Technology as a Psychic Phenomenon
by Michael Grosso
Marshall McLuhan once remarked that the telephone may be likened to a form of telepathy. This comparison suggests an interesting question: What, if any, is the relationship between psyche and machine, between the powers, normal and paranormal, of the human soul and technology? At first glance, coupling the psychic and the technological may seem an unpromising move. The psychic is linked to the empirically elusive and nebulous, the technological to ideas of exact control and reliable physical power. One associates the psychic with "miracles" and retrograde religion, the technological with the progress of science and reason.
Nevertheless, there are relationships, significant but covert, between the psychic and the technological. The key to this relationship lies in McLuhan's idea of the "extensions of man." The psychic and the technological represent two forms of the human attempt to abolish the constraints of time and space. We can, in fact, say with reason that technology represents the material expression or analogue of certain alleged psychic powers.
Consider some examples. We began with telepathy (or, more accurately, clairaudience) and the telephone. Here we find the limitations of space between people who wish to communicate abolished. Live television constitutes a type of machine-mediated clairvoyance, whereas film, video and audio technologies provide a neat physical analogue of retrocognition.
Precognition is an interesting case. According to Laplace, we should, if we knew all the relevant variables, be able to predict the state of the universe for any time in the future. Although we reject the Laplacian hypothesis in light of quantum mechanics, it does have limited relevance to a type of "precognition"; for by means of computer and other analytic technologies, we can predict some states of physical reality with high degrees of precision.
The other type of psychic power to consider is psychokinesis or PK. This involves the ability to directly influence states of matter. In technology, the influence, of course, is not by virtue of direct mental action; still, everytime we press a button in an elevator or turn the ignition key in our cars we are engaging in a type of machine-mediated PK. The important thing is that our power over matter and physical space is extensive. An atomic bomb embodies a physical power of destruction worthy of any mythic deity.
Some mythic or psychic powers seem at this time to lie on the borderline of feasibility. Mythology, for example, speaks of powers of animation, rejuvenation, life-extension, and immortality. These powers correspond to the promise of artificial life, bioengineering, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. This idea, for example, that it might be possible to upload human consciousness from our customary mortal wetware to new types of essentially "immortal" information substrates.
Let us assume then that there is a similarity between the psychic and the technological impetus toward the mastery of space, time, and matter; it is plausible to assume that these convergent trends emanate from a single source. Since the psychic precedes the technological, it makes sense to assume that the latter is driven by the former. The answer, then, to the question of what technology wants, or what drives technology, may lie in our deepest psychic needs and drives.
But what are these needs and drives? Given what I have already stated, we may think of them as expressing a fundamental project to become God. To see this more clearly we need only look at magic, religion, shamanism, and mythology. What we find is an array of images of potential, in which there is a gradual ascent from the idea of the artist, the priest, the hero, the magician, the shaman, the saint, the messiah, the boddisattva, the avatar, the godman, and finally on to the gods and goddesses themselves. These images represent types of beings who embody increasing mastery of the forms and energies of nature.
If we think of a being at the outer limits of psychic power, what we come up with is a being that almost equals God. For unlimited ESP would equal omniscience and unlimited PK would equal omnipotence. We could in fact say that technology today presents us with the prospect of a second genesis. The first genesis was through God or nature; the second will be the product of human ingenuity.
However, a potential being of unlimited psychic power would still fall short of the notion of God as we understand Him in the higher religions. What is lacking are those values we associate with the higher conceptions of God such as love, mercy, and compassion.
Let us suppose that there is, as I have suggested, an inner relationship between the psychic and the technological; I want to end this brief statement with two further theses.
If there is anything to the idea of technology as a psychic phenomenon, we are entitled to speculate that the entire long range thrust of technology is toward the recreation or second genesis of humanity. What this comes to is the creation of a new body and a new relationship to nature. St. John spoke of a "new heaven and earth." One senses that behind the frantic excitement about the Internet and about all the wonders of technology is the half-conscious presentiment that we may be on the verge of a cosmic breakthrough, a second genesis.
On the other hand, we need also to remind ourselves that this techno-psychic project of extending human abilities to godlike proportions is flawed. The essential flaw is that both the psychic and the technical models of transformation are mainly about power; they fail, in important ways, to reach the level of spirit. By themselves they offer no guarantee of a world that would be any different than the one we are familiar with, a mix of the marvelous and the horrible. The only difference in this age of technocalypse is that the marvels and the horrors will be more spectacular.
Michael Grosso (firstname.lastname@example.org), PhD, is a professor of philosophy at Jersey City State College. He writes about mythology, psychic anomalies, and altered states of consciousness. He is the author of The Final Choice, Frontiers of the Soul, Soulmaking, and, more recently, The Millennium Myth. A t present he is working on a monograph reviewing the evidence for life after death for the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a book called Technocalypse Now, which is about the spiritual implications of modern technology. Grosso lives in Warwick, New York, where he has a studio, paints, and gives workshops on creative dissociation.
Copyright © 1997 by Michael Grosso. All Rights Reserved.