Desired machines: Cinema and the world in its own image

Jimena Canales

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Argument In 1895 when the Lumière brothers unveiled their cinematographic camera, many scientists were elated. Scientists hoped that the machine would fulfill a desire that had driven research for nearly half a century: that of capturing the world in its own image. But their elation was surprisingly short-lived, and many researchers quickly distanced themselves from the new medium. The cinematographic camera was soon split into two machines, one for recording and one for projecting, enabling it to further escape from the laboratory. The philosopher Henri Bergson joined scientists, such as Etienne-Jules Marey, who found problems with the new cinematographic order. Those who had worked to make the dream come true found that their efforts had been subverted. This essay focuses on the desire to build a cinematographic camera, with the purpose of elucidating how dreams and reality mix in the development of science and technology. It is about desired machines and their often unexpected results. The interplay between what "is" (the technical), what "ought" (the ethical), and what "could" be (the fantastical) drives scientific research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-359
Number of pages31
JournalScience in Context
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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