The Ghost in The Machine


Huggert and Costopoulos take an introspective look at archaeology focusing on the effects digital technology has on the field. This discussions revolves around ideas of technology fetishism, anti-technology fetishism and the nature of digital archaeology vs archaeology conducted digitally. All questions are ones of reflexivity and how, if at all, the processes of technology affect the processes and outputs of archaeology. Huggert argues for an examination of these tools while Costopoulus argues that these tools can be explored to a fault where “self-awareness can lead to a level of self-consciousness such that actions become frozen by”(Costopoulus, 2016). Both discuss the nature of digital archaeology in the wider field of archaeology.

I agree with Huggert in a sense that reflexivity and introspection are extremely important factors to consider when interacting with any discipline. This debate of reflexivity and the effects of tools on observation and its process have had a history of contention in anthropology. John Collier writes about reflexivity as “changes brought about by the very presence of the observer”(Collier, 1986) and with this the photographers role in morphing perception. The same could be said for the shifted and selected view that technology might present in archaeology as Huggert states “we exist in archaeological ‘filter bubbles’ that have been knowingly or unwittingly created for us”(Huggert, 2016). The process of observing and methods for observation affect the outcome.

I also disagree with Huggert however as I don’t feel it is just the presence of “digital technology” that causes the distortion. Huggert titled a paragraph in his article “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology “ “The Ghost in the Machine” and to me the title not the content spoke to our relationship with technology and the discourse existing within a Cartesian division. We view ourselves and technology as different entities. Tim Ingold explores in his writings our relationship with technology how no such thing as technology existed in “premodern” societies. Technology was associated with skills rather than the production of complex artefacts (Ingold, 2000) To go onto Beniger’s view technology can be seen as an extension of natural capabilities that it stretches out the boundaries of what was possible without it(quoted in Chapman 2007). To Ingold and Beinger we embody technology. To me this causes a re-examining of the divisions between our processes and that of the digital. Like those between the ghost and the machine we find they don’t exist and operate autonomously. This re frames the question of reflexivity where technology is not an outside imposer on our processes but a result of our processes and actions. As Costopoulos argued these issue are questions not just of digital archaeology but archaeology as a whole. The processes and choices made in the archaeological process do not only exist within the digital. Once we realise that computational efforts are not separate we shift from it’s presence being a problem to our presence and actions forming these distortions. I agree strongly with Costopoulos “that DA will mature when it stops being a “thing” that only digital archaeologists do”(quoted in comment Huggertt, 2016) This will come with time and digital archaeology may become archaeology as it is an extension of our processes.

Chapman, Anne. Democratizing Technology: Risk, Responsibility and the Regulation of Chemicals. London: Earthscan, 2007. Print.

Collier, John, and Malcolm Collier. Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico, 1986. Print.

Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (2016)

Huggett, Jeremy. ““Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology”.” Blog post. Introspectivedigitalarchaeology. 10th May 2016. Accessed on 4th Dec. 2016.

Huggett, Jeremy. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1.1 (2015)

Ingold, Tim. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling & Skill. London: Routledge, (2000)

