Monday, January 28, 2008

Technomysticism – A Manifesto

For the past few years I have been writing extensively (In Hebrew) about a topic which I label with the term "Technomysticism". I am often asked to define the meaning of this term. In this article I would like to outline the field of Technomysticism: the basic problem it presents and the solution it offers.

Technomysticism is, to put it shortly, harmony with technology. But before we try to define harmony with technology we should first ask, what is technology?

What is Technology?

The definition of technology seems clear enough at first, but in order to understand the concept of Technomysticism to tackle the concept of technology at a deeper level, which will enable a more fundamental discussion of the meaning of technology and our relation to it.

Technology, seen from its most fundamental aspect is the power of the many. What technology does is to analyze and divide unitary concepts into distinguished sub-constituents which allows it manipulate them in order to achieve a goal. This can be seen in any machine: mechanical, electronic, biological or intellectual. The clocks ticks with moving parts, the computer runs series of sub-programs, our body is a company of systems, and thought is the analytical divide of reality into concepts.

Technology, in its widest sense is not just computers and gadgets. These are only sub-components of a greater technological society. Technology as a principal of existence is as old as the universe, but on the material level it is at least as old as the biological realm. We find the beginnings of technology around the Cambrian explosion[1] when unicellular protozoa first became multi-organisms, utilizing the power of the many in order to create more and more technological functions. Thus, as Mcluhan implies, all biology is technology: an eye is a technology for seeing, a stomach is a technology for energy production, and a leg is a technology for movement. Biologies are technologies. In fact, de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man can easily be read as a zoological prequel to Mcluhan's understanding media, describing the influence of biological mediums on the evolution of consciousness.

The many finds various manifestations and myriad ways to utilize the powers of the many in order to achieve different goals: thus we have emotional technologies (e.g. NLP), intellectual technologies (e.g. Analysis) and spiritual technologies (e.g. tai-chi). The common factor for all of these is that they use complex functions in order to achieve a certain goal.

Technology is the manifestation of God the one in this world. Seen from a mystics point of view, technology is god's way of handling it's descent to earth, it's growth from being infinite oneness into being many different things, biological and technological. Technology is the process happening to the one source when it's becoming immanent, rather then just transcendent. To put it in other words, technology is the strategy of the one, to deal with its becoming many. From a cosmic or spiritual point of view technology can be called the immanent, the principle of judgment (in the language of Kabbalah, 'Din'), secularism or just logic.

The Fragmentation of Humanity

The history of technology, which includes within it the history of the sub-component of mankind (one of technology's highest achievements, the creation of a technologically evolving species, or meta-technological species) is the history of fragmentation – of the becoming many.

Fragmentation begins in the biological realm, with the rise of ever more diversified biological systems and with the fragmentation of the body to an increasing number of organs and functions. It goes on with the creation of more complex (increasingly wired) brains, capable of more complex thoughts – breaking unitary reality into more and more senses and perceptions.

In the human realm fragmentation is experienced as the fragmentation of knowledge fields and the fragmentation of expertise: a vast range of new professions proliferating, and new specialized knowledge areas which are created incessantly.

The most fundamental effect of fragmentation is the fragmentation of cognition which is experienced very vividly in our times. Carl Sagan has in his "Dragons of Eden"[2] an illustration which shows the relative part of the brain's attention which is allocated to each of the human organs. It goes without saying that each added organ fragments human attention even more. The history of biology, as the history of the fragmentation of the body into more and more parts and perceptual organs has been the history of the fragmentation of consciousness.

In an age where, if one wishes to put it in McLuhanesque terms, technologies as extensions of the human body abound – human attention is being fragmented ever more increasingly. Modern man is connected to an ever increasing number of communication channels and data streams from his incessantly sprouting technological organs: cellular phones, television, radio, printed media and above all the Internet with its dozens of fragmentizing media organs ranging from email and YouTube to instant messaging and Facebook applications.

Technology offers the power of possibility. To have it, is to have increased possibility space. However, does possibility space in itself increase well being? Not necessarily, and sometimes, following the work of Barry Schwartz[3], far from it.

