Rene Descartes on engraving from the 1850s. French philosopher, mathematician, physicist and writer. Engraved by W. Holl and published in London by Wm. S. Orr & Co.

This is a phrase from the field of philosophy that has passed to mainstream English usage. British philosopher Gilbert Ryle first used it in his 1949 work The Concept of Mind. He referred to an idea that the philosopher René Descartes had called dualism, that the human mind or consciousness is not physical but that it exists and acts independently of the human brain. Ryle refuted this, saying that there is “no ghost in the machine.” As a metaphor the term has come to describe the supposed consciousness in an inanimate device that behaves as if it has a will of its own. Computer programmers have appropriated the term to explain when a program does something contrary to their expectations. An example could be: “when the robot hoover turned itself on and vacuumed up Graham’s homework, he suspected there was a ghost in the machine.”

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