Human being = mechanism?

Certain people of a ‘scientific’ and ‘atheistic’ bent posit that the human being (i.e. the human body, including the mind – which is merely activity in the brain) is a kind of mechanism or machine or gene receptacle, and the brain is a ‘box of wires’. To me, this raises various questions.

1. Why is the human mechanism better or more deserving of respect than any other mechanism … a lawnmower, say, or, a cat?
2. Whence do concepts such as human dignity, human rights, personal morality, right and wrong, good and evil arise, and what is their justification?
3. Why should anyone be held responsible for their actions, given that these are caused by chemical reactions in the brain, and chemicals have no sense of right and wrong?
4. Why do you have the concept of a quasi-separate ‘I’, as in ‘my body’, if you are just your body?
5. How can volition be anything other than an illusion?
6. Why should feelings, emotions, etc. have any importance if they are mere artefacts of chemical reactions?

I ask because I want to know.



Filed under Philosophy of life, Psychology, Uncategorized

34 responses to “Human being = mechanism?

  1. Ike Jakson


    Thanks for posting your article here too.

    It is a strange feeling [but that is what you are talking about anyway] as if the Post is easier to read here, more relaxed as if it is a million miles from the other site even though I am reading it on the very same computer screen. It feels kind of cozy and much safer here than there

    I would like to ponder on this somewhat before I start commenting but I got to know a few other people better already in the same Post over there and experienced a sense of warmth at what they said.

    We all have our own little lives and everyone has his/her own little compartments where we keep things [we don’t necessarily even use the same compartment for similar things than another one] and our own little experiences [some large ones too sometimes] that makes it impossible for two people to always react in a similar manner to everything on life’s journey.

    Now I am first going to wait for others to enter because it is such a wonderful presentation.

  2. Hello Ike … thanks very much for this.

  3. Pingback: Atheism and the Mind – chapter 1 « Theoretical Democratix

  4. Rainer the cabbie

    A long long time ago, in a Galaxy we call our own, a group of excited scientist from very far away discovered planet Earth.
    This planet was one of the most amazing in the universe, as it had so many lifeforms and organism on it, that they were in awe of how this was created.
    They studied and studied and found that Earth was a very special place, like a garden of Eden.

    They took their discovery back home where the government of the day looked at the information but instead of declaring Earth a Space National Park, decided to make use of it in an experiment.
    You see, they had all types of robots and machines, but the biggest scientific gamble and experiment was to design and built a robot that was living tissue and could learn by itself.
    So this machine was build, one that could even multiply by pairing with another machine. It was designed by taking into account all living things on planet Earth.
    They took about 100 prototypes to Earth and let them roam and propagate.

    They kept observing these amazing machines and were very pleased with their progress but after a couple of thousand years realized that there were sirius design faults, also the machines kept killing all the indigenous Earth men, their closest relative according to the blueprint.

    The scientists decided to go back to Earth, collect all the machines and start again, with a robot mark 2.

    Just as this mission was put together the sun closest to them collapsed and finished off their planet. That was unfortunate and unforeseen.

    So here we are…..

  5. Rainer the cabbie

    On a more serious note,
    1. Because the human mechanism is the finest and most advanced form of life on this planet.
    2. By trial and error. We are group animals and therefore some sort of code needed to be established in order to protect and enhance the group.
    3. “Chemical reaction” is just sciences way of explaining how they think the brain, something we really do not understand, works.
    Responsibility for action is judged by the moral code.
    4. I come to this later
    5. Learned behaviour ?
    6. Because feelings and emotions do give us consciousness, they define reality.

    About NR.4
    This is the elephant in the room. Most human beings, with a few stubborn exception, can feel that we a part of something else. I call it cosmic energy, something that we are in tune with, where we come from and where we go to.
    Unfortunately man has manipulated this feeling into something called religion and thereby distorted the true meaning of our existence.

    I hope the above helps, just the cabbies thought on the subject, I am sure some scholars will have a better explanation.

