The Ghost in the Machine
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First UK edition
|Pages||381 (UK), 384 (US)|
The Ghost in the Machine is a non-fiction work in philosophical psychology written by Arthur Koestler and published in 1967. The title is a phrase coined by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe the Cartesian dualist account of the mind–body relationship. Koestler shares with Ryle the view that the mind of a person is not an independent non-material entity, temporarily inhabiting and governing the body. One of the book's central concepts is that as the human brain evolved, it retained and built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures. The work attempts to explain humanity's tendency towards self-destruction in terms of brain structure, philosophies, and its overarching, cyclical political–historical dynamics, reaching the height of its potential in the nuclear arms arena.
The book contributes to the longstanding debate surrounding the mind–body problem and focusing in particular on René Descartes's dualism, in the form elucidated by Ryle. Koestler's materialistic account argues that the personal experience of duality arises from what Koestler calls a holon. The notion of a holon is that the mind is at once a whole and a part. A superposition of forces manifests, at each bodily holon, as the outcome of an entire hierarchy of forces—ontogenetic, habitual, linguistic prescriptive, and social science—operating in a continuum of independent feedback and feedforward streams of a body extended to its larger environment. The streams are fed by the life signals of each and every group member, and this fully participative medley is the spirit of life one senses as a ghost; but this spirit is just a simplified output of a complex knowledge set; it is emergent from the complexity of the group's rules and strategies. He contrasts his basic approach to the mind–body problem with behaviorism's basic approach to the problem.
Following the holon of humanity down to its roots, the work explains humanity's tendency towards self-destruction in terms of brain structure, philosophies, and its overarching, cyclical political–historical dynamics, reaching the height of its potential in the nuclear arms arena.
One of the book's central concepts is that as the human triune brain has evolved, it has retained and built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures. The head portion of the "ghost in the machine" has, as a consequence of poor, inadequate connections, a rich potential for conflict. The primitive layers can, and may, together, overpower rational logic's hold. This explains a person's hate, anger and other such emotional distress.
Criticism of the book's theories
Koestler's central assumption is that humanity's atavistic brain areas will lead it to self-destruction. However, the same areas responsible for hate and anger are also responsible for certain other emotions, such as love and happiness, which tend to be viewed more positively, although they can in themselves foster or lead to certain destructive urges on an individual level. Certain narcotics, for example, create what may be viewed as "positive emotions", despite their harmful long term effects.
However, Koestler was not a proponent of an emotionless humanity, in fact, he argued against it in The Sleepwalkers, The Act of Creation (1964), and other works.
The Police named their 1981 album Ghost in the Machine after this concept. Masamune Shirow borrowed from Koestler's book the "ghost" concept that figures prominently in his 1989 Ghost in the Shell manga and later related works. The Ghost in the Machine is also mentioned in the 1985 film Brazil and referenced in the 2004 film I, Robot based on Isaac Asimov's short stories. Also the rapper B.o.B titled a song "Ghost in the Machine" on his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray.
The animated comedy series Drawn Together includes an episode titled "Ghostess in the Slot Machine".
In the CBS television show, Person of Interest, season 1, episode 10 ("Number Crunch") and season 2, episode 22 ("God Mode"), this book was a prop on a shelf in the library/office where the main characters John Reese and Harold Finch work.
In the sci-fi series Caprica, one of the episodes from 2010 was entitled "Ghosts in the Machine".
In the sci-fi series Stargate: Atlantis, one of the episodes from 2008 was entitled "Ghosts in the Machine".
The San Francisco based electronic music group The M Machine named the second song on their EP Metropolis Part II "Ghosts in the Machine".
In the video game Saints Row 4 there is a mission titled "Ghost in the Machine" that involves the player getting a body for an AI program.
On the popular teen show Degrassi: The Next Generation, the first two episodes of Season 4 – 401/402 are titled "Ghost in the Machine" Parts 1 and 2.
- Koestler, Arthur (1967). The Ghost in the Machine (1990 reprint ed.). Penguin Group. ISBN 0-14-019192-5.