The mechanization of the human mind

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On my dining room wall there's a painting of a woman, a child, a horse, and some ducks. The woman is Marussia Burliuk, wife of David Burliuk. As I wrote a few years ago, Marussia and David were friends of my grandparents, among many that I thought were aunts and uncles when I was small.  I've been thinking about the Burliuks recently, because of their origins in Ukraine.

So I re-read Burliuk's 1926 "Radio-Style" Manifesto more thoroughly than I had before. You can read it yourself here.

And once I got past the bluster ("David Burliuk is the inventor and explorer of the RADIO-STYLE, the one and only style of our epoch"), I found a few strangely prophetic fragments. Nothing specific about the current war, though there's this:

Yesterday is the shadow of to-day.

Yet the yesterdays appear sooner than the present has time to disappear.

And then immediately after that:


Beginning with the dark ages up to the era of steel and steam the evolution of life constructed in its different stages a mechanical man. This development occurred in the muscles and bones of the human man and the rougher mechanical elements of man until we reached a purely physical mechanical man – the industrial worker of the present, being replaced by a purely mechanical construction.

Today – the beginning of the historical radio era, we are witnessing the mechanization of the human mind or of the mental qualities of man. This is the beginning of the creation of a mechanical mentality. The physical side of philosophical. Speculation of the past is now complete and the dream of the Philosopher’s Stone and the mechanization of the human mind is a dream that is not far from being materially manifested.

I think of radio as an antique technology — but the unwiring of the internet is arguably today's manifestation of the "historical radio era", creating the ecological niches where AI is evolving.



  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 8, 2022 @ 6:31 am

    "I think of radio as an antique technology" — whereas I think of it as being very much a current technology. I listen to the radio whenever I am driving, I listen to the radio at the hours when a news broadcast is scheduled, and if I miss (for example) the day's "PM" programme, then and only then do I fall back on my Internet connection to make use of the ability to re-play (or re-wind) a programme that has already finished or of which I have missed the start. I watch no television (because I do not have a television licence), and I eschew any technology which is predicated on the use of a mobile 'phone.

    [(myl) Thus you clearly establish yourself as an antique person… Radio is still very much alive as a mass medium (though increasingly likely to be internet-mediated), but would anyone would call this "the historical radio era", as Burliuk did in 1926?]

  2. Stephen Goranson said,

    May 8, 2022 @ 8:18 am

    If we allow "radio" an amphibolous (?) development, the move from vacuum tubes to transistors impressed me.

  3. DJL said,

    May 8, 2022 @ 3:23 pm

    And what does AI (actually, deep learning) have to do with all that?

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 8, 2022 @ 5:36 pm

    If you look at the google n-gram viewer, "radio age" starts shooting up very dramatically from the x-axis around the end of WW1 to hit an early peak in 1925, so it was certainly a popular conceit of the day that the radio defined what the culture was being transformed into. OTOH, "jazz age" spiked upward at around the same time and peaked much higher.

    OTOH, radio was definitely vital rather than antique to me growing up whereas it is marginal to my kids, but the way radio worked in my younger years was already very different than the way it had worked in the pre-tv era where e.g. my grandmothers had absorbed soap operas and programming like that via radio (and my dad and uncles had "The Shadow Knows" sorts of thriller-drama programming). By my own younger years, radio was primarily for (a) news/weather/sports-score updates, especially in the days before 24-hour cable news and internet-based news; and (b) music of all sorts, in the days before napster and iTunes and streaming services etc. It wasn't my bag personally but radio could also be for interview/conversation-based programming that turned into podcasts. But huge chunks of what had made radio so central to the culture in the Twenties through Forties of the last century had already irrevocably migrated to tv before I was born.

  5. AntC said,

    May 8, 2022 @ 8:01 pm

    @Philip think of it [radio] as being very much a current technology.

    You're failing dismally to impersonate such an 'antique person'. You should be getting your news only from print media.

    The technology usurping print: "superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth" [1858]. at about 1:30. He gets to radio about 2:20.

    Ah, but I'd only have happened on that thought thanks to TV (internet-mediated).

    The internet really contains heaps of material to sustain the paleolithic psyche. Breaking news re Gobekli Tepe. I don't think you'd find that on your new-fangled radio.

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