Thus when left to their own the loose forces of technology induce (among other more positive traits) neurosis, schizophrenia and malcontent. Technological maladies cover the range from internet addiction to a decreased span of attention. Human beings who have to adapt to technology at an exponentially increasing rate experience this often as stress and disquiet. Digital existence is experienced by body and soul as a kind of future shock.

Media theorists such as Steven Johnson[4] have proposed that the increasing complexity of popular culture is accompanied by an increase in the complexity of our brains and our ability to process vast streams of data. Playing video games, engaging with an increasing amount of media simultaneously does heighten certain sorts of intelligence and is inspirational in its own way.

However While new networked intelligences and literacies (e.g. media literacy, digital literacy, gaming literacy etc.) are on the rise, we are experiencing a decline of old literacies and intelligences. I am not talking about textual literacy only but about much more fundamental "nature literacy" – the ability to relate to nature or even the ability to meditate – to stay in oneness. This causes a certain imbalance of a humanity lured into the many, without the ability to keep focus.


"There is absolutely no inevitability, so long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening." (Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage)

Does this mean that we have to give up technology? By no means, technology is sacred, it is the means of God to manifest itself in the world by ever evolving and more complex forms and attain higher, more diverse and complex forms of self-knowledge of the possibilities within EnSof, the infinitude of Godly power.

Moreover, technology is the basic software running in universe's computer, the cosmic principle of extropy running up against the stream of entropy. It can not and will not be stopped. What can be done is developing a heightened sensibility to technology – a new harmony with technology.

Mystical and spiritual traditions have been divided through the ages[5] to transcendent ones (fundamental monotheism), immanent ones (paganism) and non dual. All great mystical religions, from Buddhism to Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism have non dual traditions within them which are considered by many to be the zenith of sublime religious awareness.

Non-dual traditions sanctify both the transcendent and immanent faces of God, both the heavenly and earthly side – the power of the one, and the power of the many: God's origin in the undivided unity of the one (Mysticism in its purity) and technology in its courage to expand the presence of God from undivided oneness into new structured forms.

Different spiritual traditions also teach a non dual way of being. This is done in the Zazen practice in Zen Buddhism, in the "raising of the spark" in Jewish Hasidism, and in the practice of Kung-Fu to give a few examples.

I wish to concentrate on that last example a bit. According to Chinese tradition the practice of Zen and Meditation assists one in gathering Chi. Martial arts are the arts of releasing that Chi correctly. This is why the Chi arts and Martial arts are considered two complementary arts. While one cultivates the relation to unity, the other one teaches the right way to channel that unitary energy into multiplicity.

The emphasis that Kung-Fu puts on the ability to perform different complex activities while staying intent and focused makes it into to a prime form of Technomysticism. The kung-fu master can perform different complex tasks simultaneously while remaining clearly focused – sustaining a tranquility of both mind and breath.

Is a form of digital Kun-Fu possible? Can we develop a sacred relation to technology, one which will enable us to use technology in a harmonic fashion? Can we learn to navigate vast virtual spaces and stay emotionally and spiritually balanced? I am talking about a technology which will be virtual yet green, engaging yet relaxing, focusing yet mind-expanding.

Technology has a central role in the universe. It stands in the place of one of two poles which according to most spiritual religions are the basis of all creation. Kabbalah teaches that God first created the world in the power of Judgment, which is the power of separation and the many. However a world based on judgment only could not survive and thus God remade the world in a perfect balance between the two poles. This balance is the basis of all life.

If set loose, the power of technology could run over humanity and life. However, if humanity will be able to integrate higher and ever growing orders of technology into a unitary and harmonic consciousness then it will fulfill its evolutionary and spiritual call - the appeasement of the opposites. This is also the vision of the Omega Point as Teilhard de Chardin describes it: where individuality and collectivity are integrated into a new order of being.

Technomysticism aims to further this goal of the integration of the one and the many in an harmony with technology and although I will not go into go into the details of different techno mystic strategies here, I will only state here that I firmly believe it is possible. Moreover, I believe the future of mankind and of technology depends on that ability in this increasingly technological age.

[1] This is a bit simplified, since eukaryotic cells also have divided functions, and thus, technology.

[2] Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden

[3] Barry Schwarz, The Paradox of Choice, Why More Is Less.

[4] Steven Johson, Everything Bad Is Good For You: How popular culture actually makes us smarter.

[5] Among other methods of division of course.