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The Ghost in the Machine

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  279 ratings  ·  27 reviews
Koestler examines the notion that the parts of the human brain-structure which account for reason and emotion are not fully coordinated. This kind of deficiency may explain the paranoia, violence, and insanity that are central parts of human history, according to Koestler's challenging analysis of the human predicament.
Paperback, 400 pages
Published December 7th 1990 by Arkana (first published 1967)
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Chrissy
I have to start by pointing out a serious rift between why I was recommended this book and why I kept reading it: a philosophy major drunkenly trying to defend free will told me I might be impressed by the book's arguments, and I took it as a challenge. I'd love to see an intelligent response to determinism, a sharp knife to poke at the thick skin of my convictions.

To be frank, I did not find that in this book.

Koestler's arguments against determinism are, to my perspective, peripheral to the bul
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Tony
Koestler, Arthur. THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE. (1967). ***.
Koestler was born in Budapest in 1905 and spent his early career as a journalist. In the early 1930s he joined the Communist Party, but was soon disillusioned by the atrocities committed by Stalin. He resigned from the party and published a novel, “Darkness at Noon,” which decried the existence of a totalitarian ruling party. The novel rocketed him to fame and he went on to devote the rest of his career to writing. He had a major interest
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Adam
I remember this book was very dense and academic (not scientifically so, but his writing style is pretty arch, if I remember correctly) but very interesting. It's either about neurobiology, psychology, or metaphysics, or all three. I recommend it, I think. And since I'm the only one so far to have written a review of it, you're just going to have to trust me.
Mark Longo
I'm a little torn on this one. At times, Koestler's brilliance dazzles, as when he describes his conception of "holons", Janus-faced part/holes ubiquitous in natural systems. His deconstruction of behaviorism is also quite entertaining, and devastating, though dated by now. And overall, the book is filled with piercing insights by a thoughtful and perceptive author. However, there's also a whole lot of crap in this book, just flat out nonsense, particularly as related to evolutionary theory. Per ...more
Gaelan D'costa
I intuitively agree with Arthur Koestler's organization of psychological, individual and sociological units into 'holons' which appear unified from one direction and distributed into separate pieces from the other.

I also agree with his summation that the integrative tendencies of man have, though necessary, produced far more upset in this world than the self-assertive tendencies of individuals.

The book is dated, so there are debatable assumptions that stem from eurocentrism, the continued existe
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John
Chances are that brain-function knowledge has improved since the 60s when Koestler wrote this. But armed with what was known then, this book makes a strong scientific case for what Kurt Vonnegut always liked to say, that our biggest problem is that our brains are too big for our own good. Behind the scenes is Koestler's obsession with how someone as intelligent as himself could have been duped into being an active member of the Communist Party at the height of Stalin's purges, but I think that o ...more
W.B.
A nonpareil example of interdisciplinary writing. The year in the think tank for Koestler issued in an amazing book. The challenges to straightforward Darwinian evolution put forth by a man of letters are more cogent than those put forward by many better-trained scientists (true, he was utilitizing and synthesizing information gained directly from scientists in that think tank experiment). A missed classic. If the science he puts forward here is repeatable, this is going to be one of those examp ...more
Dan
Koestler himself is not a scientist, but he is very interested in science, and particularly in how the human mind works. In this book, Koestler explores on the intellectual, emotional and creative processes of the mind, employing ideas from such fields as psychology, biology, physics and art in an analysis of how we organize knowledge and how we think. Koestler’s writing is clear, and he employs both examples and diagrams to supply concreteness to his arguments.
Marc
Koestler examines the notion that the parts of the human brain-structure which account for reason and emotion are not fully coordinated.

This kind of deficiency may explain the paranoia, violence, and insanity that are central parts of human history, according to Koestler's challenging analysis of the human predicament.

Masterful . An excellent discussion of the pitfalls of Behaviorism and the many facets of biology, anthropology, and evolution.
Oliver Wood
Via years of research at various symposiums and tutorials, Ghost in the Machine sees Athur Koestler take on some of the big topics of evolutionary biology and philosophy of mind. The book starts out with some fairly straightforward refutations of behavioursm. Although Koestler's couldn't have known at the time, these might have been left out altogether since the theory will have gone out of fashion 20 years later. But it's what follows after the examination of behaviourism that's integral to the ...more
David Balfour
This is well worth reading but it's still a bit of a disappointment. The first book in the Act of Creation is one of my favourite books so I had high expectations for Ghost in the Machine and it begins very promisingly. Koestler's criticism of Behaviourism and his section on the 'Poverty of Psychology' are spot on. The Holon is an incredibly useful idea which I had already understood intuitively and it was a delight to see it explained so well. Things go downhill soon after, however. There's a v ...more
Williwaw
I read this book when I was young, and I remember it as an incredible, multi-disciplinary, intellectual adventure! It was dazzling.

