Hybrid Landscapes – From Posthistoric to Posthuman

by Kingsley L. Dennis
Reality Sandwich

The collective psyche seems to be in the grip of a powerful archetypal dynamic in which the long-alienated modern mind is breaking through, out of the contractions of its birth process, out of what Blake called its “mind-forg’d manacles,” to rediscover its intimate relationship with nature and the larger cosmos. - Richard Tarnas

Reality, it seems, has been deregulated, and nothing is business as usual anymore….as ancient mapmakers used to mark on the watery unknown, “Here be dragons” - Erik Davis

Here be dragons, indeed. Our human exploration is swinging through a momentum that includes knowledge of the finer forces at work within the cosmos, which includes how we experiment in our interactions with not only the environment but also our bodies. In this article I will explore these themes, looking at memes of meta-programming to post-body scenarios – all in the framework of a human search along the sacred path of understanding our very selves.

American writer Philip K. Dick is famous mostly for his science-fiction books that question the nature and validity of our reality-matrix. In “The Android and the Human,” a speech that Dick gave in the early 1970s, he spoke about this blurring of the boundaries between body and environment:
[O]ur environment, and I mean our man-made world of machines, artificial constructs, computers, electronic systems, interlinking homeostatic components – all of this is in fact beginning more and more to possess what the earnest psychologists fear the primitive sees in his environment: animation. In a very real sense our environment is becoming alive, or at least quasi-alive, and in ways specifically and fundamentally analogous to ourselves.1
The human-body-environment is increasingly being reconfigured as a site for a new magical animism, as distinct from the previous archaic notion of animism. Writer-philosopher Erik Davis has referred to this as a sort of ‘techno-animism’ whereby we give life to our technologies based on our imaginations.2 This new configuration is no longer anymore about technologies and us, but rather our technological bodies that now inhabit our ‘techno-imaginal’ realm. The body is becoming back into vogue as a site for experience and experimentation, as a vessel that interacts, intercedes, and interprets the sacred-mystical reality-matrix that encloses us. As modern quantum science has now aptly demonstrated, we do not inhabit a subject-object type of us-and-it world.[1] All materiality is enmeshed within a quantum entangled universe, and our bodies are somatically communicating with this energy field simultaneously.

Much of the western spiritual (Gnostic) mystical practice is interpreted as a somatically felt experience. The body is the instrument that receives and grounds the experience, whether it be in terms of the ‘great flash’, ‘illuminating light’ or the ‘bodily rush.’ The body is the human instrument for attracting and centralizing (receiving, transcribing, and sometimes transferring) the developmental energy. There are many ‘bodies’ in spiritual-mystic traditions, including the etheric, the spiritual, the ecstatic, the subtle, the higher, and others, so that the purely physical-material body is recognized as the densest and least mobile of them all. As cultural historian Morris Berman has noted, the body in history has always been a site/sight of focus.3 It has helped define the experience of the Self/Other, the Outer/Inner, and to be a material vessel for the spiritual impulse.

Our earlier ancestors, who exhibited more of an animist relationship to the world, saw less distinction between the physical body and its environment. The rise of the philosophy of dualism and the mind-body split, which was supported by the mechanistic worldview, saw our modern societies further strengthen the mind/body rift. This was publicly endorsed by Orthodox/organized religions that have been quick to spurn and even demonize the body. Many so-called ‘modern’ societies around the world have, at one time or another, attempted to suppress the power and expression of the human body. The body has always been a site for the convergence of power and control. Perhaps no one in recent times has done more to expose this body-power relationship than the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault.[2]

Foucault has deconstructed, in the body of work that he refers to as a critical history of modernity, how the body has been fought over as a site of power. The physical body is a location of resistance against the establishment; it is a fixed place where an individual can be located, found, and held accountable. If we cannot escape from our bodies then, it seems, we are forever within the system. The body-in-system has always been taken to represent the form of something, as a socially tangible entity. We have bodies in terms of social institutions, such as the body politic, or the social body, the scientific body, the medical body, or the body of an organization, etc. The once sacred site of the body, which was the vessel for somatic spiritual experiences, has become the subject of control and suppression.

