Voegelin Among the Machines: Teilhard de Chardin, Olaf Stapledon and the Millenarian Kernel of Transhumanism

HomeArticlesVoegelin Among the Machines: Teilhard de Chardin, Olaf Stapledon and the Millenarian Kernel of Transhumanism
Teilhard de Chardin

This article is the first step towards a Voegelinian study of the history of the relationship between millenarianism and technology. In it I concentrate upon “transhumanism,” a coagulation of opinions united by a shared belief that man’s nature is inherently revolting, flawed and imminently about to be transcended with the addition of cybernetic parts, uploading the mind to machines to achieve immortality, global communicative oneness and other marvels. What we shall explore is the unsaid ancestry of some of these ideals and their deep and surprisingly clear debts to Christian millenarianism as well as that bete noir, that voodoo priest of Eric Voegelin, Georg Hegel.

Christianity v. 2.0.

If one digs around a little, it is not hard to find that the most important ancestors of cybernetic global oneness and futures that unite nature and machine for all are very “Gnostic” indeed. As David Catherine has suggested, Valentinian Gnosticism and its “unshakeable race” of supermen, who have all been transmuted beyond the human into Christs on Earth in order to overcome the world’s supposedly lowly and evil nature, is a highly apt comparison to make with transhumanists.[1] Voegelin would surely agree that there are very strong parallels. As historian of technology Doug Hill has recently pointed out in relation to transhuman obsessions with becoming pure energy and its history, so too might Oswald Spengler agree that its roots lie in Western man’s world-feeling thatthe intoxicated soul wills to fly above space and time”, birthed in the Gothic monasteries and their search for divine transcendence.[2] Moreover, bona fide transhumanist Christians positing future technology offering eternal life and abundance for all as God’s apocalypse actually do exist, believe it or not.[3]

But closer to home in where a great many transhuman thinkers of the Space Age took their bearings is eccentric Jesuit palaeontologist and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Chardin in his work The Phenomenon of Man famously put forward the concept of a “noosphere”, a spiritual version of the lithosphere or biosphere; the collective consciousness of all human beings as though it is a physical substance. Chardin posited that it was the destiny of this “noosphere” to evolve into a future humanity of egoless, immortal electrical Christ-energy. Individualism is just some passing phase which we are to overcome in Jesus and be united with one another. The soul/mind is reinserted in great twentieth century New Age tradition as mere energy, compatible with the growing awe before just so much electrical wiring. Christianity v. 2.0 leads towards an immanentised eschaton of history, an “Omega Point” brought about by man’s “exteriorisation” of his nervous system through electronic networks. [4] We are dealing with millenarian thought at its most bizarre.

Chardin is part and parcel with Post-War “leap in being” of self-consciousness before the sudden boom in cybernation and emerging information technologies.  A perfect example of this is his formative influence on John Perry Barlow, a member of the first public internet, the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) in the 1980s and the man who created the myth of the internet as “electronic frontier” and popularised the term “cyberspace” (originally coined by cyberpunk writer William Gibson). Barlow is strongly indebted to Chardin and the notion that computer networks enable human beings to transcend egotism into a pacific anarchist realm of collective thinking. The Phenomenon of Man and its strange machine Christianity provided the basis for Barlow to move away from his strict Catholic upbringing, towards the LSD collective consciousness counter-culture of the influential Whole Earth Catalog magazine, and finally, the soterical power of the networked computer. This was in spite of the fact that he desired to resist becoming a “knowledge worker” at first, until his self-sufficiency ranch failed, and rationalising it as being “culturally doomed”, embraced the determinism of the holy “twenty-first century”.[5]

Similar influence may also be felt in the popular works of Whole Earther and former editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly, who, in his Out of Control written in the mid-1990s, propounded the vision that with the coming of the World Wide Web the human race was on the verge of becoming a single anhierarchical global oneness by 2015 (!)[6] Without Barlow and Kelly and their work as consultants for AOL and other major companies in the 1990s hardly anyone would have bought the central myth of the online community that the WELL developed. This was that the internet is a magical zone of free expression to “return isolated, post-industrial workers to a state of pre-industrial communion… members of the corporate sector thought such networks might bring isolated, post-industrial consumers into a state of post-modern economic communion.” [7]

On this level of popular mythology one should also note that much of 1960s media-guru Marshall McLuhan’s infamous “global village” philosophy about how text robbed us of community and television was destined to return it through “electronic circuitry [as an] extension of the nervous system”,[8] is heavily indebted to Chardin:

“…externalisation of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the “noosphere” or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in some infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence and super-imposed coexistence…terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all of the time.” [9]

How apt a prophesy of the perpetual and overblown news cycles, battles for recognition and tin-pot neo-tribal culture wars of online existence this all sounds! Jonathan Miller in his brilliant book for the Fontana Modern Masters series on the origin of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas acknowledges that whilst it is “unjust” to compare the former with Teilhard de Chardin simply on the common basis of their deep Catholicism, it is “often useful to classify the varieties of intellectual folly” by looking deeper to root causes behind ideologies.[10] Much interesting discussion is invested in McLuhan’s very religious and anti-industrial upbringing as part of the Canadian Agrarian movement and his obsession with Allen Tate and other thinkers who romanticised the early American and Canadian colonial past. McLuhan went from being a rather dull literary critic to learning to love the television and computers and hate books as the very cause for modernity’s industrialism, desensitisation and social alienation.[11] Most curious of all, however, is how Miller describes in detail the false “detachment” both Teilhard and McLuhan pursue in order to diffuse their religious views covertly through the means of the less important shell of scientistic mock-academic theory. Fred Turner has also observed this “vision of mystical Christian unity” in McLuhan, without even recourse to noting Teilhard de Chardin’s influence.[12] The obvious fact of the matter is that the “noosphere” and “global village” too, is merely a conceit to push towards a universal, eschatological Crypto-Christendom to save us from our fallen state.

From Dante to Anacharsis Cloots, Kant and the United Nations immanentised eschatological and soterical global Christendoms run through the history of western modernity. Simply adding wish-fulfilling machines like McLuhan, Chardin and their descendants do, does not erase the bitter truth of where such value judgements for immanentised salvation come from. McLuhan and his Crypto-Christendom was simply at the forefront of articulating the technological mysticism we now call “globalisation”, as Ervin Laszlo was to recognise enthusiastically as early as 1972 in his work on the then nascent view of the world as single “system”.[13] This said, when one considers the opportunists at Google, Microsoft and Facebook vying to see whose “version” of the internet will dominate in the Third World as part of a horizontal “New Space Race” we must certainly ask what sort of missionaries we are dealing with.[14] It is all too weak and lazy to simply engage in the typical liberal cynicism that pure greed is the sole onus. From the cloying advertisements of Facebook’s internet.org showing romanticised subaltern magicians and inventors gaining internet access for the first time, to the strange projects involving balloons and flying platforms beaming down wi-fi signal, our Silicon Valley pioneers really do seem to believe in a saved world. Yet, as Zauddin Sardar asked back in the 1990s – what more is globalised post-modern openness and tolerance but the Jesuit missionary come back for one more conversion, this time three quantum leaps higher in his cleverness?[15]

It has now reached the stage when the last few big Marxist thinkers are drawn in desperation towards idolising this process, as Marxists always are to the whiff of numinous machinery. Antonio Negri has spent the past fifteen years outlining the theory that the masses can somehow seize the post-industrial “means of informational production” and by destroying copyright and demanding world citizenship Marx’s millenarian ideas will be redeemed.[16] More recently, Nick Srnicek has begun to endorse the vision that the left should actively demand neo-liberal globalism to accelerate its processes so that it can finally become a transhuman post-scarcity world community, as futurists dreamt of in the 1960s.[17] Indeed, as Evgeny Morozov illuminated in his fascinating book The Net Delusion, to the internet, this magical new zone, we have brought all our old political problems and myths.[18] The mere nascent soterical promise of the internet has caused us to forget that geopolitics and history are a lot more complex than merely striking a few keys on a keyboard and hoping for the cargo cult of novel technology to pay out, as of course the now utterly failed Arab Spring testifies.

