Erik Davis. Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. Serpent's Tale, 1999.
It's not easy to summarise the contents of this book, but basically it is a study of the interface between magic, religion, technology and popular culture, centred principally on today's America's cyberculture. Davis tracks through history the ideas of technology, text and information as gnosis, salvation and~apocalypse, The Gnostic theme is perhaps the central one, drawing on Howard Bloom's notion of the Gnostic roots of American religion, and drawing as its themes not just the idea of saving knowledge, but separation of the transcendental spark, from the messy world of human matter, an idea which finds perhaps its ultimate expression in the beliefs of some artificial intelligence enthusiasts that human beings can download their consciousness into immeasurably superior, coldly rational machines.
In this tour de force in which Nicola Tesla, Thomas Watson (the co-discoverer of the telephone), John Lilly, Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan, Philip K Dick and Teilhard de Chardin rub shoulders many of today's techno myths are explored. There is for example a very literate chapter on UFOs, though Davis has perhaps only a fairly superficial knowledge of the intricacies, He sees the Gnostic imagery of the conspiracy theory: various secret cabals replace the archons of old, the powers and principalities of the world, which hold the world in bondage, but from which the saving gnosis offers salvation.
If science fiction and some popular science faction represent secularisation of these traditional religious themes, the idea that the next scientific development, whether it be the telegraph, air power or the Internet will bring about the unification of human kind and the new age, then equally there can be the supernaturalisation of technology, such as the growth of spiritualism, with its telegraph like codes, and its overt references to the 'spiritual telegraph', or the George Hunt Williamson radio messages from aliens (or Raudive's tape recordings, or the Spiricom story for example). One lacuna in the book is an omission of the CETI project, where for example Frank Drake's idea that if we signal the stars, we may get the secrets of peace and immortality in return, truly a techno secular prayer.
I think my best recommendation to would be readers would be to say if you liked the recent articles of Peter Brookesmith and David Sivier in this journal, you will probably want to read this book, if you hated them, then you should perhaps steer clear. -- Peter Rogerson, Magonia 69, December 1999.