This is a picture taken out of the 2006 Glencoe High School Biology textbook and was one of the texts I analyzed in my thesis. This was the national textbook for the State of California that untold million of students carried around to the detriment of their future back posture.
The textbook boldly claims that 'Cells are microscopic machines'. Not like machines mind you. They simply are machines. What I mean to say is that cells are just little bitty watch gears as pictured above. Got that high school student? It's going to be on the test.
But wait you say, "Cells evolved millions of years prior to any human made machine. Might there be problems in so rigidly equating the two?".
Yes, I'd say to your/my question. Below is a table from my thesis where I highlighted differences between nature (of which cells are a set member) and machines. Note this doesn't quite capture the newest machines on the horizon. But the watch gears pictured above aren't exactly cutting edge technology so lets bracket the neural nets for now. If in fact cells are quite different than human made machines, the more profound question is what are the implications for science students and society at large in being taught to equate the two?
In a thesis, of course, one must substantiate and defend every argument. Not so in a blog post. I wonder then on the long term implications of viewing nature as machine for society? Does this cause us to regard nature as without consciousness? Does this impact the way we function and grow as a society?
It's worth remembering it wasn't always this way nor does it have to be this way. Many earlier societies saw nature as fundamentally alive and conscious. It does not seem to be the case that such an animist view can't be reconciled with science. The philosopher Thomas Nagel recently argued that the phenomena of consciousness exists because consciousness is co-extensive with matter. Thus everything participates in consciousness.