Ghost in The Shell: Can Cyborgs Feel Hope?

Ghost in The Shell: Can Cyborgs Feel Hope?
My plan was to convince my wife to go see Ghost In the Shell last weekend. Yet, after reading the scathing reviews, I opted for a different plan. As one interested in the topic of AI, it sounded like the original animated movie (Ghost in the Shell Р1995) directed by Kazunori. A critique of the Hollywood version was its lack of depth compared to the original. Apart from the controversy about white-washing, it seemed like the biggest complaint was the the American version had watered down the content of the original Japanese-British version. This signaled to me that I needed to watch the original. With a few clicks and Amazon prime, I sat down to watch on my laptop on Saturday night.

I didn’t know what to expect but the movie did not disappoint. The quality of the animation along with the music and the rich plot drew me right in. I will not dive into the story to avoid spoiling the experience in case you decide to watch it for yourself. I just want to highlight two main observations. First, I was impressed about how visionary the writers were in painting a plausible vision of the future. They depicted a time in which humans can augment their brains with hardware and cyborgs who can upload human memories. Considering the beginning development of brain interfaces, this scenario is not far-fetched. Secondly, the movie excelled in exploring what it means to be human in a world where technology had become embedded into human bodies. This is the area I want to explore a bit in this blog.

The leading character in the story is a female cyborg who starts asking existential questions. Half-way through the movie, she engages in a dialogue with a male cyborg about the experience of diving in the ocean. She describes what is akin to a transcendent experience as her body emerges from the water. As the conversation develops, she reminisces about her unique experience and how that is similar to humanity. Suddenly, as they are talking, a voice speaks through her (something akin to the Spirit) and quotes I Cor 13:12 (about minute 2:42)

It is difficult to unpack this deep conversation in a blog but I have to say that this scene alone was worth the whole movie. Major (the female cyborg) is yearning for some type wholeness, just as the Apostle in I Corinthians is pointing his readers to the future restoration of all things in Chirst. As the movie ends, Major does experience the wholeness she is looking for (yet, you’ll have to watch the movie to see that for yourself).

Judging from other parts of the movie, it is clear that Major is not purely a cyborg. She has human parts even though she is mostly machine. Without stretching this too far, I wonder if Major is a picture of our future selves. Let me explain. As we move towards further “cyborgization”, with our bodies merging with our technological devices, are we in danger of changing our humanity beyond recognition? In that loss, are we still able to experience transcendence – that is, to move beyond our limited mortality into timeless realm? I am not even talking about religion but simply the ability to reach beyond our programmed and scripted present into a higher purpose.

Even as I write this, I sense the inadequacy of the words I am using. It is as if our vocabulary has not quite caught up with the reality we are about to experience. Yet, in all that, I am heartened to see the movie pointing to hope. In other words, it is possible, even in a body overtaken by electronics, to experience the very human trait of longing, love and expectation. They are the echoes of the restoration to come.

Much more could be said, for now I leave you with an expanded version of the passage quoted by the Major in the video above:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love РI Co 13:11-13

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