Notes on Camels & Automata

| June 13, 2017
Camel with remote control jockey

Camel with remote control “jockey”

It is this curious sense of fascination more than the wish to build something useful or the hope for material rewards that makes men devote their lives to machinery. Constructing, operating, even watching machines provides satisfactions and delights that can be intense enough to become ends in themselves. Such delights are purely aesthetic…the fascinations and delights of machinery are a historical force, insufficiently appreciated perhaps because of a cultural bias, but nevertheless real, a force that has affected not only our technology but also philosophy, science, literature, or in short, our culture at large.

—Otto Mayr, Philosophers and Machines

Indeed, play and fantasy, as the machine books illustrate, have perhaps been far greater elements in the evolution of different forms to technology than is suggested by that popular (but wrong-headed) belief that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

—Jonathan Sawday, Engines of the Imagination

All engines may be looked upon to be a sort of Animals, with prodigious strong hands.

—Leon Alberti, De re aedificatoria

“The walking Strandbeest is a body snatcher,” he told me, while disassembling one for transport. “It charms people and then uses them so they can’t do anything else but follow, and I am the worst victim, you could say. All the time I think about them. Always I have a new plan, but then it is corrected by the requirements of the tubes. They dictate to me what to do. At the end of my working day, I am almost always depressed. Mine is not a straight path like an engineer’s, it’s not A to B. I make a very curly road just by the restrictions of goals and materials. A real engineer would probably solve the problem differently, maybe make an aluminum robot with motor and electric sensors and all that. But the solutions of engineers are often much alike, because human brains are much alike. Everything we think can in principle be thought by someone else. The real ideas, as evolution shows, come about by chance. Reality is very creative.

—Theo Jansen, in “The March of the Strandbeests”