To my amazement, I recently found a copy of the first American edition at a thrift store and did not hesitate to purchase it.

I hope to re-read it soon.
Mira
This was working up to be a pretty interesting analysis of the mind and its layers of emotional and logical tendencies...it just took so long to get anywhere and as soon as the tables and diagrams came out, I lost interest.

In terms of being about human impulse to violence, or an ancestral memory of primitive behaviour, I might give it another go one day...
One thing I think makes me start books like this is the debate that repression might induce primitive outbursts, or the plastic environments a
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Judith Mosconi
I would read this author again. I found it a little difficult to read as there were a number of references I didn't understand; rugby and soccer team references. Also, particular Scottish references that were confusing.
Nuno
Koestler makes some amazing arguments on the structure and evolution of life (really worth reading). He seems to be one of the pioneers behind some of the concepts that inspired multi-agent systems and artificial intelligence (from a philosophical standpoint).
Regardless of the great discussions and insight given by Koestler, his writing is sometimes peculiar (perhaps because it is from 1950s), which made it hard to understand and follow some parts of the book. I suspect however, that's mostly be
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Mark Maguire
A difficult but fascinating work, written by one of the most influential and important authors within the field.

The Author's' critique of the Behavioural Shool; Positivist methodology, and Passive Darwinism are as detailed as they are apposite. I certainly feel more able to contribute to existing debates within the field as a result of reading this book.


A fascinating book, which will act as a foundation for further studies in this area.
RK Byers
Koestler's bugging. first of all, not all of us would even ADMIT that there's a ghost in our own individual machines, but also to imagine that some magic pill - in a country where weed isn't even legal - is the solution makes me think he contrived this whole thing at the behest of some drug company.
Steven Peterson
A work that examines how the human brain has a "ghost" within it. Koestler calls upon a number of disciplines to explain. He suggests that synthesizing these various disciplines leads to concern about human "schizophysiology," as he puts it.
Mark Singer
Just thinking about this book makes my brain hurt. 8^)
In brief, here it is:
Koestler, a brilliant polymath but not a scientist, posits a theory that flawed development of the brain has left humanity with a tendency for self-destruction.

John Brooke
The mysterious dominance of one brain hemisphere over the other. Clearly writen by a master who can make complicated scientific stuff easy to follow. Always a good read and worth reading every few years.
Mommalibrarian
History of science. Very illuminating until he lets his personal opinion get the best of him and just goes on and on about the faults of certain scientists.
Barbelo
Interesting book, read it in uni, it introduces the idea of Holons, and a bunch of other stuff, tough going through the biology section.
Chastity
Long and difficult read, but an interesting insight into how Koestler believes our minds work. Must read slowly.
David
Although when I read it, mots of it went over my head, I enjoyed the concepts.
JooooN OOOOOON
Academic, a bit outdated though.
Judith
Had a life long impact on my thinking.
Patrick Whitman


Couldn't finish.
Alexa
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Mar 01, 2015
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Feb 26, 2015
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Arthur Koestler CBE [*Kösztler Artúr] was a prolific writer of essays, novels and autobiographies.

He was born into a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest but, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. His early career was in journalism. In 1931 he joined the Communist Party of Germany but, disillusioned, he resigned from it in 1938 and in 1940 published a devastating anti-Communis
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More about Arthur Koestler...
Darkness at Noon The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe The Act of Creation The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and its Heritage The Roots of Coincidence

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“I think most historians would agree that the part played by impulses of selfish, individual aggression in the holocausts of history was small; first and foremost, the slaughter was meant as an offering to the gods, to king and country, or the future happiness of mankind. The crimes of a Caligula shrink to insignificance compared to the havoc wrought by Torquemada. The number of victims of robbers, highwaymen, rapists, gangsters and other criminals at any period of history is negligible compared to the massive numbers of those cheerfully slain in the name of the true religion, just policy or correct ideology. Heretics were tortured and burnt not in anger but in sorrow, for the good of their immortal souls. Tribal warfare was waged in the purported interest of the tribe, not of the individual. Wars of religion were fought to decide some fine point in theology or semantics. Wars of succession dynastic wars, national wars, civil wars, were fought to decide issues equally remote from the personal self-interest of the combatants.

Let me repeat: the crimes of violence committed for selfish, personal motives are historically insignificant compared to those committed ad majorem gloriam Dei, out of a self-sacrificing devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith or a political conviction. Man has always been prepared not only to kill but also to die for good, bad or completely futile causes. And what can be a more valid proof of the reality of the self-transcending urge than this readiness to die for an ideal?”
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“When one contemplates the streak of insanity running through human history, it appears highly probable that homo sapiens is a biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process. The ancient doctrine of original sin, variants of which occur independently in the mythologies of diverse cultures, could be a reflection of man's awareness of his own inadequacy, of the intuitive hunch that somewhere along the line of his ascent something has gone wrong.” 7 likes
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