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Animation of a double-acting steam engine with centrifugal governor.

A mechanism (from Greekμηχανή mechané "tool, artificial device, means") is a man-made material system of interconnected rigid and movable parts, the latter in a machine (from French machine, from Latin machina) being driven from one or more centres by an engine or motor with the aid of central forces. Machines serve to transport matter, energy and information (e.g. calculating machines) and are intended to relieve humans in their physical and mental work.


Simple Machines and Prime Movers

Animation showing the four stages of the four-stroke gasoline-fueled internal combustion cycle with electrical ignition source:
1. Induction (Fuel enters)
2. Compression
3. Ignition (Fuel is burnt)
4. Emission (Exhaust out)


A simple machine is a purely mechanical force converter that changes a force in terms of point of application, direction or amount. Simple force converters are, for example, ropes, rods, levers, rollers or shafts (cylindrical rollers as drive shafts), inclined planes or wedges. Various combinations of these basic elements are also usually counted as simple machines, such as the pulley block (rope and pulleys), the crank (shaft and lever) or the screw (rod and wedge). In any combination, they also occur in every prime mover, engine or motor (from the Latinmōtor "mover"), which transform various forms of energy (e.g. chemical energy, thermal energy, electrical energy) into mechanical work. Meanwhile, the term "machine" is also used for computer programs that simulate machines.[1]

Apparatus and Device

An apparatus (from the Latinapparatus "tool") is distinguished from a machine, especially in process engineering, if it serves to transfer material and energy but does not perform any or only minimal mechanical work. It therefore does not usually have any externally guided moving parts for power transmission. These include, for example, pipelines, pressure vessels, reactors, columns for separating mixtures of substances, heat exchangers, steam boilers, etc. The term is also used in a completely different context in editing science. Here, the text-critical apparatus comprises the collected variants on the main text of a historical-critical edition.

In the broadest sense, an apparatus is a movable object (in contrast to the mostly immovable industrial machines) with which something can be done. In everyday life, these are, for example, electrical appliances or electrically operated household appliances. In technology, it refers in a narrower sense to devices for signal and information transmission and processing, e.g. measuring devices, electronic devices.

However, the distinction between machine, apparatus and device is relatively blurred. What they have in common is that they are artificially created more complex technical products with the help of which certain tasks can be (more easily) accomplished.


An automaton (Latinautomatus "acting of its own accord") is a machine that carries out physical processes automatically according to a specific plan. Many machines today already function in a partially or fully automated way, increasingly also using artificial intelligence.

Machine and Organism

Machines, by virtue of their construction, differ fundamentally in their mode of operation from living organisms animated decentrally from the periphery by universal forces.

„This is precisely the contrast of the organism to the machine. In the latter, everything is interaction of the parts. Nothing real exists in the machine itself apart from this interaction. The unified principle that governs the interaction of those parts is absent from the object itself and lies outside it in the head of the designer as a plan. Only the most extreme short-sightedness can deny that this is precisely the difference between organism and mechanism, that the principle which brings about the interrelationship of the parts exists in the latter only outside (abstractly), while in the former it acquires real existence in the thing itself. Thus also the sensually perceptible relations of the organism do not appear as a mere consequence of each other, but as dominated by that inner principle, as the consequence of such a principle, which is no longer sensually perceptible. In this respect it is just as little sensually perceptible as that plan in the head of the constructor, which is also only there for the spirit; indeed, it is essentially that plan, only that it has now moved into the interior of the being and no longer carries out its effects through the mediation of a third party - that constructor - but does so directly itself.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 73)

Spatial Mechanism and Temporal Organism

In the case of the machine, the spatial configuration, which is given ready-made from the beginning, determines the temporal course of all movements. In contrast, the spatial configuration of the organism, which only gradually develops in the process of growing and becoming, is a reflection of the differentiated temporal dynamics, i.e. of the time body characteristic of every living being, which Rudolf Steiner also calls the etheric body.

„And so one only gets a correct concept of what is actually the physical body of the human being if one can separate the spatial from the temporal. In the case of man it is of fundamental importance, because one does not arrive at any understanding at all if one does not know that with him everything temporal runs as an entity for itself, and the spatial is dominated by the temporal as by something dynamic, whereas with a machine the temporal is only a function of that which works spatially. That is the difference. In man the temporal is a reality, while in the mechanism the temporal is only a function of space.“ (Lit.:GA 82, p. 236)

Mechanical machines are completely transparent to the human mind

Since machines are constructed according to purely rational principles, their functionality is - at least in principle - also completely transparent to the external human mind.

„The machine is different from everything else that man can have to deal with in his outer life. I beg you, consider the animal. By applying your scientific or other thoughts of knowledge to the animal - I do not want to speak of man in the present context - you will be able to investigate as much as you like about the animal, there will always remain something, I would like to say, divinely deep in the animal; you will not exhaust it, you will not get behind it. Behind what you think about the animal there is always something that remains unknown to you. With the plant it is no less. And take the crystal itself, take the wonderful forms of the crystal world, you will have to say to yourself: Certainly, one can comprehend the utmost in the crystal world, in its forms and so on, if one is trained in this matter, but there still remains a sufficient amount of that which man can venerate as that which he cannot penetrate with the immediate, unhelpful intellect.

Take the machine, it is transparent through and through. One knows that the force is applied in such a way, that the pin sits in such a way in the opening, that the friction is such and such a great one, that one can calculate the effect of use if one knows the individual elements - there is nothing behind the machine that prompts one to say to oneself: there is something that cannot be penetrated with the ordinary unseeing human intellect. This means a great deal for man's intercourse with the machine. And when one has stood before thousands and thousands of people who have to do with the machine, then one knows what trickles into the souls of people from this spiritually transparent machine, from this machine that has nothing behind it that could perhaps only be guessed at or not seen through by the unseeing mind. This is what makes intercourse with the machine so devastating for man, that the machine is so spiritually and mentally transparent; that all the forces and interrelationships of forces in the machine lie there so clear as water before the human senses and the human intellect. That is what sucks out the heart and soul of man, what makes man dry, what makes man inhuman.“ (Lit.:GA 296, p. 14f)

However, due to the increasing complexity of modern machines, the average user hardly understands the inner workings of the machines he uses every day. He can usually operate them very skilfully and use them purposefully, but has at best a superficial knowledge of their functional principles. This is especially true for all kinds of electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, etc. Even experts only see through the part they are specialised in. Moreover, with all electromagnetic processes, one already enters the sub-sensory world, the essence of which is not accessible to the sensual mind.

„By far the greater part of what is at work in culture today through technology, and into which he is spun to the highest degree with his life, is not nature, but sub-nature. It is a world that emancipates itself downwards from nature.“ (Lit.:GA 26, p. 256)


Steiner big.jpg
References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Sybille Krämer: Symbolische Maschinen. Die Idee der Formalisierung in geschichtlichem Abriss. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1988, ISBN 3-534-03207-1.