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The Philosophy of Ghost in the Shell (1995)

The Wisecrack Youtube channel has a great video on the philosophy of Ghost in the Shell (the original one). It’s actually a very Western movie because it’s Hegelian through and through, and Hegel is as Western philosophy as it gets.

I left a comment on the video that I will cross-post here, for those interested.

Sure, I can explain.

There are numerous instances of Mamoru Oshii using reflections to embody Motoko’s search for her counterpart, or antithesis. Not necessarily with literal mirrors but with imperfect, reflective surfaces like glass or water. If you pay close attention you can maybe pick out a dozen or so instances. An obvious instance of the reflection motif is in the diving scene where Motoko rises to the surface and it looks like she “meets” herself: until the images meet, you can’t really tell who the Major is from her reflection. Her conversation with Batou after that scene goes hand in hand with that kind of confusion.

You’ll notice too that the reflection becomes “reality” when the Puppermaster hacks into the shell, especially where they are laying side-by-side on the museum floor. That was the physical meeting of the thesis and anti-thesis. You’ll also notice that the Major and the Puppetmaster have reverse existences: the Major was a human who became fully robotic except for her brain, while the Puppetmaster was essentially a program looking for a human body to achieve the full range of existence, even death.

Regarding the end scene when the Major-Puppetmaster figure is in the chair inside Batou’s safehouse: there’s a strange shot her in the chair which quickly cuts to the same shot, but a mirror image of it. The second shot is a different kind of quality than the first, so the effect isn’t quite as jarring. This was Oshii’s way of telling us by imagery that the synthesis is complete and the Major and Puppetmaster are now the same being. This scene is examined in this video, at mark 30:40 and onward: /watch?v=l9v8FzQ2btg

Hope that helps.

EDIT: Clarified some things.

EDIT 2: Contrast this with the 2017 Ghost in the Shell, which I also like, though not as much and for different reasons. Both films deal with issues of self-identity, but in different ways: Oshii’s Major lacks an identity because of the nature of her humanity, where ScarJo’s Major lacks an identity because of what others have done to her. In the former, existence is deceptive, in the latter, humanity is deceptive.

EDIT 3: Is Project 2501 a Boltzmann brain?

EDIT 4: No edit. Just a what up to my party peeps.

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

tl;dr – a very good retelling of the original

Possible spoilers below. See my previous posts here and here about the film.

Thoughts, in no particular order:

1- Visually and aesthetically impeccable. Director Rupert Sanders did an excellent job of portraying a society figuring out its relationship with acute, mechanical, physical augmentation. He skirts the line between its usefulness and nightmarishness, though with the subject matter and the people involved, we see more of the nightmare aspect.

2- Mostly followed the plot points and thematic elements of the original, though obviously it much more Westernized: there’s less philosophy, more conflict, and a less open-ended resolution. There were times things where characters turned narrator and it kind of broke the spell, particularly the first scene where the setup of the Major’s creation was over-explained by the computer-intercom.

3- Related to #3, as I had predicted, the “I’m going to kill my creator” sentiment is there, a sentiment that is wholly absent from the original. This was to be expected since Western-philosophy based folks have (at least) a mild fear of metaphysical/supernatural phenomena, and it seems that sci-fi, as it is embracing a lot of transhumanism and artificial life-creation scenarios, is being expressed as a kind of wish-fulfillment at being able to “get back” at our creator. Since man can barely rebel against God, much less commit deicide, positing “God” to the natural level, as a literal creator, gives us physical access to Him.

4- Regarding the whitewashing accusations: that Motoko is basically Anglo in appearance is fairly central to the plot; her completely artificial body needed to look different that her original, Japanese one. Progressives don’t need to wring their hands anymore about any of this, and Rupert culturally appropriated Western-style diversity into the cast that wasn’t there in the highly monocultural Japanese version. From what I could see, one or two characters in Section 9 were blackened or feminized. The two antagonists are, thankfully, White Folk, though the Antagonist You Didn’t Expect redeems his/herself nearing the resolution. The Head Evil White is male, as expected.

