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Ghost in the machine

Ghost in the machine is a phrase that arose in the field of philosophy, though it is slowly making its way into more mainstream English usage. We will look at the original meaning of the term ghost in the machine, where it came from and how its use is being applied today. We will also examine a few examples of its use in sentences.

The ghost in the machine means the consciousness or mind carried in a physical entity. Gilbert Ryle coined the term in his 1949 work The Concept of Mind as a criticism of René Descartes. Descartes believed in dualism, the idea that the human mind is not physical, that it exists independently of the human brain. Ryle referred to this idea as the ghost in the machine. He believed that human consciousness and mind are very dependent on the human brain. The term ghost in the machine has come to also describe the supposed consciousness in a device that behaves as if it has a will that is independent of what the human operator wants the device to do. Computer programmers have appropriated the term ghost in the machine to explain when a programs runs contrary to their expectations. The idiom ghost in the machine is a metaphor, which is a comparison that is made figuratively.


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Examples

Is Consciousness a Ghost in the Machine?
A new theory speculates how consciousness arises in the brain (Psychology Today Magazine)

When Mike kicks Ed out of the house and fires him, Ed goes into full “Fatal Attraction” mode, but instead of boiling a bunny he becomes the ghost in the machine, haunting the family through their technology: their smart home, smart car and smart phones. (The Chicago Tribune)

Going autonomous, while fascinating, presents its own world of challenges; after all, how does one find the ghost in the machine and tell it what to do? (The Sooke News Mirror)

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