Machines and Emotions Summary, Themes and Questions


The writer says that the machines have made the life of their owners comfortable but those of the workers miserable. Machines demand the qualities of regularity, punctuality, and exactness while there is no scope for the workers to do anything different or new. Their desire to do something is never satisfied and they become rebellious. They find their satisfaction in world wars. The writermakes some suggestions so as to avoid the possibility of a third world war by making the workers happy.

Glossary and Summary

Paragraph -1. Will machines . . . enlarged

Summary: The question whether machines will destroy emotions or emotions destroy machines was for the first time raised by Samuel Butler in his novel Erewhon but there it was not raised seriously. But Butler takes up the question here quite seriously.

Word Meanings :

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) was a novelist and he attacked some aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Erewhon = a satirical novel by Samuel Butler.
But it is going . . . enlarged: = but as the machines are being more and more popular.

Paragraph -2 At first sight . . . runs over him.

Summary: Russell says that ideally there is no opposition between machines and emotions. Every child loves to play with machine toys. As he grows he loves bigger and more powerful machines. Nations of the east that have a tradition of machineless civilisation are also attracted towards machines. If a westerner praises the people of the East for their civilisation they are annoyed. They think that they are being mocked for their civilisation which valued life more than machines.

Word Meanings :

Captivated = attracted.
long = desire keenly.
annoyed = not being happy and peaceful.
Asiatic = one who belongs to Asia. Here Asia stands for the East.

Paragraph – 3 In the west . . . methods

Summary: Machines were for the first time introduced in the west in the nineteenth century. At that time there was some sentimental opposition from persons like Peacock, Rousseau’s followers, the Romantic poets and people like William Morris. Their arguments were not based on reason.

Word Meanings :

Aesthetes = lovers of beauty in art or nature.
predecessors = those who went before them: forefathers.
Peacock = Thomes Love Peacock was an English novelist.
steam intellect society = people who strongly favour machines that are run by steam.
Rousseau’s disciples with the return to Nature = students and followers of Rousseau who was against all civilisation and said that man must go back to nature for meeting his needs.
The Lake Poets = poets of the early nineteenth century such as Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats who loved nature.
Willam Morris = (1834-1896) an English artist, writer, and socialist associated with the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
A country where always is June . . . heymaking = a country where there is always sunshine and happiness.
apprehend = understand
jeu d’espirit = it is a French phrase which means joyfully or lightly.
latent = hidden.

numbers of people = many people.

Paragraph – 4: machines are worshipped . . . almost everyone.

Summary: There are two sides of machines. They are beautiful and powerful for those who own them but do not work with them. But machines are hateful to those who work with them and have to bear with the noise, dust and slag that machines create. The owners of the machines argue that for all this the workers get more money than their forefathers ever did.

Word meaning :

worshipped = very much liked.
confer = give or grant.
hideous = frightful.
loathed = hated.
Lilliputians = extremely short sized people of an imaginary land called Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels.
Gulliver = a very huge sized persons for the people of Lilliput.
disputing = unable to decide.
Djinn = a spirit with strange powers that obeyed his master but did great harm to his master’s enemies.
beneficent = kind: doing good.
slag = waste material after ore extraction.
noxious = harmful.
fumes = smells.
assumption = something taken for granted.

Paragraph – 5 The assumption is that . . . examined.

Summary: The religious and moral teachers speak ill of money and machines because they are paid great sums of money for preaching against machines. If money got from working on machines adds to happiness, there is nothing that can be said against machines. But this fact must be thoroughly examined from the psychological point of view whether money can really give happiness in life.

Word Meanings :

commodities = useful things.
proportional = in relation or quantity.
eloquence = power of effective speaking.

Paragraph: Men have physical needs. . . a little more.

Summary: For those whose physical needs are not sufficiently met, money is absolutely necessary for them. But the writer wants to talk about those people whose physical needs have been sufficiently met and for them, emotions are more valuable than money.

Word meanings :
physical needs = needs such as food, clothes, housing etc.
requisites = things required or needed.

Paragraph – 7 Why do we in fact . . . vanity.

Summary: It can be said that we want more money because we want more material goods. It is not true. We want more money because we want to impress our neighbours and expect their praise, admiration and respect. The actual things purchased by money become less important. A millionaire may not be interested in paintings but he buys them so that people admire him for having so much money and that gives him satisfaction.

Words meanings :

genteel = of upper-class society.
reflects = thinks.
cronies = close friends.
console = give comfort and sympathy to. kudos = honour and glory.
passions = desires that make people move or work for.
gallery of old masters = collection of good paintings by great painters.
vanity = very high opinion about oneself.

Paragraph – 8 All this might . . . to be

Summary: There have been many societies where talent is valued more than money and there are several examples of them. But this happens only when the physical needs of the people have been met and satisfied. Such people usually work for respect and admiration and not for money so much.

