Saturday, May 14, 2011

Technomysticism - Chapter 5 - Technological Kung-Fu

This is the fifth chapter from my book "Technomysticism", published in Hebrew in 2009. You can find the previous chapters here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 3-part2. Chapter4.

How do you do that? How do you retain mindfulness while communicating in all channels, to an endless number of places, in a world which keeps accelerating itself? How does one learn to cope with an increasing number of challenges and still continue breathing deep and fully.

The answer is kung-fu. The term kung-fu is usually linked with martial arts movies in which the heroes fly from one side of the screen to the other side, while bashing their opponents in stupefying speed. However, kung-fu is much more than just a fancy way to beat someone. The term kung-fu can be defined in a variety of ways including: “an ability”, “a talent for learning”, “good effort”, “good habit” or “expertise”. Generally, the term kung-fu relates to the art of learning and evolving while conserving harmony with the world. Martial arts are only one type of kung-fu among many and kung-fu is basically the development of abilities of any sort. If you say, for example, that somebody has a cooking kung-fu or a floristry kung-fu, you mean that he has special skills in that field. (In fact, certain kung-fu films such as God of Cookery [1996] are dedicated to the art of cooking, and feature flying chefs who create almost supernatural stews.)

Each of us has a field in which he excels, and thus each of us is a kung-fu artist of some kind: there is a kung-fu for conversation and a writing kung-fu, a kung-fu for driving, and sexual kung-fu, there is kung-fu of thinking, and kung-fu in deciphering complex social situations, there is a kung-fu for memory and a kung-fu in dancing. Each of us is proficient in one way or another. Our unawareness of our kung-fu skills often obstructs us from getting even better.

Kung-Fu is a classic technomystical attitude in the sense that it is a system which aims to retain unity and yet develops the skill of coping with the many. In its classic forms, the way it is taught in the Shaolin monastery, (where the most famous kung-fu style has developed) the studies of kung-fu are combined with the study of Zen Buddhism. This interesting combination began when Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism arrived from India to China in the 5th century. Bodhidharma, who saw the monks napping during meditation asserted that the monk’s flaccid body is a sign of spiritual flaccidity and composed a series of physical exercises for them.

The practice of zazen, Zen meditation, helps a person conserve qi, that universal unified life force, which gives life to everything in the universe, according to Chinese philosophy. The exercise of martial arts is the art of the proper way to release qi. This is why the art of qi and martial arts are considered to be complementary to each other. While the first one helps establish a link to unity and conserve energy, the second one teaches the channeling of that energy into the many in the world. Eventually these two arts become inseparable. The kung-fu artist is in constant relation to qi and unity, and also in contact with the world. He performs each action through meditation and devotion in action. Kung-fu is thus a way to cope with technology by turning it into part of a comprehensive view balancing and integrating the one and the many.

Being in a state of kung-fu means being in a state of exercise, development and refinement. It means a state of mindfulness – being aware of one’s surroundings, focused, and experiencing reality in a whole and enhanced way. If technology is the strategy used by the one to deal with it’s becoming many, kung-fu is multiplicity’s strategy in order to reestablish its connection with the one.

The kung-fu artist is able to learn from every detail in his surroundings and use any situation or object to its advantage, an aptitude which is well depicted in some kung-fu films. The wackiest scenes in kung-fu films usually happen when the heroes of the movie are thrown into combat in an unexpected place or situation such as a restaurant or a crowded street. It is then, when man is forced to cope with the new and the unusual, that the true kung-fu artist is distinguished as the one who can use all things, and cope with all situations to defend himself and hurt his opponent. Some of the most famous skirmishes of kung-fu films star Jackie Chan are ones in which he fights using improvised tools such as a bicycle or a bench, and Jet Li will always be remembered for the virtuoso battles which he performs on wood ladders in the movie “Once upon a time in china” and the closing battle of “Iron Monkey” where he fights midair while jumping from one burning pole to another.

Kung-fu means attention and a willingness to learn from everything. The kung-fu artist sees every obstacle as a step to climb upon and every incident as a lesson. The perception of reality as a kung-fu practice is enough in itself to transform life into a process of learning and development.

The basic meaning of kung-fu relates not to a specific technique but to a state of mind. In Tao of Jeet Kune Do, a Bruce Lee’s masterwork, dedicated to explaining his philosophy of kung-fu philosophy, Lee says: “Please do not be concerned with soft versus firm, kicking versus striking, grappling versus hitting and kicking, long-range fighting versus in-fighting. There is no such thing as “this” is better than “that.” Should there be one thing we must guard against, let it be partially that robs us of our pristine wholeness and makes us lose unity in the midst of duality.” (Lee Bruce. Tao of Jeet Kune Do. Valencia, California: Ohara Publications. 1975. Page 23.)

