Techgnosis

Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information

Erik Davis

I spent nearly all of the nineties exploring an area that can only be labelled, with some discomfort, ‘spirituality’. Psychedelics, occultism, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, meditation, alternative therapies, mythology—the lot. Between 1999 and 2000, I worked full-time for the first time in my life (leaving very little time for my usual meanderings), and suddenly found myself obsessed with technology: the web, programming, digital media, sci-fi, nanotech, AI, space travel—the lot. I had always seen the potential links between the spirit and the machine, but had never delved deep, suspicious of the hype around ‘technopaganism’ and the like. But still, I found myself looking to build a bridge back to my pre-21st century obsessions, a bridge I also needed to go forward.

While TechGnosis doesn’t rank alongside personal lifechangers such as Burroughs and Gysin’s Third Mind or Terence McKenna’s The Archaic Revival, it certainly helped build that bridge. Indeed, it’s a testament to the success of Davis’ style that I now find it quite difficult to think of this bridge, firmly binding our technological projects to our spiritual concerns, as ever having been absent. It’s as if a multitude of half-intuited perceptions and suspicions have been enthusiastically confirmed with a barrage of evidence.

Davis won me over in his introduction with his shrewd assessment of technology’s status:

Technology is neither a devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a “tool,” a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature. Technology is a trickster, and it has been so since the first culture hero taught the human tribe how to spin wool before he pulled it over our eyes.

You can point to your inert PC box and argue that it is actually just a tool—it doesn’t have the independent volition of a Neuromancer-style AI, or a godform. What I think Davis doesn’t make clear enough is that we should be thinking in terms of our relationship to technology. The PC is just a box, but it is only important to us in terms of our relationship to it. And once this dynamic process is admitted to, technology is suddenly awash with all the desires, aspirations, fears, terrors and dense imaginal realms of humanity’s ongoing spiritual and religious relationship to the world of nature. Of course, technology has no real life of its own at present. But this is, by all indications, a temporary state, and as the technosphere grows and awakens, we will need to apply our collective experience of relating to organic existence to this tricky new realm.

Davis rightly dedicates a good section of the book to Philip K. Dick, the most gnostic of all sci-fi authors. He also has a ball picking over tales of UFO sightings and alien abductions. As Patrick Harpur detailed in his Daimonic Reality, the UFO phenomenon can be seen to reflect our current technological fears and desires through a Trickster’s mirror—the collision of our intuitions of contact with non-human intelligence with the beckoning miracles of ‘deep technology’ amplifying the paradoxes and ontological absurdities of each into a mass cultural enigma.

This book is an essential new frame of reference, managing to expose the relationship between spirituality and technology that has never been absent. The style is sometimes overwhelmed with its torrents of verbal twists and turns, but usually succeeds in its aim of conveying the feel of the content through the form. It’s about as readable as intelligent non-fiction gets, but rarely compromises the complexity of a subject for the sake of journalistic expediency. Recommended to tech evangelists and spiritual engineers alike.

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