Another curious fact is that Teilhard de Chardin’s key concepts, “Omega Point” and “noosphere”, have long since been shorn of their more obviously Christian aspects so as to conceal their origins in popular modern transhuman thinkers such as John Barrow and Frank Tippler. [19] Tipler, it should be noted, is sadly one of those people – a believer in the holy mystery that the cosmos is a computer simulation, an idea far more shockingly common than merely the providence of conspiracy theorists still dining out on films like The Matrix.[20]  Tipler, however, takes it one step further. He gets his magical cosmology both coming and going. The world is already a computer simulation made by those in the future for us. Thus we are destined to realise this via the computer’s manifest destiny of exponential magical futureal development, Moore’s Law. Nick Bostrom, perhaps the most famous endorser of this simulation theory grounds this boot-strapping in a “statistical argument” that boils down to the rather pathetic 1960s pulp science fiction paradox “twist” that “…if we don’t think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears.”[21] Somehow the twentieth century’s obsession with the Turing is magically going to last forever until it becomes divinely powerful, just so that our descendants can play The Sims with us for fun.

In this, as one may see, God is simply replaced by the cargo cult of the computer as “universal machine” able to make simulated models of everything and solve all. This is the sort of Gnostic tail-chasing, the magical foregone conclusion that we might expect from Hegel, not computer scientists, but clearly the propensity is very much there. Let us look at this with some perspective. Ptah and Prometheus made man on the potter’s wheel; the Baroque obsessed over the cosmic clock; the Victorians loved the proto-cybernetics of the locomotive governor as an illustration of how nature adjusted itself; at the end of World War Two information theory, ecosystem ecology, cybernetics and systems theories bred like rabbits, all hoping to grind the world down into “feedback” and “information”. Tools can be elevated to the cosmological level and more importantly, as we see, obsession with them comes and goes with the cultures that revere them. How apt then that the computer simulation theory somehow became the topic of the recent 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, only proving the kind of vulgar level to which “popular science” can lower itself.[22] Clearly the mythology endures outside of a mere small circle of cranks. And why not? The computer remains absolutely central to the day to day life of contemporary post-industrial people whose very way of life is dependent upon it. How could it not be special just as Zeus of the Storehouse, a great grain vessel, was to ancient Attic farmers and the lifeworld they dwelt in?

But then of course there is this last but equally important example to add on the subject of Teilhard de Chardin’s massive influence. Analytical philosopher and AI enthusiast Daniel Dennett deftly notes that when fellow thinker David Chalmers and others are speaking about magic futures of uploading consciousness to a technological “Singularity” of united minds and machines, what they really mean is simply a remnant of Christian dualism, of souls freed, in which Teilhard de Chardin and his “Omega Point” is seriously implicated. The vile coil is cast off and the mind/soul is immortalised on the hard drive. Yet, Dennett, in spite of his aggressive and well-known reductive Neo-Darwinian monism, begins to smell distinctively of Chardin and his global nervous system as his reply continues:

“…It is not yet AI, let alone AI+ or AI++, but given our abject dependence on it, it might as well be. How many people, governments, companies, organizations, institutions… have a plan in place for how to conduct their most important activities should the internet crash? How would governments coordinate their multifarious activities? How would oil companies get fuel to their local distributors? How would political parties stay in touch with their members? How would banks conduct their transactions? How would hospitals update their records? How would news media acquire and transmit their news? How would the local movie house let its customers know what is playing that evening? The unsettling fact is that the internet, for all its decentralization and robust engineering (for which accolades are entirely justified), is fragile. It has become the planet’s nervous system, and without it, we are all toast.”[23]

Dennett can do nothing but remind us that we have no choice except some Chardinian future where some nascent electronic network is the planet, that somehow it sustains all. The Earth now needs the “noosophere”. We have gone too far, and he himself, like Chalmers, is too much of a believer to consider anything else. Anyone who speaks otherwise is very much implicitly not only the enemy of mankind’s fragile new epoch but of the very planet itself. Who needs to turn Dennett into a mad scientist “caricature” obsessed with converting everything into Darwinian robots, as he often accuses his enemies of doing to him, when he is so good at doing it himself, having to outdo Chardinians at their own game? He seems the perfect self-parody of the leftover von Neumann Space Age folk-magician. Yet, Chardin was simply around at the right time to create the best narrative, the one that gives the game away. The apotheosis of the cargo cult of the Turing Machine promising fulfilment of the age-old wishes to end loneliness and death, as old as the Gilgamesh epic, even humanity itself. To say no to it has already become to say no to the world and its promised transfiguration.

The End of History and the Last and First Men.

As well as Teilhard de Chardin and his technocentric Christianity, we should also add the immense influence on the Space Age “leap in being” of transhuman thought produced by Hegelian philosopher and science-fiction writer Olaf Stapledon. When people speak about the great Hegelian thinkers of the twentieth century – of Lukács, Adorno, Kojève, Fukuyama and more recently Žižek, they never mention Stapledon. Perhaps this is because he was merely a British office worker, a writer of pulp books on science-fiction and philosophy, and not a professional academic. But in all honesty perhaps it is simply because science fiction is just too honestly millenarian, too twee, and that deep down professional prophets can see a little of themselves and their own big visions in it. It is like an embarrassing funhouse mirror that offends a young girl by causing her to worry not that she is hideously misshapen, but in fixating on her shape, she begins to think that she might be just slightly fatter than what she thinks she is. On a mass-cultural level, and for his influence on technological millenarianism, I would count Stapledon as the Hegelian thinker of the American century.

Precipitated by the shadow of the First World War and the threat of a second, Stapledon produced two epoch making novels – The Last Men and First Men in 1930 and The Starmaker in 1937. These conjure up endless images of cosmic combats between collectivist and individualist forces, which at the time Stapledon saw as leading rapidly towards human self-destruction. Throughout Stapledon’s works the one and the many are finally mediated in Hegelian fashion into a shared consciousness, or, alternately, species after species, including the human race and its descendants, destroys itself. Stapledon’s bizarre deus ex machina solution to this crisis of the one and the many with networked Martian microbes and super-intelligent gas nebulae, predating H.G. Well’s “World Brain” by nearly a decade, lay in the fortuitous circumstances that allowed him to be the first to put the concept of telepathy into science fiction.