In Gnostic terms the body’s site of power has been referred to as those of the ‘sleepers’ and ‘wakers.’ The ‘sleepers’ being those whose conscious self has yet to break through the layers of the body’s social conditioning. The spiritual-somatic experience has been seen as a threat to hierarchical societies because it exists beyond their bounds of power. This is one reason why ecstatic experiences – whether through spiritual or other means – have been suppressed, outlawed, and discredited by religions and mainstream institutions alike. Ecstatic experiences that can break down human thinking patterns and conditioning structures are unnerving for institutions of social-political power. How can you control, regulate, and discipline a body/energy/experience that has no physical location? Such intangible forces, such as the power of baraka,[3] is positively infectious and beyond bounds. As Berman notes,
The goal of the Church (any church) is to obtain a monopoly on this vibratory experience, to channel it into its own symbol system, when the truth is that the somatic response is not the exclusive property of any given religious leader or particular set of symbols. 4
The spiritual-occult renaissance of the 20th century strove to rejuvenate and strengthen the presence of the somatic experience. This intangible flow of spiritual blessing, grace, and power is also a resurging undercurrent in the sacred revival.

In more recent times there has been an increasing focus on what is termed the innate consciousness (of the body), and which has been revealed through such techniques as muscle testing. It is innate because it is inborn (born in and of the body), and it is instinctual. Somatic consciousness then is another word for our intuitive intelligence. As I discussed in a previous book,[4] many of those now being born into the world are displaying a stronger sense of intuitive intelligence. However, in our modern haste we have, in the words of French philosopher Bruno Latour, never really been modern at all since we continue to exist in an anthropological matrix where nature and culture cannot be neatly divided.

As Latour points out, this matrix is composed of hybrids where natural/cultural, real/imagined, and subject/object merge. Moreover, this hybridity is being further enforced and coalesced through genetic engineering, implants, virtual reality, and NBIC sciences (Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science). Latour is right in saying that humanity has never exited from what he refers to as our pre-modern ancestors’ world. We are, and always have been, a hybrid of body-mind-environment. Yet unlike Latour, I contest that we are modern – or rather we are past the post of post-modern, in how we are merging our lives into a new hybrid fusion.

Our ancestors made no such division between nature and society because their state of consciousness did not allow them to – they simply did not perceive it. However, the state of human consciousness today is far different in its capability and lucidity to perceive and acknowledge the relationship with our external world. Saying this, of course, in our development ‘to be modern’ we left behind the sacred component of perceiving just how entangled our reality truly is. Yet the succeeding ‘post-modern’ stage then worked on breaking down these ‘perceptions of containment.’ As William Irwin Thompson says,
The project of Modernism was to expel preindustrial magic and mysticism and stabilize consciousness in materialism, but the projects of postmodernism have broken down the walls that once contained us in a solidly materialistic and confidently middle class worldview. 5
This breakdown has now moved into a more advanced stage with the advent of the internet and digital technologies. We have now entered what Thompson refers to as the ‘astral plane, a bardo realm, in which everything is out there at once, a technologized form of the collective unconscious…a place where the physical body is either dead or absent.’ 6

Thompson prefers to view this technologized-bardo realm, where the physical body is either dead or absent, not as post-modern but as postcivilization – or even posthistoric.7 We are in a new phase of planetary culture where we are no longer simply reacting to emerging technologies, but rather our evolving state of consciousness is drawing forth these new technologies. In other words, it is as if new technologies come into being in accordance with shifting states of human consciousness. Like a good magician, we are pulling new technological innovations out of the hat of our collective consciousness – archetypes into manifestation. Whereas modernity was about ‘coming to our senses’ in a rather conservative way, the posts we have passed now – whether they be modern, civilization, or historic – are about shifting beyond our senses. As one well-placed commentator put it,
The human being’s organism is producing a new complex of organs in response to such a need. In this age of the transcending of time and space, the complex of organs is concerned with the transcending of time and space. What ordinary people regard as sporadic and occasional bursts of telepathic or prophetic power are…nothing less than the first stirrings of these same organs.8
As a new historical phase unfolds within the human species – as part of a shift toward a planetary civilization – it appears that new needs are pushing out – or birthing – novel organs or faculties within the human being.

This brings to mind the Richard Tarnas quote that headed up this article, where he stated that the once alienated (read ‘sacred’) mind is now breaking through, as if in a birth process, out of what Blake called its “mind-forg’d manacles,” to ‘rediscover its intimate relationship with nature and the larger cosmos.’ Note that Tarnas said ‘rediscover,’ suggesting it is a recovery, a revival, and not a new birth. The sacred revival of which I speak is literally carving out a new topography for itself.

