The Divine Interface: Technology and Spiritual Practices
This is a living document, a work in progress that will continue to be updated and refined as I encounter new perspectives and insights. Published on: Aug 29th 2023
Last Edited on: Sep 1st 2023.
Introduction: Bridging the Digital and the Divine
In the 21st-century zeitgeist, the fusion of technology and spirituality isn't an outlandish idea; it's an active paradigm*. We don't just use technology; we invite it into the inner sanctuaries of our souls, conjuring a digital alchemy that transforms our understanding of reality. It symbolizes more than just a union; it is a symbiotic relation between code and consciousness. Here, I aim to explore how technology continues to influence our perception of ourselves and blurring the lines between spirituality and the digital world.
Historical Connections and Modern ParallelsThroughout history, humans have consistently integrated the technology of their era into their spiritual beliefs and practices. Whether the reverence for fire and water or the use of mechanical clocks to structure monastic life during the medieval period, technology has always been an integral part of shaping spirituality. Although this connection may seem peculiar or contradictory to us today, looking back at history reminds us that it is a natural progression.
As we navigate the intersection of spiritual practices and technological frameworks, the emergent synergy of ancient wisdom and modern science and engineering feels like a divine paradox that we're only starting to understand. Oracles once served as the source of divine wisdom. Fast-forward to today, and we find predictive algorithms shouldering a remarkably analogous responsibility. Whether guiding us in intimate matters of the heart or broad issues like climate concerns, these algorithms function as our liaison. They are not only serving functional purposes but also introducing a complex language that challenges our preconceived notions.
“Older divination systems are based on cosmologically foundational symbols within a culture. For example, we can look to the yin and yang lines of the hexagrams that govern the I Ching and the eight elemental trigrams they compose, or the archetypal symbols of the Tarot. To work, these symbols must lock into underlying patterns of nature or the mind. Current predictive systems for policing, advertising, co-writing, etc. are trained on data sets arising from social systems positioned within a singular historical milieu: modernism, with its colonial roots. With several centuries or millennia of integrative practice, new ML systems might absorb the foundational symbolic potency of older divination methods.“
― K Allado-McDowell, What If Technology Were A Prayer? (Interview with Display - Association for Research and Collective Practice)
It is more than a past-to-present iteration, it is a paradigm shift. It appears that we are witnessing a monumental transformation where predictive algorithms and immersive extended reality (XR) are more than just technological marvels—they are the metaphysical artifacts of our time. Just as ancient prophecies and mystical practices sought to decipher the unknown by fusing wisdom and spirituality, today's digital tools undertake a similar quest but in a language coded in algorithms and data. But this doesn't stop at functionality or technological virtuosity; it ponders the philosophical meaning of technology written in binary.
Symbols, Predictive Systems and Philosophical Underpinnings
Upon further examination of the complexities involved, we find that insights from philosophers like Martin Heidegger become increasingly relevant, especially his observations about the uncanny nature of technology's role in our lives. We've transcended the now archaic construct where technology was subservient to nature. Now, it serves as a mirror reflecting our philosophic intricacies, fundamentally altering our perception in subtle yet profound ways. The age-old preoccupation with the macrocosm gives way to an intense focus on the micro—herein lies the uncanny nature of our techno-existence.
Freud's conceptual framework of the uncanny—that oscillation between the familiar and unfamiliar—extends into our symbiotic relationship with technology. This isn't just machinery; it's a new form of art, questioning the boundaries between animate and inanimate. It nudges us to revisit Lacanian psychoanalytic theories where the divide between self and system blurs, reshaping our existential place within a broader digital ecosystem.
Crossing the Reality Divide: A Dive into Hyperreal Spaces
“The Internet thinks me. The Virtual thinks me. My double is wandering through the networks, where I shall never meet him. For that parallel universe has no relation to this one.”
―Jean Baudrillard, Impossible Exchange
Baudrillard's reflection on the virtual realm highlights the idea that our online identities, free from physical limitations, navigate a separate world filled with endless connections—yet one that feels increasingly disconnected from our tangible reality. However, there is a growing belief that the digital world is not just a simulacrum** but an enhanced version of reality. It goes beyond mere replication and instead amplifies our physical presence. In this redefined perspective, technologies like AI transcend their computational capabilities and become modern-day oracles—they go beyond data analysis to act as conduits for metaphysical insights, bringing us closer to existential and spiritual truths. This transformation makes human life multidimensional, not just in terms of conventional 3D technologies but also in the realms of what might be called hyperrealities***, such as VR or XR/AR. Hence, there is a need to redefine our understanding of human life and its relationship to reality.
