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Machine Strong, Human Weak

June 13, 2010

Carrying on from where I left off yesterday, wanted to point out a very obvious sign of the decline of Humans in almost direct proportion to the rise of machines.

If this sounds a little like a doomy science-fiction plot to you, may I suggest you stay with the narrative. As someone famous said, famously again, truth is often stranger than fiction.

If we roll the clock back on humanity prior to the rise of the Industrial age, and luckily that is a time we do have some sort of verifiable history for, we can draw a fairly accurate picture of human beings were like.

The totalitarian agriculture revolution, begun well nigh six to eight thousand years prior had given people a way of life that had not altered radically. Nowhere as radically as the last 400 years and especially nowhere as radically as the last 150 years. And the pace of change in the past 50 years has been nothing short of staggering.

And if you’ve caught my drift so far, the change has been very much to our detriment.

As more and more people got sucked into the industrial life (as opposed to their pastoral life), they became manipulators of machines. Of course, in the early years, even industrial life was hard labour, since machines themselves were in their infancy and needed significant human input (think a railway coal-man, shovelling coal into the burner hour after hour to keep the train going as a classic picture, that was hard work, but the machine, the train, carried many more people and goods than any horse-drawn carriage could have). You can extend this example to the garment industry, where people still had to be heavily involved at every stage of manufacture, often involving “heavy-lifting”.

Point I’m making is that in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, humans still had to be strong, physically to work.

As machinery got more sophisticated (only in a very newtonian way though, making better use of engineering and more and more power), the human input reduced, in direct proportion. Now, instead of heavy lifting, humans only had to pull and push levers. I’m generalizing a bit here, but you get the point. Of course there were still people doing heavy lifting, but fewer and fewer as the decades rolled on.

With the advent of Oil as fuel, human effort was replaced to an even greater extent as we had a new energy source, cheaper and more plentiful than coal. In direct proportion to the use of oil, human energetic input into the production chain reduced further.

From hard work, to lever manipulator to button pusher. Do you see a trend?

Not good!

The same was happening in agriculture. Agriculture was hard work, digging, tilling, reaping. But the march of mechanization touched Agriculture too (please note, it changed from farming, which had high human input, to Agri-Culture, more machines and chemical input, both energy replacements).

And so, humans grew weaker as machines grew stronger.

Was a time you had to walk to get where you were going. Then you took the Horse carriage and your legs grew weaker. But at least you had to walk to the carriage yard. Then came the bicycle, you could go farther and used your legs but motorization was around the corner. You can chart from this point to our modern age, where you walk out our door, into you car, get off somewhere, get on an escalator, walk around a bit and then rewind to return.

Human energy input into human life has been on a downward spiral and machine energy input into human life has been on an upward spiral.

Same can be said for the use of our minds. Time was a weaver could keep a complex pattern in their head as the bobbin flew fast and furious and human input kept the design true and correct. Fast forward to today, computer designs, Computer controlled weaving system’s manufacture, humans fold, pack and ship.

Calculators took away our ability to calculate. Computers have taken away our ability to compute.

So in all aspects of our lives, from the most gross (physical labour) to the most subtle (mental processes), we have given ourselves up to the machine. The rise of machine power in our lives has been directly proportional our decline.

Look at the western world, especially the Industrial ages beacon, America as an example. Big homes, big cars, big bikes and cheap (nearly free) energy has led to a population that can barely count, is obese, largely ill and extremely dependent on the pharmaceutical industry to keep them alive….. sad to behold but very true. So true that they resort to the last bastion for keeping themselves sane, humor. Make the problem funny and laughter will hide it’s reality from you.

But back to men and machines. If we look at the slightly simplistic parallels I’ve drawn above and then look around us (and at ourselves), can you deny that we’ve given our lives over to machines and our lives are much the worse for it?

We used to grow our own food, now it it manufactured for us. We used to play, demanding games, to keep us fit. Now we are played for, sitting in stadia or in front of a TV.  We used to sing, now we idolize.

The industrial revolution has left the average human a weak shadow of his forefathers. It’s a simple energy equation. Our ancestors had to put in their own physical energy to live. We depend on machines and cheap energy to fuel our lives.

Ironical that you are reading this on an electricity dependent device, but see what the advent of electricity did to us? Poor Tesla, must be rolling in his grave. His gift to mankind has turned out to be it’s greatest curse.

Nothing has weakened us like electricity has. It has provided abundant and cheap energy as a substitute for our own and left us where we are today.

