Why Ghostless Machine?

Many people wonder where the name of the blog comes from. The terms “ghost” and “machine” were taken from a metaphor that Descartes used to symbolize the dualism (body/ “soul”) which he defended. He believed that the body worked like a machine, “had the material properties of extension and movement”, and followed the laws of physics. The mind (“soul”/ “spirit”), however, was described as a non-material entity which didn’t conform to natural laws. (An interesting fact I came across in my short research is that Descartes thought that the soul resided in the pineal gland which he mistakenly believed only humans possessed and, thus, that animals didn’t have a mind. This made Descartes conclude that animals didn’t feel pain, so he started dissecting live animals.)

Later on, Gilbert Ryle (British philosopher) in his book The Concept of Mind attacked the Cartesian approach saying that it should be dismissed a redundant literalism from an era prior to the establishment of biological sciences. He claims that human beings are not equivalent to a machine and that philosophers do not need an obscure principle to explain their super-mechanical abilities.

Afterward, Arthur Koestler writes a book, The Ghost in the Machine, which is a reference to this metaphor, and also takes distance from it by stating that the brain developed starting from simpler structures and that it is the only “ghost in the machine”.

Finally, Masamune Shirow creates the manga Ghost in the Shell (which is adapted into 3 movies and 2 series, which brought me to my current research) which deals with topics related to dualism, in a not so distant future in which people substitute parts of their body with other more efficient ones, to the point that, in some cases, the only thing that is left of the original being is the organic brain, the “ghost” (understood here more as “consciousness” than as “soul”).

Some of the most philosophical scenes from the movie

The name of the blog is a reference to all this. From my perspective, I am such a complex machine that I “think”. But this doesn’t imply any “soul” or anything of the kind. I believe everything can be reduced to biophysics, biochemistry, electrochemistry. Interaction between matter.

This is the only hypothesis which makes sense for me. The only one based on evidence. The other ones seem to me utopian creations of the human mind, full of supernatural appeals, and shaped in such a way as to suit this perspective best. It can be said that my philosophical ponderings started from such questions, so the name is suitable (I also have to admit it was one of the few available ones heheh).

I think the blog will be useful for me to organize my thoughts and to avoid writing the same thing every time I decide to discuss one of my questions with somebody.

– Translated in Feb 19, 2014

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