Telepathy as a term was coined by late nineteenth century paranormal investigator Frederic Myers and was continued by his son Leopold Myers, who was a friend and avid patron of Stapledon and his work.[24] Everyone has surely read some science-fiction novel or other from the 1960s in which people in the future have become telepathic for no discernible reason. It is one of those futureal folkloric tropes which we will probably now never be rid of. Stapledon is to blame, as he also is for the generally dark reception of such ideas in the form of the monstrous collectivist drone monstrosities such as the Borg, Cybermen and Bodysnatchers that litter twentieth century science-fiction. Paul Davies, mystified by popular scientist Fred Hoyle’s belief that the cosmos is controlled by a “superintelligence” could only reach for Teilhard de Chardin as a possible influence.[25] Davies should have read some Stapledon because that is where the idea for the all too Hegelian idealist “superintelligence” of Hoyle comes from, along with his other famous alien entity of collective intelligence “the black cloud”.[26] It is an easy mistake to make perhaps to assume Chardin’s influence, though it must be emphasised that he was not influenced by Hegel at all compared with Stapledon, so it seems.[27] What makes Hegel and direct Christian millenarianism both sources for technological apotheosis is the fact that they are simply two strands of evolution narratives that end in immanentised oneness. This only proves the strength of the legacy of such ideas in Western thought and the machine as instrumental icon for delivering this eschaton.

Of greater interest is the fact that Stapledon has also had a profound influence on “serious science”. Stapledon’s recurrent collective consciousnesses of telepathic minds articulated as pseudo-scientific nodes in a system of “radiation” and radio waves continued to influence those after him. In fact, the idea inspired in Irving J. Good, one of Turing’s co-workers, the very notion of networking computers to begin with in the late 1940s, as George Dyson showed in his monumental work Darwin Among the Machines – one of the few texts to treat the influence of Stapledon in detail. This was carried over, as Dyson tells us, into Paul Baran’s theorisation of packet-switching and the first plans for an internet in 1960-1 and later also on his work on wi-fi in the 1980s.[28] Yes, a Hegelian science fiction writer is the formative father of the internet. Perhaps one should let that sink in. As well as this we might also add one more eccentric concept originated by Stapledon and occasionally taken seriously. This is that of George’s father, Freeman Dyson and his “Dyson Sphere”, a theoretical piece of engineering placed around stars by highly advanced civilisations to ward off heat-death.[29] Stapledon, like Teilhard de Chardin, is everywhere.

In the end, though, when all the window decorations are brushed away – the networked aliens, organic computers, conscious stars, and billions of years Stapledon conjures up –  the very kernel it comes back down to is the millenarian “End of History” we find in Hegel that immanentises God on Earth as the “absolute religion” of the community of mutual recognition. In The Starmaker, right at the end of the entire universe, the narrator, who has been drifting through space and time viewing the entirety of history, comes to a point where all has become a “communal mind” except for the cosmic creator itself. In the final moments, just as the last creatures on the “Dyson Spheres” are dying from heat death, the great telepathic community “emerging from a chrysalis” finally becomes aware of this being:

“I did not, of course, in that moment perceive the infinite spirit, the Star Maker. Sensuously I perceived nothing but what I had perceived before, the populous interiors of many dying stellar worlds… I had already been powerfully seized by a sense of the veiled presence of some being other than myself, other than my cosmical body and conscious mind, other than my living members and swarms of burned out stars. But now the veil trembled and grew half transparent to the mental vision. The source and goal of all, The Star Maker was obscurely revealed to me as a being indeed other than my conscious self, objective to my vision, yet as in the depth of my own nature; as indeed myself, though infinitely more than myself.”[30]

Let us compare this with a passage from Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit, “that magnum opus of the murder of God”[31] as Voegelin so colourfully called it:

“There is something in the object always concealed from consciousness when the object is for consciousness as “other”, something alien and extraneous…this concealment, this secrecy, ceases when the absolute being as spirit is object of consciousness…this individual human being, then, which absolute being is revealed to be…is the immediately present God…spirit remains the immediate self of actual reality…it is not the individual subject by himself, but the individual along with the consciousness of the community and what he is for this community is the complete whole of the individual spirit.” [32]

As one may see, the similarities are painfully obvious because of the centrality of Hegel’s ideas in Stapledon’s work. In turn, this passage from the Phenomenology is of course uncannily similar to a famous passage from Plotinus, on the Neo-Platonic realm of immaterial, interpenetrating minds that compose God. As Voegelin perspicaciously pointed out, critics often seem to imagine Hegel materialising out of nowhere, rather than locating him as an immanentist perversion at the end of the Neo-Platonic tradition.[33] We read in Plotinus:

“Each nous (mind) has everything in itself and sees all things in each other, so that all are everywhere, and each one is all and the glory unbounded…a different kind of being stands out in each, but in each all are manifested.” [34]

This Neo-Platonic realm of mind, mixed with Aristotle, came down into mediaeval Europe in the form of Islamic Averroesism. The synthesis produced a vision of an eternal material universe (from Aristotle), with no life after death except being sucked in some cosmic holistic cognizance. Dante’s De Monarchia with its nascent millenarian concept of global order under a superking was indebted to Averroesism and its collective mind, for which the author was posthumously accused of heresy.[35] Averroesism indeed terrified the church and philosophers of the Italian Renaissance such as Petrarch and Fico.[36] Historian Guido Gogliono conjures up some of the more creative pejorations of the period which sound uncannily like the collective minds of schlocky Stapledonian alien horrors one might find precipitated in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Puppetmasters:

“The intellect acts as a ghost ship, a mechanical contraption, a demon who possesses the mind of individual human beings, a wall capable of perceiving colours that are reflected in it. Ficino expanded on the anti-Averroistic imagery. He compared the Averroist intellect to a monstrous octopus with a giant head and countless tentacles which fall and grow incessantly in accordance to the individual imaginations of which it feeds. These images had the rhetorical function of highlighting the absurd claim that human thinking is the act of being thought by another intellect. Human beings do not “intellect”, they are “intellected”, and what is more, they do not even know that they undergo this unremitting process of “being intellected”. Indeed, they are led to believe that they are in control of their own thinking activity. The absolute objectivication and reification of human thinking -man is an object and not a subject of thought – was the aspect of Averroes’s philosophy that was perceived almost from the beginning in the Latin West as most distasteful.”[37]

It is imperative to note here that in their reactions to Averroesism, Petrarch, Fico and others did not follow Aquinas who had already uttered similar revulsions towards the heresy. Their reaction led them somewhere very different, to swerve in the exact opposite direction – towards affirming the sovereignty of personal character through a return to classical philosophical values. In doing so they aided in forming the basis of modern individualism. Voegelin called this Renaissance misfiring of a return to classical virtue without the Greek gods the “egophanic revolt”.[38] This put the rebellious ego in charge instead of man’s acceptance of the divine ground of the world and attempts to live a good life in the face of the turmoils of fate.