“There is no contradiction between technology and spirit. There is no contradiction between the search for intellectual integration and understanding and the psychedelic experience. There is no contradiction between ultra-advanced hyperspatial cyber culture and Paleolithic archaic culture. We have come to the end of our sojourn in matter. We have come to the end of our separateness.“
Mark Pesce, a virtual reality (VR) expert and technopagan, also sees cyberspace as a hyperreality—a confluence of the virtual and spiritual shaped by our collective imagination. To him, both the digital and the magical are guided by our imagination, where what's mapped becomes reality. He doesn't just view computers as tools but as sacred extensions of ourselves. Drawing a metaphor, he sees himself as a gardener on the Internet, planting ideas, nurturing them, and using technology to bridge differing realities. His viewpoint connects the technological and spiritual, altering how we interact with the world around us. This isn't a network; it's a sanctified realm.
In this context, Don Ihde’s notion of multistability becomes even more poignant. It suggests that technology is a mutable platform influenced by collective human ethos and beliefs. It can also mean that it serves multiple roles, interpretations, and ethical considerations. It also suggests that technology is a mutable platform influenced by collective human ethos; it can be bent, twisted, and reconfigured to fit different human purposes and can amplify existing cultural tendencies.
As we move toward more immersive states of being, we discover potential havens for shared experiences. Can the digital worlds we create become the sacred temples of tomorrow? Author Erik Davis argues that technology can facilitate spiritual growth. Exploring various mythical and archetypal cosmologies, and drawing from the Corpus Hermeticum and Buddhist philosophical metaphors like Indra's net, he highlights the impact of religious and esoteric beliefs on our understanding of technology. Davis presents a unique and in-depth perspective, acknowledging that illusions or chimeras do inhabit the digital space while grounding his arguments in spiritual and mystical contexts.
Computer games have the spellbinding ability to create virtual worlds that resemble dreamscapes that pull us right in. Throughout history, dreams have been considered by many cultures as gateways to different planes of existence or understanding. Similarly, immersive games provide digital playgrounds where we can encounter experiences that blur the lines between the physical and the metaphysical. This closely aligns with Erik Davis's concept of techgnosis. In a game's coded environment, we can explore moral choices, connect with other beings, or even ponder existential questions—much like one might in a vivid dream.
― Terence McKenna, The Archaic Revival
Similarly, Terrence McKenna presents the idea of a harmonious connection between technological advancement and ancient spirituality in what he terms the Archaic Revival. According to McKenna, this connection allows us to rediscover and actively engage with ancestral belief systems and a deeper understanding of the cosmos. It ultimately leads to a contemporary revitalization of shamanic traditions that utilize modern tools like VR, the metaverse, and games alongside traditional catalysts like psychedelics. Far from being escapist diversions, these experiences of encountering 'the other' serve as pathways to unlock human potential and transcendental wisdom beyond ordinary limits.
Existential Webs and Cosmic Mysteries: Networks, Angst, and UFOsDrawing upon Deleuze and Guattari's Rhizome, our techno-spiritual journey isn't a singular path but a complex, interconnected network—each node being an intersection of technology and spirituality. We're not just integrating but co-evolving within a rhizomatic structure that permits endless permutations and points of entry or exit. This is not simply a fusion of elements; it's the orchestration of profound, nonlinear alchemy, recasting both our spiritual rituals and tech advancements as intertwined meanderings of the human psyche.
Despite all this, a digital utopia comes with its own set of existential conundrums. Societies that have advanced rapidly often experience a paradoxical fear of the progress they have attained. Films originating from countries like South Korea, Japan, and China—known for being at the helm of tech innovation—often reflect these deep-seated concerns. Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1998), and Metropolis (2001) are just a few films that explore the dilemmas of the integration of human consciousness with machines.
Cinema is one of the many perspectives we can look at when exploring the intersection of technology and spirituality. The UFO lore, often dismissed but persistently intriguing, is another perspective that deserves further contemplation. Are these sightings anomalies or glimpses of advanced civilizations operating at the nexus of technological mastery and spiritual sophistication? Could they represent manifestations of a collective yearning for higher connectivity and transcendence? These questions fuel the ongoing dialogue around tech-driven spiritual quests and demand a more nuanced interpretation.