  6. Thanks for those interesting answers, Rainer. I agree with your comments on Q4.

    On a slightly different tack, I was reading recently that Otto Gross wrote 100 years ago about the need for the collective human psyche to switch from a ‘will to power’ to a ‘will to relating’ … `the highest, the essential goal of all revolutions’. This re-emerged in the 1960s as `make love, not war!’ … perhaps it will re-emerge again in 2012, what with the Mayan predictions etc.? Certainly a different path is needed.

  7. Rainer the cabbie

    Thanks Brendano

    A lot is made out of 2012, I hope it won’t be a repeat of the Millenium bug, which came to nothing except enrich IT guys.

    I agree, a different path is badly needed as we are running towards extinction if we keep multiplying as much as we do and see materialism as the ultimate goal.

    There is so much undiscovered richness in human life and spirituality that this change could be quiet exiting and rewarding. I won’t hold my breath though as long as the people calling the shots are the greedy and power hungry type we see in the world today.

    A spiritual revolution ? Count me in, as you know I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. 🙂

    • Again, Rainer, I very much agree. I suppose we all have to do what we can … regardless of the rest of the world, we are free to work on ourselves and try to develop ourselves, as well as making some difference to the world around us by trying to live well.

  8. Shermeen

    This is quite excellent. I wish I had thought of all these questions 🙂 They are so very well put. It would take one split second to guess my answer to all of them, but then they are not posed to my ‘type’, are they now!

  9. Hello,

    Again, this point of view is an earthly one. Call it cosmic energy, great architect, God. Without it all has to be relative. Even good evil, true false becomes relative.
    His purpose about us and the universe is what counts.

    I find these verses very important about the purpose:

    And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a khalif, they said: What! wilt Thou place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, and we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness? He said: Surely I know what you do not know.
    31. And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right.
    32. They said: Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise.
    33. He said: O Adam! inform them of their names. Then when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is ghaib in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide?

  10. Thanks for that, Levent. I read recently of a spirituality that is hidden in the open, waiting to be discovered.

    I think the truth is ‘in here’ and ‘out there’ … it is not in books, though books may contain one spproximation of the truth.

    • Brendan,

      Book(s) are merely guidance manuals, one has to “see” it himself.

      As Orpheous said to Neo “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. ” 🙂

      And there is “know thyself”

  11. “We did indeed offer the Trust to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it being afraid thereof. But man assumed it; indeed, he is most unjust, most foolish.”

    “The key to the world is in the hand of man and is attached to his self. For while being apparently open, the doors of the universe are in fact closed. God Almighty has given to man by way of a Trust, such a key, called the ‘I’, that it opens all the doors of the world; He has given him an enigmatic ‘I’ with which he may discover the hidden treasures of the Creator of the universe. But the ‘I’ is also an extremely complicated riddle and a talisman that is difficult to solve. When its true nature and the purpose of its creation are known, as it is itself solved, so will be the universe.”

  12. I believe this matter is the crux of the matter, Brendan. When I ponder on anything it, one way or another, comes down to purpose.
    Everything seems meaningless without it.

  13. Thanks, Levent. I very much like the quote in comment 11, which you have posted before.

    Robert M. Pirsig, in, I think, Zen and tbe Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, dealt with similar themes, and referred to an old song called ‘You’ve Got to Cross [or ‘Walk’] that Lonesome Valley’.

    You’ve got to walk that lonesome valley
    You’ve got to walk it by your self
    No-one else can walk it for you
    You’ve got to walk it by yourself

  14. Ike Jakson


    I am pleased that I waited a while; this Post will. I hope, grow into one of the very best. If we can get Jamie in as well it probably will.

    Rainer added an additional dimension with his humor. Levent was precious. So I will just weigh in with some small thoughts.

    It was Emerson, I think, who once said something like “What lies outside is almost nothing compared to what lies within us.” That is what distinguishes the human from the mechanical.

    Whether it is the mind; whether it is the brain managing the mind; whether life is settled in the heart or the brain must all still be determined and unfortunately what is known depends on definitions and meanings of words and how or what people understand the words to mean.

    I stop thinking when I get to that point. If I understand Levent correctly his thinking concurs with mine that somewhere we have to accept that the driving force is God and the purpose that He meant us to fulfill.

    Let others go on from here.

  15. Thanks, Ike. Nicely put, and I tend to agree with your conclusion. I do think that there is a purpose and a meaning to life.

  16. Hello Ike,

    Yes Jamie is needed indeed.

    Another thing , I think about Him is. We think we can “understand” or “know” Him by the mind. Thinking is not enough methinks. Brain might not be enough. Just think, how would you describe or make someone else know honey if he never tasted it? You can describe the colour, the viscosity etc but the most important point, the taste will be missing.

    Just like that mind may not be enough to “know” or “understand” Him. One has to “feel”. It is said that heart and soul has branches and more complicated than the brain.

    We are used to use our mind first, to acknowldge things, but perhaps it’s not always the key.

    I like an old joke from Nasreddin Hodja (an old humorous Turkish character). His jokes are simple and very famous among Turkish (and I believe among some others too). It’s also rumorued that he is a sofi and his jokes carry messages.

    Like this one:
    “One night Nasrudin was looking something desperately under the street lamp. His neighbors saw him and asked him what did he loose. He answered: “my key!” So his neighbors started to look for it as well all around the street lamp. After one hour and even more nobody found anything! So finally they asked him: “well do u remember where did you loose it your key?”. Nasrudin answered: “yes, it must be somewhere there in the dark far from the street lamp.” They asked him: “If you lost it there, why are you looking for it here then under the street lamp?” Nasrudin: “because under the street lamp I can see!”

    (Some say that in this joke he is teaching that we tend to use mind to solve (cause we are used to, makes it easier for us) but there are things you can’t do with mind. You need yuor heart or other sense to do it)

  17. Thanks for that, Levent. I agree about using the heart and soul as well as the mind.

    I think there’s definitely a message in the joke!

  18. Rainer the cabbie

    Hallo to Levent and to Ike, I appreciate your views and your conviction of faith.

    More so, and most importantly, I respect them.

    But to me, to put a label on “Life” and attribute this to a human invented God is only hearsay. Just like the honey, Levent, we were taught that it tastes sweet, so sweet is the information that was put into your brain. In reality, it may actually taste bitter, but you were never to know.

    Whatever is out there, and I can feel it too, is beyond human description and not comprehensible to us.
    Whatever you have been taught is a human variation of a feeling, an energy far to complicated for us to ever understand. To credit this vibration to some sort of God that watches over us, or worse, judges us, is limiting your experience of life.
    But its meaning is good and positive, full of love, so act on that.

  19. Hello Rainer. Your view is probably closer to mine than the more ‘personal God’ oriented ones.

    Everyone who has commented believes in a ‘something more’, the transcendent, and that life has meaning and purpose, which makes them a spiritual person. Some believe that the essence of this is captured by a particular religion; some do not. Everyone respects everyone else’s beliefs.

    I think, as you imply, it is less a matter of literal truth or untruth (a concept that may not be applicable to what is incomprehensible), and more a matter of a feeling, an inkling … a determination to develop one’s potential, and to live and let live.

  20. Ike Jakson

    Thanks all you guys. I shall return but may I have your permission to ask Jamie to join us. I like this Post and would like to see it go on for a long time.

  21. Jamie is always welcome, of course, Ike. He did comment on the MyT version of this post.

  22. Ike Jakson


    I picked it up from MyT that Levent is going in for an operation that may take him out of Blogging for a while and would like to use this opportunity with your permission to wish him God Speed and recovery to be back with us soon.

  23. Cymbeline

    Read an interesting thought the other day. The idea was to do with religion and faith springing from morality, rather than the other way around.

  24. Rainer the Cabbie

    This journey will, very likely, take until my days are over but the subject matter of this particular post has kept my thinking occupied for many years now.
    Great question Brendan, one of the oldest and perhaps never answered one.
    Try this for stimulation, I liked it a lot:

    (Brain reset by David Gillespie, in case the link failed)

    Hope you are well and have found peace.


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