Hybrid Landscapes

Our millennial era is still trying to decide how to define and view the physical biological body. At this stage the landscape is literally littered with a thousand voices, all howling ‘for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.’[5] Some voices see the human body as a hindrance upon the evolutionary journey toward an immortal society that is destined for the stellar neighbourhood. Others view it as a field for experimentation; to tinker and adapt toward a genetically modified hybrid. There are still others who see the body as a site to blur the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds. And then there are those voices who view the biological body as undergoing its own intrinsic in-built modification, or upgrade, through a self-adapting nervous system, programmed by emerging DNA programs hitherto latent.

In the latter part of the 20th century we had a wave of trends that all converged upon the body-mind-spirit matrix. These streams included the physical (bodily) research fields of cybernetics, computer programming, and artificial intelligence. These streams then interwove with the mind-spirit tropes of psychedelic experimentation (LSD, peyote, etc), mystical philosophies (Gurdjieff, Castaneda, etc) and transcendental movements. You would literally need a whole book dedicated to this topic alone to even begin to make a credible dent into this yellow brick road bricolage of body-mind-spirit convergences. Just to give a slight taste from the tip of the iceberg I will ever so briefly mention how the computer metaphor gave rise to notions of programming – and meta-programming – the human body as a biocomputer.

This image was reinforced by Dr. John C. Lilly’s book Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer that described some of his experiments on human consciousness and human-dolphin communication. Meta-programming became a core theme of the writings of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson who produced such works as Exo-Psychology: A Manual on the Use of the Human Nervous System According to the Instructions of the Manufacturers and Prometheus Rising respectively. Both these works discuss an eight-circuit model of consciousness that is part of a path in neurological evolution. Both authors, Leary especially, took it upon themselves to evolve a philosophy stating that the future evolution of human civilization was encoded in our DNA.

Hence, the new sacred technology is our nervous system itself, and our DNA is already hard-wired for evolutionary mutation. Similarly, running through some of these streams were the ideas of Caucasian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff who spoke of the human being in terms of a ‘man-machine’ that was asleep to life and could be triggered into wakeful activation. Leary, as if in Gurdjieffian overtones, would call for humanity to ‘wake up, mutate, and ascend.’9 The new sacred magic had mutated into practices (rituals) to reprogram the apparatus that receives, according to the authors, our biofields as well as human consciousness; namely, DNA. Interestingly, recent advances in quantum biology have outlined how DNA emits biophotons that produces a coherent biological field that may be susceptible to impact and influence (read ‘reprogramming’ here).10[6]

Whether or not the new game in town was actively to epigenetically re-program the DNA through a fusion of transcendental and/or psychedelic practices, it was very much about work on oneself. Gurdjieff’s program of study – called The Fourth Way – was a kind of blend of Eastern dervish yoga with western scientism. As Gurdjieff famously proclaimed – Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West and then seek. This blend of eastern understanding and western knowledge became known amongst its adherents simply as The Work. The western melting pot of sacred angst and survivalist spirituality saw an emergence of similar tropes such as E.J. Gold’s The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus. The western playing field in the second half of the 20th century was open to the new Great Game – and it involved inner spaces and the body-mind matrix. Robert S. de Ropp aptly called it the Master Game in his book Master Game: Pathways to Higher Consciousness Beyond the Drug Experience.

For a sense of what was bubbling up around this Master Game sacred revival, in the US especially, one needs to understand a history of the Esalen Institute, co-founded by Michael Murphy and Richard Price on the Californian shores.[7] An excellent, if exhaustive, study of the body-mind matrix based upon the fizzy, fired-up tropes of the time is Michael Murphy’s Future of the Body: Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. These explorations, however, were all based upon expanding and amplifying the potentials of our current human biological body-mind. That was before the computer trope really got going – and science-fiction became research grant.

