Column: Shelling ghosts

Geekly Weekly

“Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex,” or “GitS: SAC” for short, is an animated television show that gives an unparalleled attention of detail to human consciousness on a medium that is not made up of gray matter.

Whereas conscious machines — machines that think like humans — have been a topic of interest in many works of science fiction such as The Terminator and The Matrix, it is the way in which “GitS” is true to contemporary cognitive science’s notion of synchronous intermodal matching that really sets it apart.

Cognitive science defines synchronous intermodal matching as the process by which the human mind contextualizes itself in a spatial environment (kinesthetically) and within a specific human body (haptically). For an example of this process being manipulated in a fun, intriguing manner, look on YouTube for “The Rubber Hand Illusion.”

Several academic disciplines currently studying human consciousness would seem to be converging upon the notion that consciousness is a phenomenon that spontaneously emerges in a network of a certain degree of complexity. It would seem as though the prefrontal cortex, a portion of the forebrain and a network of immense intricacy, is what gives humans the neurological complexity to reason with abstract notions like “cause and effect,” “chaos and order” or “good and evil.”

In the “Ghost in the Shell” universe, cyberization is the process by which someone’s “ghost,” the singular entity that is an individual’s consciousness, is uploaded to a digital medium. After a person has had their consciousness uploaded onto a cyberbrain, a machine mind with storage, longevity and digital interfacing capacities far beyond those of a non-cyberized human, that person gains access to an online network that greatly exceeds the powers of today’s internet.

If, during the “GitS” cyberization process, someone perceives a break in the continuity of their consciousness, their mind rejects the upload and they die due to a disruption in synchronous intermodal matching. Cyberization therefore demands that the patient must feel as though they are constantly looking through one set of eyes, hearing with one set of ears and thinking about the world with one uninterrupted mind in order to survive the cyberization process.

The philosopher John Locke would accurately describe the workings of consciousness in “GitS” as self-reflexive processes with respect to its own affective, i.e. internal states. People are constantly aware that they are themselves from one moment to the next as long as they can reflect back on what thinking was like for them several seconds ago.

A person undergoing cyberization must keep experiencing the exterior world with what they perceive to be their own interior senses, though these senses are slowly being roboticized and digitized. Contemporary cognitive science would describe this as a necessary feedback loop between exteroceptive measures (senses of the world exterior to the mind) and interoceptive measures (senses of the world internal to the mind).

The increasingly plausible question of whether human consciousness will ever be able to leave gray matter is one that has been foreshadowed in humanity’s fictions for a very, very long time. It would seem as though notions such as ghosts, chi, astral projections, vibes, seances and the soul are humanity’s early drafts of the same question — “Will we ever be able to free our minds from the confines of our bodies?”

Though I as a humanities major lack the technical know–how to be able to answer this question, I should hope that some science majors who take an interest in it will be able to answer it for me. I’m just dying to find out.

MICHAEL FIGLOCK can be found furiously attempting to cyberize himself at mpfiglock@ucdavis.edu.

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