The Ghost in My Machine
David Lodge has been one of my favorite authors since I read his brilliant satires of academic life, Changing Places and Small World. His new novel, Thinks . . . , retains the bawdy humor and satiric range of these earlier works. Professor Ralph Messenger, a paradigmatic scientific reductionist and lifelong philanderer, has a romance with a lady novelist, carried on—or expressed—mainly in the parallel journals that they keep.
Messenger insists that the only reality is one that can be captured in the objective, third-person manner of scientific explanation. Helen, the novelist, exists in the world of first-person narrative. After all, she is a novelist, as is David Lodge. The result is a hilarious juxtaposition of opposing worldviews, linked by the reality of sexual desire and the constant experience of betrayal and deception.
I read the book with enjoyment, but just after I finished it, I had an experience that made me feel more like a character in the book than a reader. I had a mysterious, seemingly causeless right-brain stroke, which left me feeling that I was the “ghost in the machine” that Messenger insisted did not exist. Well, this ghost certainly did exist, with the powerful sense that the suddenly defective machine I inhabited was not “me.” My sense of being a soul in communication with other souls was only enhanced by the knowledge that I could no longer trust the machine, especially the brain, to do what it had always done.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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