The structure or operation of a machine or other complex system; a theory or approach relating to this.

  • 1. a. The structure of, or the relationship of the parts in, a machine, or in a construction or process comparable to a machine. (In early use chiefly with reference to natural systems.) Now rare.
b. More generally: the interconnection of parts in any complex process, pattern, or arrangement. Obs.

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  • 2. a. A system of mutually adapted parts working together in a machine or in a manner analogous to that of a machine; a piece of machinery. Also: machinery, mechanical appliances.
b. spec. in a musical instrument.
c. An ordered sequence of events involved in a biological, chemical or physical process; (Chem.) the steps making up a chemical reaction, frequently described in terms of the transfer and sharing of bonding electrons.
d. Mech. A kinematic chain of which one link is fixed or stationary.
e. Psychol. An unconscious, structured set of mental processes underlying a person's behaviour or responses.

defence mechanism: see the first element.

f. gen. A means by which an effect or result is produced.
  • 3. Mechanical action; action according to the laws of mechanics. Obs.
  • 4. Philos. The opinion or doctrine that all natural (esp. biological or mental) phenomena can be explained with reference to mechanical or chemical processes.

Associated esp. with Descartes (1596-1650). Cf. MECHANICALISM n. 1a, MECHANICISM n. 3.

Extended uses

  • 5. A contrivance, a trick; trickery, falsehood. Obs. rare.
  • 6. Technical skill or artistry; technical execution. Obs.
  • 7. a. In painting, sculpture, music, etc.: the mechanical or physical execution of a work of art; technique. Opposed to style or expression.
b. The formulaic following of a set technique, etc., in order to produce desired effects. rare.