The rise of the robots literally happened after the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence (AI), in the summer of 1956, announced the beginning of the AI field. College campuses and defence departments suddenly began the earnest journey along the stony research road that finally spawned the controversial concept of consciousness upload. One of the more vocal supporters of this ‘mind-in-machine’ notion is robotics researcher Hans Moravec. Moravec, whose books include Mind Children and Robot, outlines a future where the human mind can be uploaded as a precursor to full artificial intelligence. Similarly, cognitive scientist Marvin Minksy (who was one of the 1956 gang who coined the AI field) espoused a philosophy that saw no fundamental difference between humans and machines – as put forward in such works as his Society of Mind. Artificial Intelligence is uncannily consistent with the Christian belief in resurrection and immortality – does this make AI research into a sacred, god-like enterprise? It does make us wonder. Historian of technology David F. Noble notes also that the AI project is imbued with its own trajectory of transcendence:

The thinking machine was not, then, an embodiment of what was specifically human, but of what was specifically divine about humans – the immortal mind…the immortal mind could evolve independently into ever higher forms of artificial life, reunited at last with its origin, the mind of God.11

Other streams have been quick to spring up around this fertile theme, including several futurist movements and their manifestos. These have included, but not limited to, the Upwingers (F. M. Esfandiary), Extropians, Transhumanists; and then later came the high-profile members that announced the Technological Singularity.

F.M. Esfandiary’s ‘Upwingers Manifesto’ (by now Esfandiary was known as FM-2030) announced in the 1970s our glorious moment in human evolution. According to their manifesto:
We UpWingers are resigned to nothing. We consider no human problems irreversible – no goals unattain-able. For the first time in history we have the ability, the resources, the genius to resolve ALL our age-old problems. Attain ALL our boldest visions.[8]
Similarly, in the 1980s Max Moore and Natasha Vita-More expounded on Extropian principles which later came to be formulated as: Perpetual Progress; Self-Transformation; Practical Optimism; Intelligent Technology; Self-Direction; and Rational Thinking. And for the Moores, Intelligent Technology meant ‘Applying science and technology creatively and courageously to transcend “natural” but harmful, confining qualities derived from our biological heritage, culture, and environment.’ [9] The Transhumanist movement is still going strong and is not definable to any one particular group, although Humanity Plus (H+) is one of its most recognized institutions. There are streams and sub-groups under the transhumanist umbrella, and yet they all share a similar goal in viewing the human condition as being open to transformation through the use of sophisticated technologies. In other words, the goal is to give humanity a technological upgrade to its current bodily and mental capacities.

From Gurdjieff’s ‘man-machine,’ to Moravec and Minsky, to Max and Natasha Vita-More and Ray Kurzweil, the list goes on. And recently we have had the call for a new speciation along the homo sapiens evolutionary line – into Homo evolutis. In their TED talk and subsequent book Homo Evolutis Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans present how we have already gone through twenty-five speciation events before arriving at our current species. Enriquez and Gullans consider it an anomaly to think that no other humanoid will ever evolve; and so they ask the question – ‘what would the next human species look like?’ They say that ‘We are transitioning from a hominid that is conscious of its environment into one that drastically shapes its own evolution…We are entering a period of hypernatural evolution…Homo evolutis.’12

This brings us back again to Latour’s concept of the anthropological matrix where nature and culture is mixed together without clear boundaries. With the NBIC sciences of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science we are meshing our genetic and cultural DNA. We are 3-D printing buildings as well as human body parts. We are now as a species consciously and deliberately experimenting, shaping, and morphing our environments, as well as journeying and mapping our inner spaces. We are the inhabitants and psychonauts of hybrid landscapes. And yet why should all this be part of an observation on the sacred revival? Because this transmutation of the human condition is what we, as a sentient sapien species, have always been doing.

Our early ancestors were obsessed with the transmutation of the human body-mind as far back as 35,000 years ago. The existence of rock paintings of therianthropes (shape-shifting forms from human to animal) that date back 35,000 years are speculated to be the early origins of human religious traditions. The symbolic paintings and drawings on cave walls and traces of ancient rituals which appear throughout the Palaeolithic era display a ‘primitive’ people in touch with the unseen realm.

They display a fascination with a creative world beyond that of the human reality-matrix. These numerous examples of sacred, ritualistic art show how early humans were communing with a transcendental realm which modern humans have never stopped attempting to access. Noted anthropologist David Lewis-Williams has built a theory which explains how the people of the Upper Palaeolithic era harnessed altered states of consciousness to fashion their society, and used such imagery as a means of establishing and defining social relationships.13 The rock art of shape-shifting therianthropes also suggests a ‘primitive’ spiritual belief in the human soul as being connected to that of an animal or another being. Here we have a clear indication of our early ancestors creating sacred ritual around the transmutation and transcending of the human body-mind matrix. And this, in a nutshell, is part of the wisdom stream of shamanism.

