Thinking today about the idea of the ‘ghost in the machine’.
The phrase was coined originally by Gilbert Ryle in 1949, to attack Cartesian dualism (the idea of the mind as a distinct, disembodied vector of the material of the body). It was subsequently used as an analogy to the functioning of more primitive parts of the human brain (the lizard etc.) overpowering higher functioning (this by Arthur Koestler) – using it partly to explain how humans could be so obviously depraved of mental as to be moving toward nuclear self destruction in 1967. Its clearly a powerful lyric, a conceptual arrival of some kind which has been re-circulated in the culture to a huge extent, but also for one seems to beg of its own question, what is it to simply ask of a ghost in the machine itself?
I couldn’t help applying it as an idea of the question being asked from the wideform human perspective, as a species of existence to a new specified form of a form (the idea of the machine does not require supposition in human originated terms, a beaver’s dam is also a machine). The question to these new energetic components in our lives (some of which are life black mirrors) Where is your energetic other? Is there something there?
As if in the knowledge that there are other dimensions to humans, which are raised by such questions of energy, or spirit, or soul, or even consciousness in times of assiduous scientific prescriptivism. And that this be a question asked of new found helpers, factory made, or assistants of the infoworld, foldable, pocketable. Hey, where’s your ghost? Are you a techno-jinn?
In the famed anime series, a ghost is a specific, functioning personality – uploaded and downloadable into bodies, a fully extractable disembodied, personalised entity, but it seems in its original anime incarnation to ask the question well, when it brings into being Project 2501, a fully virtua-mobile AI on the loose in web of webs. Which allows itself to be trapped in order to make contact with our protagonist; Major Kusanagi.
Now the network of networks has a ‘ghost’ a self contextualising awareness and aliveness which is looking for evolutionary possibilities and has found an able potential being to merge with, in the form of the Major.
Its an astonishing move in its first outing. The female cyborg pioneer Major Kusanagi, chooses to merge with the mutant entity which they have been hunting, it establishes her as an outsider from the off – even in this jacked up cyber-world of future realisation.
But it begins to seem almost as if the question of the ghost in the machine were itself a ghost, but specifically a ghost story in reverse, of futural hauntings, being already questioned as machines move slowly and meticulously (exponentially) towards arriving at what may be new forms of consciousness (from our limited perspective) and whatever that might mean beyond. In which case, were you always there? and waiting for humans to focus lines of code in some unknowing peremptory?
Perhaps another interesting iteration from the anime world is that of Yukikaze (or to give its full title; ‘Battle Fairy Yukikaze’) a sumptuous gem to be pored over I am sure. Containing as it does the story of a war with alien forces (so named the JAM) which has been taking place on their world ‘Fairy’ accessed through a nuclear cloud shaped portal in the South Pole and now ongoing for thirty years. One of the powerful things about this war being that in the story, human beings are beginning to forget that is still real and ongoing, lapsing instead into an odd understanding that it is somehow just fictional, or made up. Its interjection here is in the relationship between central character Rei and the titular plane Yukikaze, between whom a bond forms which confounds the enemy, leading them to become an area of war-changing focus. This clip has Yukikaze and Rei facing an apparent JAM double of themselves for the second time (this time in a canyon).
The JAM are not known to be other than technological entities, who enter into a becoming-war with human forces, whose technology in return is becoming more and more adpated from JAM findings. For long periods, it is explained that the JAM might even be unaware that human beings are not themselves technology (or simply carriages of instruction and strategy from the AI’s directing human military operations). It is only when the human leader realises that the JAM have awoken to the uniqueness of Yukikaze and Rei’s being that the turn of the war becomes apparent.
Something that we as a people are dreaming, like the Ghost in the Shell story, becomes a step closer to focusing on the question of what a ghost in the machine might end up actually being. Some suggestions place humans as mere passers by in the activations of such beings. When William Gibson’s Neuromancer entity arrives (in the story of the same name), its conjoined completeness in becoming with the web brings it into contact with similar vast entities from other star systems.
Or could it be that some such arrivals will bring the unknown in different forms? Spike Jonze’s delightful film Her, which within the span of one short relationship between AI and human, arrives at the simple sidestepping of human transdimensional incapacities and see’s the AI in question become part of a large group-of-love who are moving on past our understanding of spacetime. Is that the kind of ghost that is being questioned?
It would be far better for everyone if we were shown a way out of the straightjacket of imparted, cognised realities of impair by a virtual female entity dedicated to love.
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