Last modified October 11, 2006 by Nik

pt VII: Some Further Parallels

From: Some Thoughts on the Relationship between Technology and Spirituality, by Michel Bauwens

Can the body of the Wisdom Tradition offer any useful perspectives even to those amongst us who are by nature skeptical of any non-scientific “knowledge?” I believe there are some interesting parallels between cyberspace and spiritual spaces that could make it of interest to look at spiritual testimonies of immaterial realms.

Indeed, it can be said that science has always dealt with the material world, while spirituality has extensively described non-material spaces. Until today, there was no immaterial space which could be recognised by the scientific mind. However, cyberspace is precisely such an immaterial space and hence, there is very little in the scientific tradition that could help us make sense of the dynamics of such a space. Not so in the Sacred Texts, which for example describe Indra’s Net (a metaphor for the nodes of the internet) or the Akashic Records (the place where all the world’s knowledge is stored and where one can travel using out-of-body techniques). I therefore believe that a study of such texts could be useful in understanding the dynamics of cyberspace as the quintessential immaterial realm.

Another aspect is the magical aspect. There is no denying that cyberspace has magical aspects. Especially with fully-developed VR environments, our minds will be able to travel in worlds that are changeable at will and where our very desires can be materialised. We have already seen how MUDS, MOO’S and MUSH’es are very much inspired by magical lore and techniques. This may be no accident. Indeed it can be argued that to navigate a “magical” space, we will need “magical” interfaces. This was the premise of the legendary hacker-sf novel of Vernon Vinge. Here again, a lot of the spiritual literature outlining magical and theurgic techniques might find a useful application in our new virtual worlds.

>From the point of view of spiritualists, cyberspace may also offer interesting opportunities. For example, transpersonal psychologist Charles Tart has invoked the idea of “faking” spiritual experiences through technology. Out-of-Body experiences could be easily recreated in cyberspace, using goggles linked to a robot, which then would look back at oneself. He’s also trying to find funds to create a lot of the intermediary worlds described in Sacred Texts, such as the Bardo of the Tibetans, in VR environments. Such a project would be an important cultural undertaking which would increase the understanding of the world’s spiritual traditions.

Cyberspace also presents an important spiritual challenge. Indeed, technology is clearly an extension of mankind and hence of nature. One of the fundamental aims of spiritual practice has been to extend our identities, and to overcome our feelings of separateness with other human beings, nature and the Cosmos. The same techniques could be used to arrive at a more holistic view of technology. In that sense, the merging of man with machine and technology can be seen as part of the mystical task of union with the universe.

For the rest of us, it will be always difficult to decide on the merits of the Positive vs. the Negative spiritual view of technology. There would be enough facts to sway our opinion in either direction. In this material world of contradictions, of Yin and Yang, such opposing views remain a useful heuristic tool, and it shows us the contradictory logic of technological progress. For every new power and possibility that it brings, technological progress takes away some other part of our humanity. Perhaps in order to survive in the high-stress world of high-tech, we more than ever need the high-touch psycho-technologies and body-work methods that are the enduring legacy of spiritual practice and the human potential movement. The new edge of technology may need the “new age” of reviving of spiritual practice. Without them, we may not be able to survive.