from "TechGnosis, American Style"
by Erik Davis
The animating archetype of the information economy, its psychological spunk, lies in a gnostic flight from the heaviness and torpor of the material earth, a transition from the laboring body into the symbol-processing mind. Writing of the "liberating force" of high tech, the Gnostic Bishop Stephan Hoeller notes that
the resources marketed in high technology are less about matter and more about mind. Under the impact of high technology, the world is moving increasingly from a physical economy into what might be called a "metaphysical economy." We are in the process of recognizing that consciousness rather than raw materials or physical resources constitutes wealth.
Almost everywhere one turns these days, one finds signs of this "metaphysical economy," the sparkling mirror image of Marx's insistence on the ultimately material basis of wealth and value. The pleroma returns as the world's financial markets, where money ascends into angelic orbit, magically multiplying itself in a weightless casino of light pulses and symbolic manipulations. While corporations, cabals, and networks of trade and dataflow now overlay the territorial and social borders of nations, some thinkers believe that the information economy actually transcends, rather than simply extending, the previous material economies of industry and agriculture. As the technology futurist George Gilder put it, "The central event of the twentieth century is the overthrow of matter...The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things." This technological dualism is perhaps most starkly reflected in the world economy's myopic and cavalier relationship toward the biosphere itself, the material matrix of trees, water, wetlands, and toxins within which our bodies remain inextricably embedded.
As Hakim Bey notes in a scathing attack on Hoeller and the gnostic roots of information ideology, "In his enthusiasm for a truly religious economy, [Bishop Hoeller] forgets that one cannot eat 'information'." For Bey, the "metaphysical economy" depends upon the alienation between mind and bodily experience, an alienation that receives its most intense religious form in gnosticism. Though our "materialistic" culture has abandoned such mystical mumbo jumbo, Bey argues that mass media and information technology also deepen the mind-body split by fixating our flow of attention on alienated information rather than the direct, face-to-face, and embodied experiences of material human life, experiences that he believes form the core of any genuine spiritual freedom.
In this sense the Media serves a religious or priestly role, appearing to offer us a way out of the body by re-defining spirit as information... Consciousness becomes something which can be "downloaded", excised from the matrix of animality and immortalized as information. No longer "ghost-in-the-machine", but machine-as-ghost, machine as Holy Ghost, ultimate mediator, which will translate us from our mayfly-corpses to a pleroma of Light.
Like the Holy Ghost, an invisible medium which allows us to plug into the spirit of God, the incorporeal machineries of media and information offer to port our data-souls out of the body and into a virtual otherworld. William Gibson inscribed this dualism into the mythos of cyberculture when a virus destroys the console cowboy Case's ability to interface with cyberspace. Falling into "the prison of his own flesh," Case experiences "the Fall" a Fall we now can see is more Gnostic than Christian. Nor is this dualistic mythos restricted to cyberpunk science fiction. As the culture critic Mark Dery shows in Escape Velocity, one of cyberculture's defining dualisms is the opposition between "the dead, heavy flesh ('meat,' in compu-slang) and the ethereal body of information" an opposition that is "resolved" by the reduction of consciousness to pure mind. Combing through the worldviews of obsessive programmers, hackers, and video game junkies, Dery repeatedly came across the rather startling belief that "the body is a vestigial appendage no longer needed by late-twentieth-century Homo sapiens Homo Cyber."
Perhaps the most zealous shock troops for this new band of Homo Cyber are the brain-boosting transhumanists and cyberlibertarians known as the Extropians. The Extropians spend a lot of time plotting out neo-Darwinian future scenarios dominated by artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, smart drugs, weird physics, and massive government deregulation. But in doing so, they resurrect patterns of identity and desire that resemble the most transcendental of mysticisms, and it's their simultaneous commitment to cold hard reason and speculative fancy that makes their techgnosticism more compelling than the varieties found in the digital wing of the New Age. With the brash enthusiasm of a geek ubermensch whose steroid-fed muscles are bursting his "Beam Me Up Scotty" t-shirt, the Extropians are meticulously planning for the day when technology will form the ultimate escape hatch, and machines will free us forever from the clutches of the earth, the body, and death itself.