Androids, Cyborgs, & Transhumanism. Oh My! Part III — I Think, Therefore I _____________.

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We’ve come to a point in this delve, or whatever you may call it, where I feel I must address something else. I hear the internet say “But Mr. Bookkeeper, these are all works of fiction. The author has liberty to create characters based off of their own perception of something like transhumanism. It isn’t how it will work in reality.” This could also be my own self-doubt or something else at play. But for now, we’ll pretend like I don’t have personal problems.

Anyways…

I don’t know if the collective thoughts of the internet really say or think that, but nevertheless, I wanted to address it. Authors and storytellers DO have the liberty of fashioning characters and situations in such ways that they see fit for the story being told. So it is very possible that each author is “choosy” about their depiction of an android or cyborg, and the situations surrounding their role in the story.

Personally, I’m okay with this fact. This has been, from the beginning, and examination of fiction literature in order to reveal slightly more subtle undertones and themes that are present in the work. I need authors to be choosy with their characters. I need them to invent personalities and situations that they feel represent their ideas of the implications of something like the presence of humanity in artificial or semi-artificial beings.

In other words … I need them to make stuff up.

While tech and flesh have already begun to meld in the real world with state of the art implants or prosthetics, we have really only begun to scratch the surface of what is possible. Until we have real life examples of beings that are, or are almost entirely synthetic, all we have is fiction to be able to explore the implications of our technological advancements.

Or at least that’s what I think. Let’s get into this week’s trip down the rabbit hole.

For the next few posts, I’m going to be looking at how the issue in question (preservation of the essence of humanity through compassion) as it is portrayed in anime and manga. This week, we’ll be talking about Ghost in the Shell (1995).

It is important to note that I will only be discussing the original 1995 anime release — not the manga, any sequels, or the SAC series. Doing so brings in a daunting amount information to look at. Honestly, duties aboard the ship keep me quite busy, and I have not had time to view them all in their entirety.

Ghost in the Shell is a fascinating anime to look at when addressing the idea of what it means to be human after the introduction of technology into one’s being. In many ways it goes even deeper and covers much more than will be examined in this post — commenting on topics such as sexuality and self-identity in a post-human world. But I’m still going to keep it limited to looking for one thing (at least for now): Is compassion apparent in the actions of the main characters of the story?

This one was a little bit harder to tackle. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi, is stone cold — at least in the original anime. Her actions are calculative and purposeful, and she executes her tasks with deadly accuracy. Her face is even depicted as being mostly void of emotion throughout most of the movie.

She is not depicted as having any type of romantic relationship (once again, this isn’t necessarily true for the later releases and manga), but does seem to have a strong bond with those that she works with. This bond however, at face value, seems to be occupational.

This is not to say that she doesn’t care for her team though, and visa versa. There is a scene with her and Batou (one of her teammates at Section 9) on a boat where more intimate details about Motoko’s perspective are revealed. This hints at an openness with Batou that could stem from being close to him in certain ways.

But there was nothing I could find in her actions that scream that they were done out of compassion for someone or something else. In fact, throughout the movie she even questions the humanity of her own “ghost” multiple times, entertaining that she just might be 100% synthetic and that there is not any humanity to her being, and that she was designed to “believe” she was human.

The consensus is though that her ghost is, or at least was indeed human. That fact is one of the driving forces of the plot in the later part of the movie, and why the Puppet Master takes an interest in her.

The lack of compassionate actions from Motoko in the movie doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have the capability for it though. It is possible that for the story to progress as it did with the themes it intentionally commented on, Motoko needed to seem very much like a computer or AI.

The original anime brings up some great questions about what it means to be human, and it does so deliberately. For instance, Motoko questions that if a cyber-brain could create its own ghost, a type of consciousness or soul — what would then be the difference between it and a human? Would being human be such a “special” thing?

Cogito ergo sum?

Next week we’ll take a look at some other anime, and eventually delve into some manga (remember, that is new terrain for me). I am curious to know, what are your thoughts so far? Agree, disagree? Did I miss something so huge that it completely obliterates any point I was trying to make? I appreciate your feedback.

Until next week …

– The Bookkeeper.

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