Load & Run High-tech Paganism-Digital Polytheism
Load & Run High-tech Paganism-Digital Polytheism
By Timothy Leary and Eric Gullichsen
We place no reliance
On virgin or pigeon;
Our Method is Science,
Our Aim is Religion.
-- Aleister Crowley,
mot from the journal "Equinox"
People jacked in so they could hustle. Put the trodes on and
they were out there, all the data in the world stacked up like one
big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a grip on it,
visually anyway, because if you didn't, it was too complicated,
trying to find your way to a particular piece of data you needed.
Iconics, Gentry called that.
Mona Lisa Overdrive
Information is more basic
than matter and energy.
Atoms, electrons, quarks
consist of bits --
Binary units of
Like those processed in
And in the brain.
The behavior of these bits,
and thus of the universe,
Is governed by a single
A UNIVERSE OF BITS AND BYTES
Major historical accomplishments of the 20th century included
the personalization and popularization of Quantum Physics, an
acceptance of self-reference and circular causality in systems of
mathematics and psychology, and the resulting development of
This philosophic achievement, which has dominated the culture
of the 20th century, was based on a discovery by nuclear and
quantum physicists around 1900, that visible-tangible realities
are written in a digital assembly language we could accurately
It turns out that we inhabit a universe made up of a small
number of elements-particles-bits which cluster together in
geometrically-logical, temporary configurations.
The solid Newtonian Universe rested upon such immutable
General-Motors concepts as mass, force, momentum, and inertia,
cast into a Manichaean drama involving equal reactions of good vs.
evil, gravity vs. levity, entropy vs. evolution and coerced by
such pious Bank-of-England notions as conservation of energy. This
dependable, static, predictable, universe suddenly, in the minds
of Planck/Heisenberg became digitized, transformed into shimmering
quantum screens of electronic probabilities.
Up here in 1988, we are learning to experience what Nils
Bohr and Werner Heisenberg could only dream of. The universe,
according to their cyberdelic equations, is best described as a
digital information process with sub-programs and temporary ROM
states, megas called galaxies, maxis called stars, minis called
planets, micros called organisms, and nanos known as molecules,
atoms, particles. All of these programs are perpetually in states
of evolution, i.e., continually "running."
It seems to follow that the great intellectual challenge of
the 20th century was to make this universe "user friendly," to
prepare individual human beings to decode, digitize, store,
process & reflect the sub-programs which make up his/her own
NOBODY KNEW WHAT THESE GUYS WERE TALKING ABOUT
The chain of events that elevated us to this new genetic
status, HOMO SAPIENS CYBERNETICUS, began around the turn of the
Physicists, we recall, are traditionally assigned the task of
sorting out the nature of reality. So it was the quantum
philosophers who figured out that units of energy/matter were sub-
atomic bits of programmed information that zoom around in clouds
of ever-changing, if/then, start/stop, off/on, 0/1, yin/yang
probabilities in clusters of pixels, up-and-down recurring
stairways of paradox.
When they started out, no one understood what these guys were
talking about. They expressed their unsettling theories in complex
equations written on blackboards with chalk. Believe it or not,
these great physicists thought and communicated with a neolithic
took -- chalk-marks on the wall of the cave. The irony was this:
Einstein and his brilliant colleagues could not experience or
operate of communicate at a quantum-electronic level.
Imagine if Max Planck pottering around in his mathematical
chalk-board had access to a video-arcade game! He'd see right away
that the blips on Centipede and the zaps of Space Invaders could
represent the movement of the very particles that he tried to
describe in the dusty symbols of his blackboard.
A WILD AND SCARY HALLUCINOGENIQUE
Now let us reflect on the head-bursting adjustment required
here. The relativistic universe described by Einstein and the
nuclear physicists IS alien and terrifying. Quantum physics is
quite literally a wild, confusing psyberdelic trip. It postulates
an Alice-in-Wonderland, Sartrean universe in which everything is
changing. As Heisenberg implied: nothing is certain except
uncertainty. Matter is energy. Energy and matter are temporary
states of info-bits, frozen at various forms of acceleration.