These words by Lee, are true in regard to every possible situation. Whether you fight or struggle as a lawyer, and artist, a programmer or a housewife – the important thing is the level of consciousness one is able to retain while doing what he does, and the ability to break the bonds and limits and turn reality into a kung-fu practice.

There are many opportunities in life to develop kung-fu skills, because life are full of a wide variety of incidents to be related to unity. Whether it relating to physical pain, sleep and nutrition, challenges with the family, at work, or in a relationship – we keep having to deal with disturbances and finding solutions. When we do this while being joyful and retaining harmony: this is kung-fu.

Each of us is his own kung-fu trainer in the never ending battle of becoming a whole human being. Kung-fu is the essence of human experience, the struggle for constant development of consciousness and to refining the right state of consciousness. The principles of kung-fu remain the same, whether we deal with physical battle or with any other kind of struggle in life.

Kung-fu teaches us the importance of on-guard position. Stance should be both comfortable and relaxed as well as keeping the warrior in a state of readiness to quickly go on to perform any number of possible techniques. This principle is true to our emotional and spiritual stance in life which should be both relaxed and ready to face changes (meaning, a stance which is both in unity as well as in multiplicity). Bruce Lee writes that a fighting posture is basically “a ‘proper spiritual attitude’ stance” (ibid, 31) and a “simple but effective organization of oneself mentally and physically.” (ibid, 34) The right stance enables the warrior to kick any kick as if it was the last kick of his life, and yet to be able to kick that way till the end of time.

Kung-fu teaches us coordination, which Bruce Lee defines as “the quality which enables the individual to integrate all the powers and capacities of his whole organism into an effective doing of an act.” (ibid, 43) This sort of coordination is a basic principle in life. Each complex doing requires us to know how to assemble our various abilities and coordinate them for the purpose of real development.

Kung-fu teaches us awareness to sight. The spreading of awareness on a wide area enables a person to see things happening from a distance, and react to them quickly.

Kung-fu is the art of change: it teaches us to cope with new situations quickly and to deal with them in the best and most positive way, while retaining true awareness. “To change with change is the changeless state” said Lee.(ibid, 203)

In an era of ever accelerating change, kung-fu is a necessary practical and spiritual art. The technological era demands a new sort of kung-fu, one which will be synchronized with the digital world. The extensive use of technology demands a “good habit”, to enable us to connect to the many and yet be always related to the one. As technology becomes part of our body, we need to learn to control our new organs, as if we were technological kung-fu masters.

The digital kung-fu master integrates the different technologies which are at his disposal: the browser, the mobile phone, the PDA, the blog, social networks, virtual worlds, etc. he uses them efficiently and religiously, with a sense of joy and devotion, always keeping the feeling of true doing.

However, this kung-fu relates not only to technological gadgets: it is true also to the way one consumes that which the media communicates to us, for example commercials and reality shows. It has to do with the drugs and foods one consumes or from which one refrains, with the way one reacts during a sickness, with how one plans his travels or the physical posture one is using one uses while writing an email.

Smart Reality Consumers

In From Chocolate To Morphine American physician Andrew Weil proposes a different and refreshing angle on drugs. According to Weil there are no bad drugs or good drugs. Every drug can become a positive influence under certain circumstances, or a negative influence in under conditions. The key question which Weil gives regarding the use of drugs is: What is the relationship between man and the drug. Is it a healthy relationship or ones of misusing the drug. One could have a positive or negative relationship with any drug, claims Weil, and so the principle factor is not the specific drug being consumed but the way that is done. Weil’s attitude towards drugs can also be relevant to technology and media. No medium is inherently good or bad. Each medium can be used intelligently or unintelligently.

The next part of the book deals with the intelligent use of technology. Through the examination of different testcases, it aims at raising the awareness to the technomystical situation and to the way in which the media which we consume influences consciousness. This insight is the first step in a journey towards a massive change in the media which we absorb and towards becoming smart reality consumers.

I will point to various exercises and paths which might enable us to deal with certain situation but there will be no absolute or permanent solutions. The technomystical questions are too complex to be dealt with simplistically, seeking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as answers. Technomystical kung-fu must be a flowing style, outside of any dogma or rigid ritual. The relationship which each of us has with the technologies surrounding us are totally individualistic and any attempt to offer an absolute solution would be hopeless.