Word Meanings :

epochs = ages or periods.
their environment = society in which they live and move.

Paragraph – 9 The importance of fact . . . particular.

Summary: Human nature is competitive. Suppose it is decided by law that all people will have the same amount of money, neither less nor more, there would be no happiness in collecting more money. The pleasure that is derived from money is in proportion to the pain or jealously it causes to others. If there is no competitiveness in earning more money, people will turn to other ways of being important and superior to others. It suggests that the basic human nature is for competitiveness and not for money.

Word meanings :

inherent = naturally existing.
craving = intense desire.
outdistance = surpass.
rival = competitor.
correlative = in the same proportion or relation.

Paragraph – 10 If we are to argue . . . not very great.

Summary: Increase in income is just if it is for reducing poverty but unjust if it is for material prosperity. Poverty can be reduced in other ways also. In France, for example, there was no increase in population and hence there was no increase in poverty. On the other hand, there has been an increase in poverty where there was enough machinery as in America or nineteenth-century England or pre-war Germany and in present-day Japan. Except for the prevention of poverty and destitution, an increase in wealth for its own sake cannot be the source of happiness in life.

Word meanings:-

material = concerning money.
destitution = want of basic physical necessities.

Paragraph – 11 Meanwhile machine deprive. . . machine.

Summary: Machines want machine-like qualities in man such as reliability, punctuality, regularity and exactness. But human instincts want a change and is addicted to irregularity, spontaneity and emotional satisfaction. These are the qualities just opposite to those bound in the machines.

Word meanings :

ingredients = parts of a mixture.
pace = movement.
conversely = an idea in opposition to some other.
synonymous = having the same or similar meaning. Bergson (1859-1941) a French philosopher, known for his study of consciousness.
wholesome = suggestive of good health. dread = great fear and anxiety.

Paragraph – 12 The great ferocity . . . modern life.

Summary: When the natural instincts are not satisfied they become rebellious and this is the reason of the world wars in our days. Press and politicians for their own advantage encourage people for wars as a measure of relief from a machine like qualities.

Word meanings :

ferocity = extreme cruelty.
attributable = resulting from.
facilitate = make easily available.
strive = work hard.
underground = unconsciously.
obscure = not visible or unknown. affording = giving.
relief = reduction or removal of pain.
upheaval = great and sudden change.
machinations = mischievous plans or schemes.
monotony = dullness.
tameness = here it means regularity or obedience.

Paragraph – 13 It is obvious . . . earnest.

Summary: The present desire for war can be discouraged if people have some opportunity to do something different or new from their routine work. This can be done by granting one-month free pay once in a year, so that they may do whatever they want. The money involved in granting one month’s leave will be less than what is spent on war. It will not be more than what is involved in a war.

Word meanings :

breaks = changes.
sapphire = clear and bright blue jewels.
initiative = first move towards.
pacific = peaceful.

Paragraph – 14 Machines have altered . . . average human nature.

Summary: Machines have changed our life but they have done nothing for our instincts and emotions. Workers want change from their mechanised life. Psychology has not helped us in understanding human nature. It does not suggest as to what can be done to satisfy our desire for change, spontaneity and initiative.

Word meanings :

instincts = basic psychological desires. infancy = early childhood.
ends = purposes.
irrational = unreasonable; here it means natural.
orthodox = traditional.
phenomenon = spectacle.

Paragraph- 15 Moral self control . . . failed to create.

Summary: Merely by preaching that one should not do harmful acts our instincts cannot be restrained. Moreover, our instincts are of different nature and they differ from man to man. Psycho-analyses should take up this problem seriously. For the present, it is necessary that each person should be given opportunity and freedom for some time every year to do something different so as to satisfy his desire for irregularity and change. Science and machine have greatly helped man physically but they have done nothing for our emotional happiness.

Word Meanings :

anarchic = rebellious.
thwarted = defeated or cancelled.
legend = old story.
elect = intelligent people.

Summary of Machines and Emotions

This essay “Machines and Emotions” written by English thinkers and mathematicians, Bertrand Russell, deals with the advantages and demerits of machines, human reactions, and some solutions to the problems created by the use of machines. The relationship between machine and human emotion has been clearly identified. In the beginning, the writer takes the side of the machine and technology inventions and later comes to feel some problems created by machines that are and offer some positive solutions to problems that are not solved by science or machines.

In the essay, Bertrand Russell says machines and human emotions are in contradiction to one another. This paradox is growing further together with the growth of the use of machines in the modern-days. He provides some examples of Japanese people and Asian society who hate their own traditional cultures but they like Western automobiles. Western people like machines too but this mentality is criticized by some poets and aesthetes. Machines are magnificent, disgusting and gross. They give power, and they impose slavery.

