Deus ex Machina vs. Electric Gaia
by Michel Bauwens
This fusion of cyberspace and spirituality is not just an accident. Spiritual schools of thoughts have traditionally dealt with the navigation of immaterial worlds (the astral and subtle planes of existence) and with magical techniques to mold such a world to human desires. Cyberspace does function as a magical realm where all is possible (especially in its VR a variant) and what better interface technique than the magical incantations, as Vernon Vinge so brilliantly described in True Names. Spiritual commentators have noted the similarities between Tim Berners Lee's interconnected WWW and Indra's Web, between the Web's function as a global repository and the Akashic Records, and between the global conversation in newsgroups and the Noosphere of Teilhard de Chardin. Spiritual groups have been busily sacralising cyberspace, starting with Mark Pesce's techno-paganistic 'Zero Circle' (the Axis Mundi of the shamans), and even Tibetan monks have consecrated cyberspace.
But not all spiritualists are equally enthusiastic about the emergence of cyberspace. Spiritual tradition is strongly divided between a pessimistic and a optimistic school. The pessimistic interpretation of the Philosophia Perennis, with spokesmen like Rene Guenon, Fritjof Schuon, Julius Evola, sees human evolution as essentially going downhill, straight from a mythical golden age of high spiritual consciousness (Eden, Atlantis) to today's end time, the 'kali yuga' or 'Apocalypse'. For such commentators modernity is an unmitigated disaster. Technology, by externalising human muscle power in machines, and human memory and thought processes in computers, is weakening the Inner Man, destroying the very possibility of salvation through meditative and concentrative practices. For them, technology is a eisguided Luciferian revolt against all limits imposed upon mankind by our Universe ('Nature' or 'God'). Technology is nothing less than a magical program, they say, emulating spiritual powers (out of body experiences, communicating over distance, etc...) through external means. The end result of mankind's Technological Program, will be the creation of a 'god-in-the-machine'. The future Net, coupled with immensely powerful Artificial Intelligences, will evolve into a 'Machine-God', a Deus-Ex-Machina, a kind of technological Anti-Christ.
Not so, says the positive school of the Wisdom Tradition, who, with spokespersons as Hegel, Teilhard de Chardin, and today's Ken Wilber, see a definitive broadening of human consciousness throughout history. Consciousness, from a low point at the creation of a totally unconscious Nature, has slowly evolved through unicellular organisms, through the various life forms, to end up with the birth of humans who equally grow in the depth and breadth of their Awareness. Humans already went from tribal to national consciousness, mainly through the effects of the printing press. And today the internet is creating the necessary material base for the emergence of a planetary awareness. They agree with the Spiritual Pessimists that cyberspace is a collective externalisation of our minds (the concept of a Noosphere), and say that it functions as a nervous system for our planet, that becomes aware of itself through networked humans. In short, what the Net is creating is Electric Gaia, a new stage in human civilisation, both materially and spiritually.
In this discussion, spiritualists echo the eternal division between those who place their hopes and Utopia in the future (as Socialism, Christianity and the Extropians are doing), and those who place their longing and their Utopia in the past (as Conservatives, and deep ecologists are doing). Perhaps the readers of Wired should refuse to take sides, and consider the Deus Ex Machina and Electric Gaia trends, as the Yin and the Yang of cyberspace, two necessary and inseparable sides of the same coin?
Michel Bauwens (firstname.lastname@example.org) is former information manager at BP Nutrition where he developed one of the first working virtual information centers (1990-1993), for which he was elected European Information Professional of the Year. After creating the first European newstand magazine about the digital revolution (the dutch-language Wave), he now assists companies and organizations in their migration to electronic environments as a professional Internet consultant and cyber-marketeer.
Copyright © 1997 by Michel Bauwens. All Rights Reserved.