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The Ghost in the Machine

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The Ghost in the Machine is a 1967 non-fiction work by Arthur Koestler. The title refers to British philosopher Gilbert Ryle's negative description of René Descartes' mind-body dualism. While himself rejecting what he refers as "crass dualism", Koestler is using a different approach, aiming at a more general explanatory principle, the hierarchical organization of life and the adaptability of living forms through a continuous exchange of energy and information. Following this principle down to its consequences, the book gets to a theme which has somehow never ceased to be of actuality, man's tendency towards self-destruction, which is reaching the height of its potential of expression in the nuclear arms arena.

The book is particularly critical of B. F. Skinner's Behaviorist theory of psychology.

One of the book's central concepts is that as the human brain has grown, it has built upon earlier, more primitive brain structures, and that these are the "ghost in the machine" of the title. Koestler's theory is that at times these structures can overpower cognitive logic, and are responsible for hate, anger and other such impulses.

Criticism of the book's theoriesEdit

Koestler's central assumption is that humanity's atavistic brain areas will lead it to self-destruction. However, the same areas responsible for hate and anger are also responsible for certain other emotions, such as love and happiness, which tend to be viewed more positively, although they can in themselves foster or lead to certain destructive urges on an individual level. Certain narcotics, for example, create what may be viewed as "positive emotions", despite their harmful long term effects.

However, Koestler was not a proponent of an emotionless humanity, in fact, he argued against it in The Sleepwalkers, The Act of Creation (1964), and other works.

In "Janus: A Summing Up" (1978) Koestler continues the theories developed in "The Ghost in the Machine" and further elaborates on the concept of holarchy.

Publication detailsEdit

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