We have stopped being creatures of the body and become creatures of the mind. Alone. The balance has been lost.

How can you take yourself back from the curse of the machine? Can you?

How can we be more vital in this vitality stripping world? How can we tear ourselves away from the sword of con-venience?

More in a following post.

Stay well, and try to “Know Thyself” as a first step.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Mustafa permalink
    June 13, 2010 4:47 pm

    Wonderful post. I came over from ZH. Agree with you 100% about how machines have taken over the physical portion of work from humans, but another important reality that is rapidly approaching us concerns the mental labor portion of work that humans do. AI (artificial intelligence) is taking over many of the most demanding mental tasks that we humans perform.
    There have been many books written on AI and how it will change humanity.
    My personal belief is that when AI does exceed human intelligence we will become obsolete. Just as we’ve thrown away computers that have become to old outdated so to will the human mind be considered an inferior product, unable to keep up with the demands of worldly life. What do you think? If you’re interested in learning more I can point you to a ton of books and movies about this phenomenon.

    • June 13, 2010 5:48 pm

      Welcome Mustafa, glad the post struck a chord.

      I agree with what you are saying regarding AI. I only touched upon it briefly with the lines about how calculators have taken away our ability to calculate, computers are taking over creativity. It is the logical progression from gross aspects (physical energy) to the subtlest aspects (intelligence) of our lives.

      Please share your reading list here as others who want to understand will also benefit.
      And please dig around and come back often, there is a huge, multi-dimensional thesis developing here.
      :-)

  2. Pelican7 permalink
    June 14, 2010 3:07 am

    Hi anadianant,

    I followed you over here from a link at the Oil Drum. Thank you for this post. It’s right on target.

    I am constantly reminded of the Disney animation (and I don’t like Disney animations – I like his wildlife documentaries, but that’s it) of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.

    That’s us, humanity, in a nutshell – except we don’t have the Magician showing up to save us all.

    Take Care.

    • June 14, 2010 4:46 am

      Greetings Pelican, welcome and glad to read the post resonated with you. I’m on dial-up here in India so not really able to do you-tube, but I think I’ve seen the clip before.

      We have to be our own magic-makers. We have to “be” fully first… the magic, which is really nothing more than full awareness, complete awareness just unfolds. More on that on today’ s post.

      Please come by often.

  3. step back permalink
    June 14, 2010 10:53 am

    Machine not very strong when it’s gas tank is on empty.

    (Another TOD reader) :-)

    • June 14, 2010 11:03 am

      :-)

  4. June 14, 2010 6:07 pm

    As I read this and you pointed out how our bodies have grown weaker, I realize I better spend the next hour practicing yoga instead of reading the rest of you posts! :) Back when I’m revitalized.

    • June 15, 2010 2:27 am

      :-)
      Remember as you do the poses though that yoga is really all about the breath. All about the breath, under all the obfuscation of perfect pose, it’s all about breath.

      I’ll post on Yoga shortly, hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

      Breathe……. time is breath!

  5. June 14, 2010 10:36 pm

    I, too, followed the link from your comment at Oil Drum. I am very intrigued and envigorated by what I’ve read thus far. I’ve had similar musings, and it’s wonderful to find a kindred spirit.

    • June 15, 2010 2:31 am

      Welcome KC. Finding a kindred spirit is such a resonant moment, yes? Like a deep hum!

      Come back often and feel free to share, expand here.

  6. August 14, 2010 6:17 pm

    I see your concerns but I disagree with (some) of your conclusions. You seem to conclude that “pushing buttons” has made us weaker physically. I cannot deny the surge in obesity in our society but at the same time we’ve also seen a surge in athleticism. More people can run marathons than ever before and at times never seen before. The same is true for many, if not all, sports.

    So instead of a overall decline we see an emerging gap between the “haves” and “have nots” or perhaps better stated the “those who do” and “those who do not”. The advent of technology has relieved mankind of burdensome labor and allowed time for burdensome labor of a different kind. Man will always find something to do because idle hands will drive anyone insane. So people focus their free time on other activities like media. Too much can surely be detrimental to one’s self but this abundance of leisure time is surely to the benefit of us.

    Ray Kurzweil as some interesting ideas on the future of man and technology. I think he is overly optimistic but think he’s right about many of his predictions. With these great benefits will come greater responsibilities and obsticles.

  7. July 8, 2011 12:43 pm

    “humans grew weaker as machines grew stronger”

    There is some truth in this, but it also obscures truth.

