What this implies is at the core of our argument. The Antikythera mechanism with its self-contained and self-sufficient system is a reproduction, at the scale of a hand-held box, of the cosmos as the Ancients saw it. In fact, on seeing it operating, one is immediately reminded of Plato’s cosmography described in the Timaeus (32c-35b on the self-sufficient world and its circular movement; 35c-36d on the numbers). His is a closed cosmos, self-standing, self-contained, self-moving and self-sufficient, divided along arithmetic proportions and beauty. It is as if Archimedes had condensed Plato and Aristotle into a single mechanical device. The cyclical movement of both the physical cosmos and of the pointers of its hand-held reproduction, the rotation of the ecliptic always returning upon itself creates a world resting in stability and harmony. It is also quite worthy to note that this situation had a correspondence in the polis as well as in the individual man (cf. the Republic): the person was made of a body and soul. The latter’s movements, when healthy, were in tune with the rotations of the cosmos.
The modern computer, by contrast, is the representative of the new, man-made and technological world criss-crossed (or better said, flooded) by flows of information data from which each machine must feed itself continuously, and to which it must return its processed data if it wants to find a purpose to exist. Those fluxes never stop and, in fact, are ceaselessly expanding. Computer A, if it wants to be useful, must be connected to Computer B, both making up Network 1 which will itself be connected to Network B, etc. Such connectivity means that a glitch somewhere, a small defect in a single entity will potentially affect the entire network. This unstoppable horizontal expansion works in collaboration with another, just as unstoppable, but vertical expansion: innovation, the constant updating of individual entities and the production of newer, more performant ones. This is what lies beneath the concept of “progress.” Unlike the Antikythera mechanism, modern computers, and with them modern society, are defined by fluidity and limitlessness, by constant change and, ultimately, instability. So is the universe as we now see it: it is no longer a cosmos, but rather an ever-expanding, acentric and infinite universe (and even a pluriverse, as some hypothesize) into which we see always further and deeper. This is the “cosmology” of a society that has erased the boundary between the Earth and the energies of the universe (nuclear energy). Nothing is more foreign to the ancient conception of the world.
A second point of comparison, concerning the object itself, must be discussed. Each entity, because it depends on the constant input of liquid data from the wider technical world, would be meaningless outside of this world of data (someone who desires to have a computer must also have it connected to the Internet; it would be unthinkable to have a computer unable to fulfill this duty, and that person would without a doubt prefer not to get that computer at all). The individual computer is totally dependent on that “society of computers,” and it has no choice but to adapt to it. Adaption is operated through innovation; we call this process progress. Only the fittest are able to survive: Darwin has won. This situation is also reflected in society, where each unit (the individual) is no longer autonomous, but rather invisibly connected to others in what we call society, itself administered by a bureaucracy. We now have to rely solely on what that society gives us for our survival; the sum of individuals makes up society, and we are in turn its product. “Totally dependent on society’s structure, I am pretty much useless to it” (Michel Houellebecq). That judgment is just as true for computers as it is for us. The chilling consequence of such a situation is that a faulty entity can, and must, be discarded and replaced by a working one. Yet even that fit entity must eventually be replaced by a yet more efficient one. Mass production (and this is the third difference) is what allows for that substitution process and interchangeability to happen. Once again, and quite tragically, it is just as true for our machines as it is for us.