5- Pure trivia: Togusa, in the original, used a Mateba auto-revolver. In the film, it was an older-style gun compared to the more advanced tech (it was emphasized that he was purely natural/non-enhanced and his handgun reflected that), and in the real world, they are not manufactured anymore. There was a scene in the 2017 version where Togusa very noticeably uses a Chiappa Rhino handgun, which was modeled after after the Mateba design, and share the same designer.

Links of Possible Relevance, Part 20

Shut Up About ‘Whitewashing’ in Ghost in the Shell 2017
Good idea, since “cultural appropriation” is usually a one-way criticism. I didn’t like the idea of Motoko played by an Anglo actress for different reasons, but the narrator makes a decent case against it. A related video.

A Spell to Bind Donald Trump and All Those Who Abet Him: February 24th Mass Ritual
Did this do anything?

Ancient Toilet Reveals the Unique Way the Judeans Fought Idol-worship
Wonderfully intolerant and exclusive.

Questioning the “Science Says” Attitude
Someone should write a browser plugin that will replace all the “Science Says” articles with “Survey Says,” and replace any article photos with action shots of Richard Dawson. Speaking of stupid ideas…

STUPID SHIT NO ONE NEEDS & TERRIBLE IDEAS HACKATHON
These are not stupid ideas.

Here Is Why You Should Stop Using PDFs for Your Restaurant Menus
No more PDF pages!

Why You Need to Stop Using PDFs on Your School’s Website. Now.
I said no more!

Underworld Inc: Illegal Hand Made Colt 1911 Pistols Ghost Gun
“I live in a haunted house. How can i get a hold of one of these ‘ghost-guns’? Also, where can i get some ghost-bullets?”

Death metal music attracts sharks, documentary crew finds out
Via Jill.

Boston Dynamics’ New Robot Dog Is Defeated By Banana Peels
Slipping and falling like any ambulatory creature isn’t really being “defeated.” They were probably using the peels to show how it recovers from a fall—which it did successfully. Original video here.

Chris Rock Draws Laughs, Controversy at Salesforce Sales Meeting
If someone gets offended, a comedian did his job right.

They Will Say They Had No Choice
“It will be a rather quiet revolution.”

Official Ghost in the Shell Trailer

I have to admit, it doesn’t look bad at all; they’ve mirrored some iconic scenes from the original. My only qualm is how it seems director Rupert Sanders is treating Motoko’s identity crises, and it’s important because that was the theme of the original film. How can we know ourselves? What separates us from, and connects us to, another? How do we cope with incompleteness? Sanders is framing it as a Bourne-Neo-Wolverine-Robocop “whoever did this to me will pay” revenge story, which definitely deviates from the source material, probably because it’s being marketed to Western audiences. If I can read into it too much, that existential questions are solved primarily by discovering (and likely killing) your creator is a sign of neurosis and not a real desire for self-discovery.

Everything Has to Really Be Something Else

Gillian Anderson is cool with being a James Bond incarnation, because the Internet brought it up:

Anderson is on Tumblr under the name Chewie’s Girlfriend (a reference to Chewbacca from Star Wars). She recently answered a series of questions on the platform, one of which was “What’s the best rumour you’ve ever heard about yourself?” Her answer: “That I might be the next Bond.”

It’s mostly a non-serious, non-story; it’s like asking me if I’d be okay with a few million dollars. Who would say no to that if it were offered? But it’s indicative of the way things have been going with storytelling, where a Japanese national is actually half-Jewish and half-Danish*, the Anglo Alexander Hamilton was black (Hamilton), and three white male nerds and an vaguely-educated black guy are really three white female nerds and an uneducated black woman (Ghostbusters). Have writers become too lazy to put the plot twist in the actual plot, instead of phoning it by playing the “wait ’til you see how we’re going to urinate on the source material this time” game?

