Wittgenstein: What is a Machine?

Philosophical Investigations,  #193.

“The machine as symbolizing its action: the action of a machine – I might say at first – seems to be there in it from the start. What does that mean? – If we know the machine, everything else, that is its movement, seems to be already completely determined.

We talk as if these parts could only move in this way, as if they could not do anything else. How is this – do we forget the possibility of their bending, breaking off, melting, and so on? Yes; in many cases we don’t think of that at all. We use a machine, or the drawing of a machine, to symbolize a particular action of the machine. For instance, we give someone such a drawing and assume that he will derive the movement of the parts from it. (Just as we can give someone a number by telling him that it is the twenty-fifth in the series 1, 4, 9, 16, …)

“The machine’s action seems to be in it from the start” means: we are inclined to compare the future movements of the machine in their definiteness to objects which are already lying in a drawer and which we then take out. – But we do not say this kind of thing when we are concerned with predicting the actual behavior of a machine. Then we do not in general forget the possibility of a distortion of the parts and so on. – We do talk like that, however, when we are wondering at the way we can use a machine to symbolize a given way of moving – since it can also move in quite different ways.

We might say that a machine, or the picture of it, is the first of a series of pictures which we have learnt to derive from this one.

But when we reflect that the machine could also have moved differently it may look as if the way it moves must be contained in the machine-as-symbol far more determinately than in the actual machine. As if it were not enough for the movements in question to be empirically determined in advance, but they had to be really – in a mysterious sense – already present. And it is quite true: the movement of the machine-as-symbol is predetermined in a different sense from that in which the movement of any given actual machine is predetermined.”

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