With the rebellion against this collective mind in the Renaissance we find that the greatest warfare hypothesis of modern western civilisation is very old indeed, the individual versus the mass. It is not hard from here to work forward through Hegel and Stapledon to find ourselves in the company of just so many zombie Borg transhumanists and the native terror most westerners have towards such ideas as egocentric beings. If in the Renaissance philosophers could not tell the difference between the Neo-Platonic transcending of the ego and falling beneath it into becoming subhuman, good luck to those of the present! Ever since Nietzsche made Hegel’s terminal citizen of Prussia into the monstrous bovine “Last Man”, from Klages, Spengler and Ortega Y Gasset to Adorno, Fukuyama, Leo Strauss and Alan Bloom we are yet to hear the end of complaint about being surrounded by the sad and quiet zombies of technologically-driven Enlightenment mass-civilisation.[39] No wonder it is a common myth then, that the produce of Stapledon’s influence, the Cybermen of Doctor Who, represent monstrous cold war images of Communists and the Daleks Nazis, the left and right branches of extreme Hegelianism par excellence.

Stapledon, like other Hegelians, was all about ending this strange Western European narrative of the individual vs. the mass, but in preserving the true character of both through Aufhebung in the “solved” telepathic mediation. Only if one is a truly pessimistic Hegelian like Ludwig Klages, and more fully Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, whose Dialectic of Enlightenment outlined the idea that the “instrumental reason” of technological progress had doomed man to increasing slavery from the moment he first picked up a rock, do we find ourselves believing that we are in the presence of a genuinely helpless Gnosticism.[40] The critique of society that the history of philosophy and the Enlightenment produced proves to be a cruel joke and the spark of independent thought dies. Hegel is found to be truly standing on his head and we become the victims of some morose satanic Weltgeist, where the Borg meet William Blake’s Urizen, ready to gobble us down like the Renaissance view of the overmind of Averroes.

This said, we now come to perhaps the most vocal and popular of current transhuman gurus, Ray Kurzweil, and his magical concept of the computational “Singularity” of AI and human consciousness, which has already been mentioned in passing in previous sections of this essay in relation to its debt to Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point”. Kurzweil is in fact so utterly zealous about this “Singularity” that is supposedly going to make us a “billion times smarter”, he believes at the current rate of Moore’s Law and computational development that all of this will have happened by 2040. This is quite amazing really, seeing the humorously poor track record for AI predictions from Turing and Weaver to Marvin Minsky and others.[41] A few computers that play Chess and Go and Microsoft’s amusing data-mining bot Tay that last year had a very famous public “Neo-Nazi” breakdown,[42] do not fill one with a lot of faith, for better or worse, in the absolute imminence of clever machines – whether imitating man or of an utterly “other” mentality.

Kurzweil for his notion of the “Singularity” draws, I believe, on Stapledon through Irving J. Good and Freeman Dyson,[43] but never names him. Perhaps Kurzweil has not read Stapledon first hand. In defence of this let us look at what Kurzweil loves so much about something Irving J. Good once said in 1965 about machines:

“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.”[44]

Now, perhaps what is imperative is that this passage from Irving J. Good does not sound at all like merely some John von Neumann evolving “self-reproducing machine”. Rather, it sounds quite an awful lot closer to the fourth race of future humans in Stapledon’s novel Last and First Men.[45] Irving J. Good, as we have already seen, knew Stapledon well and applied his ideas to the concept of networking electronic “minds” together in the late 1940s. At very least there would seem the very strong possibility that once again he is talking about Stapledon. Let us see the story.

The third race of humans in Stapledon’s book, masters of genetic engineering, feel that they cannot progress any further and thus design a series of organic computers. These in turn exterminate their creators out of resentment because for all their effort they too are unable to gain absolute knowledge of the universe (that old Faustian chestnut). As a result they create a fifth race of men, which in turn destroy these organic machines. In Good’s own words they simply keep on designing “better machines”.

I personally do not think that anyone has ever been more Faustian than Olaf Stapledon, so obnoxiously, neurotically Hegelian in the need to constantly synthesise everything whilst playing with big universes of billions of years and multiple, consecutive races of mankind. Entities exist simply to survive long enough to make it to the next grand historical synthesis. Even the fifth race of men, who live for so long they become despondent because they realise they cannot solve anything, finally die out, except a few who move from the Earth to Venus before the moon threatens to career off into the former and destroy it.[46] Stapledon is so grand he becomes pathetically boring. But at very least we should be aware of the strong possibility that Kurzweil is without perhaps knowing it drawing second-hand upon a story in which the human race is unimportantly exterminated by its creations and them in turn by others. There is something inherently monstrous and stupidly pointless about those words of Good’s: “the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make”.

Like Stapledon, Kurzweil’s final vision (or “End of History” – for we are dealing with Hegelians here), is one where intelligence is taken to be as of great a significance to the history of the universe as it was to the idealist Hegel. At the “End” all is shared in a complex computational entity capable of covering the whole cosmos, hubristically fending off heat death and prolonging it. Kurzweil writes:

“How relevant is intelligence to the universe? … The common wisdom is not very. Stars are born and die; galaxies go through their cycles of creation and destruction; the universe itself was born in a big bang and will end with a crunch or a whimper, we’re not yet sure which. But intelligence has little to do with it. Intelligence is just a bit of froth, an ebullition of little creatures darting in and out of inexorable universal forces. The mindless mechanism of the universe is winding up or down to a distant future, and there’s nothing intelligence can do about it. That’s the common wisdom. But I don’t agree with it. My conjecture is that intelligence will ultimately prove more powerful than these big impersonal forces…. So will the universe end in a big crunch, or in an infinite expansion of dead stars, or in some other manner? In my view, the primary issue is not the mass of the universe, or the possible existence of antigravity, or of Einstein’s so-called cosmological constant. Rather, the fate of the universe is a decision yet to be made, one which we will intelligently consider when the time is right.”[47]

Yes, please note, having internalised the pure magical thinking of what was just said, that  popular magazines call this man “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” “the ultimate thinking machine” and pay him serious money as head of engineering for Google and the institute for inventors, the ‘Singularity University”, which Google heavily patronises.[48] Not just the rare dollar or so royalty for the occasional Penguin or Bantam book like pulp fiction writers such as Stapledon used to receive. One should note, however, that those who do not wish to partake in this magical “Singularity” oneness will not be able to “meaningfully participate with those who do”.[49] What a terrible shame not to be sucked into a robo-global village “contribution culture” with the Cybermen! I personally feel that I am certainly glad that someone out there like Kurzweil exists, taking hundreds of pills a day to extend his life until cybernetic immortality is magically invented.[50] That someone is planning for the end of the entire universe already. But then again millenarians always are, however big or small they think the cosmic timeline is.

