A useless machine?

During our trip back from Kediri to Bandung, my colleagues and I took the time to visit a beach near Ayah, Jawa Tengah. There, at first I was reluctant to play around and get my hands dirty, because I really had not prepared to go to a beach. But then I decided to go anyway. I made a structure from sands for one purpose: to contain water that later was used to wash away the grains of sand that sticked to my hands. Now this is where it gets interesting. This “machine” was made to wash my hands, but if I did not make this machine, my hands would not be dirty, therefore there would not be a need to wash my hands, i.e. there would be no need to build the machine. That’s why I call this thing “a machine which only purpose was to solve the problem created by the machine itself.” I was pretty sure some philosopher has ever thought about something like this, so it might already have a shorter, fancier name than what I mentioned, but I have not found anything about it during my “research” (read: search around with duckduckgo.com and google.com).

Back to topic. Come to think of it, is there any machine like this in our civilization? If so, what is it and why did people create it?

After deep philosopical thoughts while eating Pop Mie near the said beach (well, actually not that deep), I thought of something that does nothing but solving problems it created itself: ourselves. Humans, or even generally every living creature, both biologically and socially.

Biologically, we eat to solve a problem that is hunger, which only and always exists as long as we exist. And to survive (i.e. to stay exist), we need to fight hunger (along with other problems such as illness and climate), which naturally we do by eating. As human, perhaps we cannot really say that surviving is our only purpose, but let’s put human complexity aside and imagine our earliest ancestor, single-celled creatures. Think of it, they do not really have any other purpose (or even know what a “purpose” is). Their environment would just stay as it is even if they do not exist. I think it is safe to say that their only purpose was to stay alive, a “problem” that would not exist if they do not exist in the first place.

Socially, humans throughout generations have always been trying to solve problems that was actually created by humans theirselves. Economic crisis and global warming are two of many examples of this. (Actually I was just to lazy to find other examples.) Therefore, we can say that civilizations exist to solve the problem it created itself.

This following conversation really happened a while ago in a social media site. “What do we call a machine which only purpose is to solve a problem that was only caused by the machine itself?” I asked. A friend answered, “a waste.” If we agree that humans, other living creatures, and civilizations are examples of said machine, this leads to human race’s biggest question: what is the purpose of life? Is it just an unending quest of solving problems we created ourselves? Or is it not?

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