Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Project 2501 - Machine or Living Being (or Both)?

First off, let me just say this... Masamune Shirow is a genius, and Mamoru Oshii is amazing for putting Shirow's idea into an incredible anime film. Good stuff.

Ghost in the Shell brought up a number of interesting questions commonly associated with a number of our in-class discussions, although they're not always brought up. Some of those underlying themes are the questions that've been asked since the great age of technology began, as follows:

Can a "machine" be considered "alive?"
Can a "machine" have a "soul?"

I used quotations on purpose. Why? Most of the terms in quotations will have multiple definitions depending on who you talk to. What does one consider to be alive? What is a soul? These are questions that have been discussed far before the technology age began. Some of it has been argued with science, others with the traditions backing various religions. Personally, I don't think I could give you a definate answer to support what I think, but niether can you give me a definate answer to prove me wrong (and you can't say faith proves it; I'm not buying that excuse)!

Ghost in the Shell portrays technology in which they have been able to identify the existence of a person's soul. In most cases of definition, part of being "alive" means you must have a soul. Therefore, there can be a defined difference between a living organism and a machine. Machines can be created such that they have a soul within them as well, as if the soul was simply another manufactured product from a production line in a dark factory on a no-name street. This brings up a disturbing image of a future in which the soul is no longer considered a sacred or spiritual object, but rather a psuedo-physical one that can be crafted or destroyed. The thought of creating a machine and giving it a soul sounds promising to the lonely, but in order to gain something another thing must be lost. If a machine can gain a soul, what does it lose? What does humanity lose if machines gain a soul?

In addition, it's apparent that one's memories can be implanted, removed, or modified with the use of technology. It also seems possible that one's memories can be transferred to another location. As far as I understand it, it seems that the Major's brain is essentially organic, but that some of her psychological processes are mechanated. Does this mean some of her memories and brain functions have been cut-and-pasted into the mechanical subroutines of her mind? Such technology would be mindblowing (pun intended) and create a number of controversies almost instantaneously. If you could transfer your entire mind from an aged, dying body into a young, pseudo-human cybernetic body, you could continue living far beyond the normal lifespan of a human being. In addition, if your new mechanical body took some sort of damage that would normally kill a human being, you could just get some replacement parts (although in the movie it seems that the parts are not necessarily easy to get, as Batou had to get a replacement body for the Major/Puppet Master over the black market). Essentially, it could turn into an attempt to grasp at immortality.

Now let's couple this idea with genetics. What if we could manufacture a human body, organic in all senses of the word, and then transfer one's mind into it? You could continue your life this way, or perhaps live another life entirely. That sort of says something about reincarnation, now doesn't it?

Overall, Ghost in the Shell gave me a lot to think about. I saw it years ago, but I never watched it with this sort of mindframe before. I have to say I enjoyed the deep themes it displayed, and it'll keep me thinking for a while.

Now, a couple of other random thoughts that are essentially off-topic...

That tank was awesome. It gives a new meaning to the phrase "all-terrain vehicle." Those of you who have not had the chance to see the series, Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex should check out the mini tanks they use there if you liked the huge one in the movie. The little ones are called Tachikomas. They may appear in Ghost in the Shell 2 but I havn't seen that one... yet.

I... would like Batou's ridiculously huge cannon/gun. Sweet.


Sarah said...

Yeah she seemed both to me just because she was in body a machine, but had a human brain and spinal cord. However, I noted that she questions often what it means to be human (as do other characters in the movie) but so many opinions rattled around I got lost in them!
Anyway...I agree, the tank was awsome! That whole scene was pretty intense, esp. when Kusanagi attempted to rip of the tank cover and parts of her body practically exploded from the physical pressure. It was a really vivid scene with great animation and really showed the mechanicalness of Kusanagi but at the same time she retained her humaness when Batou asks how she's doing and she can still mentally respond.

Jamie said...

It seemed to me that she was more machine than human as far as physical parts are concerned. Bantu makes a comment that she is still treated as a human because she does have a few human brain cells. I think that the key to her being considered human isn't the parts but the way she talks about her experiences and memories in her cyborg body. She describes their cyborg implants as just on loan for their jobs...if they want to retire or quit they have to go back to being completely human.
[This brings up an interesting perspective about who controls the cyborg technologies. There are no examples of private citizens with cyborg implants or comparable technology. All the cyborgs are government or corporation employees.]
Back on the topic of Machine or living being... The cyborgs in this movie are all living, sentiant beings. Each is aware of their unique experiences, displays some sort of emotion and understanding of the world around them.

Amanda said...

Although you are right, no faith has been proven one way or another, I think it is vital to the definition of what is human. This is because if people do believe in a certain faith, than they may or may not believe in a soul, or what a soul is may vary. In these cases, it would be impossible to define a human as a human without describing their beliefs in what the soul is in context of their religion. In addition, for these people, it would be impossible to define something as human if their religion and beliefs do not support humans being able to create a soul. Unfortunately, this is one debate that cannot be avoided in trying to define human. If you leave it out, many would consider the definition to be false, no matter if it appears in the OED someday or not. To agree on something probably is impossible in my own opinion because of the wide variety of faiths.