Kurzweil’s inability to recognise his Hegelian ancestry should be contrasted with German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, a neo-vitalist, lapsed Marxist eugenics enthusiast,[51] and author of the monumental and very Spenglerian[52] 2500 page work on the history of shared space, Spheres. Sloterdijk has long outlined similar ideas to Kurzweil – that the future of humanity will be a shared “plug in” consciousness he describes not as a ‘Singularity” but a plurality of diverse overlapping cultural “Clouds”.[53] Unlike Kurzweil, however, Sloterdijk is more than aware that he is directly channelling Hegel’s “End of History” by transforming the concept of objectified Geist (spirit/mind) into a “Cloud”, without the need for Stapledon, Chardin’s “noosphere” or other intermediaries. Sloterdijk does so out of a self-admitted act of desperation, as a de facto Nietzschean reactionary who views the current West as a failing “Jurassic Park” experiment unable to properly master and embrace the ongoing need for human beings to “tame” or develop themselves creatively through “anthropotechnic” machinery. This is due to his belief that globalised multiculturalism and the welfare state has failed to allow proper equal recognition and respect between the self and the “other” in western societies. To Sloterdijk social democratic governments and leftist academics have conjured up an automated “taking hand”, which has bred “ressentiment”, dampening the courageous or “thymos” aspect of human beings.[54] Fukuyama also warned in his The End of History about such Nietzschean reprisals of “thymos” against the egalitarian liberal state, one should note.[55]

Yet in considering this miraculous bandaid of “plug in” consciousness, if one looks at the already existing Stapledonian internet it is not hard to think of it in its Hegelian lineage as a kind of ultimate punchline at Hegel’s expense. There may well be little in the way of a “master” title to fight over in a liberal society amidst the throng of abusive individuals all trying to prove that they exist and are unique, but this, especially with regard to the now central position of social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, has not stopped it from becoming a kind of all too obviously wretched, desensitising war of all against all with plastic swords. Would simply adding more miraculous Stapledonian technology somehow cure the “ressentiment” inherent in liberal society and the obvious fact that overweening pretensions towards individualism and egalitarianism have not been mediated, but worsened? Where is that magical telepathy when one is needs it?

Nonetheless, in spite of their similarities, for some reason Sloterdijk finds Kurzweil’s “Singularity” elitist – “it could only encompass a tiny group of exceptional transhuman individuals”.[56] I am yet to uncover why he might think this to be the case at all, except perhaps for the previously mentioned notion of Kurzweil’s that those who do not “plug in” will be rendered ostracised non-citizens. In truth, only in the most bizarre of thinkers like reactionary Robo-Nietzsche Nick Land, who like Sloterdijk has also pinned his futurist hopes on an emerging China doing a better job than the failing West, do we find an utterly exclusive vision. In an updated tradition of Nietzsche and Deleuze we are “accelerating” in the direction of a hi-tech flattening of the world, a “meltdown” of overpopulation and cybernation, says Land, out of which a new kind of elite post-human will emerge as the masses starve.[57] If Voegelin were alive today one wonders what he would make of such a tacky science-fiction “golem”, as he called the reinvented egophanic visions of humanity such as Marx’s “Socialist Man” and Nietzsche’s “Blonde Beast”.[58] Would he laugh or be gravely ill? It is hard to tell. But for Sloterdijk and his own golem of “anthropotechnics”, as with the left “Accelerationist” philosophy of Srnicek mentioned in a previous section with its robot wombs and dole for all,[59] the magical future is resolutely for everyone.

The transhuman world of “Clouds” is to be a perfected series of “spheres” to Sloterdijk. Shared zones emerging from amidst the chaotic “foam” of post-modernity – an “immune system” in which everyone is finally integrated, bracing against the wound of the infinite universe the Scientific Revolution gouged into the Western psyche. Sloterdijk tells us that for this to happen: “Mathematicians will have to become poets, cyberneticists philosophers of religion, [medical] doctors composers, information-workers shamans”. [60] This evocation draws upon Heidegger’s morose and bombastic “end of history” idea that cybernetics, by converting all into mathematical information, has somehow “finished” Plato’s philosophical project of finding a total mathematical hypostasis to reality.[61] Is there not something terribly stale in all this? Have we not had seventy years of twee Faustian witchcraft hovering over the computational altar ever since Norbert Wiener’s God and Golem Inc. and John von Neumann’s “self-reproducing machines” at the end of World War Two? This was when the “Information Age” actually commenced and the difference between “man made and nature made machines”, brewing for hundreds of years since Descartes, Leibniz and Hobbes and their artificer God, was finally removed. [62] Without a God, the automata were left to wind themselves up through pure magical thinking on the part of their human creators.

Yet, if there is indeed some truth in the need to cure the wound of an infinite universe, this notion may go somewhere towards explaining why the Post-War era’s obsession with the vertical transcendence of conquering outer space has long since given way to a horizontal “New Space Race” to network all and cover the earth in a hall of mirrors of computer monitors. Narcissus looks down into the pool at his own reflection in a way ironically far grander than all the erroneous myths about mediaeval people cheerfully thinking of themselves, rather than God or Hell (depending on perspective), as the centre of the universe. Amidst all the wiring, the world is genuinely believed to be flat for the first time in history. It is as though the owl of Minerva has flown and the computers and communications networks that put man on the moon are now revealed to have been the thing of real importance. There never even was a “Space Age” – simply the strange totalising idealist substance called “information” eating its way into everything from genetics and neurobiology to economics until the whole world is cybernated as some “internet of things”.[63]

The reader, should he or she have made it this far into the essay, might well be left a little amused at just so much very silly science fiction. Yet, one must note that the recurrent cry of many of the young in our age is the belief of being born “too late to explore this world, too early to explore the next”. Ours is not the histrionic Heaven or Hell on Earth by 2000 of the Cold War Period, but a dull exhausted tail to the American Long Twentieth Century, a fin de siècle. We know that the internet will continue to grow and that the machines will get faster, for these are the most basic of our myths, but that is all we know and all we believe. Ironically one might suggest that transhumanism is a kind of consolation prize, as vitalism was to early twentieth century Europe. An exaggeration to hide the tedium and disappointment. A hope that the networked computer might be worth something more than a historically-bound parochial exercise in hoarding and stuffing everything available into digital babel, a “total mobilisation” as Ernst Jünger called it. Something “zwecklos” (pointless) to those who do not share the beliefs of the culture where everyone goes out to erect a massive shared structure like a pyramid or cathedral; [64] throwing oneself under the Hindu Juggernaut. Just one more social formation passing through time that fails to perfect man and solve the dissonance between the self and other, the one and the many.

We are members of an age that needs “leaps in being” away from the Space Age past, one which has become as increasingly null as it is also become absurdly dangerous and humorous with its magical “plug in” worlds planned by the technocrats for our future. Shall we see the twee 1960s horror semiotic of “wires in the brain”? Shall it manifest differently and be more consumer-friendly in order to tackle such superstition? Will Kurzweil and friends look as absurd in 2040 as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock view of 2000 with its underwater cities or the 1990s cyberpunk kitsch of Nick Land and Bruce Sterling look now? It is time to start properly thinking about what we want to do with a century still relatively new. Do we really just want to sweat at how far we are from 1960 and scrabble back into the womb like so many Freudian infants? Is our sycophantic desperation to see what we can reify of Post-War magical future promises so important, however hazardous, pathetically pointless, scientifically impossible or mere pseudo-religious fantasy they may well have been even from the very start with Chardin and Stapledon?

