16.094 Samuel Butler (and others) on prosthesis

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Tue Jun 25 2002 - 03:51:34 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 94.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

       [1] From: Hartmut Krech <kr538@uni-bremen.de> (29)
             Subject: Re: 16.089 Samuel Butler on prosthesis

       [2] From: Aime Morrison
    <ahm@ualberta.ca> (50)
              Subject: RE: 16.089 Samuel Butler on prosthesis

             Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2002 08:35:56 +0100
             From: Hartmut Krech <kr538@uni-bremen.de>
             Subject: Re: 16.089 Samuel Butler on prosthesis

    Dear Willard,

    Butler's statement on prosthesis quite obviously draws upon the older
    anthropomorphological theory of technics. The German philologist and
    cultural historian Ludwig Geiger (1848-1919) seems to have been the first
    to write that all human tools can be considered as "organic projections" of
    the human body parts (in his "Zur Entwickelungsgeschichte der Menschheit.
    Vortrge," Stuttgart: Cotta, 1871). This theory was popularized by the
    German-American freethinker and philosopher Ernst Kapp (1808-1896) in his
    "Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der
    Cultur aus neuen Gesichtspunkten" (1877), long before Samuel Butler
    (1835-1902) in his "Erewhon" (1910) was to write "(...) that the machines
    are still in their infancy; they are mere skeletons without muscles and
    flesh." (Chapter 25, page 265).
    On Kapp and the idea of "organic projections" please see the following links:

    The other excerpt quoted by Arun-Kumar Tripathi making Butler a visionary
    of modern world-wide electronic communication is itself preceded by various
    statements by Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), like the following from
    the second volume of his "Cosmos" (1847): "Der Begriff eines Naturganzen,
    das Gefhl der Einheit und des harmonischen Einklanges im Kosmos werden
    umso lebendiger unter den Menschen, als sich die Mittel vervielfltigen,
    die Gesammtheit der Naturerscheinungen zu anschaulichen Bildern zu
    gestalten." Please see:

    Best regards,
    Hartmut Krech
    Bremen, Germany

             Date: Tue, 25 Jun 2002 08:37:21 +0100
             From: Aime Morrison <ahm@ualberta.ca>
             Subject: RE: 16.089 Samuel Butler on prosthesis


    serendipitously, i happen this very day to be writing about samuel butler's
    _erewhon_, and specifically, those two chapters that address the topic
    currently under discussion.

    what interest me about "The Book of The Machines" is the ambivalence of the
    portrayal of machines, and the way this section stands out from the rest of
    the text. for your potential enlightment, i offer two paragraphs i've got
    under construction, which will give you a general sense of the book, if you
    haven't read it, and a sense of the ambivalence of the treatment of machines
    as competitors to humanity rather than prostheses:

    "Samuel Butlers satirical novel _Erewhon_ (1872) manifests a different fear
    of technology [than the book previously under discusion]. Explorer and
    colonialist Higgs discovers a closed society where all the cherished values of
    his own Victorian England are reversed. Put on trial for owning a mechanical
    watch, Higgs learns that the Erewhonians maintain a sort of technological
    stasis, having destroyed all their own machines, and not allowing the
    invention of any new ones. The reasoning behind this practice is explained
    across two chapters entitled The Book of the Machines. Claiming to
    transcribe from memory the original tract that called for the breaking of the
    machines, narrator Higgs relates the Erewhonian view of an analogous
    relationship between machine and human evolution. In a not too distant future,
    warns the transcribed Erewhonian philosopher, human beings would become a race
    of slaves to the needs of superior machines of which they were once masters.
    The tract chillingly notes that if the histories of machines and humanity are
    considered together, it is clear that machines are quickly outstripping
    humankind in the pace of their development, undergoing a shockingly efficient
    and rapid evolution: any race for survival of the fittest would seem
    increasingly weighted in favour of machines.

    "_Erewhon_ lampoons many aspects of high-Victorian society, but this extended
    musing on the nature of high technology, in this case mechanical and
    industrial, presents a tone of seriousness and ambivalence not to be found
    elsewhere in the novel. In contrast to their English brethren, the
    Erewhonians universally agree that the machine evolution must be stopped, and,
    further, that many of the machines they already have must be destroyed. The
    satire in these chapters does not mock the decistion to de-mechanize, but
    instead derides the bureaucratic means by which the Erewhonians decide where
    to draw the line on their machine-breaking: The Erewhonians quibble over what
    degree of mechanization is essential to the maintenance of their quality of
    life, and of course certain lobby groups demonstrate pecuniary interest in
    saving a particular technology from banishment, by means of spurious logic.
    Ultimately, though, most machines are destroyed, and the Erewhonians seem none
    the worse for itexcept that they are an illogical race of godless people that
    Higgs concocts plans to enslave."


    . ++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Aime Morrison "It is our national joy
    PhD Program, Dept. of English to mistake for the first
    University of Alberta rate, the fecund rate."
    ahm@ualberta.ca -- Dorothy Parker,
                                               on literary productivity

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