This digital universe is not user-friendly when approached
with a Newtonian mind. We are just now beginning to write a manual
of operations for the brain and the universe, both of which, it
turns out, are digital galaxies with amazing similarities.
People living in the solid, mechanical world of 1901 simply
could not understand or experience a quantum universe. Dear sweet
old Einstein, who couldn't accept his own unsettling equations,
was denounced as evil and immoral by Catholic bishops and sober
theologians who sensed how unsettling and revolutionary these new
ideas could be. Ethical relativity is still the mortal sin of
THE CYBERPUNK AS MODERN ALCHEMIST
The baby boom generation has grown up in an electronic world
of TV and personal computing screens. The cyberpunks offer
metaphors, rituals, life styles for dealing with the universe of
information. More and more of us are becoming electro-shamans,
Alchemists of the Middle Ages described the construction of
magical appliances for viewing future events, or speaking to
friends distant or dead. Writings of Paracelsus describe a mirror
of ELECTRUM MAGICUM with telegenic properties, and crystal scrying
was in its heyday.
Today, digital alchemists have at their command tools of a
precision and power unimagined by their predecessors. Computer
screens ARE magical mirrors, presenting alternate realities at
varying degrees of abstraction on command (invocation). Aleister
Crowley defined magick as "the art and science of causing change
to occur in conformity with our will," and to this end the
computer is the universal level of Archimedes.
The parallels between the culture of the alchemists and that
of cyberpunk computer adepts are inescapable. Both employ
knowledge of an occult arcanum unknown to the population at large,
with secret symbols and words of power. The "secret symbols"
comprise the languages of computers and mathematics, and the
"words of power" instruct computer operating systems to complete
Herculean tasks. Knowing the precise code name of a digital
program permits it to be conjured into existence, transcending the
labor of muscular or mechanical search or manufacture.
Rites of initiation or apprenticeship are common to both.
"Psychic feats" of telepathy and action-at-a-distance are achieved
by selection of the menu option.
CLASSICAL MAGICKAL CORRESPONDENCES
Alchemists of the Middle Ages believed quite correctly that
their cosmos was composed of four elements: earth, air, fire and
water. Although today our periodic table sports more than 100
chemical elements, the four universal elements still can be
identified as the constituents of some processes in the external
reality, and within the inner psychological world of humankind.
Each of the four elements is an archetype and a metaphor, a
convenient and appropriate name for a universally identified
quality. The four are echoed in the organization of both the four
suits and the four "court cards" of each suit of the Tarot,
inherited from the Egyptians and its symbolism preserved in
ordinary Western playing cards. The four also correspond to the
four principal tools of the classical practitioner of ceremonial
The wand of the magician represents the phallic male creative
force, fire. The cup stands for the female receptive force, and,
obviously enough, is associated with water. the sword is the
incisive intellect, moving and severing the air, the abstraction
in which it moves. Finally, the pantacle (disk) is the grounding
in earth (magnetic material), the stored algorithms. (We use
Crowley's spelling of pentacle, which communicates the sense of
"all and everything," advisedly.)
These classical instruments of magick exist in modern cyber
technology: The mouse or pen of the digitizing tablet is the wand,
controlling the fire of the CRT display and harnessing the
creative force of the programmer. It is used in all invocations
and ritual as a tool of command. Spinning disk drives are the
pantacles, inscribed with complex symbols, earthen tablets to
receive the input of "air," the crackling dynamic ethereal
intellectual electricity of the processor chip circuitry
programming results. The RAM chips are, literally, the buffers
("buffer pools"), the water, the passive element capable of only
receiving impressions and re-transmitting, reflecting.
