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Friday, December 19, 2008

21st century philosophical questions asked in cyberpunk anime


When we think of anime titles such as Serial Experiments Lain and Ghost in the shell, one would notice the overarching question posed by humankind. "Where am I amidst technology?" This question is timely since this era is an era unlike any other. For the first time, technology enables us to separate identity from our physical body.

In Serial Experiments Lain, the protagonist discovers the world called as "the wired", (which is like an entity similar to the internet) throughout the course of the series, she gradually loses herself (in a real-world sense) and gets more and more into the wired. It would be interesting to note the invitation of her classmate at the beginning of the series to dispose of her flesh and come with her to the wired. In my understanding, the issue raised by the creators of this series is the transfer of consciousness out of the physical body. For a long time, we have associated consciousness with the physical mind. What happens if this consciousness manages to find a suitable (or superior) host? Where is the metaphysical "me", then? Furthermore, if my consciousness can be separated into such hosts, does it imply that we don't need physical bodies anymore?

Ghost in the Shell, on the other hand, focuses on the question, "Does the real "I" exist amidst these cybernetic body parts?" In this series, heavily cyberized special policemen tackle a formidable hacker. The main character, Motoko Kusanagi is the focal point of the story as she is the one searching for her soul. She is an interesting character since it is said in the first movie that every bit of her is just government property. The characters have "cyber brains", or brains that can access the internet and disposable bodies. It differs from the other series because in GITS, the integration of consciousness into a wired network, and the separation of identity from a single physical body is already given, in fact it's already normal. However, Kusanagi occasionally recieves intuition from her "ghost" and this raises an issue about the existence of a soul separate from her heavily mechanized body.

This presents a new issue different from Lain. In GITS, the question is more than where my metaphysical "me" is located. It is essentialy a question of whether this "me" really exists as a real entity at all, since it is possible that this "me" is just a product of sophisticated technology. In an age where entire consciousness' can switch bodies at will, the boundary between identity and physicality blurs.

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