Bruce Lee talked about a “style without style”. In the introduction to Tao of Jeet Kune Do his widow, Linda, recommends throwing it away when one is through reading it. The recommendation to break any idol is a basic Jewish recommendation which brings us back to the days when Hezekiah broke the Nechushtan, the brass serpent made by Moses, after the Hebrew people began idolizing it and honoring it with incense. Any image which becomes petrified starts obstructing the real thing, which is why we refer to Bruce Lee’s recommendation to anyone who wants to learn kung-fu from a teacher or a system: “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useful, and add what is essentially your own.”

Technomysticism - Chapter 4 - Technological Devotion

This is the 4th chapter of my book "Technomysticism", published in 2009.

To read the first 3 chapters (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, chapter 3-part2)

The “Amputation” of organs is not the only toll which our technological extensions demand of us. Each new organ causes our perception of the world to become more complex and drives us further away from the basic feeling of unity. In fact, the story of evolution is the story of the ever growing distance from the from the experience of unified existence.

Psychedelic philosopher Terrence McKenna, describes evolution in one of his lectures, as the conquest of dimensionality. The evolution of more complex life forms was joined together with the evolution of ever more complex and multi-dimensional consciousness. Primitive life forms such as the protozoa (unicellular organisms) had very simple perception of the world, which does not include the senses which we observe in humans and higher animals. Because of that, one might say that the protozoa is in a state of utter unity: it fulfills its role in the world and never deviates from it. It experiences reality in amazing simplicity. The mind of protozoa, in as much as the protozoa have a mind, is focused completely on what it must focus on. Protozoa do not get confused.

In the course of evolution, as new senses and organs continuously appear and add new dimensions to our experience of the world, such as hearing, seeing, smelling, thermal sensing etc. the feeling of unity slowly disappears. New senses and organs cause our attention to flow and be diverted from the inside, to the outside world.

These senses and organs are, as we’ve earlier noted, unity’s way of coping with the world of the many. In order to exist in the world, the organism needs to develop tools to apprehend the world, to decide on the right course of action and to implement it. These are the technologies.

Seeing is a technology, hearing is a technology, smelling is a technology, a hand is a technology, a vagina and a penis are a technology, the GI tract is a technology, teeth are technology, and so on. In fact many of these technologies, which were created during the course of evolution, are only now developed, in much more primitive forms by scientists. Only now can we start to make robots that see or hear and know to react accordingly, and the development of an independent and efficient energy production system such as the human GI tract is still far from reach.

When new organs appear in the body, they necessitate evermore attention, like a demanding child or lover, taking it away from the other organs. Our consciousness, which in the days of the protozoa, could concentrate on one simple type of message, now needs to divide its attention again and again. In Understanding Media Marshall McLuhan claims that every time a new organ is added to our body the balance of the human nervous system is shaken, as it demands the body to reorganize it sense of being.

Technological organs disperse our attention even further, and take it away from basic functions such as movement, breathing, sensory feeling of our body and various other emotional, intellectual and spiritual experiences. One needs only to compare the breathing of the deer, whose breast contracts and retracts rhythmically and fully to the stressed and broken breathing pattern of modern man.

As more and more technological organs are added to the human body and experience, we also tend to become more neurotic and split-minded in nature. Man becomes a vulnerable to the development of various obsessions, mental loops and also different identities, which he spends a great deal of his time managing. Man’s ability to focus, is thus evermore impaired. That is perhaps the reason why the Hassidic school of Chabad claims that the divine sparks which exist in the animal’s soul are higher than those which exist in a man’s soul. Animals exist in a higher state of devotion than human beings – because they fulfill the wishes of their creator accurately. Animals are focused in the plain experience of the world and do not lose focus. Following the same vein of thought, one might argue that plants exist on an even higher level of devotion than animals.

Freedom is always the freedom different from the way your creator made you. It is the freedom which the father and the mother grant their children. It is the freedom which God gave to the world. As we move up the evolutionary ladder, to animals with more complex neural networks, devotion to direct unitary experience becomes ever more difficult to achieve. This is the state of man.

Freedom is not a bad thing, but a divine thing. Technology in itself is not bad. It is divinity’s way to evolve and express itself in a myriad of ways. The multitude of technologies is the multitude of life, of the potentials of being, a multitude of ways in which unity attains a fuller understanding of itself. When technology increases human potential, it is holy technology. The problem overlaying our culture’s disease is that the way we use technology tends to get out of control. Technologies have become cancerous bodies, focusing on repetitive stimulation of specific circuits of our monkey brain. Instead of developing, they limit us further.