Beyond Upgrades: A Hybrid Existence, Quantum Computing and The Spiritual Algorithm
N. Katherine Hayles, known for her work on literature and science, gives us a posthuman lens to reassess our metaphysical status, proposing that the marriage of man and machine is birthing a unique hybrid existence. This isn't an upgrade; it's an evolutionary leap. Our desires, fears, and ambitions are not just reflected in technology; they are merged and transformed through it.
In this sense, the progress made in biotech and quantum computing aren't just advancements; they mirror a kind of modern alchemical process that holds the keys to the cosmic code. We're not only deciphering our biological selves but actively shaping them; it's a process reminiscent of the alchemists who sought perfection and even immortality. If we continue to explore these principles and put them into practice, we might discover unusual ways of engaging with the very fabric of existence. This expansion of our understanding could allow us to explore realms that were once believed to be accessible only to mystics and spiritualists.
Quantum computing reveals a reality in stark contrast to classical theories, defined by principles of uncertainty and interconnectedness. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle exemplifies this by revealing that pairs of properties such as position and momentum can never be precisely known simultaneously. Additionally, quantum entanglement demonstrates that particles can be intricately linked to each other, regardless of their physical distance, so that any change in one instantaneously affects its counterpart. These phenomena not only push the boundaries of current scientific knowledge but also bear striking similarities to ancient mystical traditions.
Ethical and Spiritual Navigation in a Networked Existence
“It seems absurd at first, but technology can teach us about God. By the creation of nerdy contraptions, we will see God through the eyes of other minds remote from our own. We will also advance our understanding of god-ness by experiencing the limits and powers of unfolding creations of our own. It is possible we could be better creatures by being better gods. The ongoing scientific process of moving our lives away from the rule of matter and toward abstractions and intangibles can only prepare us for a better understanding of the ultimate abstraction.“
―Kevin Kelly, Nerd Theology
As we wade deeper into techno-spiritual meanderings, ethical imperatives loom large. We must approach our innovations with the reverence they deserve, acknowledging both their transformative promises and the complex concerns they bring. To navigate this new frontier, we must ask questions that extend beyond utility to touch upon spiritual enrichment and ethical alignment.
It seems inevitable that our lives will become increasingly entangled in a progressively complex digital network. Given this, it is crucial to recognize that technology should be embraced as a means to amplify our human attributes. We should remain vigilant and critical, and use it as a force for good. We should perceive it as a tool for gaining existential knowledge—a collective driving force with the ability to reshape not only how we engage with the world, but also the very essence of what it truly means to be human.
*I used the term active paradigm to describe a model or framework that is not just theoretical but is currently in active application or exploration, shaping present discourse or practice in the field.
**The simulacrum is “an image without resemblance”; as Gilles Deleuze summarized, it is the forsaking of "moral existence in order to enter into aesthetic existence". However, Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes—through sociocultural compression—truth in its own right.
***There are four steps of hyperreal reproduction:
Basic reflection of reality, i.e. in immediate perception
Perversion of reality, i.e. in representation
Pretense of reality, where there is no model
Simulacrum, which "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever
- Heidegger, Martin (1977). The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays.
- Baudrillard, Jean (1999). Impossible Exchange.
- Baudrillard, Jean (1981). Simulacra and Simulation.
- Zwart, Hub (2017). ‘Eximate’ Technologies and Techno-Cultural Discontent: A Lacanian Analysis of Pervasive Gadgets.
- Freud, Sigmund (1919). The Uncanny.
- de Boer, Bas (2021). Explaining multistability: postphenomenology and affordances of technologies.
- Davis, Erik (1995). Technopagans - May the astral plane be reborn in cyberspace; from Wired Magazine.
- Davis, Erik (1998). TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information.
- Hayles, N. Katherine (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics.
- Krüger, Oliver (2015). Gaia, God, and the Internet – RevisitedThe History of Evolution and the Utopia of Community in Media Society.
- Guattari, Félix (2010). The Machinic Unconscious - Essays in Schizoanalysis.
- Lovink, Geert (2002). Uncanny Networks Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia.