New version of TechnoCalyps is out: six theses on the cyber-sacred

A non-p2p subject, echoing the last post about Remi Sussan’s webcast.

During the years 1997-1998, I worked with director and video artist Frank Theys on a 3-hour TV documentary on the ‘transhuman’ future of humanity, called TechnoCalyps (with as original subtitle ‘the metaphysics of technology and the end of man’. It was shown twice on Belgian and Dutch televisions, but in truncated versions, as there had been a conflict between the director and the producer, the latter even going broke. As a result, further showings, and there had been 7 or 8 pre-sales to international TV stations, were cancelled. It had been a hard blow to our morale back then. My role in it had been to write the first scenario, the research, to undertake the interviews during a three month trip to the U.S. After the experience, I went back to a corporate career, eventually changing the focus of my interests to the peer to peer dynamic. Transhumanism no longer keeps me awake. But Frank Theys never gave up and continued his fight to have the original version shown, and even worked to adapt and renewed it, so it finally came out again, as you’ll see below, to glowing reviews, one of which we found in Philippe Van Nedervelde’s new blog. I recommend you read that review in full on his site.
Here are some of the older articles on the intersection between technology and spirituality: 1) for Cybersangha magazine; 2) for First Monday magazine
Does TechnoCalyps have a message. It probably has more than one, reflecting the views not only of the interviewees, but also the divergent interpretations of the material by Frank and myself. Frank is a European postmodern atheist artist, who paradoxically became enthused by the spiritual promise of transhumanism; myself, I am more the ‘California’ type, especially in that period, so though being a priori open to more spiritual ways of thinking, interpret transhumanism more, especially the ‘extropian’ type that was dominant at that time, as a distortion of it. I think my position at that time is well summarized in the following text, which is part of the now defunct Cybersociology magazine. I’d probably rewrite some of it today, but it faithfully reflects the spirit in which TechnoCalyps was researched and made:

1. The technological quest is a spiritual quest

I’d like to start with the premise that the quest for the transcendental is in fact ‘wired’ in the human psyche. Even if we are not spriritually or religiously inclined, we cannot escape thinking about our relationship with the ‘totality’ of existence, and forbid our souls to yearn for an escape from the humane condition and our inescapable death.

Hence I believe that the history of human civilisation can be characterised by a kind of competition between spritual transhumanism and matieralistic or technological transhumanism. For thousands of years humankind has chosen the first route, believing that there was a transcendental ‘supernatural’ reality beyond the material world, but which could be accessed through inner development. This gave rise to traditional societies such as the HIndu civilisation, medieval Christianity, etc…where society was more or less organised to support that quest, by creating a social infranstructure to permit certain layers of the population to devote themselves to that quest.

For a series of complex reasons, outside of the scope of this essay, a break occured in the Christian West. Spirituality became a creed or belief, without any realistic spiritual ‘technology’ to actually achieve salvation or human liberation, the result being that from the Renaissance onwards, this liberation was no longer sought in the spiritual realm but in the material realm, and a process of secularisation began.

However, what used to be sought in the supernatural, was sought in material reality, and science and technology became a means to achieve transcendence. As explained by David Noble in ‘The Religion of Technology’, this relationship between technology and spirituality has often been quite explicit, and always implicit. Hence technology is actually carrying out a religious program for immortality, a utopian ‘New Heaven and a New Earth. Where I differ with David Noble is that he believes such a relationship is wrong and that science and technology should be decontaminated, while I would argue that transcendence being inherent in our condition, we should merely be conscious of it, but it is otherwise unavoidable.

I’d also like to point out the Hindu notion, put forward by Richard Thompson (author of ‘Alien Identities’ and ‘Forbidden Archeology’) that for each yogic power, there is an equivalent technology being put in place in the material world; and it echo in Hasidic Judaism, which considers that technology is putting in place material proofs of divine powers (as explained by Jozef Kazen of the Chabad website). Here it becomes very clear that behind the technological quest, there is a programmatic blueprint which comes straight out of our spiritual traditions.

2. The spiritual unconscious can cause damage if it is not brought to awareness

Like all unconscious personal and societal content, it can cause damage when it is not brought under the light of reason and consciousness. Hence there is a lot of hubris in current technology (and the social forces promoting it) that could be detrimental to our human future, with an unspoken yearning to go beyond our bodily condition (the theme of the obsoleteness of the body), beyond our minds (replacing it with superior artificial intelligences) and in fact, beyond the human. Quite an important percentage of the discourse on the cyber-sacred could fall in that category, and I’m particularly thinking of movements such as the Extropians, the transhumanist philosophy, and authors like Hans Moravec, Frank Tipler, etc…

3. Technological transcendence is not real transcendence

I have no clear position on the realism of current technological transhuman or posthuman aims, and whether things like extreme longetivity, mind downloading, and such are really possible. However, it can be said that even if they are realisable, this technological transcendence is not real transcendence. Indeed, what techno-transhumanis wants to achieve is longer life, more time; having control over more space, etc.. Itall stays on the horizontal axis, stays within time and space, and doesn’t actually go beyond it, doesn’t move on the vertical axis. Hence technological transhumanism can in no real sense ever replace the need for genuine spirituality.