* One thing to note about Japanese culture is that it’s extremely racist ethnically homogeneous focused on self-preservation. The idea that a non-Nipponese woman would be involved in such sensitive, high-level political matters is too absurd to even think about. I’d like to see how the writers of the new Ghost in the Shell film maneuver around that.

At What Point Does Nancy Drew Become Not Nancy Drew?

There’s a pilot ordered for a Nancy Drew series on CBS:

Described as a contemporary take on the character from the iconic Nancy Drew book series, the CBS project will center around a diverse, 30-something title character. A more mature version than the classic story, Nancy is now detective for the NYPD where she investigates and solves crimes using her uncanny observational skills, all while navigating the complexities of life in a modern world.

So…it’s basically another hour-long crime drama, and dare I call this darkwashing? Nancy Drew—yes, I read some of the books when I was younger—went through a lot of changes and iterations since the books started in the 30s, but three things were constant: she was white, suburban, and a girl. This depiction destroys two and a quarte of these things…the “quarter” part comes in because Drew was depicted as a teenager or a college-to-mid-twenties aged person. I don’t remember her being thirty years old at all, and thank God they didn’t make her a man. It’s sillier than making Thor a woman or Dr. Watson a Chinese woman living in America, but not as silly as using a half-Danish, half-Jewish actress portray Motoko Kusanagi from the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action film. Don Quixote as an Indian auntie? Wonder Woman as a man? When does the Ship of Theseus become another ship?

But there’s degrees to this, and the live action version of Ghost in the Shell compared to its more canon material is a good specimen. Casting Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi is wrong for fundamental plot/expository reasons: Kusanagi is an ethnic Japanese, a Japanese national, heavily involved with Tokyo politics and white-collar, technological crime. All of her prosthetic bodies are female and Japanese (there’s even an episode where a colleague asks why she chooses the same body type every consciousness transfer). Contrast this with the casting of as her co-protag, Batou. Batou is a French national that got involved with Shell’s Section 9 during a world war. Pilou Asbæk is portraying him in the 2017 film, yet he is half-French and Half-Danish, and a Danish citizen. Not completely off the mark, especially physiognomically, even if Asbæk were a 100% Dane. Batou’s Frenchness could be rewritten since it’s not essential to his character; that he’s not Japanese is, and Asbæk would still fit that bill.

Scarlett Johansson’s Race and Ghost in the Shell

ghost_in_the_shell_motokoIf you’re my friend on Facebook you’ve seen me briefly whine about Scarlett Johansson’s role in the Americanized, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS). As I’ve said on there, I don’t care much about race qua race in most contexts, but within the GitS fictional world it matters a lot. Since both movies, the two series’ season and related movie, the recent mini-movie reboot, and (presumably) the manga, take place in Japan and heavily involve high-level government workings in a near-future Japan, the artistic pressure to match the race of the protagonists is present*.

Rupert Sanders, the director, could work the non-Japaneseness of Motoko Kusanagi, the main protagonist and Johansson’s role, into the plot. Kusanagi’s body is completely synthetic. Though the ethnicity of her cybernetic body has a Japanese appearance, she could conceivably have a Caucasian body since it’s not difficult to “change” bodies out. This doesn’t seem likely since this new film is going to be marketed to a more general audience than a GitS fanbase. The former demographic is not going to be concerned or even be aware of the discrepancy. Since the nature of human consciousness is a major theme, especially in the original film, Sanders could even work in some meta-counter-criticism of race by leveraging the a-ethnicity of the soul (however one may consider the nature of the soul to be).

But my main point in all this is that many Facebook commenters are calling the casting a “whitewash” of the source material. I wonder, though, if the people making this criticism would call the newest Annie film or Idris Elba’s possible casting as the new James Bond a “blackening” of the original, or if they consider a black Santa Claus a betrayal of a European tradition? Why would Johansson’s casting not be considered a win for diversity in a franchise that is traditionally very Asian?

