Digital Mystics

by rthieme on September 20, 2000

Islands in the ClickstreamMystics are mostly born, I think, not made, so the ability to see the unity of all things must be a function of our genes. Once we can engineer offspring so they have the gifts we choose, it will be interesting to see how many mystics we think we need. If we have too many, there won’t be enough accountants, but too few … well, only other mystics would think it a loss if there are too few. Mystics do not see a different reality but see the wiring inside the wireless circuits. Mystics see structures of information and energy as it flows, a self-luminous tangle that can only be described using metaphors and symbols. Paradox is the language of the unconscious. That’s why, like riddles or jokes, either we “get” what mystics say or we don’t. Mystical insights either make all the difference in the world, enabling us to recontextualize everything, or sound like snake oil.

I believe that the experiences in which I saw most deeply into the nature of things are the most important in my life, but I can’t prove it. I just “know,” the way we know all the important things in our lives. Everything that seems to matter most comes somehow from the awareness that everything is connected to everything else. We can see that when, momentarily letting go of the everyday, we turn aside and look – just look – and really see what we are looking at.

But what has that got to do with the digital world?

Those of us who live much of our lives as nodes in a network notice that we are involved with a complex system of energy and information. The computer network becomes an image of the larger network, the planetary civilization, the galaxy, all the way out to the edges of the universe – and we see that everything is part of one vast system of energy and information.

Once we see that, the boundaries that had seemed to define individual identities dissolve. The network really is the computer. Stand-alone desktop computers are, as Marvin Minsky said, brains in bottles. The interfaces between humans too look less like barriers and more like the translucent walls of cells in a living system.

That happens too when we explore “psychic phenomena.” An experience of telepathy makes sense when we think of minds communicating with one another. But once telepathy becomes indistinguishable from clairvoyance – where is the information, in another mind, or somewhere else? – psychic phenomena seem more like manifestations of a singular consciousness becoming aware of itself.

But to see itself, it has to have a point-of-view. That means differentiating itself from itself by making arbitrary distinctions.

“Clairvoyance” and “telepathy” make sense as concepts, in other words, only to “individuals” who accept the illusion of being individuals. Individual consciousness is how Consciousness manifests itself … a dip or a pit in a matrix or system of energy and information differentiating itself in order to see itself from a point of view.

Alice in “Through the Looking Glass” wondering “which one dreamed it” – the dreamer or the one in the dream dreaming of the dreamer.

Paradox. Metaphor. Archetypal images. Nothing else describes the landscape we see illuminated suddenly in a lightning flash. Nothing else can tell that truth.

What do we see when we look? We see that information is the form of energy. We see that what looked like two things are aspects of a single thing the way light is both particle and wave. That “Let there be light!” is a way of giving form to the potential of energy. Or maybe that information makes energy intelligible.

“I am not a religious person, but I could say this universe is designed very well for the existence of life,” said Heinz Oberhummer of the University of Vienna, reflecting on how a half-percent change in the Coulomb force that repels protons form one another would have prevented stars from forming oxygen and carbon, two basic building blocks of life, which are formed in stars when they enter a red giant phase and fuse helium rather than hydrogen.

The digital world is a projection that lets us see ourselves see ourselves … the way it looked the other day when during a speech I moved in front of a huge video screen on the platform as the camera tracked and the audience watched the “real” me point to an image of myself pointing to an image of myself pointing to an image of myself … “and that,” I said, “is the digital world.”

When I moved to the front of the platform, the audience divided like the Red Sea, half looking at my digital image to the right, half to the left, which changed my job description from a speaker engaging with an audience to a wizard creating a digital image with which the audience could engage.

Just as I am doing now.

Well, that’s mysticism for you. Is it good for anything? Who knows? That will have to be answered by parents who buy gene splicing on the black market to ensure that they will or won’t get a mystic. The free market will give us that feedback.

But I do know that mysticism needs the world of the flesh to manifest itself. That the world of the flesh is where we play with real money. Mysticism is not only insight, it’s a cry for truth and justice, a deep passion for getting it right. Mysticism without action is self-indulgence; action without mysticism always burns out.

The network is the computer, and the Internet is a transitory form for expressing ourselves “out there” at this wrinkle in spacetime … knowing all the while that “out there” is “in here,” that “out” and “in” are as illusory as selves and all the other distinctions that seem to be built in so we think we think we think we know.

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