In many ways what the world, or even a small corner of it, might now need is a suitable mythic narrative, a “Noble Lie”, a dialectical opposition, simply to keep our Space Hegelians and Chardinians on their toes. I will call it “The Third Round”. Let us think of the individual versus the mass like this from what we have already said. The first round was the formative Renaissance individualists versus Averroes and his overmind; the second Nietzsche versus Hegel and disgust for the “Last Man”. The third is yet to be fought. It will be the space in which men rebel against the internet because it can cannot give them recognition, nor whatever equally Stapledonian magical transhuman inventions might come after it that aim to erase the Procrustean western either/or of man and society with a totalising machinic sticking-plaster fantasy of both/and. It will be in this zone where the new “leaps” will be made, with a genuine “anti-internet movement”, however short lived and hypocritical its existence in a world powered on post-industrial electronic system. Yet it is an entity which for even the sake of symmetry or social capital is completely missing from the world at present.[65] A pause for people to begin to think about their current myths and alternatives to them. Let there be a space for “thymos”.



[1] David Catherine, “In Defiance of the Natural Order: the Origins of “transhuman” Techno-Utopia,” Eye of the Heart 1 (2008): p. 103. The reader should not forget, however, in spite of Catherine’s evocation to emphasise ecological holism  against transhumanists, that ecosystem ecology was a model developed out of post-war enthusiasm for viewing nature as a computer – in spite of the its impressive “organic” façade in popular mythology. Howard Odum, “The Biochemistry of Strontium with discussion on the ecological integration of elements,” PhD dissertation, Yale University, New Haven, 1950, pp. 9-11; idem. Environment, Power and Society, Wiley Interscience, New York, 1971. For criticism of Odum that he awkwardly attempted to square all phenomena with electrical systems see John B. Hagen, An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology, Rutgers University Press, New York, 1992, pp. 130-1. Cf. Anon. “Contemporary agriculture: climate, capital, and cyborg ecology,” Libcom 17th July 2015, http://libcom.org/blog/contemporary-agriculture-climate-capital-cyborg-ecology-17072015 last accessed: 30th October 2015.

[2] Doug Hill, “On the Attractions of Technological Disembodiment,” The Question Concerning Technology Blog, 12th January 2016, http://thequestionconcerningtechnology.blogspot.com.au/ last accessed: 20th June 2016.  Cf. Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York, [1918] 1927, Vol. 2 p. 503.

[3] George Prisco, “Christianity and Transhumanism are Much Closer than You Think,” Institute for Emerging Technologies, 10th April 2016,  http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/Prisco20160410 last accessed: 27th of April 2016. Mormon Transhumanism Association website: http://transfigurism.org/ last accessed: 27th of April 2016.

[4]  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man,  Harper and Row: London, 1955, pp. 200-4, 300-3, 313-17.

[5]  Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006, pp. 165-70.

[6] Kevin Kelly, Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilisation, Addison-Wesley, Reading, AS, 1994. cf. idem, What Technology Wants, Viking, New York, 2010. cf. James Harkin, Cyburbia, Little Brown, London, 2009.

[7] Fred Turner, From Counter Culture to Cyberculture, p. 161.

[8] Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, Produced by Jerome Angel, Clauson and Bosse, Germany, [1967] 1996, pp. 40-1.

[9] Marshall McLuhan, The Guttenberg Galaxy, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, [1962] 2002, p. 32.

[10] Jonathan Miller, McLuhan, London, Fontana Modern Masters, 1971, pp. 20ff.

[11] This same soterical power, the moment when the “Luddite” learned to love the new information machines as a way to escape into a new age from the old “bad” machines that had created modernity, may be found in the imagining of a futuristic “invisible city” at the end of Lewis Mumford’s 1961 The City in History, which also cites Chardin as the major influence in its conception. Here, just as with McLuhan, electronic communication is weaponised to recreate community amidst the forces of the alienating “megamachine” of desensitising cybernetic control that had come to usurp the positive elements of urban existence. Lewis Mumford, The City in History, A Harvest Book, Harcourt, London, [1961] 1989, pp. 585-6; Christopher May, “The Information Society as Megamachine: The Continuing Relevance of Louis Mumford,” Information, Communication and Society 3.2(2000): pp. 241-65.

[12] Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, p. 54.

[13] Ervin Laszlo, Introduction to Systems Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought, Jordan and Breech, New York, 1972, pp. 116-7. The foreword for this book is by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the inventor of systems theory, one should note – a man who had no qualms in attempting to convert everything from biological cells and machines to societies and the whole planet into his nebulous concept of technocentric “system”.

[14] Blair Reeves, “The Pitfalls and Promise of Internet.org and Project Loon,” Bullish Data, 13th August 2014.http://www.bullishdata.com/2014/08/13/pitfalls-and-promise-of-internet-org-and-project-loon/ last accessed: 10th October 2015; Anon. “Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates make bid for universal internet access by 2020,” ABC News, 26th September 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-27/zuckerberg-gates-make-bid-for-universal-internet-access-by-2020/6807516 Last accessed: 10th October 2015. Leo Mirani, “Millions of Facebook Users have No Idea They’re Using the Internet,” Quartz, 9th February 2015 http://qz.com/333313/milliions-of-facebook-users-have-no-idea-theyre-using-the-internet/ last accessed: 10th October 2015; Savetheinternet.in Coalition, “Dear Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook is not, and should not be the internet,” Hindustani Times, 17th April 2015, http://www.hindustantimes.com/tech/dear-mark-zuckerberg-facebook-is-not-and-should-not-be-the-internet/story-w9S3uhnEYVP8L85EtbTqCO.html last accessed: 10th October 2015.

[15] Zauddin Sardar, Postmodernism and the Other, London, Pluto Press, 1998, pp. 34-5.

[16] Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 2000; Antonio Negri,  Goodbye Mr Socialism, Profile Books, London, 2009. Cf. Slavoj Žižek, Bodies Without Organs, Routledge, London, 2003, which tries to jump on the same bandwagon but then changes his mind here towards more traditional forms of revolution based on party organisation: idem., In Defence of Lost Causes, Verso, London, 2009, pp. 435-80. Cf. Thomas Brockelman, Žižek and Heidegger: The Question Concerning Techno-Capitalism, Continuum Press, London and New York, 2008 for discussion on Žižek’s complex relations with technology, from flat out mistrust of genetic engineering and virtual reality as liberal ideological distractions to trying to turn Heidegger’s Luddism towards a belief that Dasein will only know what it truly is when faced with transhuman horrors.

[17] Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, “#Accelerate Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics,” Critical Legal Thinking, 14th May 2013, section 6 http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/acceleratemanifestoforanaccelerationistpolitics/ last accessed: 10th November 2015; idem. Inventing the Future: Post-Capitalism and A World Without Work, Verso Books, New York and London, 2015. For Srnicek’s deep expression of hopeless about contemporary leftist thought see: “Capitalism and the Non-Philosophical Subject,” in Levi Bryant. et al., The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism,  Re.press, Melbourne, 2011, pp. 164-81.