* As far as I remember, all of the main, recurring characters in GitS except for Batou are Japanese. Batou is actually French, and presumably Caucasian. Might be interesting to track the casting of his character as well.

Video: Ghost in the Shell vs. The Matrix Analysis

Some decent thoughts here, with requisite spoiler warnings if you haven’t seen the entire film. The film is, however, must-see for science-fiction or technology/futurist enthusiasts, as long as you’ve already gotten past the “animation is for kids” reservation that you may have. If you haven’t yet, please do get past that assumption before watching it because you won’t be able to absorb it properly.

The video’s title is misleading since he spends ample time explaining Ghost’s predecessory position to The Matrix than examining thematic elements. I was glad he included the boat scene (one of my favorites of all time), but the voice performance in the English dubbed version gets mangled. Not so much because of the actress (Mimi Woods, who does an average job) but there’s some inherent mechanical difficulties in having to match mouth movements with the translated English words. If I ever have the time and inclination I want to upload the subtitled version to do it justice.

Anyways, the narrator skirts around the Cartesian mind vs. body problem and doesn’t seem to state it outright that there is no separation between body and mind. We can infer that from the fact of memory being readable and rewritable, and copyable—as it is in the Ghost universe—though with everything in philosophy, there can still be arguments against it.

LogosSteve also points out the marriage/childbirth themes, which I didn’t really notice that much before. It’s interesting to note that the verse spoken by the voice in the aforementioned boat scene, 1 Corinthians 13:12 sits in a chapter known for its exposition of Christian love, which is used in some marriage ceremonies.

* Note the similarities in voice quality and roles between Tom Wyner as the English-voice Puppetmaster and Lawrence Fishburne’s Morpheus.

An Inexhaustive, Scatterbrained Post on Atheism and Science Fiction

Only non-believers believe in atoms.

I’ve thought before that, sociologically speaking, people look to attribute God’s qualities to other phenomena, like the universe, politics, aesthetics/art, or science. People much smarter than me have undoubtedly come across this before, like Voltaire when he said that if God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him.

I like that quote because it can stoke paranoid atheist fervor and gets religious people who are too stupid to entertain hypotheticals in a huffy, but the ingenious thing is that it’s an assertion, not an opinion. If someone doesn’t believe in God, then either because of our sensus divinitatis or because of humanity has been culturally entrenched with religious belief, the non-believer has to find the qualities of the divine we “sense” epistemically and apply them to something else. It’s not just a new morality from the demise of Christianity that Nietzsche described that we can reconstruct. It can be everything else.

The archetypal elements of all religions—flawed human existence, salvation, eternal life, a transcendant being—leak out and find their way into the cracks of some other construct. The more religion-minded of us might apply it to the atheism of Buddhism while the more secularized of us have an array of choices, one them being scientism.

Idolizing unscientific phenomena—even the morality found in natural law, if it impedes advancement—is mortal sin, religion is the devil, the apotheosis of the human soul (the Judeo-Christian soul or the classical Greek version, it’s sometimes hard to tell) is reached through arcane hypercomputerization, academics are the priests and the classroom is the temple. The paradox of induction, the dilemma of direct and indirect realism, for starters, which are written into the scientific method are articles of faith for scientists.

Just read Clarke’s Odyessey series, or Ghost in the Shell, Asimov, Disch, Ellison, Heinlein, Wells. I haven’t touched all of those but what I have so far is very telling.

For further, more organized, reading:
Atheism and Science Fiction at the Science Fiction Observer
Science fiction author asks, why are atheists who write space operas supposed to know best whether God exists? at Uncommon Descent
Does reading science fiction predispose people to atheism? at Wintery Knight
Why Reading Fiction Should Matter to Atheists at Friendly Atheist
Richard Dawkins Is Killing SF! at Jack of Ravens

Atom doodle by tonybaize.