A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

“Whoever wants to hold on to the conviction that all living things are only machines should abandon all hope of glimpsing their environments.

Whoever is not yet an adherent of the machine theory of living beings might, however, consider the following. All our utensils and machines are no more than aids for human beings. Of course there are aids to producing effects, which one calls tools, a class to which all large machines belong (…). But there are also aids to perception (…). Animals are made thereby into pure objects. In so doing, one forgets that one has from the outset suppressed the principal factor, namely the subject who uses these aids, who affects and perceives with them. (…) One has also gone so far as to mechanize human beings.

For the physiologist, every living thing is an object that is located in his human world. He investigates the organs of living things and the way they work together just as a technician would examine an unfamiliar machine. The biologist, on the other hand, takes into account that each and every living thing is a subject that lives in its own world, of which it is the center. It cannot, therefore, be compared to a machine, only to the machine operator who guides the machine. We ask a simple question: Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject?

(…) This is no doubt a case of reflexes, each of which is replaced by the next and which are activated by objectively identifiable physical and chemical effects. But whoever is satisfied with that observation, and assumes he has therefore solved the problem, only proves that he has not seen the real problem at all. (…) It is only a question that, among the hundreds of effects that emanate from the mammal’s body, only three become feature carriers for the tick. Why these three and no others?”

Jakob von Uexküll