    The industrial revolution made possible MUCH longer life, from life expectancy of circa 35 up to 70, 80 and beyond, today. This IS strength, of a sort.

    “Look at the western world, especially the Industrial ages beacon, America as an example. Big homes, big cars, big bikes and cheap (nearly free) energy has led to a population that can barely count, is obese, largely ill and extremely dependent on the pharmaceutical industry” etc.

    Please separate baby from bathwater. America is and has been HYPER-industrialized for many decades; same with the rest of the north/west, to a large degree (though the U.S. is easily the worst). This state of gross excess does not mean that all industry and technology is bad. Industry and technology to the extent of perhaps 10% or maybe 20% of the level of the current U.S. is important and necessary for human support, health and fulfillment, at this time (i.e. in a time of population 7 billion, headed to 9-10 billion).

    “The industrial revolution has left the average human a weak shadow of his forefathers.”

    Actually, the industrial revolution has left the average human gaining in physical size and strength, making up for the decline since the advent of agriculture. There is extensive data on this subject. Key names: Fogel, and Komlos (google for them, and keywords “height” or “stature”). After the introduction of agriculture, humans shrank and became sick with degenerative diseases. But industrialization has reversed this to a large extent. Industrialization has also brought with it other problems, and some of the gains have been matched by losses (e.g. dental decay is much reduced, while cancer rates increase). But overall there has been a very marked increase in health since the industrial revolution, reflected most compellingly in physical size, and life expectancy. There is a lot of degenerative disease, but that is in large part because people live long enough to develop them, whereas before they didn’t.

    An interesting twist over the past generation or two is that these health gains are beginning to reverse in the U.S. People are getting shorter, fatter and sicker. This is a reflection, IMO, of what I call hyper-industrialization and hyper-technologization. The key is that prefix HYPER. Industry and technology are, to a fair extent, good things, but they can be overdone, and the U.S. has overdone them egregiously. Quick (but excellent) example: the automobile, versus the bicycle. Both are products of industry and technology. But one is VASTLY better, in every respect, than the other. One is a resource-devouring monster that creates destruction and disease wherever it goes, and is entirely unnecessary. The other is a highly-efficient, resource-stingy, beautiful, effective, pleasurable and health-giving device that greatly extends human capability with a bare minimum of environmental and resource cost. Quick now: which one of those two do you think the bloated, obese, declining and collapsing U.S. has embraced, whole-heartedly, for the past two generations? Haha. I trust the point is made.

    In our hyper-industrialized/technologized environment, it is very easy to become physically weak and degenerate. The sedentary life is a killer. It is important to get physical exercise of all kinds, both aerobic and anaerobic — possibly emphasizing the latter. It is necessary to do really HARD physical work for at least an hour or so each week. Weight training, sprinting, etc.

  8. Sparkey permalink
    October 6, 2013 1:11 pm

    Because we are humans, and humans evaluate their circumstances emotionally, people, generally, want to spin everything as a positive while really the subject of the essay is neither positive or negative, it simply is, and as such should be seen as a warning, that things can’t progress as `Normal?`for ever, and when the change comes this is what it might look like. A difficult future! Absolutely, Will anyone survive? Survival will really depend on geographic location–denizens of large cities will have a particularly hard time, people who, because of economic factors, already practice a form of subsistance farming may have a better chance, at least for a while, the post technical World is going to be particularly brutal I fear!
    One Meme, constantly repeated on blogs, is that the .0001% will emerge from the chaos even richer and more powerful than they are now, this is a Paen to the God of money, for surely; Enough Money will protect you from anything? Right, if you can’t believe in the `Power` of Money, what can modern men believe in?

  9. February 5, 2014 4:47 pm

    Wait until the robots finish taking all the jobs away !

  10. gnonanon permalink
    March 23, 2014 3:59 pm

    Another referree from ZH. You sir have arrived at a diagnosis which we would be well to heed. If I may add a link to an interview with a university of Chicago professor who has studied the increasingly fata problem of Lonliness.

    In the age of social networking it is on the rise. I would contend it is not merely because increased fatality (more people over 65 than under 14 for the first time in history.) Lonliness is a biological defense mechanism, and is twice as deadly as obesity.

    http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/The+Sunday+Edition/ID/2443592896/

    • March 25, 2014 6:38 pm

      Thanks for sharing gnon. Fascinating premise and I absolutely believe that the dark side of over-connectivity is ripping at our personal and social fabrics, fiercely!

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