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The Ghost in the Machine (Arkana) Paperback – June 5, 1990


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Product Details

  • Series: Arkana
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (June 5, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140191925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140191929
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #414,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Born in Budapest in 1905, educated in Vienna, Arthur Koestler immersed himself in the major ideological and social conflicts of his time. A communist during the 1930s, and visitor for a time in the Soviet Union, he became disillusioned with the Party and left it in 1938. Later that year in Spain, he was captured by the Fascist forces under Franco, and sentenced to death. Released through the last-minute intervention of the British government, he went to France where, the following year, he again was arrested for his political views. Released in 1940, he went to England, where he made his home. His novels, reportage, autobiographical works, and political and cultural writings established him as an important commentator on the dilemmas of the 20th century. He died in 1983.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By R Bell on February 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
When I first read this book I was stunned... and as one of the other reviewers said, baffled by why he produced that ending! (it's the ending which has "taken" one star off my rating). Always the polymath, Koestler starts by covering psychology, including Skinner's experiments with rats and subsequent theories on human nature which he pulls apart thoroughly. Koestler then comes out with the unfashionable theory that the human brain may have evolutionary flaws in it, since it was merely built on the older more primitive brains of its ancestors and the new and old parts do not always communicate well with one another. Partially because of this we have a lot of the problems of human life such as the urge to self-destruction and violence, which emanate from the older parts of the brain. He ties this in with history and if I remember, results of some shocking experiments. It has lost some of its immediacy since the end of the Cold War (nuclear bombs are still with us more than ever in Israel, Pakistan, India, China etc).
While I have simplified some of the book's ideas above, it is not always light reading, but it can be read by a layman. I think some of the subjects Koestler tackles are taboo (such as the idea humans overall are instrinsically "evil") rather than innately good, and he dismisses wishful thinking. Some people do take issue with his ideas... unfortunately some of the attacks are ad hominem... but where they aren't I suggest you examine very carefully both sides of the story. The message in this book is still pertinent enough, even if the proposed solution isn't.
(if you would like to read more on Koestler, read my review and others, about Cesarani's biography of him on this site)
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61 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Imaginary Albums on February 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
�A man coins not a new word without some peril; for if it happens to be received, the praise is but moderate; if refused, the scorn is assured.�
So wrote Ben Jonson, and so quoted Arthur Koestler on page 48 of his The Ghost in the Machine (1967). Koestler inserted the quotation to express the uneasiness he felt at suggesting a neologism. The very useful word he coined��holon��seems to have gone tragically underappreciated, while Koestler has, I suspect, not received much in the way of scorn for his impudence (at least in this respect). Jonson was wrong. A man coins not a new word without some peril, it�s true. But the nature of the peril is this: if it happens to be received, the praise is but moderate; if refused, the coiner gets not even scorn.
What is a holon? Coined from the Greek holos (whole) and the diminutive suffix -on (after the pattern of proton, electron, etc.), the term holon �may be applied to any stable biological or social sub-whole which displays rule-governed behavior.� Koestler writes:
Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domain of life.... The organism is to be regarded as a multi-leveled hierarchy of semi-autonomous sub-wholes, branching into sub-wholes of a lower order, and so on. Sub-wholes on any level of the hierarchy are referred to as holons. Biological holons are self-regulating open systems which display both the autonomous properties of wholes and the dependent properties of parts. This dichotomy is present on every level of every type of hierarchic organization, and is referred to as the Janus Effect.... The concept of holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approaches. (Appendix I.1; scrambled somewhat for conciseness.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Brianton on April 15, 2002
Format: Paperback
What an enigma Arthur Koestler was! His books range from Zionism to telepathic powers, as well as novels about the Stalinist trials. The Ghost in the machine was my introduction to his writings and it is an astonishing approach to evolution -explained simply leading to frightening and telling conclusions about man and his capacity for war. It is the work of a mind that cannot keep still and keep taking one step further on. Read it and I hope that it opens this exciting and daunting author to you as well. I was never the same after reading it and it has coloured all my thinking ever since. Read it and understand the Taliban, World War One and the Ku Klux Klan. It is nothing less than an evolutionary argument for our collective insanity.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on October 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
This, Koestler's crowning scientific analysis of the predicament of man (at least as that predicament is seen through the flawed eyes of the behaviorist model), is an impressive achievement. Other than the works of Ernest Becker ("Denial of Death," "Escape From Evil," and "The Birth and Death of Meaning," in particular), or Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil," I know of nothing that even comes close to this panoramic, thorough and incisive, deconstruction, analysis and then synthesis of how man got into his present moral cul de sac. To say that this is a monumental critique of behaviorism and its underlying psychological models would be a gross understatement. There is simply nothing else in the intellectual universe that quite compares to it. Even to a trained Behaviorist like myself, it's clear exacting language alone puts it in an elite class of English writers comparable only to that of say, a Sir Winston Churchill. Or even for those who have heaped scorn upon Koestler's works, no one in search of a model of literary and intellectual clarity can do better than his writings. It is not accidental that Koestler's works on three occasions have been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Believe what he says or not, his exposition simply remains unsurpassed.

Unlike Becker, or Nietzsche, or even Kierkegaard, who all see man's confusing moral existence on earth as simply a monumental existential tragedy, urged along mostly by the confusion of his own narcissistic self-important, or his fear of death or his twisted drama of the web of cultural meanings and misunderstandings, Koestler sees it more as the pathological consequence of a series of specialized and cumulative evolutionary mistakes.
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