I am sure this is just part of the maturation process—but do you ever look back on amazing movies, books, or albums and discover things you never knew?
I always thought the title of The Police’s 4th studio album Ghost in the Machine was just plain cool—NOT to even mention the amazing album cover. The album was originally released on 2 October 1981 by A&M. The songs were recorded between January and September 1981 during sessions that took place at AIR Studios in Montserrat and Le Studio in Quebec.
Maybe it was just me—I had no idea much of the material on the album was inspired by Arthur Koestler’s 1967 philosophical psychology book The Ghost in the Machine, which provided the album’s title. Further—it was also the first Police album to bear an English-language title.
The “ghost in the machine” was actually British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of René Descartes’ mind-body dualism. Ryle introduced the phrase in The Concept of Mind (1949) to highlight the view of Descartes and others that mental and physical activity occur simultaneously but separately.
Gilbert Ryle (1900–76) was a philosopher who lectured at Oxford and made important contributions to the philosophy of mind and to “ordinary language philosophy”. His most important writings include Philosophical Arguments (1945), The Concept of Mind (1949), Dilemmas (1954), Plato’s Progress (1966), and On Thinking (1979).
Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949) critiques the notion that the mind is distinct from the body and refers to the idea as “the ghost in the machine”. According to Ryle, the classical theory of mind, or “Cartesian rationalism”, makes a basic category mistake, because it attempts to analyze the relation between “mind” and “body” as if they were terms of the same logical category. This confusion of logical categories may be seen in other theories of the relation between mind and matter. For example, the idealist theory of mind makes a basic category mistake by attempting to reduce physical reality to the same status as mental reality, while the materialist theory of mind makes a basic category mistake by attempting to reduce mental reality to the same status as physical reality.
Of course Sting was an avid reader of Koestler. The subsequent Police album Synchronicity was inspired by Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence, which mentions Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity.
The cover art for Ghost in the Machine features a seven-segment display-inspired graphic that depicts the heads of the three band members, each with a distinctive hair style (from left to right, Andy Summers, Sting with spiky hair, and Stewart Copeland with a fringe); the band was unable to decide on a photograph to use for the cover. Wire bonds can be seen on the original issue vinyl album cover, suggesting perhaps that the display is a photographic collage. The album’s cover is ranked at No. 45 in VH1’s 50 Greatest Album Covers.
This concept of the Ghost in the Machine shows up a good bit in pop-culture as well:
The Japanese manga and anime Ghost in the Shell takes place in a future where computer technology has evolved to be able to interface with the human brain making artificial intelligence and cyber-brains indistinguishable from organic brains. The main character, Major Motoko Kusanagi has a body that is completely cybernetic, her brain being the only part of her that is still human. The manga’s creator Masamune Shirow adapted the title from Koestler’s book as well.
The main character in the book Ready Player One, which was released as a movie in 2018, references this phrase during an encounter with the digital avatar of the OASIS’s creator.
A Season 3 episode of The Transformers (TV series) (1986) is titled “Ghost In The Machine”, where the ghost of Starscream possesses Scourge, Astrotrain, and Trypticon in a scheme to get Unicron to recreate his body. In this case it is a literal ghost in literal machines (robots).
UP NEXT—Carl Jung, Sting, and Synchronicity