2 thoughts on “The Ghost in The Machine

  1. In response to, The Ghost in The Machine, by Ethan Fitzpatrick

    This post is really enjoyable, and very well written, although what stands out is how wording or concepts change, depending on which academic discipline the user has come from. The word Cartesian used in an archaeological sense is placing an artefact in a 3D mapped landscape, in Anthropology it is the dual relationship between mind and body. Possibly due to my lack of understanding the use of reflexivity raises some questions. Is reflexivity the reciprocal concept of cause and effect to the point where the first interaction becomes unknown? Is this applicable to archaeology, were the initial process is so destructive; that in the past many sites were untouched so future archaeological processes will do less damage during abstraction. In Archaeology the presence of the archaeologist changes nothing unless the dig involves an indigenous population. The ‘problems’ occur when archaeology takes place. As Ethan suggested this has always been the case, long before the concept of digital technology ever appeared. Descartes’s mind operating a mechanical body and Cartesian dualism V Ryle and his ‘Ghost in The Machine’ may also be observed as a concept that has moved through time. Ethan saw this in Huggert’s article. Ryle used it as a foil against Descartes’s theory; Koestler named his book after it; Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick considered machines in particular androids gaining consciousness (souls/emotions) as ‘Ghost in The Machine’. In the 21st century programmers consider unexplained computer problems as a ‘Ghost in The Machine’. The concept of the blog seems to be, that mankind’s curiosity, initiative and invention creates technology. This ‘technology’ for good or ill eases mankind’s path be it bronze axe to steel or balloon to space shuttle. The use of Digital in Archaeology is another step in this process and should be considered as such.
    Costopoulos, Andre. “Digital Archaeology Is Here (and Has Been for a While).” Frontiers in Digital Humanities 3 (2016)
    Huggett, Jeremy. ““Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology”.” Blog post. Introspectivedigitalarchaeology. 10th May 2016. Accessed on 4th Dec. 2016.
    Huggett, Jeremy. “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1.1 (2015)
    Vainio Johanna: Ghost in the Machine: Androids in search of humanity in Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man” and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  2. “The process of observing and methods for observation affect the outcome” taking as my starting point your phrase, I will start unfolding my thoughts on the above post. Taking an anthropological perspective to underline the relationship between archaeology and its reframing nature through digital extensions, you conclude that the final objective of such transformative expansion entails to be an ontological one through these procedures. Arguing the above reflection is fundamental pattern in the evolution of the broader discipline of archaeology, I will add some key points of how this “self-awareness” being sought and identified.

    Digital archaeology’s scope tends to be seen –or to be understood- in terms of its methods rather than a tool assisting the understanding of towards research approach and inwards introspective complexity of its entity through digital mediation. As a comment therefore to Costopoulos, Huggett (2016) emphasizes “DA will mature when it stops being a “thing” that only digital archaeologists do” in which I tend to view as the crucial point of how digital archaeology actually defines itself in order for the scope to be identified outside of the digital and refers to the larger discipline. The multi- labels that the discipline can hold additionally, appears to be an observation not irrelevant with the whole identification-seeking and therefore its research thinking focus. The renaming –computational archaeology, digital archaeology, archaeological information systems, archaeological computing etc.- as pointed out by Huggett “…is related to changes in institutional, disciplinary, epistemological…organization…[a] process of discipline building’’, a comment that approves the interrelation between process, name, and ontology and the difference between the three waves of awareness (Huggett 2015). This interdependence -as you also tend to agree- includes the questions both of digital capabilities -and the limitations of them- in the development of archaeological thought and the way the embodiment effects emerge so that archaeology exploits this dialogue in order to contribute in answers of its intra-disciplinarity (or why keeps itself aloof from) having an active role in this reshaping. This realisation, as you stated, of computational turn must not be observer-shifting separated or ‘’machine’s efficiency as a servant’’ but “its participant enabling of criticism” (quoted in Berry 2011, 3). Such criticism, therefore, can turn the tool inwards detecting ways of identity transformation as the ‘outcome’ that was discussed in your text exploring more fruitfully how the machine shapes the ghost and vice versa.

    The question arises then, refers to what makes Digital Archaeology separate from Archaeology and how through self-reflexivity and questioning technological agency in its thought maturation, the answer can be a fruition of potential to reveal new innovative questions.

    Referenced Works:

    Berry, David M., 2011, The computational turn: thinking about the digital humanities. Culture Machine, 12.,, Accessed on: 11/12/2016.

    Huggett, J., 2013, Disciplinary issues: challenging the research and practice of computer applications in archaeology, in: Earl, G., Sly, T., Chrysanthi, A., Murrieta-Flores, P., et al. (Eds.), Archaeology in the Digital Era: Papers from the 40th Annual Conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA), Southampton, 26-29 March 2012, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 15-17., Accessed on: 11/12/2016.

    Huggett, J., 2015, “A Manifesto for an Introspective Digital Archaeology.” Open Archaeology 1: 86–95. Web., Accessed on: 11/12/2016.

    Huggett, J., 10th May 2016, “Let’s Talk about Digital Archaeology”.” Blog post. Introspectivedigitalarchaeology., Web., Accessed on: 11/12/2016.

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