I was listening to the album "S.H.A.D.O 2 by Higher Intelligence Agency & Pete Namlook" for the first time in at least 10 years and couldn't remember much about it.
The first track, Countless, begins with someone speaking the following words in sections:
There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all of the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure, I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience.
Intrigued, I had to know where they originated and a quick search discovered that they are spoken by Major Motoko Kusanagi in the anime "Ghost in the Shell" - it’s been even longer since I've seen the original film. The live action version with Scarlet Johansson is okay but doesn't explore the concepts in nearly as much depth.
The full version of the above quote is as below:
There are countless ingredients that make up the human body and mind, like all the components that make up me as an individual with my own personality. Sure I have a face and voice to distinguish myself from others, but my thoughts and memories are unique only to me, and I carry a sense of my own destiny. Each of those things are just a small part of it. I collect information to use in my own way. All of that blends to create a mixture that forms me and gives rise to my conscience. I feel confined, only free to expand myself within boundaries.
I understand the last sentence may have been left off for both brevity and a lack of context but find it interesting that "and I carry a sense of my own destiny" was removed from the middle. I think that's such a powerful statement.
The film was originally called "Mobile Armored Riot Police" in Japan but the director, Mamoru Oshii, always wanted his adaptation of the original manga to be called "Ghost in the Shell" in reference to Arthur Koestler's book "The Ghost in the Machine" which, in turn, took its name from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle's description of Descartes' mind-body dualism - that the mind and body are distinct and separate.
Ghost in the Shell deals with what it is to be human in a world where the mind (ghost) can be inserted into an artificial body (the shell) and, consequently, the natures of identity and the soul. The Major seeks a true sense of self beyond the work she was "built" to do, longs to know if she is autonomous or automaton. Carrying a sense of one's own destiny, in this context, hints that she favours the former.
The mind-body duality is something I explored back in 2014 in a #write365 piece called "What makes us us?" in the context of Star Trek and the film Oblivion.
The obvious starting point was teleportation:
We joke how the technology of today is catching up with the vision of the show and hope that this trend continues, we don't know where progress will lead, but one aspect of Trekkie technology that we could have a problem with is the teleportation of people.
Don't get me wrong, I'm fine with the concept of transferring _matter by scanning its structure at a deep enough level, transmitting that pattern and reassembling it at the other end. The problem with people, however, is not a physical one but a metaphysical one._
Our bodies are just matter and, in that sense, could be broken down into their component parts - a model waiting to be reassembled.
But, the mind - now that is a different matter (pun intended).
The mind is a mystery: the spontaneous formation of consciousness from a collection of cells should not occur, yet here we are - sentient, aware.
Indeed, Koestler argues that man evolved too quickly and is a "biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process."
Back to my piece:
The mind cannot be seen or held or fixed by surgery, it is not part of us in the sense that an arm, a lung or even the brain is part of us. So, how do we explain or rationalise our "conscious self"?
If we cannot pinpoint the mind how do we transfer it along with its body? If our mind is the sum of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences is it laid out in the synaptic patterns of our brains at some quantum level? By reassembling our brain structure exactly would we reassemble the mind, the memories, the consciousness?
When I was still a teenager I started writing (a failed and abandoned) sci-fi novel that expanded on the Trekkian notion of teleportation as the transmission of data rather than matter, taking our pattern and rebuilding it. But, if we are not transmitting matter then what happens to it?
...each teleportation device would have a "matter pool" - the transmitting device would scan us and we would be disassembled, our matter being added to the local pool. At the other end we would be reassembled from the matter pool in the receiver.
In essence, we are being destroyed and recreated, the version of us after teleportation is essentially a copy.
Picture Jeff Goldblum's lab in The Fly with the transmitter and receiver side by side - that was also the testing setup in my novel but a mistake meant that the original was not disassembled before the copy was created. The answer? A marine shoots the original in front of the copy (who understandably goes mad seeing himself killed) - "Can't have two of 'em!"
It served to pose the question: what makes us us? Is the body just a container, a shell?
Our outward appearance, our bodies, our "containers" are how we recognise each other but, without this visual clue, we can also recognise others by voice, by patterns of behaviour, by diction and communication style. Is both the body and mind required for it to be us? If we are able to replicate the container exactly and transfer the consciousness what then? Are we genuine or just a copy, a facsimile of ourselves?
The film Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, also adds an additional twist to this. Throughout the film his character, Jack, has flashes of memory despite having a "compulsory memory wipe." As the film progresses we are lead to believe that this is just his past breaking through, something didn't quite take with the wipe.
By the end of the film we find that Jack and his partner Victoria are actually clones of astronauts created by alien invaders but the two instances of Jack's clone we meet show signs of his original consciousness - the memories of the individual.
Is he Jack? Or just a copy? If he has both the container and the consciousness is it really him? If so, how can there be two "hims" at the same time? If we are able to duplicate the human consciousness then where does it stop?
Oblivion presumably makes the assumption that the mind is the product of the brain's layout, our experiences force it to grow in a particular way and implant memories accordingly.
So, how do we define ourselves and is this changing? Once we approach the singularity, or perfect cloning, or achieve teleportation will it change again?
Will we need to redefine what it is to be human
And all that because I listened to an album.