So – two weeks later – I’ve finally reconciled myself to the ending of the live-action version of Ghost In The Shell.
My question about the Hollywood movie of Ghost In The Shell was:
- If the fictional Hanka Robotics has developed a mechanical body, or “shell”, that can integrate a human brain; and
- “We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us”; then
- Why would an anarchist who is rounded up to be a test specimen in a shell choose to define herself by the actions she is ordered to take by the government?
Read on for the “exciting” answer…
That answer to this why was provided for me by the comedian Robert Newman, in his new series Neuropolis.
Readers of a certain age and sensibility may remember him as Rob Newman from the arena-filling Mary Whitehouse Experience and Newman and Baddiel In Pieces back when comedy was the latest New Rock’n’Roll.
“The Cure” sings The Laughing Policeman, Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West), Crash Bang Wallop, the Play Away theme and Rule Britannia.
Just me, then?
Well, Robert ploughs a different furrow these days, and in Neuropolis he presents a series of stand-up routines and sketches that tackle the mysteries of the brain. Of particular interest for our purposes is the episode, Robot New Man (or Attack of the Killer Sci-Fi).
In this particular episode, Newman considers – among other things – the possibility raised by the neuroscientist David Eagleman that
with powerful enough computers simulating the interactions between our brains, we could upload and exist digitally by running ourselves as a simulation… becoming non-biological beings
But recent work in the field of endrocrinal hormones and how they shape neural pathways in human brains, Newman goes on, renders this fantasy obsolete. Given that a good half of the endrochryne system is found below the neck, in the adrenal gland, pancreas, testes, and ovaries, the heroine of Ghost In The Shell, in her shell, is not really herself.
To upload Major/Mira/Motoko, Hanka Robotics would have to upload Motoko’s original travel system and avatar, Kaori Yamamoto, in her entirety. Not stuff her brain into Scarlett Johannson.
Peering out of the little windows in our faces from inside our brains, it’s very tempting to think that we simply are our brains. Particularly if you write, and create whole characters from your mind. Or are a stroke survivor, and have had an opportunity to observe how one’s personality changes when the brain is operating in extremis. But a haemorrhagic stroke (in my case) might just be an example of a physical change to a particular part of the body – and in fact a support for the assertion that we truly are our entire bodies and not just (or even primarily) the ghost.
No wonder Mira is so unlike Motoko.
Robot New Man doesn’t stop there with the matters of interest to the stroke fanatic. Newman goes on to consider hemi-neglect. Stroke survivors who suffer left hemispatial neglect, for example, may lose the left side of their visual field, even though there’s no damage to their eyes.
But the patient is not aware that there is anything missing from the picture they see. As Robert Newman describes it, there are three tests doctors can apply to establish chronic hemispheric neglect:
- Ask the patient to draw a clock, and they draw all the numerals from 1-6, and leave out 7-12. They don’t think anything is missing – it looks like a whole clock to them.
- Ask them to draw a cat, and they’ll draw the right half of the cat, not noticing that anything is missing from the left.
- Ask them to listen to the Today programme, and they will find it to be perfectly-balanced broadcasting.
And with that, I leave Ghost in the Shell behind. It’s the Ninth of May. Maybe it’s time to move on to a new subject.