Iconic visual programming languages are a Tarot, the
pictorial summation of all possibilities, activated for the
purpose of divination by juxtaposition and mutual influence. A
periodic table of possibilities, the Western form of the Eastern
I Ching. Traditional word-oriented programming languages, FORTRAN,
COBOL, and the rest, are a degenerate form of these universal
systems, grimoires of profit-oriented corporations.
Detailed database logs of the activity of operating systems
from the Akashic records on a microscale. At a macroscopic level,
this is the "world net" knowledge base, the "knoesphere," the
world-wide online hypertext network of information soon to be
realized by the storage capacity of CD ROM and the data
transmission capability of optical fiber. William Gibson's
Banishing rituals debug programs, and friendly djinn are
invoked for compiling, searching, and other mundane tasks. When
the magic circle is broken (segmentation violation), the system
collapses. Personal transmutation (the ecstasy of the "ultimate
hack") is a veiled goal of both systems. The satori of harmonious
human-computer communication resulting from the infinite regress
into meta-levels of reflection of self is the reward for
immaculate conceptualization and execution of ideas.
The universality of 0 and 1 throughout magic and religion:
yin and yang, yoni and lingam, cup and wand, are manifested today
in digital signals, the two bits underlying the implementation of
all digital programs in the world, in our brains and in our
operating systems. Stretching it a bit, even the monad, symbol of
change and the Tao, visually resembles a superimposed 0 and 1 when
its curving central line is stretched through the action of
centrifugal force from the ever-increasing speed of the monad's
CYBER RELIGION OF THE BABY BOOMERS
By the year 2000, Aleister Crowley, William Gibson, and
Edward Fredkin could well replace Benjamin Spock as a Baby Boom
navigator. Why? Because, by then the concerns of the baby boom
generation will be digital. (Or, to use the old paradigms,
During their childhood they were Mouseketeers. In their teens
the Cybers went on an adolescent spiritual binge unequalled since
the Children's Crusade. In their revolt against the factory
culture they re-invented and updated their tribal-pagan roots and
experimented with Hinduism, Haight-Ashbury Buddhism, American
Indianism, Magic, Witchcraft, Ann Arbor Voo Doo, Esalen Yoga,
Computerized I Ching Taoism, 3-D Reincarnation, Fluid Druidism.
St. Stephen Jobs to the Ashram!
Born-again Paganism! Pan-Dionysius on audio-visual cassettes.
Mick Jagger had them sympathizing with the devil. The Beatles had
them floating upstream on the Ganges. Jimi Hendrix taught them how
to be a voodoo child. Is there one pre-Christian or third world
metaphor for divinity that some rock group has not yet celebrated
on an album cover?
ONTOLOGY RECAPITULATES THEOLOGY
The Boomers in the evolving life-cycle seem to have
recapitulated the theological history of our species. Just as
monotheism emerged to unify pagan tribes into nations, so did the
Boomers re-discover fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity in
their young adulthood.
Even far-away Islam attracted gourmet Blacks and ex-hippies
such as Cat Stevens. Bob Dylan nicely exemplifies the consumer
approach to religion. For 25 years Bob (ne Zimmerman) has
continued to browse through the spiritual boutiques dabbing on a
dash of Baptist "born-again," nibbling at Hassidism before
returning to his ole-time faith of sardonic reformed humanism.
We can laugh at this trendy shopping around for the custom-
tailored designer god, but behind the faddism we find a powerful
Notice how Dylan, for example, preserves his options and
tries to avoid shoddy of off-the-rack soul-ware. No "plastic
christs that glow in the dark" for Bob! The religion here is
Evolutionism, based on the classic humanist, transcendental
1. God is not a tribal father nor a feudal lord nor an engineer-
manager of the universe. There is no god (in the singular)
except you at the moment. There are as many gods (in the
plural) as can be imagined. Call them whatever you like.
They are free agents like you and me.
2. You can change and mutate and keep improving. The idea is to
keep "trading up" to a "better" philosophy-theology.
