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TechGnosis -- Gnostic Escape in a Knowledge Universe

embodied in a regrounding and re-Earthing process

-- / --

Annex 5 of Towards an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe: from astronautics to noonautics?


This is an appreciative review of several streams of argument in a study by Erik Davis (TechGnosis: myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information. 1998/2004). The themes selected here are used as a means of developing points relevant to the main paper (Towards an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe: from astronautics to noonautics?).

TechGnosis ranges rather promiscuously across the disciplinary boundaries that usually chop up the world of thought, drawing the reader into a fluctuating play network of polarities and hidden networks. The connections it draws are many: between myth and science, transcendent intuition and technological control, the virtual worlds we imagine and the real world we cannot escape. It is a dreambook of the technological unconscious. p. 8-9

The spiritual imagination seizes information technology for its own purposes. In this sense, technologies of communication are always, at least potentially, technologies of the sacred, simply because the ideas and experiences of the sacred have always informed human communication. p 11

As with all archetypes, the mystic patterns associated with gnosis are ambiguous, multivalent, and contradictory. Todays technognostics find themselves, consciously or not, surrounded by a complex set of ideas and images: transcendence through technology, a thirst for the ecstasy of information, adrive to engineer and perfect the incorporeal spark of the self.... Techgnosis is the esoteric side of the postwar world's new "information self'. p. 122

"the quest for meaning and connection has led individuals and communities to construct meaningful frameworks for their lives, worldviews that actually deepen their willingness and ability to face the strangeness of our days." p 5

"The moment we invent a significant new device for communication -- talking drums, papyrus scrolls, printed books, crystal sets, computers, pagers -- we partially reconstruct the self and its world, creating new opportunities (and new traps) for thought, perception, and social experience....More than any other invention, information technology transcends its status asa thing, simply because it allows for the incorporeal encoding and transmission of mind and meaning.... By creating a new interface between the self, the other, and the world beyond. They form the building blocks, and in even in some sense the foundaion, for what we now increasingly think of as "the social construction of reality". p 6-7

New technologies of perception and communication open up new spaces, and these spaces are always mapped, on one level or another, through the imagination... New technologies of perception thus unfold a new world, or at least new dimensions of universal nature. p 90-91

TechGnosis seeks to "provide some imaginal maps and mystical scorecards for the metaverse that is now swallowing up so many of us" p, 6 .

Hermetic scholars or occult Traditionalists would write off any similarities between Gnostic religion and contemporary technoculture as, at best, the latter's demonic and infantile parody of the former. But the authenticity of spiritual ideas and religious experiences does not rerally concern me here; rather I am attempting to understand the often unconscious metaphysics of information culture by looking at it through the archetypal lens of religious and mystic myth. Inauthentic or not, these patterns of thought and experience have played and continue to play a role in how humans relate to technology.... Gnosticism is hardly the only passageway into the storehouse of archetypes lurking beneath the secular mask of information, but it underscores the mataphysical patterns and Promethean fire that the new category of reality unleashed into the postwar mind. p 97-99


*** Any such "writing off" process, by whatever school of thought with reference to another, is a charactristic dynamic of the knowledge universe and therefore calls for a self-reflexive approach to its understanding -- or to the denial of the need for such.

Long before the development of the virtual world Second Life, Erik Davis (1998) argued succinctly: (p. 246-7):

Tolkien's work proved the point he himself made in his essay On Fairy Stories. A great author of fantasy "makes a econdary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is 'true': it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside." Like designers of virtual worlds today, Tolkien knew that successful secondary worlds were not wild flights of fancy, but products of creative method and potent technology -- what Tolkien described as an "elvish craft" capable of suspending the disbelief of "both designer and spectator.

Golden Bough --- Erik Davis cites Bruno Latour (We Have Never Been Modern. Harvard University Press, 1993)

premodern and indigneous people wove everything, whether nature or culture, into an immense collective network of mind and matter that he terms the anthropological matrix. Elements thereof are best understood as "hybrids", that he calls "speaking things", both natural and cultural, real and imagined, subject and object (TechGnosis, p 15)

modernity constructs a major conceptual separation between nature and culture that Latour names the Great Divide -- "a sky-high conceptual wall separating the now blind and mute world of nature from the endlessly mutable world of culture and its merely human meanings" (p 47). The hybrid characteristic of subject/objects is then denied resulting in a failure to recognize their entanglement across the entire matrix of reality. As Davis notes:

By denying hybrids, modern Europe paradoxically wound up cranking them out at an outstanding rate: new technologies, new scientific and cultural perspectives, new sociopolitical and economic arrangements. The West drastically reconstructed "the world" without acknowledging the systemic effects that its creative activities had on the interdependent fabric of society

Davis highlights the curious role that the alpahabetized form of information (notably through revealed scriptures) then played in engendering a world beyond the apparent world of nature:

For Plato, as for the Neoplatonist mystics that followed him, the goal of of the philosopher was to transcend the gravitational tug of the body in order to launch what the scholar Ioan Couliano calls the "platonic space shuttle". In this visionary flight, the rational spark ascends to the heavens where it glimpses its own divinity amidst the world of the forms -- a transcendental twist on the old shamanic plunge into thje belly of the earth.... Gazing with homesick longong at the heavens, many seekers sought gnostic escape, the ascetic mastery of the body, or an otherworldly journey into the realms of apocalyptic vision. p. 36

