March 9th, 2011

“The critical moment, I suggest, was man’s discovery of his own many-faceted mind, and
his fascination with what he found there. Images that were independent of those that his
eyes saw, rhythmic and repetitive body movements that served no immediate function but
gratified him, remembered actions he could repeat more perfectly in fantasy and then
after many rehearsals carry out—all these constituted so much raw material waiting to be
shaped; and this material, given man’s original deficiency of tools rather than the organs
of his own body, was more open to manipulation than the external environment. Or
rather, man’s own nature was the most plastic and responsive part of that environment;
and his primary task was to fabricate a new self, mind-enriched, different in both
appearance and behavior from his given anthropoid nature.”

In the above excerpt from Mumford’s Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine, Mumford characterizes man’s consciousness and resourcefulness as being a characteristic that, upon realizing these properties, lead immediately to seeking commodification of all things occurring independent of his own actions/thoughts out in the world. That is to simply state, man came to seek ways to control and shape the world . This assertion essentially theorizes that man’s penchant for technological advancements are the product of this self-centered desire to test the boundless concepts that the intelligent mind can come up with against what could be tangibly translated into actual creation. To use a very early and basic example, early man growing tired of the cold, and somehow coming to discover the concept of clothing upon discovering the warmth of animal skin. In this sense, the idea that Mumford puts forward about man seeking to create a new self can be understood to symbolically be literal, in covering one’s originally naked body they are achieving a functional improvement as well as a symbolic change between himself as a sentient being and himself as originally born.

Furthermore, this mind-enriched world that man became immersed in upon consciousness  of his own mental faculties seem to calculate for man’s inventiveness as a sort of evolutionary supplement. In science, animals with the desired traits/physical attributes survived, and those that didn’t would die out (think Giraffes with long necks, as well as those unfortunate to enough to not have long necks). Man’s inventiveness from this scope can be understood to compensate for natural shortcomings of man. Clothing, shelter, cooking, transportation, and weaponry are all early forms of technology, spawned from man’s inventive mind and coming from a mindset to compensate for natural shortcomings and allow man to live on (and further create/innovate as the generations carry on).

Where Mumford’s writing seems to come off the hinges abit is when he suggests that man’s intellect/mind is what allowed an understanding to the “dumb cosmic show” of existence that had been going on since its creation. This assertion that man’s mind enlarged the boundaries of the universe just comes off too conceited with regards to man’s importance to existence. The universe was not expanded by man’s realization of his intelligence; he only became better at understanding and comprehending it. Mumford’s perspective is meant to champion man’s mind to the point where it cracks a great mystery/code as to what the universe actually is, but all his assertion does is really convey a sense that the values we’ve found in things are constructed rather than organic.

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