3. The aim of your life, following Buddha, Krishna, Gurdjieff,
Werner Erhart, Shirley, is this:
Take care of your self so you can take care of others. If
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS
This generation, we recall, had been disillusioned by the
religions, politics, & economics of their parents. Growing up with
the threat of nuclear war, the assassination of beloved leaders,
immune deficiencies, a collapsing industrial system, an impossible
national debt, religious fundamentalisms (Christian-Jewish-
Islamic) that fanatically scream hatred and intolerance, and
uncomprehending neglect of the ecology, they have developed a
healthy skepticism about collective solutions.
They can't retreat back home because Mom and Dad are
No wonder they have created a psychology of individual
navigation. Singularity. The basic idea is self-responsibility.
You just can't depend on anyone else to solve your problems. You
gotta do it all by yourself -- With a little help from your
A DO-IT-YOURSELF RELIGION
Since God #1 appears to be held hostage back there by the
blood-thirsty Persian Ayatollah, by the telegenic Polish Pope and
the Moral Majority, there's only one logical alternative. You
"steer" your own course. You start your own religion. The Temple
is your body. Your mind writes the theology. And the Holy Spirit
emanates from that infinitely mysterious intersection between your
brain and your DNA.
The attainment of even the suburbs of Paradise involves good
navigation and planning on your part. Hell is a series of
redeemable errors. A detour caused by failure to check the trip-
maps. A losing streak. Many people are carefully conditioned from
birth to live in hell. As children, they are largely ignored until
something happens to cause them pain or injury. Then, mommy and
daddy quickly lavish aid, attention, succor, positive
reinforcement. When "all grown up," and in the world alone to make
choices, what kind of choices are going to result from those many
years of conditioning? It's no wonder so many people seem to live
in hell, to live pained lives of mishaps and broken dreams. Of
course, by realizing this we can begin to decondition ourselves
towards healthy hedonism. Reward yourself for making choices that
lead to pleasure, and build a cybernetic cycle of positive
feedback. Only from the state of free selfhood can any truly
compassionate signals be sent to others.
THE ADMINISTRATION OF A PERSONAL STATE
The management and piloting of a Singularity leads to a very
busy career. Since the Crowley-Gibson-Fredkin Individual has
established herself as a religion, a country, a corporation, an
information network, and a neurological universe, it is necessary
to maintain personal equivalents for all the departments and
operations of the bureaucracies that perform these duties.
This apparently means forming private alliances, formulating
personal political platforms, conducting your own domestic and
foreign relations, establishing trade policies, defense and
security programs, educational and recreational events. On the
upside, one is free from dependence upon bureaucracies, an
inestimable boon. (Free agents can, of course, make temporary
deals with organizations and officials thereof.)
And if countries have histories and myths, why shouldn't you?
THE PERSONAL MYTHOLOGY
So you search and research your very own genetic memory
banks, the Old Testaments of your DNA-RNA, including, if you like,
past incarnations and Jungian archetypes. And funky pre-
incarnations in any future you can imagine!
You write your very own Newest Testament, recalling that
voluntary martyrdom is tacky and crucifixions, like nuclear war,
can ruin your day.
You can do anything the great religions, empires and racial
groups have done in the name of their God #1. and you're certain
to do it better because... well, look at their track records.
There's no way your Personal State could produce the persecutions,
massacres and bigotries of the Big Guys.
Why? Because there's only one of you, and even with the help
of your friends the amount of damage an individual can do is
insignificant compared with the evil-potential of a collective.
Besides, you're a child of the 60s. You're imprinted to want
a peaceful, tolerant, funny world. You can choose your gods to be
smart, funny, compassionate, cute and goofy.
IRREVERENCE IS A PASSWORD FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
It has been suggested that the philosophic assignment of the
Roaring 20th Century was to prepare the human species for the
shifting realities of Quantum Physics and Singular Steering.
