?Ghost in the Machine?

You see, the reason why Descartes and his boys couldn?t solve this paradox for themselves is because someone in their ?hood made a mistake along the way and said that G-d was spiritual.

Contributing Author

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
The British philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined the phrase ?the ghost in the machine? as an expression of his and others? dissatisfaction with Renee Descartes? theory of mind-body interaction. Descartes theory, in brief, was that the experience of being self-aware - in other words, of being conscious of what one is experiencing at any given moment - is a result of the interaction between the activity of one?s physical brain (i.e., neurons, neurotransmitters etc.) and one?s spiritual mind (i.e., one?s conscious self). Their synthesis allows us to sense and react to pain, pleasure etc., as well as to make and carry out decisions.

The essential criticism other philosophers had of Descartes? theory, was that it was incomplete. It lacked an explanation of the means whereby this process occurs. Descartes? idea seemed appealing, in a sense; however, logic dictated that what he was proposing was impossible. Spirituality connotes transcendence, infinitude, boundlessness. Physicality ? just the opposite. Anything spiritual is not, and seemingly cannot be bound by anything physical. An idea, for example, cannot be clutched in the palm of one?s hand. Similarly, one cannot measure the dimensions of a concept, saying that this concept is such and such weight or length. The problem is not that a concept is too lofty or difficult to measure with precision, but rather, these qualities of weight and length simply do not apply to concepts and ideas. How then is it possible that a totally spiritual substance such as the mind (which Descartes at times referred to as the soul), can manage to be contained within something as coarsely physical as the brain? How can a ghost be contained in a machine? Well, say the teachings of Chassidus, herein lies the deepest secret of Divinity.

You see, the reason why Descartes and his boys couldn?t solve this paradox for themselves is because someone in their ?hood made a mistake along the way and said that G-d was spiritual.

G-d is not spiritual. Nor is He physical. By virtue of having created both, He remains forever exempt from their rules. This is how G-d is able to intervene and surpass the natural laws of both realities and unite them into One. If G-d didn?t actively keep this up at every moment, G-d forbid, the whole thing would indeed collapse immediately. Which is what the philosophers reasoned should be happening, and could not explain how it wasn?t.

This whole thing actually can be taken one step further. Devoid of this G-dly force acting on these two aspects of the human (mind-brain/soul-body), not only would one not be able to experience self-awareness - one would actually cease to exist entirely, G-d forbid. Furthermore, it would be as if one had never existed in the first place. This is because even the supposed ?natural? reality of our physical bodies and our spiritual souls are in truth not natural at all.

While the sun may have risen every single day for the past 5763 years of creation, there is still no guarantee that it will rise again tomorrow. The supposed ?laws? governing our natural universe were set up by G-d, and the choice remains G-d?s as to whether they continue or not. The sun does not rise in the morning and we do not breathe because of any inherent natural ?law?. Every breath we take is a Divine gift, every sunrise a miracle; no less than that of the splitting of the Red Sea, or of containing the ghost of the mind in the machine of the brain.

This unremitting incredibility happens not only in brains or the sun. Everything in our world has both a physical and spiritual existence, even inanimate objects such as rocks and minerals. This is what the Talmud is referring to when it says that every plant has a corresponding energy force that continuously commands it to grow. And like the mind interacts with the brain does this energy force interact with the physical plant and cause it to grow, by way of Divine intervention. If this intervention were to cease, the plant would die instantly. And if G-d were to stop willing the plant into existence, it would totally disappear, and be as if it never was.

These teachings may have sounded quite esoteric and difficult to comprehend once upon a time in our history. Our universe has since matured, however, and we humans together with it. These underlying truths have therefore now become more understandable, and even empirically evident, not only to the mind?s eye, but in experiential reality as well. The point at which science ends and metaphysics begins is becoming progressively hazier. Vanishing with it are the boundaries that once sharply delineated the very realms of the physical and the spiritual. One need but skim any contemporary physics journal to learn about how space and time collapse and the interchangeability of matter and energy. Internet and cell phones are just two examples of how modern technology has opened the doors for us to experience the mutability of distance first hand. This process of revelation is indeed occurring quite rapidly. Our choice in the matter at this point, is merely whether or not we wish to tune in.

May we all be granted with the strength and will to embark wholeheartedly on the journey of revelation and bring others along with us for the ride. And may our collective redemption, as well as each individual?s respective redemptions, at long last culminate, so that we can then fully experience the consciousness of having the ?Earth filled with the knowledge of the Divine, like water covers the sea.? (Isaiah 11:9)
Rochel Levi is a young freelance Jewish writer. Her thoughts have appeared in a variety of Jewish publications both online and off. Rochel?s inspiration is nourished by the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.