Transhumanism: A Theology of the Megamachine
Meghan O’Gieblyn, in today’s Guardian, has written a pretty fascinating semi-autobiographical account of her “deconversion” from Christianity, her deep despair and Angst that followed that loss of faith and identity, and the temptations that “transhumanism” held for her as a surrogate faith and substitute theology. “God in the machine: my strange journey into transhumanism” describes what can only be called a theology for Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”.
It’s strange kismet, because last night I was obsessing, for some reason, over an early Pink Floyd song called “See Emily Play“, playing it over and over again trying to discover the meaning of who and what was “Emily”. The surrealistic Emily, I was convinced, bore some resemblance to the mood of Lily Allen’s song “The Fear” (as I discussed that earlier in “The Concretion of the Spiritual“). And it was in Meghan O’Gieblyn’s article that the two themes came together. There is something very profound about the human condition struggling to emerge into consciousness in “See Emily Play”, in “The Fear” and in O’Gieblyn’s “strange journey into transhumanism”.
There are a number of themes raised in O’Gieblyn’s article that we’ve addressed in The Chrysalis: the “death of God”, the post-modern “loss of self” and identity crisis, Gebser’s reference to the “maelstrom of blind anxiety” (Angst, as the existentialists call it). Most expressly though, it is that feature of the Kali Yuga that Marty Glass, in his book Yuga, called “the Fall into Time” and the attempt to escape it. It’s this attempt to escape the Fall into Time that informs O’Gieblyn’s article and the (misdirected) hopes of the “transhumanists”. And certainly Gebser’s “time-freedom”, which is also a transcendence of the Kali Yuga and the Fall into Time, has nothing to do with uploading consciousness into a machine, which is, itself, an image of the clockwork.
What is presently called “transhumanism” (and which should properly be called “post-humanism” and not transhumanism) is itself a “genuine imitation” of the real deal. There are already precedents for the meaning of “transhuman” — the Buddha, the Christ being just two historical examples — and who were already referred to as such in their own day and for one very obvious reason. They had obtained “time-freedom”. They had transcended time and escaped the Fall Into Time, and had tried to show the way to others by which they too could rise above samsaric existence, transcend the Kali Yuga, and achieve “time-freedom”. “Eternity”, in effect, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with “forever and ever” or notions of an everlasting machine of perpetual motion. O’Gieblyn’s article is actually a very good description of how the deficient forms of myth and magic inform the equally deficient thinking about “spiritual machines”. In fact, even if it were feasible to upload consciousness to a machine, it would not be everlasting life but everlasting death. It would be more akin to being buried alive — an entombment in mechanism, a perverse form of “Oneness” with the Megamachine, who is the old god Moloch.
If Dante was the first to use the term “transhuman” (which is disputable) it is certainly not in any sense that our cyborgians understand this. Nor does Nietzsche’s “overman” have any connection with this “genuine imitation” article that presently goes by the name “transhuman”. William Blake’s “Albion”, or Jean Gebser’s “Diaphainon” — these are the most current efforts to awaken human consciousness to its own implicit transcendent nature in time-freedom which is already its birthright, but which it has forgotten due to the descent into the Kali Yuga and the Fall into Time and mere sensate existence. That is the whole meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son — the Fall into Time.
The attempt of the ego-consciousness (which is Iain McGilchrist’s “Emissary” only) to achieve immortality for itself by entombing itself in a machine, like a mummy in the Egyptian pyramids (Rosenstock-Huessy in fact referred to this kind of fear of mortality and attempt to immortalise the ego-nature as “Egyptianism”) is really a perverse attempt to escape the Fall into Time, which is whatever is meant by “salvation” or “redemption”. “Time-freedom” is simply Gebser’s term for what was formerly called “redemption” or “salvation”.
The machine will not be “spiritualised” by this. That is exactly what is called “profane” thinking. More likely it is that consciousness will be mechanised, and in that sense deadened. This is exactly what was expressed in earlier concerns about “Organisation Man” or what Roderick Seidenberg (and Lewis Mumford) described as “post-historic man” — the human fully assimilated and fully adapted to the requirements of the Megamachine — as an extension of its own automatism. And the fact that so many find this fate desirable and reasonable is just a demonstration of how estranged and alienated human beings have become their own “vital centre” or Life.
Theological themes like “transfiguration”, “incarnation”, “redemption”, “immortal soul” all make a reappearance in the bizarre and surreal theologies of transhumanism and of the Megamachine, but in completely distorted and perverse forms. It certainly was not the case that escape from “the Fall into Time” — samsaric existence — was unavailable to human beings before technology and the Megamachine (which is, as far as I’m concerned, what Tolkien intended to be understood by his character “Sauron” equally).
O’Gieblyn concludes her article by calling all that “a pantomime of redemption”. We’ve used the term “caricature” here in The Chrysalis. It’s the same thing.
The teachings — the dharma — of early Buddhism, early Christianity, of Sufism are subtle. But never were they about contempt for the body and organic processes. That was a perversion of later dogmas that seem to have been carried over into ideals of “rationality” and mechanism. The body was always treated with respect and as a necessary partner in the process of self-transcendence, because it is Nature in the flesh. So, behind it all is a deep contempt for Nature. If they do ever succeed in uploading identity into a machine, it will not be eternal life, but eternal death that they will succeed in mimicking.