Our mobile means of communication, for example, link us to a network girdling the planet, but they also short-circuit our communication and transform it into an SMS culture of low resolution messages which make it difficult for us to decipher the other side’s intention and force us to use only very brief modes of communication. Technology connects and short-circuits at the same time. It has linked us in a faster but also more precarious way. As technology makes the distance smaller, it also makes us smaller: it shrinks our attention span, and our range of expression and impression.

Technology must be used with devotion: creatively, with joy, honestly, with clear consciousness. The punishment for the unaware, numb use of technology is giving up freedom. Humanity’s problem is not an over development of our technologies. Technologies in themselves are sacred. They are God’s way to transform itself into more developed forms and achieve a more integrated perception of reality and of itself. This is why creation – god’s way of knowing itself – is the ultimate technological act. An act where unity teaches itself to become many.

Thus, the problem is not in the development of technology in itself, but in the unholy relation with it. The human race, in the midst of technological acceleration, can not keep its relation to unity.

Kabbalah tells us that the sin performed by the first the first man, Adam Harishon, was that he concentrated on one aspect of the godhead, and one aspect only (The sephira of Malkhut, one of the ten sephirot of the kabbalistic sephirot tree, which represents this world, among other things) and because he separated it from the tree of the sephirot, and saw it is as God, he has failed to see the relations which connect the whole of his being and distorted the image of God.

The technological sin is a reincarnation of that primal sin which has become an archetype for the failure to see the unity hidden in the many. The link to unity has been lost, and technological development has overridden the evolution of consciousness. Technology has become idolized and made into the only significant factor. It has become an addictive, cancerous element of our culture.

To the many who say: “The mobile phone turns you into an information addict, causes you to waste your time on senseless communication, disrupts your focus, will turn you into a sociopath, to a porn addict, and more…” – I say, yes, this is all possible, however we can not run away from the mobile challenge. Our new technological organs do not grow accidentally, but according to the God’s will, a primordial plan, or however you might call it.

We have eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge and we will eat it whole. Only then will we be able to say a blessing or vomit it out – we have the choice. There is no use in dreaming about deserting technology. We can not desert it, if at all, then technology will be the one to leave us. We as a species are only a vehicle which technology is riding, one moment before it leaves our biological semblance and evolves into new forms. However, to treat it that way might also be overly simplistic. Technology is us, and we are it. The image of man is the image of technology. Kurzweil, as we’ve mentioned, defines man as the one who constantly wishes to be that which he is not. Technology is that primal urge within us which keeps driving us to evolve. It was us whot were floating there in the primordial soup of life, it was us who turned to fish, to reptiles, to mammals. And every time we have learned to see the world anew, as a new metamorphosis of our being. We have turned into that which we today call “Man”. But man must always become something new, and since a million years ago, especially since the past 10,00 years of evolution, human evolution occurs mostly not on a biological level, but in a much more efficient and aggressive domain.

Technology is the scattering of the mind, and in that sense those who speak against it were right. However, technology can also become a force in the service of unity. We need a brain to perform meditation or to know God. Without technologies such as speech we wouldn’t be able to exchange ideas about God, without reading and writing, cultures such as Judaism or Islam could not have been created.

One could say that technology complicates our relation to God, but at the same time, it also makes it fuller and more challenging. God is there, where perfect multiplicity and perfect unity coexist. He already knows the one, and, according to Lurianic kabbalah, in order to know the many, he has created this world, the world of the many. The godly will to fuse with this multiplicity, with the other, to surprise itself – is the kabbalistic will to bring the Shekinah, the feminine side of the godhead to a divine relation with Kudsha Brich Hoo, the masculine side of the godhead. God is to be found in the fusing of perfect multiplicity with perfect unity, which is why we need to retain mindfulness, while working divinely through all our technological organs, and through all channels.

Technomysticism - Chapter 3, part 2 - The Mobile Phone Organ

Quite a while ago I started publishing the first 5 chapters out of my book "Technomysticism" which was published in Hebrew in 2009. After publishing the first 2.5 chapters, I was carried away by other tasks, and never got to finishing the publication of the first chapters.
I apologize for that, and now plan to complete the publication of the other 2.5 chapters which together with the first 2.5 compose the first part of the book.
Those who haven't read the first chapters can find them here: (Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3).

