The Bird and the Machine


imagesEiseley opens his essay by talking about how he read in the newspaper that it wouldn’t take long before machines would be able to make themselves. He then tells a story about when he was younger and went on an expedition with a group of men in the desert. He says that he sat down on a high ridge for hours before noticing that there was a rattle snake sleeping right next to him. But he didn’t appear to have disturbed the snake so he decided to keep it that way. Then he moves from the desert to an abandoned cabin in the woods where he had to catch birds to send them to zoos. He managed to catch a hawk, but then later decides to release him so that the hawk could be with his mate. When Eiseley released the hawk, he describes how the hawk rejoiced greatly when the hawk was reunited with its mate.

“Sometimes of late years I find myself thinking the most beautiful sight in the world might be the birds taking over New York after the last man has run away to the hills.” It’s interesting to think about this image. To imagine a city once dense with people to be taken over by birds. Whenever I read this quote I imagine birds sitting on the cables, street signs, and windows of the now empty buildings. But the strangest thing is that in the next sentence, Eiseley makes it seem like it’s going to happen one day. It may take hundreds of years, but one day birds will take over New York.

“It is a funny thing what the brain will do with memories and how it will treasure them and finally bring them into odd juxtapositions with other things, as though it wanted to make a design, or get some meaning out of them, whether you want it or not, or even see it.” I find this quote interesting because it’s so true. I find it fascinating that the littlest random things are able to trigger or bring back these memories or emotions that we have stored in our brains. When those flashbacks occur, we are able to either appreciate our memories more or wish we never had them.

“A human being thought of himself in terms of his own tools and implements. He had been fashioned like the puppets he produced and was only a more clever model made by a greater designer.” It’s amazing how through technology humans are able to recognize that we have been designed and programmed by a greater being. They know that in order for a technology to work, someone has to carefully design each and every one of its parts. Because they see the human body as one big unexplainable machine, they are able to apply what they know about technology and see that humans didn’t happen on accident. Someone who is greater than humans has carefully designed each and every single little part of the human body in order for it to function the way it was created to function.

“I learned there that time is a series of planes existing superficially in the same universe. The tempo is a human illusion, a subjective clock ticking in our own kind of protoplasm.” I find this quote confusing because it’s hard to grasp the idea of time being a series of planes. Most people (including myself) think of time as a progressive, linear structure in the universe as supposed to a series of planes. The part that confuses me in the second half is what is the “tempo”? Is it clocks? The pulse of time?

“The machine does not bleed, ache, hang for hours in the empty sky in a torment of hope to learn the fate of another machine, nor does it cry out with joy nor dance in the air with the fierce passion of a bird. Far off, over a distance greater than space, that remote cry from the heart of heaven makes a faint buzzing among my breakfast dishes and passes on and away.” In reading this essay, I had a very hard time making the connection between technology and birds/snakes. I didn’t really see how they fit together, nor do I think that he explained this connection very well. Individually they would’ve made lovely stories. But when you put them together without clearly explaining what their connection is to one another, then it looks like you’re just jumping around from one idea to another.


The Bird and the Machine by Loren Eiseley


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