It appears then that the human body-mind matrix has always, since earliest known cultural records, been a site for practicing sacred transcendentalism not far off from current transhumanist notions. As a species ‘in-transmutation’ we are increasingly having out-of-body experiences that meld cosmic consciousness with cultural artefacts. From the published out-of-body flights of Robert Monroe[10] to the rise in channelled texts and audio, we have passed beyond our senses into a totally different multifaceted realm. We are not wanderers in an anthropological matrix but waves and particles in a holographic field where each flash and speck contains and reflects the whole. Enmeshed and entangled within this field-matrix we are akin to the famous Buddhist Indra’s Net analogy:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.14
We are also reflections of ourselves in other universes as our reality-matrix bends and curves throughout countless cosmic contortions. According to physicist Paul Davis we co-exist alongside countless billions of other universes ‘some almost identical to ours, others wildly different, inhabited by myriads or near carbon-copies of ourselves in a gigantic, multifoliate reality of parallel worlds.’15 We no longer know what it means to live in a dualistic subject/object type of world. Our dualistic prison walls have disintegrated around us like a simulacrum or, in more popular parlance, like a rebooting video game.

We have already passed the post into a posthistoric era. Almost everything is up for grabs, which makes this era one of spectacular possibilities as well as gravest dangers. It would appear to any off-world observer that we are in the midst of a western slipstream of creative nihilism that is creeping its way around the fringes of tech-geekism and apocryphal-apocalyptic mysticism that says Take Nothing for Granted! As the ancient mapmakers used to scribe over unknown watery territories, Here be dragons – and here indeed they be, like lounging lizards waiting to lick at our heels. These are adventurous times as we innovate with outer form, and forge ahead into the inner spaces of essence.

These are the features that adorn the sacred – the multifaceted faces of the body-mind-nature matrix that weaves the cosmic with the social, and which collapses the wave of duality. Life pass the post is where we experiment with ourselves, as a species, and as a vessel of consciousness. And this, if done in a right relationship within our reality-matrix, is at its core a sacred art. Our cultural canvas is a palimpsest upon which new fictions and artefacts are engraved. And these fictions are the channels through which the sacred revival is raising its head and smiling the seven rays of emanation.

1 Cited in Davis, Erik (1998) Techgnosis: myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information. New York, Three Rivers Press, p187
2 Davis, Erik (1998) Techgnosis: myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information. New York, Three Rivers Press
3 Berman, Morris (1990) Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. New York, HarperCollins.
4 Berman, Morris (1990) Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. New York, HarperCollins, p146
5 Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, p307
6 Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, p307
7 Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin.
8 Shah, I. (1982) The Sufis. London: Octagon, p54
9 Leary, Timothy (1988) Info-Psychology. New Mexico, New Falcon Publications.
10 Ho, Mae-Wan (1998) The Rainbow and the Worm: The Physics of Organisms. Singapore, World Scientific.
11 Noble, David F. (1999) The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. London, Penguin, p148-9
12 Enriquez, Juan and Gullans, Steve (2011) Homo Evolutis. TED Books – ebook only.
13 Lewis-Williams, David (2004) The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art. London, Thames & Hudson.
14Cited in Davis, Erik (1998) Techgnosis: myth, magic and mysticism in the age of information. New York, Three Rivers Press, p319
15 Cited in Thompson, William Irwin (1998) Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, p217

[1] See Dawn of the Akashic Age: New Consciousness, Quantum Resonance, and the Future of the World by Ervin Laszlo and Kingsley L. Dennis
[2] See especially Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish.
[3] Baraka, a prominent concept in Islamic mysticism, refers to a flow of grace and spiritual power that can be transmitted.
[4] See The Phoenix Generation: A New Era of Connection, Compassion, and Consciousness
[5] Taken from part 1 of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl
[6] See also Dennis, Kingsley L. (2010) ‘Quantum Consciousness: Reconciling Science and Spirituality Toward Our Evolutionary Future(s)’, World Futures, 66: 7, 511 — 524
[7] See Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal
[8] http://transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/more/upwingers/
[9] https://web.archive.org/web/20131015142449/http://extropy.org/principles.htm
[10] See https://www.monroeinstitute.org/

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