

    The issue of free-will is probably more complicated. But if there is always a level of mathematical probability in the emergence of any coming event, then probably this hints on the possibility of the existence of an external thing (conscience, mind or soul) that is contributing in the decision making which might be the indication of having real free will!

    Are you sure you wanna go on with this journey?! lol

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