MAN IS A MACHINE by Perry Mann


Mark Twain confirmed in his book “What Is Man?” that which my mind had suspected, the suspicion having arisen in my mind independent of me. My mind told me one day that man does nothing for another. He does whatever he does, whether good or evil or self-aggrandizing or self-sacrificing, for himself, or as Twain says, “for self-approval.”

Twain: “From his cradle to his grave a man never does a single thing which has any FIRST AND FOREMOST object but one—to secure peace of mind, spiritual comfort, for HIMSELF.”

That is, if a man enters a flaming building to rescue a child and perishes in the flames, he has done the act for self-approval. If he had done otherwise it would have been to comply with that which he approved. There is no unselfishness or altruism. Man does what he does, however heroic or however depraved, for the sole purpose of self approval.

Twain confirmed that Man’s environment is responsible for much of his doings and actions, both good and bad. Twain: “Man is a chameleon; by the law of his nature he takes the color of his place of resort. The influences about him create his preferences, his aversions, his politics, his tastes, his morals, his religion. He creates none of these things for himself. He thinks he does, but that is because he has not examined into the matter.” This argument is supported by the obvious: If a child is born in a Moslem country his religion is Islam; if he is born in a Catholic country his religion is Catholic. Any exception proves the rule.

There is in man that which is innate and which conception sculpts in granite; that is, it never changes his life long. Twain: “You remember that you said that I said that training was everything. I corrected you, and said ‘training and another thing.’ That other thing is temperament—that is, the disposition you were born with. You can’t eradicate your disposition nor any rag of it—you can only put a pressure on it and keep it down and quiet.” A person born with a sanguine disposition will have a sanguine disposition his entire life; a person born with a pessimistic disposition will remain a pessimist to his grave. One disposed to grace under pressure will exhibit grace under pressure; whereas, one disposed to fumbling under pressure will fumble when pressured. Self-consciousness, empathy, intuition are also innate dispositions.

Man’s mind works independent of him. It never stops working. Man can bring it to heel only for short periods and then only with an earnest and persistent effort. All the while that he is trying to bring it to heel, it must be reminded to heel or it is away somewhere other than there. Twain: “It is as I have said: the mind is independent of man. He has no control over it, it does as it pleases. It will take up a subject in spite of him; it will stick to it in spite of him; it will throw it aside in spite of him. It is entirely independent of him.”

Man believes ardently that his image is that of God and that God created the Earth and all that is in it and that He created it all for man, His favorite. And man believes that he is among all life the king of it. Twain: “Yes, as a thinker and planner the ant is equal of any savage race of men; as a self-educated specialist in several arts she is the superior of any savage race of men; and in one or two high mental qualities she is above the reach of any man, savage or civilized.”

Twain supports this seemingly absurd belief, at length, in “What is Man?” Twain refuses to use the epithet “Dumb animals;” instead he refers to other species as “Unrevealed Creatures.” He alleges that ants think and reason and that experiments have revealed that an ant “knows every individual in her hive of 500,000 souls. Also, after a year’s absence of one of the 500,000 she will straightway recognize the returned absentee and grace the recognition with an affectionate welcome.”

Man believed that the Earth was flat, he believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe; he believed that God created man and all else in days; and he believed that man had Free Will; that is, man could freely choose to do good or evil, all of which beliefs he either no longer believes or questions. In response to what was his opinion of Free Will, Twain replied: “There is no such thing. We are constantly assured that every man is endowed with Free Will, and that he can and must exercise it where he is offered a choice between good conduct and the less-good conduct.” Twain challenges such an assumption. He concludes from a parable: “Yet we clearly saw that in that man’s case he really had no Free Will: his temperament, his training, and daily influences which had moulded him and made him what he was, compelled him to rescue the old woman and thus save himself… .” That is, save his approval of himself, the sine qua non of contentment.

Whose authority is supreme as to what man chooses to do? Twain’s answer: “In the machine which stands for him. In his born disposition and the character which has been built around it by training and environment.” That is, man is the product of an innate disposition and his environment. Whatever he seems to choose to do is not choice on his part but the act of the machine, an act that is determined by man’s disposition and the effects of his environment.

So what? Well, if man is a machine as Twain believes and as other outstanding thinkers believe, society would not sentence a 16 year old to life in prison for killing, when he was 14, a bus driver. Prisons would become institutions of compassion and rehabilitation instead of places of vengeance and punishment. No one would be praised for succeeding or damned for failing. The concept of sin would lose its basis. The belief in a soul and a hereafter would become history. Social change would be cataclysmic.

Twain’s Admonition: “Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward a summit where you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which, while contenting you, will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and community.” That is, although your sole purpose in any act is to please yourself, if the act is such that it not only pleases you but redounds to the benefit of all society, then it is right conduct.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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