[18] Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, New York, Public Affairs, 2012, pp. 287ff

[19] John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986; Raymond Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, Penguin Books, New York, 2005; John Kotkin, The New Class Conflict, Telos, New York, 2014, p. 3; Eric Steinhart,“Teilhard de Chardin and Transhumanism,” Journal of Evolution and Technology 20.11 (2008): pp. 1-22; Brian J. Coman, Against the Spirit of the Age, pp. 65-6. Cf. Michael Chorost, The World Wide Mind: The Coming Age of Integration of Humanity, Machines and the Internet, Free Press, New York and London, 2011, pp. 162-4, 202-3. A note of warning: Chorost seems to fundamentally misunderstand Chardin by seeming to think that he believed that electronic integration would make everyone more of an individual. This sounds more like Stapledon’s Hegelian Aufhebung of the universal and particular, the mass and individual conjoined without either being erased in the new form. Rather, Chardin’s aim is to exterminate the ego in (electronic) Christ.

[20] Paul Davies, The Mind of God, Penguin, London, 1992, p. 124-6.

[21] Nick Bostrom “Are You Living in A Computer Simulation?” Philosophical Quarterly 53/ 211 (2003): pp. 243-55.

[22] “2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate with Host Neil deGrasse Tyson: Is the Universe a Simulation?American Museum of Natural History, streamed live 5th April 2016, available from: https://youtu.be/kFEbJQY16Io last accessed: 10th April 2016.

[23] Daniel C.  Dennett, “The Mystery of David Chalmers,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 19/1-2 (2012): pp. 68-95 (quote from p. 87).

[24] Franklin W. H. Myers, Science and a Future Life, MacMillan, London, 1893, p. 50; cf. George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines, Penguin, London and New York, 1997, p. 201.

[25] Paul Davies, The Mind of God, p. 229.

[26] George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines, pp. 204-6.

[27] David Grumett, Teilhard de Chardin: Theology, Humanity and Cosmos, Peeters Press, Dudely MA, 2005, p. 221-4.

[28] Irving J. Good, “The Mind-Body Problem, or Could an Android Feel Pain?” in Theories of the Mind, Edited by Scher, J. M. Free Press of Glencoe, New York, 1962, 496-7. Cf. George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines, pp. 204-6.

[29] Olaf Stapledon, Philosophy and Living, Two Volumes, Pelican Books, Penguin Books, London, 1939, esp. on Hegel pp. 42, 233, 254; idem, Last and First Men, Penguin Books, London,[1930] 1963, esp. pp. 151-89; idem, The Starmaker, Penguin Books, London, [1937] 1988, pp. 222ff. Also see on the influence of Stapledon: George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines, pp. 12-40, 204ff. Note that George Dyson never says anything of his father’s debt to Stapledon for the concept of the “Dyson Sphere”: Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe, Basic Books, Philadelphia, 1979, p. 211. For some recent “Dyson Sphere” fantasy about a bizarre stellar object in the constellation of Lyra: Rick Anderson, “The Most Interesting Star in Our Galaxy,” The Atlantic, 13th October 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/10/the-most-interesting-star-in-our-galaxy/410023/?utm_source=SFFB last accessed: 15th October 2015.

[30] Olaf Stapledon, The Starmaker, pp. 222-4.

[31] Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism, Regnery Publishing, Washington DC, 1959, p. 67.

[32] Georg W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit in The Philosophy of Hegel, Translated by John B. Baillie and Carl J. Friedrich, Modern Library, New York [1807], 1954,pp. 511-6. Hegel is a notoriously long-winded thinker, so I have had to condense these passages, hopefully without doing harm to them.

[33] Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London, 1989, p. 49: “…contemporary critics, of course, know about Aristotle and the etiological argument just as much as the know about Hegel’s Neo-Platonic background – which is to say, exactly nothing. The general deculturation of the academic and intellectual world in Western civilization furnishes the background for the social dominance of opinions that would have been laughed out of court in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.”

[34] Plotinus, Enneads, The Great Books 17, William Benton, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1957, Fifth Ennead, VIII. 4: 6-11.

[35] Edited by Michael Cesar, Dante: The Critical Heritage, Routlege, London, 1989, pp. 100-14; Anthony K. Cassell, The Monarchia Controversy, Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC, 2004.

[36] The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, edited by Edward Cassirer et al., Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, [1948] 1971, esp. 10-17, 257, Petrarca: pp. 140-143, 220,  Pomponazzi: pp. 263-73. Cf. Thomas Aqunias, “De unitate intellectus contra averroistas,” in Aquinas Against the Averroists: On There Being Only One Intellect, edited by Ralph MacInerny, Purdue University Press, West layafette IN, 1993, p. 87; Tommaso Campanella, De Senso delle cose e della magia, edited and introduced by Filiberto W. Lupi, Rubbettino, Soveria Manelli, Cap. XIV. p. 84.

[37] Guido Gigliono, “Introduction,” in Renaissance Averroism and Its Aftermath, edited by Anna Akasoy and Guido Gigliono, Springer, New York and London, 2010, p. 17-8.

[38] Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, pp. 67-8.

[39] Ludwig Klages, The Biocentrist Worldview, Arktos, London, 2013,“On Ethics [1918]”, pp. 45-55; Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West; José Ortega Y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, Unwin Books, London, [1930], 1963;  Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man, Beacon Press, Boston, 1964; Alexandre Kojève, The Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, edited by Allan Bloom, Cornell Press, Ithaca and London, 1969, esp. pp. 160-1; Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987; Lutz Niethammer, Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End?, Verso, London and New York, 1994.

[40] Ludwig Klages, “Ethics”; Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Stanford University Press, Stanford, [1944-7] 2002. On the link between Klages, a very reactionary Luddite figure, who formed part of the German interwar “Conservative Revolution” and the Marxian Frankfurt School on the Dialectic of Enlightenment’s central ideas see: Georg Stauth and Bryan A. Turner, “Ludwig Klages (1872-1956) and the Origins of Critical Theory,” Theory, Culture and Society 9/3 (1992): pp. 45-63.

[41] See esp. Marvin Minsky, Life Magazine, 20th November 1970, p.586. Here, to the chagrin of his co-workers Minsky claimed to the immensely popular Life Magazine that AI would be a reality within eight years, fuelling mass cultural faith. For an overview of current folklore and superstition regarding AI pretensions and public reception see: Jason Koebler, “What Computers Dream of When they Watch Porn (NSFW),” Motherboard, 7th July 2015, http://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-computers-dream-of-when-they-look-at-porn-nsfw last accessed: 20th April 2016; Jorge Branco, “Robots to replace almost half of jobs over next 20 years: expert,” Brisbane Times, 23rd March 2015  http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technology/sci-tech/robots-to-replace-almost-half-of-jobs-over-next-20-years-expert-20150323-1m5oei.html last accessed: 19th of June 2016; Susan Schneider, “The Problem of AI Consciousness,” Huffington Post, 18th March 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-schneider2/the-problem-of-ai-conscio_b_9502790.html?utm_content=buffer9fc90&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer last accessed: 19th June 2016; Ken Jennings, “The Go Champion, the Grand Master and Me,” Slate, 15th March 2016 http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2016/03/google_s_alphago_defeated_go_champion_lee_sedol_ken_jennings_explains_what.html last accessed: 20th April 2016.

[42] Hope Reese, “Why Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ AI bot went wrong,” TechRepublic, 24th March 2016, www.techrepublic.com last accessed 25th March 2016.

