Newman’s Nook: What Makes us Human

Is it our body that defines us? How do we define our ghost?

WARNING – This series discussed has some nudity, violence, and other graphical content which may not be suitable for younger viewers

Ghost in the Shell (GiTS) is a Japanese media franchise spanning film, television, and manga. The series has a cyber-punk feel that’s decidedly 80s in many ways. The various components of the various GiTS series involve the main character Major Motoko Kusanagi. Kusanagi is involved in a special-operations task-force (Section 9) and runs some major security operations. She also does not have a physical, organic human body. Instead Kusanagi has an entirely or nearly entirely cybernetic body. Depending on which GiTS variant we’re talking about, Kusanagi has either existed in a prosthetic/cybernetic body for most or all of her life. What has transferred from her original, organic body to her current artificial one is her cyberbrain, her memories, and her ghost.

At it’s core, GiTS is a series of very interesting cyberpunk crime stories, but beneath the surface it is so much more than that. The series asks us some important questions through the interactions and life of Major Kusanagi. As Kusanagi herself sometimes questions, what actually makes her a human? With a fully prosthetic body and cyberbrain, is she even really a person? In various stories, we’ve seen the memories of her and others distorted and warped by hackers with the ability to re-program cyberbrains. With memories not even being reliable sources of how she lived, how can she know that she’s really a person at all? And what exactly is her ghost that Kusanagi feels the tug from throughout the series?

The creator of the original GiTS manga, Shirow Masamune, in commentary on his manga wrote this on the idea of a person’s “ghost”

Personally, I think all things in nature have “ghosts.” This is a form of pantheism, and similar to the ideas found in Shinto or among believers in the Manitou. Because of the complexity and function, and the physical constraints they have when they appear as a physical phenomenon, it may be impossible to scientifically prove this. There are, after all, humans who act more like robots than robots, and one cannot say for certain that they have no ghosts just because they don’t act like it.

A ghost, in Masamune’s mind, is what connects the body or all natural objects to the spiritual. It is, in a way, similar to the Christian concept of the soul. But, is it? And if so, does Christianity teach that all living things have a spirit? Various Christian perspectives exist on the matter, but the general consensus is that while all living things will inherently have “the breath of life,” they do not necessarily have an eternal, permanent spiritual existence as is believed to exist for humans. Humans are, as the Bible notes, created in God’s image and therefore have a spiritual component like God Himself. Animals and plants do not. Humans are, as some Christian scholars would phrase it, an eternal soul which has a limited, physical body.

The question that GiTS continues to bring up is – what makes a person? Is a fully cybernetic being a person? Is a clone a person? As science continues to catch up to science fiction in its ability to create, these questions are going to become more relevant. GiTS makes you think about these things and, frankly, I have come to a position where I myself am unsure. When I find myself in such a situation, I turn to the Bible.

The Bible is fairly clear on many things. It is clear on the reality of God. It is clear on the concept of sin. It is clear that we as human beings are flawed creatures in need of salvation from a God who willingly wrapped Himself in flesh and suffered on our behalf. These things are clear to me. Yet, as I read the Word what is not clear is this – is a cyborg a human? An alternative way of putting the question is – could a soul have a cybernetic, artificial body instead of one made of flesh and blood?

On clones, GotQuestions has an interesting article about human cloning from a Biblical perspective and it explains why it feels we should not do it. However, as to whether a human clone would in fact be ensouled, the article said the following:

A frequent question is whether a cloned human being, assuming that human cloning is one day successful, would have a soul. Genesis 2:7 says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Here is the description of God creating a living, human soul. Souls are what we are, not what we have (1 Corinthians 15:45). The question is what kind of living soul would be created by human cloning? That is not a question that can be conclusively answered. It seems, though, that if a human being were successfully cloned, the clone would be just as much of a human being, including having an eternal soul, as any other human being.

Humans are inherently image-bearers of God. If they are made in a natural manner or artificially in a laboratory, something that is physically a human made of human flesh still would be ensouled. What would a soul created by man look like? The author does not know, yet they are certain that this would also be a soul with a body as the two are intertwined Biblically. However, a cyborg is not a clone.

A cyborg is an artificially created body made not in the image of God, but in the image of man. The body of a cyborg is a prosthetic devised to house the mind of human. Is a fully cybernetic body the equivalent to any other prosthetic? I’m not sure. I have two siblings with prosthetic legs. Are my sibling’s prosthetic legs any less a part of them because they are made of steel and foam as opposed to flesh and bones? Of course not. Does this same mindset still apply to Major Kusanagi’s entirely cybernetic body? Is there a way to transfer her entire being from her original body into a prosthetic so that she ceases to be a soul with one body but a soul with a different body?

The truth is even after all this discussion, all this research, and all this reading of the Bible, I have no idea. I do not know if the soul of man can exist inside of an artificial shell. I do not know at what point a person ceases to be a person and become solely machine. While I am confident that which was always machine will always be machine, if a machine exists which was built to house the being of a person – I am still not sure if that person’s ghost continues to exist inside of that new shell. Are you?

Matthew Newman is an environmental engineer (Professionally licensed in Maryland). He's also a husband, beard aficionado, Dad of four beautiful children, blogger, and all around geeky guy from Baltimore County. When he's not chasing his kids or working, he's probably asleep.
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