Relativity means that everyone "sees" or reacts to things
differently, depending upon location, velocity and attitude (angle
The relativistic insight is in essence irreverent or
humorous, i.e., laughable, comical, delightful. With the law of
gravity repealed, levity is the order of the day. We rise through
our levity, instead of being held down by our gravity.
The word "humor" comes from the Latin word for liquid or
fluid, referring to such qualities as flowing, pliable, smooth,
effortless, easily changed, non-frictional, transparent, shining,
musical, graceful in motion and readily converted into cash.
THE LAST GENERATION IN FLESH?
Through science and technology we will meet the aliens, and
they will be us.
-- Norman Spinrad, "The Neuromantics"
Information-beings of the future may well be fluid. Human
society has now reached a turning point in the operation of the
digital programs of evolution, a point at which the next
evolutionary steps of the species become apparent to us, to surf
as we will. Or, more correctly, as the evolutionary programs run
and run, the next stages pop up in parallel, resulting in
continuing explosions of unexpected diversity. Our concepts of
what is known as "human" continually change. For example, we are
no longer as dependent on physical fitness for survival. Our
quantum appliances and improved mechanical devices can generally
provide the requisite means or defenses. In the near future, the
methods of information technology, molecular engineering,
biotechnology, nanotechnology (atom stacking) and quantum-digital
programming could make the human form a matter totally determined
by individual whim, style and seasonal choice.
Humans already come in some variety of races and sizes. In
comparison to what "human" might mean within the next century, we
humans are at present as indistinguishable from one another as are
hydrogen molecules. Along with the irrational taboo about death,
the sanctity of our body image seems to be one of the most
persistent anachronisms of Industrial Age thought.
We see evolutions of the human form in the future; one more
biological-like: a bio/computer hybrid of any desired form -- and
one not biological at all: an "electronic entity" in the digital
Human-AS-programs, and human-IN-programs.
Of these two post-humanist views, human-as-programs is more
easily conceived. Today, we have crude prosthetic implants,
artificial limbs, valves, and entire organs. The continuing
improvements in the old-style mechanical technology slowly
increase the thoroughness of brain/external-world integration. A
profound change can come with the developments of biotechnology,
genetic engineering, and the slightly more remote success of
The electronic form of human-in-programs is more alien to our
current conceptions of humanity. Through storage of one's belief
systems as data structures online, driven by desired programs
one's neuronal apparatus should operate in silicon basically as it
dead on the meatware of the brain, though faster, more accurately,
more self-mutably, and, if desired, immortally.
Clever cyberpunks will of course not only store themselves
electronically, but do so in the form of a "computer virus,"
capable of traversing computer networks and of self-replicating as
a guard against accidental or malicious erasure by others, or
other programs. (Imagine the somewhat droll scenario: "What's on
this CD?" "Ah, that's just that boring adolescent Leary. Let's go
ahead and reformat it.")
One speculation is that such viral human forms might ALREADY
inhabit our computer systems. Cleverly designed, they would be
very difficult, if not theoretically impossible to detect.
Current programs do not permit matching the real-time
operation speed and parallel complexity of conventional brains.
But time scale of operation is subjective and irrelevant, except
for the purposes of interface.
Of course, there is no reason one needs to restrict one's
manifestation to a particular form. One will basically (within
ever-loosening physical constraints, though perhaps inescapable
economic constraints) be able to assume any desired form.
Authors of current science fiction of the cyberpunk or
"neuromantic" school have approached this idea from many angles.
Bruce Sterling's novel SCHISMATRIX recognizes the fact that human
evolution moves in clades, radiating omnidirectionally, not moving
in a line along a single path. His "Mechs" and "Shapers"
correspond closely with our notions of electronic and biogenetic
paths to evolutionary diversity.
Given the ease of copying computer-stored information, it
should be possible to exist simultaneously in many forms. Where
the "I's" are in this situation is a matter for digital
philosophers. Our belief is that consciousness would persist in
each form, running independently, cloned at each branch point.