The mobile phone organ

It is easy to see how information technologies become an integral part of our body, if we examine one of the most important organs which have been added to the human body during the past millions of years: the mobile phone

The mobile phone, a technology which became ubiquitous around the whole world, from New York to third world villages, fulfills dozens of different functions for man. Billions of people carry it on their body wherever they go during the day. After all, the mobile phone has already become more multi-functional than the original personal communicator used by the Star-Trek crew in the original TV series.

My perfectly standard mobile phone functions as a beeper, an SMS, a camera, a video camera, a game console, pictures, music and video editing machine, a flashlight, a music player, a recording device, a photo album, a movie album, a notebook, a fax, an internet port, a calculator, a meter for the fourth dimension (a clock), a calendar, an organizer, a memory device and much more. It can even make phone calls.

Not many of my bodily organs perform such a variety of tasks. Who dares leave him without his mobile these days? This organ is totally ours. Yes, there are still some people who are walking without mobile phones, but they seem to be a minority facing extinction. That isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just a fact. The mobile phone has become a part of our body.

In a society where all our experiences are communicated through mediating mediums, in which communication with other persons in the other end of the world are mediated through a video camera, USB, fiber optics and screens which lead to the mediation of eye and brain, the mobile phone is a kind of technological “third party organ” which functions as another kind of sensory layer mediating between me and the world.

Electronic gadgets become a part of a global market of organ trafficking, and the greatest organ implant markets of today are the ecommerce sites where electronic gadgets are sold: a free market where we buy and sell super abilities ready to install.

What does it mean, when the mobile phone becomes an integral part of the body? Maybe it means that when I acquire a newer model, my organs are in better shape. If the mobile phone turns me into a cyborg, it can be seen as something which gives me the powers of a superhero. The mobile phone gives me special superpowers and allows me to see in the dark, to know exact time, to record sound, to take pictures, to remember details and of course to communicate beyond time and place.

Maybe this means that in the mobile phone era, the concept of good health is not confined to the physical body, but pertains to the digital world which surrounds me as well? Sometimes, when my computer is slow or stuck my body become tense, agitated and my breathing turns shallow. Is this not a classic case of the technological illness affecting the physical body’s equilibrium directly?

This relation seems to imply that in a future where we and our machines would become evermore entangled in one another, we will have to rethink our concept of health, so that it will include not only man’s biological machinery but also his technological ecology. If today’s integral medicine seeks to view man as a mind-body wholeness, the integral medicine of the future might perceive man as whole composed of mind, body and machine.

At the same time, the increasing dominance of the new technological organs might make it advisable to give special attention to our old organs which have functioned relatively well until the mobile phone and other technologies have arrived and made them obsolete and degenerate. A 2007 study which was conducted in Dublin’s Trinity College has found that increased use of mobile phone might damage your memory. For instance, people who rely on their mobile phonebooks suffer from poor memory performance. The researchers have found out that 50 year olds who don’t rely on their mobile phonebooks could remember more phone numbers, birthday dates and other kinds of data, better than thirty year old people who rely on their mobile phone to remember for them.

One could feel the degenerating influence of gadgets in a variety of ways. Some of the people who use GPS report that their ability to orient themselves in their surroundings has been seriously damaged; others who rely on their word processor to correct their spelling mistakes, report that they have ceased improving their spelling skills.

These phenomenon reverberate much older and deeper currents which have been percolating in our civilization for thousands of years. In the dialogue Phaedrus Socrates tells a brief legend in which king Thamus warns us that instead of helping people remember, the technology of writing will teach them to forget: “it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own”.[1]

Thamus’s admonition was not an empty prophecy. The great Talmudic literature was passed on orally and was written down only after hundreds of years, so was the Indian literature of the Vedas. During the classical antiquity and the middle age many of Europe’s scholars were proficient with “ars memoria”, the art of memory. The “memory palace”, a famous technique for memorizing information during the middle ages allowed savants to memorize hundreds of pages and lists consisting of thousands of items. Since the coming of print, these abilities have long since vanished, and new technologies have further escalated the situation. Today’s scholars would be totally at lost without an internet connection to the world’s databases. They are, in most cases, totally dependent on external memory.

Marshall McLuhan claimed that new technological organs amputate our older organs. Cars, for example, make our legs superfluous. They “become weak” and are “amputated”. Does this also happen to our mental abilities when we use gadgets excessively? Perhaps we should take care not to rely excessively on our new technological organs and to keep in touch with our older organs lest they become defunct.

[1] Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by: Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett publishing company. 1995. p. 79.