“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
– Albert Einstein
Okay so maybe humanity isn’t doomed, per se, but humanity won’t be like we know it today. In the future the human race will become obsolete, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Scared yet? Well let me explain. We are currently living in the early stages of posthumanism. Posthumanism is exactly what it sounds like. Post. Human. After the human. Technology is advancing rapidly, and so is our dependency on it. But it is the seamless emergence of cyborgs in society that is the beginning signs of the end of humanity as we know it today. One of the best anime movies (well at least in my opinion), Ghost in the Shell (GITS), gives us a glimpse into that future.
That was not a typo, technically cyborgs do exist in our society today. By definition, a cyborg is a person whose physiological functioning is aided or dependent upon a mechanical device. Granted, present day cyborgs are not like The Major in GITS or that poor little Pinocchio-like android boy in A.I., but they are cyborgs nonetheless.
About 10% of the current U.S. population is estimated to be cyborgs. This includes people with pacemakers, artificial joints, etc. Although the amount of hardware and/or software in the present day cyborgs isn’t much, this can be seen as the initial signs of posthumanism.
Posthumanists promote A.I., nanotechnology, biomachines, and other technologies whose goal it is to blur the distinction between humans and machines. Posthumanists don’t know why someone would choose the very fragile human body with no upgrades. They also don’t see it as an all-or-nothing, man versus A.I. fight to the death. They envision that posthumanistic society will be a (seemingly) smooth transition that people will barely even notice.
Ghost in the Shell/ Ghost in the Machine
Now what does all this have to do with Ghost in the Shell? Well, everything. First off, let me begin by dissecting the title of the anime. Ghost in the Shell’s title is taken from a theory called “ghost in the machine” inspired by philosopher René Descartes. But Gilbert Ryle thought Descartes’ idea was nonsense and remixed the theory. In simplified terms (because I’m trying hard to make sure you guys don’t feel like you’re in class):
- Descartes believed the ghost (i.e: spirit, soul) and the body act as one.
- Ryle believed that it is possible for a ghost to exist and/or be transferred into a machine (i.e: non-organic human body).
We are Team Ryle (for argument’s sake), if you are Team Descartes feel free to act as his representative by commenting, since he cannot do so himself being dead and all. If the ghost in the machine theory is ever proven to be true, it would eliminate the necessity of a human body, and even possibly humanity.
GITS Summary: The Characters
For those of you who haven’t seen GITS (tsk tsk tsk) here’s the shortest summary I can come up with. If you want to know more, you can watch it of course, or cheat yourself and just read the wiki.
The movie takes place in the year 2029 in a city that looks like Hong Kong. Technology has advanced to the point that most humans have become cybernetic, creating a new class of super-human.
The heroine of the movie is Major Motoko Kusanagi (known as the Major), a cyborg cop who works for Section 9. The Major was “involved in a near-fatal plane crash when she was only a child. As a result, she underwent full cyberization at the age of nine with the only organic part of her remaining being a portion of her brain (ComicVine).” She is almost completely mechanized, only her brain and a portion of her spinal cord remain organic.
The other two main characters are Batou and Togusa. Batou is the Major’s second in command and her partner. He has cybernetic eyes and other enhancements. Togusa is the new recruit, and the only member of Section 9 that is still considered fully human (apart from a mandatory E-Brain which can communicate with other E-Brains). Are you still with me?
GITS Summary: The Plot
The Major, Batou, Togusa and the rest of Section 9 are assigned to track down a criminal hacker known as the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master is capable of not only hacking factory made cyborgs (with no ghosts) but also “humans” because of their E-Brain.
As the movie progresses, the Major finds herself in the middle of an identity crisis. She contemplates the only human portion of her, her ghost, and whether it is an artificial program. And if it is, does it really matter?
It is gradually revealed that the elusive Puppet Master is not a “human”, or even a cyborg like the Major. Rather, the Puppet Master was born independently as part of an illegal government program. The Puppet Master wants political asylum, but the government wants to shut it down permanently. In one of the final scenes of the film, the Major and the Puppet Master merge their consciousness together to create a new life form; thereby achieving a type of techno-transcendence.
The critical issue shown in GITS, which is an issue society will (probably) be forced to confront, is this: if a cyber brain can generate its own ghost (just as the Puppet Master did), what is the importance of being human?
How GITS will go from fiction to non-fiction
Not yet convinced? Try thinking of it this way: we are already advancing our bodies cybernetically bit by bit, eventually transforming our bodies into the cyborgs seen in Ghost in the Shell will not be a radical decision. We will live in a future where you will be at a severe disadvantage if you do not cybernetically enhance your body.
Ray Kurzweil, a futurist, author, and inventor, is widely known for his predictions about the future (many of which have come true). He predicts that by 2029 (the year GITS takes place) a computer will have a mind indistinguishable from humans. This is due to machine intelligence being derived from the design of human intelligence, and humans becoming more and more dependent on machine intelligence.
The most significant of his predictions for 2029, which directly relates to the Puppet Master, is that machines will claim to be conscious and have a “wide array of emotional and spiritual experiences,” and that those claims will be largely accepted within society.
The Blue Brain Project = The Puppet Master
The Puppet Master proves in the Ghost in the Shell world that organic brain cells are no longer required in order to have a ghost. An article on “The Blue Brain Project” describes how this may become a reality in the near future. Dr. Markram, head of “The Blue Brain Project,” claims that he will be able to create a replica of a human brain by 2020. If you create a machine that is modeled after and works exactly like a human brain, self-awareness (at least in theory) will follow.
Evolution is inevitable, and the growing possibility is that humanity, as we know it today, is not the end of the evolutionary line. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see…
In case we aren’t the end of that line: If a man named John Connor ever approaches talkin’ all this crazy talk? Just try to do what he says. You know, just in case…
Ghost in the Shell is in the cyberpunk genre. Want more? Check out the links below.
List of cyberpunk works on Wikipedia
List of Cyberpunk movies by the decade
List of the top 20 best cyberpunk books
Anime and Philosophy – I used this book a lot for my paper on the same subject
Anything Philip K. Dick – His books were made into the movies Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and more.
Check out Tattoo Tuesday- Ghost in the Shell