Playthings are often engineered to replicate the character of real organisms. In the past, inventors lavished great expense on their lifelike automata, their constraints being typically related to the mechanical technology they employed and the amount of time and effort they were able to commit to the enterprise. The devices that are currently produced are usually intended for the mass market. The cost of production therefore is a major concern, even though the technology is more sophisticated and highly automated than in the past. Consequently, toymakers and engineers, as well as artists, of the past and present alike have had to think abstractly about living systems in order to construct their simulacra economically. This essay examines a number of lifelike toys to discover the properties of real organisms that their designers have attempted to recreate. That we, as users of these devices, so readily recognize in them a degree of lifelikeness demonstrates the extent to which intuition may sway our intellectual reasoning about real biology. As a result, an innovative toymaker or artist is able to manipulate us to zoomorphize even the most extreme abstractions—at least momentarily—despite our rational reluctance to accept the trickery.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.