[43] Raymond Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p. 259 waffles on about “Dyson Spheres” as an excuse for why SETI has not contacted any extra-terrestrials as of yet. They might be hiding inside dying stars! Frankly “Hollow Earth Theory” seems more interesting and reasonable to me.

[44] Irving J. Good, “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine,” 1965 cited in Kurzweil, R. The Singularity is Near, p. 34.

[45] Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men, pp. 202-233.

[46] Ibid, pp. 225-33.

[47] Raymond Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Viking Press, New York, 1999, pp. 258–60. Cf. The Singularity is Near, pp.265-8.

[48] Singularity University Website: www.singularityu.org last accessed: 21st June 2016.

[49] See: John Kotkin, The New Class Conflict, p. 3; Brian J. Coman, Against the Spirit of the Age, pp. 65-6.

[50] Terry Grossman,. “Ray Kurzweil’s Plan for Cheating Death,” The Futurist, March-April 2006, p. 41.

[51] Peter Sloterdijk, Regeln für den Menschenpark, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 1999.

[52] Sloterdijk disowns Spengler due to the exclusive nature of his “botanical” world cultures, compared with the “spheres” of sharing he wishes to theorise: Peter Sloterdijk, Spheres I: Bubbles, translated by Wieland Hoban, Semiotext(e), Pasadena CA, [1998] 2011, pp. 77-8. But see Hubert Brune’s very useful and commensurate list and discussion on Sloterdijk’s debt to Spengler here in German:  http://www.hubert­brune.de/spengler_kritik.html last accessed: 30th June 2016. Much of Sloterdijk’s work was written in the late 1990s and is well-known in Germany, but is only now being translated into English for the first time.

[53] NPQ interviewer, “Controversial Philosopher Says Man and Machine Will Fuse into One Being,” New Perspectives Quarterly, Fall 2015: pp. 10-6. Cf. Tom Boellstorff, “Satan at the Centre and Double Rhizomes: Discussing “Spheres” and Beyond with Peter Sloterdijk,” LA Review of Books, 14th January 2014, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/satan­center­double­rhizomes­discussing­spheres­beyond­peter­sloterdijk/ last accessed: 30th June 2016.

[54] Peter Sloterdijk, “Die Revolution der gebenden Hand,” Peter Sloterdijk blog, 18th June 2009, Sloterdijkhttp://petersloterdijk.net/2009/06/die­revolution­der­gebenden­hand/ last accessed: 30th June 2016.Cf.  Axel Honneth, “Against Sloterdijk,” Die Zeit, 24th September 2009, The Great Stage Blog, 11th February 2010, http://www.cshingleton.com/2010/02/axel­honneth­against­sloterdijk­fatal.html last accessed: 30th June 2016.

[55] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Penguin Books, London, 1992, pp. 198-207.

[56] NPQ interviewer, “Controversial Philosopher Says Man and Machine Will Fuse into One Being,”

[57] Nick Land, Fanged Numina: Collected Writings 1987-2007, Urbanomic, Falmouth UK, 2012. esp. “Meltdown”;  idem. “The Dark Enlightenment,” www.thedarkenlightenment.com last accessed: 30th March 2016; “A Chat with Mr. Nick Land,” Bloody Shovel Blog, 9th October 2012, https://bloodyshovel.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/achatwithmrland/ last accessed: 8th August 2016. One should of course emphasise here that Nick Land’s framework derives from the philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari, eccentric Space Age post-modern thinkers who nailed together the desire energy and Marxist psychoanalysis of Wilhelm Reich to the cybernetic theory of emergence of Gilbert Simondon. Deleuze’s obsession with sprawling multiplicity and his immense Nietzschean hatred for Hegel’s tidy and ultimate synthesis of the individual and the mass is visibly carried over into Land. The Deleuzoguattarian historical subject is just a bunch of swarming desire machines all wanting to plug into each other and it is easy to see how this could become a reactionary philosophy of a cannibal “zombie apocalypse”  needing to be transcended by a liberated elite. See: Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetiton, Colombia University Press, New York, [1968] 1995, pp. 246, 318, 330-1; idem. and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis MN, [1972] 2000. esp. pp. 119, 240; idem. A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, [1980] 1987, esp. pp. 408-10.

[58] Eric Voegelin, Science, Politics and Gnosticism, pp. 66f. Also note, as V0egelin tells us about “Gnostics” and their sleights of hand in building the “golem”, that Nick Land inverted Deleuze and Guattari’s belief that Nazism was connected with Freud’s “death instinct” in order to claim that Nazism was the apotheosis of the history of dominating, patriarchal moralism. This moralism and control is in fact is the real “death instinct” of mankind, retarding human evolution. Thus Land enables himself to be able to say extremely reactionary things about race, eugenics and hierarchy, for instance, but can magically avoid any connection with Nazism because to him it represents the same things as conservative humanist and religious authority holding back his transhuman ideals. See Nick Land, Fanged Noumena, “Making it With Death”, idem, “Hyperracism,” Alternative Right Blogspot, 14th Ocotber 2014, http://alternative-right.blogspot.com/2014/10/hyper-racism.html last accessed: 17th July 2016.  For some proper Nazi transhumanist futurism also emerging out of myths of an imminent “meltdown” see Gillaume Faye Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-Catastrophic Age, Arktos, London, 2010.

[59] See Nick Land’s rather terse comments regarding the hijacking of his ideas in a Marxist direction by the left “Accelerationists”:  Nick Land, Urban Future http://www.ufblog.net/annotatedaccelerate1/ last accessed: 21st of October 2015.

[60] Peter Sloterdijk, Nicht gerettet.Versuche nach Heidegger, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt, 2001, p. 365. English translation Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London, 2006, p. 180.

[61] Martin Heidegger, “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,” in The Basic Writings of Martin Heidegger, edited by David Farrell Krell, Routledge, London, [1964], 1993, pp. 427-49.

[62] Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics; or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. New York, John Wiley, 1948; idem.,God and Golem, Inc., MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1963; Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, [1949] 1972; John von Neumann, “General and Logical Theory of Automata,” in Cerebral Mechanisms in Behaviour, Hafner, New York, 1951. For something rather harrowing, note that Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA was preceded by von Neumann’s invention of software and concept of “self-reproducing machines” and actually influenced how they articulated it as “information” too: Gregory Chaitin, Proving Darwin: Making Biology Mathematical, Pantheon Books, New York, 2012, pp. 16,26.

[63] On von Neumann, Paul Baran, John Nash and their obsession to isomorphically convert economics, brain function and anything else they could find into “information” see: George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines, p. 155f.

[64] Ernst Jünger, “Total Mobilisation,” in The Heidegger Controversy, translated by Richard Wolin, [1930], 1993, pp. 119-39.

[65] The only consideration seems to be this, as ironically silly as it might be to go looking for anti-internet movements online: Anon. “Anti-Internet Movement Needed Says Expert,” DW, 1st July 2010, http://www.dw.com/en/anti-internet-movement-is-needed-says-expert/a-5738801 Last accessed: 9th October 2015.

Jonathan Ratcliffe

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Jonathan Ratcliffe is a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."