This liking disliking mentality can’t be totally incorrect. Machines are slaves to their masters. The masters of the machines do not know the harmful effects of the machine because only those who stay and work with the machines are directly and terribly affected and damaged by the noise and smell of the machine. But the masters claim that it is only because of the operation of the machines, they have a much better life than their forefather.

The possession of material goods increases the happiness of human beings. The person who owns more goods becomes happier than the person who has fewer goods. Some moralists and religious personalities reject the emphasis on material goods, but this is only superficial and prejudiced, because, with a lot of money and a better income, they are also happier than they are left with a lower income. So happiness felt by human beings, along with goods, is linked to psychological factors. Human emotions are also linked to physical needs. Physical fulfilment increases satisfaction. In poverty and lack of goods, human beings can not be satisfied and happy.

All the people are trying to increase their income because their satisfaction with a better life relies on material wealth. Material wealth is gaining social influence as well as mental and spiritual contentment. While people don’t know everything about the things they have and they hold that so other people in society know the value and significance of the things. Social status and recognition are different from one culture to another.

The possession of material prosperity should work as a competitive matter. People who have much material prosperity are superior and the people who don’t have material prosperity get pain if they are poorer than their neighbours. On the other hand, human happiness depends on the control of the population. If any country has a smaller population, people can be more prosperous than that of the people of those countries which have a greater population. So if we think the only machine brings happiness and prosperity that is the wrong concept. So, to replace the importance of machine and material prosperity, we should control starvation too. The machine regularizes men, and lack of it renders them erratic. Irregular life is called a bad life because there is no punctuality, severity and consistency.


Russell makes the argument that people want wealth in order to be able to obtain material goods but more so to gain respect from other people. In other cultures, he gives examples of how respect is achieved by some other standard: by birth (aristocracy), art or wisdom, all depending on their cultures and historical periods. Therefore, it is not wealth that we naturally believe is necessary in order to obtain happiness: it is respect born out of the competition. This is Russell‘s logical argument for what we would probably call an obvious ethical argument. Since wealth is not inherently necessary for happiness, emotions play a vital role in making a man happy. It is man‘s instinct to excel others that forces him to earn money and purchase goods to impress his neighbours.

Moral self-control and external prohibition of harmful acts are not adequate methods of dealing with our anarchic instincts. The only adequate method is to discover what are the needs of our instinctive nature and then to search for the least harmful ways of satisfying them.

Important Questions

1. Who wrote the novel Erewhon? What kind of novel is it?

Ans. Samuel Butler wrote the novel Erewhon. It is a satirical novel.

2. Why are machines valued?

Ans. They are valued because they confer power upon others.

3. Why is a machine like a Djinn?

Ans. Because it makes its owner’s life happy but it is cruel to those who work with machines.

4. Do people want more money for having more material goods?

Ans. No, they want more and more money so that others praise them for their money.

5. On what grounds can the use of machines be justified?

Ans. Machines have made people and nations rich and prosperous but they have not succeeded in making them happy. This is clear from the fact that during the last century the world has seen two world wars and a great and huge amount of loss of money and
goods. Such wastage is inexcusable. What the world needs most is not the physical comforts but happiness. Happiness is a psychological necessity whereas the comforts are needed for the physical well being only.

During the nineteenth century machines were invented by the West but they did not attract the attention of Asia and the East. The East had a cultural heritage which was against the physical comforts and emphasized the necessity of psychological satisfaction. But such is the attraction of machines that the people of the East also feel jealous of the West because of its machine culture.

The machines have made the life of the people psychologically miserable. No doubt, because of machines, people today earn more than their fathers and grandfathers ever did. But the machines have made only those people prosperous who own them. On the other hand, there are many workers who work on machines regularly and they have to live with dirt and dust that machines create.

Moreover, machines expect their workers to have a machine like qualities which are regularity, changelessness and exactness and there is no relief for the workers from these machines like qualities.

Working continuously and for long hours on the machines, they have nothing fresh or new for them in their life to do. The desire to do something new or unusual is never satisfied and they become more and more irritated and dissatisfied with their work.

They have no opportunity to do anything which will satisfy their desire to do something different.

The use of machines, according to the writer, can be justified only if it is used for the reduction of poverty and destitution. But beyond, that the desire to have more and more money turns human beings into machines. But human being are not machines and they want to change, novelty and something fresh to do. The writer is of the opinion that if the world is to be saved from the fear of world wars the workers must be provided with opportunities to do something different so that they may find some emotional satisfaction. As a solution, the writer suggests that each worker should be given at least one month’s leave on full pay to do whatever he likes to do in order to satisfy his starved instincts so that after a month’s leave he may return fresh to his work and psychologically satisfied. The writer says that some people may object to the idea on the ground that will involve a lot of money. To this, the writer says that though the money involved is immense but it cannot be as much that is spent on world wars.

So, the use of machines can be justified only for reducing poverty and destitution and not for making only some people very rich and others unhappy and emotionally starved.

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