Of Ghosts, Shells and other Demons

A digital essay on contemporary society based on the Ghost in The Shell Franchise (GiTS)


From the beginning of robotics and artificial beings, there has been the assumption that humans are at a higher level than those artificial beings.

Consequently, when an A.I., or robotics, makes a breakthrough, the question of whether the machine has become human arises. We saw such a situation when AlphaGo cracked the game of GO, or when an A.I. produced a piece of art that was sold by a price higher than any other human-made.

But what if humans are not that special and our egos, i.e., our notions of self, can be manipulated by technology?

In this perspective, asking whether the machine has become human is wrong. We should instead ask, how artificial or mechanical have humans become?

I will illustrate this based on material from the Ghost in The Shell franchise (GiTS)

First law of robotics

Already, Asimov’s first laws of robotics put humans as superior to machines. The law says: “a robot shall not harm a human, or by inaction allow a human to come to harm .” For the law to apply, robots ought to show servitude to humans. This hierarchy is very much in line with the western colonialist perspectives. In the colonies, the colonizers are above the original inhabitants of the colonies. In his book “I, Robot”, Asimov proposes several situations where the first law of robotics is essential for humans to keep control over robots. In his futuristic universes, robots have become so advanced and superior to humans that the only thing that prevents them from taking control is the first law of robotics embedded in the core of their positronic brains.

In other words, the view that humans are superior to machines is a situated perspective. A situated perspective is a perspective that presupposes some idea of the world and judges other views as wrong. As Haraway points out, all views are situated. In particular, scientific and academic theories are situated. For example, the scientific perspective presupposes that Mathematics is the correct language to describe nature, and if something cannot be quantified with numbers, it is not science.

Contemporary Society

“We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster”

Carl Sagan

the introduction of NFTs shows that nowadays some people are whiling to give as much value to a digital token as to a physical object.

Technology is becoming a means to transcend our earthly limitations and claims its rightful place as a sentient being.

The metaverse, or digital identities in general, opens the possibility of being whoever I want to be. Following Haraway, I can say that I am a cyborg because I am a collection of individualities. I have my organic body, but I have a presence on Instagram, Facebook, and several blockchains. They are genuine shells that I use to exhibit part of my Ghost. I can also transfer my Ghost from one shell to another. I am a ghost with many shells in my everyday life… 

…But how real are those memories?

As humans, we are moving into a posthumanism, where the organically physical body is no longer the gravitational center but our fusion as one being with technology in the sea of information.

I can no longer function correctly in this society without several technological augmentations. These are not embedded in my organic body. However, my phone, computer, Facebook profile, and many faces on the blockchain are essential to my identity(Ghost). Without them, I will be just a shell. Technology has become, to me, a companion species. I spend more time with my phone than with my dog. We fuse with technology like the Kusanagi merged with the Puppet Master. The question of what the difference is no longer relevant.

The End

of the core argumentation

Aditional Material

References, and others…


  • Ghost in the Shell (movie) – Mamoru Oshii (Director) – Production I.G. – 1995
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (movie) – Mamoru Oshii (Director) – Production I.G. /Studio Ghibli – 2004
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – After the Long Goodbye (novel) – Masaki Yamada – VIZ LLC – 2005
  • Ghost in the Shell Global Neural Network (manga) –  Max Glabstone et.al (Author) – Glannis Milonogiannis et.al (Illustrator) – Kodanska – 2019
  • Ghost in the Shell Wiki (webpage) – 2022 – https://ghostintheshell.fandom.com/wiki/Ghost_in_the_Shell_Wiki
  • The Most Profound Moment in the History of Animated Film (youtube) – Max Derrat – 2021 – https://youtu.be/8BGjub9ZNHg
  • Ghost In The Shell – Film Analysis – Motoko’s Dilemma (youtube) – AnimeEveryday – 2014 – https://youtu.be/l9v8FzQ2btg
  • Beautiful Darkness: Analysis of Ghost in the Shell 2 (youtube) – Harrison Chute – 2015 – https://youtu.be/FQ4uugLUkeM
  • I, Robot (audio book) – Isaac Asimov – Harper Collins – 2019
  • Neuromancer (audio book) – William Gibson – W. F. Howes Ltd – 2021
  • Collective Bodies (lectures) – Klass Kuitenbrouwer – Gerrit Rietveld Academy – DogTime Program – 2022
  • The companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness – Donna Haraway (book) – Prickly Paradigm Press – 2003
  • Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective (article) – Donna Haraway – Femisit Studies, vol 14, No 3, pp 575-599 – 1988
  • From Cyborgs to Companion Species (youtube) – Donna Haraway – UC Berkley Events – 2011 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9gis7-Jads&t=1436s
  • Cyborg Manifesto (youtube) – Donna Haraway – Resonance Audio – 2015 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT4bhRMV298&t=2301s
  • Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto” (youtube) – Rebeca Longtin – 2021
  • Posthuman Glossary (book) – ed Rosi Braidotti et.al – Bloomsbury Academic – 2018
  • The end of the World(s) (youtube) – Frederico Campagna – Riboca – 2020
  • Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (book) – Graham Harman – re.press – 2009

Ghosts & Shells

Text mainly based on homonymous entry in the GiTS Wiki

A shell is a physical object that can host a ghost. For example, it can be a human body, an animal body, a cybernetic body, or a machine.

A Ghost can be compared to the western concept of the soul. The main difference is that the soul belongs to the spiritual world, whereas a Ghost belongs to the world of science.

A Ghost is what defines living beings. At the beginning of the first film, a Ghost is understood as what defines humans. In other words, the difference between a human and a robot is that the former has a Ghost, whereas the latter does not.

During the films, this concept of Ghost evolves to not being only a defining characteristic of humans but of living beings in general. That means that other non-human beings would also have a Ghost. Moreover, there can also be living beings that come into existence without a shell. The Puppet-master in the first film is a ghost with no Shell. It was born on the “sea of information” and has enough consciousness to communicate with humans, seek political asylum, and aim for evolution to transcend its existence

In the Innocence novel, Gabriel, the dog of the cyborg Batou, has a ghost. In fact, it has a solid Ghost that only animals that have been loved can have. For this reason, it is kidnapped to extract his Ghost and copy it so that it can be used to give the resemblance of a Ghost to operational robots. For the same reason, his owner, Batou, goes through all the Kafkian underworld to rescue him because the Ghost of Gabriel wakes up his own Ghost that he wants to deny.

In the manga Global Neural Netwrok, story X we see how a father keeps moving the ghost of her lost daughter to keep her alive. It is then revealed that he has been kidnaping other girls bodies to keep his daughter alive.

A ghost retains its “humanity,” or living force, regardless of how much biological material is replaced by cybernetic parts.

Since a ghost is in the realm of science, it can be transferred from one shell to another. It can also be hacked to make it believe it is something other than it originally was.