But the real action may lie in the feedback loops that cross this rather mysterious divide. p 41

In this respect, Davis notes the role of alchemy in framing a "propulsive ambiguity" based on a "tremednous emphasis on polarity, on the dynamic, erotic, and highly combustible interaction -- or conjunctio -- of contrary elements and states of being" p. 45

It might be argued that the extremely poorly managed challenges of contemporary life derive from the crudity of the "ambiguity technology", especially in relation to its "propulsive" potential. This is exemplified by the "binary logic" applied to the challenge of terrorism -- framed as an exercise in "positive thinking" of righteous fundamentalists in response to the "negativity" of fanatics. A "combustible interaction" indeed, but an exercise whose crude quality of thinking should be shamed by lessons from the advances in the technology of the combustion engine over the past century.

*** denial and ambiguity engines -- negative AC alternation of positive and negative poles p. 49 Theology of Electricity p 54

Davis cites Ioan Couliano in arguing that science has simply substituted itself for a part of the operational agenda defined by magic, expanding iuts dreams and goals by means of technology. Magic is effectively the unconscious of technology -- its arational spell. p 47-48

Davis explores the ttransmutation in society of electricity into information. Introducing a deliberately paradoxical term, he argues for an "electromagnetic imaginary" to recognize the need to "stitch together, however provisionally, the world we feel with the world we know". He quotes Michel Serre: "The only pure myth is the idea of a science devoid of all myth". 52

Electricity, in particular, would carry three different aspects of the alchemical imagination into the modern world: the fascination with the vitality of bodies, the desire to spiritualize material form, and the millennarian drive to transmute the energies of earth into the divine realization of human dreams. p 53

The paradigm of information began to invade humanist discourse [in the 1950s and 1960s].... All of this set information on a collision course with meaning -- that signifiying magic that, for all the analyses of linguistis, sociologists, and cognitive scientists, remains one of the trickiest, most seductive, and most consternating glyphs in the human equation.... its universal application saps the marrow from the rich lifeworld of meanings that humans actually inhabit... Our society has come to place an enormous value on information even though information itself can tell us nothing about value. pp. 101-2

The singular self-knowledge sought by the Gnostic...reveal the self to belong to a transcendent order estranged from the mundane world... the urge to overcome the natgural limits of body through a divinized or omniscient mind remains one of the most characteristic "gnostic" traits, one that plays itself out today in strongly technocultural terms. p 119-120

Instead of accepting the Zodiac's rule of fate, the Gnostics insisted on the mind;s ability to overcome such strictures through psychological depth, intelligence and mystical will. p 121

Extropians [brain-boosting transhumanists and cyber-libertarians] are meticulously planning for the day when technology will form the ultimate escape hatch, and machines will free us forever from the clutches of the earth, the body, and earth itself..... On the one side lies our half-assed perceptual, emotional and logical wetware; on the other lies the conceptual perfection of diesmbodied intelligence, an informational array of codes, rules and algorithms they identify with the potentially immortal self and its infinite computational abilities... Curiously the imagery of the cyborg, which undergirds many Extropian speculations, is bound up from the beginning with extraterrestrial flight 141-152

Space technologies do not just materialize the offworld yearnings of those desperate to flee the grave fate of earthly life. They also literalize the cosmic homesickness that vibrates in so many human hearts, a longing for a transcendental level of authenticity, vision, and being reflected in the heavens. Many thoughtful moderns, religious and not, believe that this sense of estrangement cannot really be assuaged; instead one gains authenticity by throwing oneself into the existential conditions of real life, with all its limitations, sufferings and insecurity. pp. 153

Deep ecologists and New Agers reject offworld longings in favour of "an almost pagan identification with nautre and its healing powers" p. 154

For as the engines of civilization pulled as farther and farther away from the unpredictable and often spiteful dance of nature, we withdrew from the animistic imagination that once immersed us in a living network of material forces and riling intelligences.... And so today, now that we have technologized our environment and isolated the self withoin a scientific frame of mind, we no logner turn to naturte to echo our state. Now we cath our reflections, even our spirits, in the movements and mentations of machines.... The machine thus comes to serve as an interactive mirror, an ambiguous Other we both recognize ourselves in and measure ourselves against. p 155-9

tuning conceptual arrays

world is a memory palace -- forgotten how to use it

pattern virus / program updating -- pacemaker

necessary separation

semiosphere -- knowledge organization -- semionaut -- world of signs and notations/notes

'boing' ... resonance

feedback loops across the divide -- I Ching -- polarization

mala beads -- string of worlds / concepts

peak meaning and infocollapse

discovery of something does not preclude its subsequent discovery by others -- explanation does not constitute a disguised form of intellectual copyright

no ultimate explanation or TOE

fractal TOEs

grokking -- scientology ??? Heinlein

why do we accept the authority of theories

Atlas of Management Thinking

in the moment

have many of the intellectual tools

Holy Longing -- yearning

National Anthems of the World -- sinchart / Nadia song

Pos/Neg paper

Steve Salerno. Sham

Michel R LeGault. Think

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