4. Technological development can/does stimulate spiritual awareness

This positive statement may surprise after my previous criticism but yes, there is a sense in which technology stimulates spiritual awareness. I’d like to refer to the works of Jean Gebser (The Ever-Present Origin) and especially Ken Wilber (The Spectrum of Consciousness) with their viewpoint on the evolution of human consciousness through time, establishing a clear link between the psycho-genesis of the individual human mind, and the socio-genesis of civilisations, showing that the latter move along the same stages than the individual in his spiritual maturation. Wilber makes the interesting and crucial distinction when he shows that there are two lines of development. One for advanced practitioners and spiritual realisers with an evolution from shamans to saints to budhas, each ‘generation’ building on the knowledge of its predecessors. Another line concerns the broader population, and here, there is an absolutely clear link, in a Marxian sense, between the general level of communicative technology, and the average level of awareness of a given society. Hence, yes, in this specific sense, the globalising technology of the internet will in all likelyhood lead to a ‘jump’ towards some kind of more planetary consciousness. (this process, depending on the human will, maturation, and a host of subjective factors, is of course not automatic, and hence, regression would be possible, and catastrophic, and of course, we can all see the many reallly regressive forces at work, such as fundamentalism, cultism, etc..), or in other words, when the ‘hardware’ changes, the software (our humans minds) should follow. Both Gebser and Wilber define the new state of consciousness which has been budding during this century and is being stimulated by the new technological infrastructure as “vision-logic’, the first transpersonal state beyond pure rationality. I am posting a separate article explaining these perhaps complicated or even enigmatic notions (see the essay ‘Ken Wilber and Cyberspace’). Hence, when we speak of the cyber-sacred, we should say what exactly we mean, and I’m certainly not suggesting a new agey notion of universal harmony, but yes, a broadening of the human mind seems in the cards.

We should be very careful in distinguishing the transrational (i.e. trans-mental states such as when one is contemplating one’s own mind’s workings in meditation) states, from the pre- or infrarational states. In our opinion, lots of the so-called cyber-spirituality can be or is regressive, such as the trance-inducing and pharmaceutically aided techno music. While perhaps in a sense temporarily liberating in terms of the control of the self, these techniques are in no way a guarantee for spiritual maturation.

5. Spiritual development is necessary to technological development

It seems pretty certain that with technology giving us ‘transhuman’ powers over our environment and ourselves, we do need an additional level of spiritual development as well. Technology has many negative influences over the quality of our life (an increase in the ‘speed of life’, is just one), where spiritual techniques can help. To mention but a few: the rules of sacred architecture (and its power to create restful minds) could be used to create vivogenic (livable, life-enhancing) cyberspaces, a notion put forward by VRML-founder and techno-pagan Mark Pesce and practiced by Michael Heim. Think of notions such as the possible development of some kind of “cyber-feng shui.”

Spiritual psycho-technologies (and body-work techniques) such as meditation, contemplation, relaxation, concentration, yoga and such, will become necessary complements to our sedentary lifestyles, and the stress induced by hyper-technology. Technologies such as the internet continuously draw our consciousness out to the external material world (or rather, the ‘materialisation of our culture’ in cyberspace format), and make it ever so difficult to look at ourselves and our functioning, and a counterforce is an absolute necessity for mental and spiritual balance.

6. Technological and spiritual transhumanism should not bej opposed, but integrated

Technological transhumanism is totally legitimate and will undoubtedly bring a number of important benefits for our social and bodily wellbeing (in terms of better health, increased lifespans, etc..).

7. Spiritual transhumanism is equally necessary for our individual and social growth and further evolution.

Well understood, both can be complimentary. The central task of our current epoch is to spiritualise technology (by becoming conscious of the unconscious drives that push it forward, and using it in positive ways) on the one hand, and to ‘technologise’ spirituality on the other hand. By drawing out the valid psycho-technologies within the core of religious traditions, purifying it from the layers of belief and literal myth. Or in other words, in a more broader sense: we need to spiritualise rationality, and to rationalise spirituality. Only when this is achieved, can one really talk about the cyber-sacred in any real sense.

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