The Invisible Dimension: Lamark, Spirituality, and the Divine Template of Cultural Evolution

July 11th, 2014 by acjohner

 

INTRODUCTION

As an anthropologist interested in the subjects of spirituality and cultural evolution, I was enthralled to find an interesting relationship between the fundamental theories of both subjects: belief in an invisible dimension which orients all life in harmony to larger systems.   For centuries, theorists in anthropology pronounced that the wellspring of human culture exists within an unseen realm of information from which our behaviors are sourced.  Similar to the contemporary use of the word ‘consciousness’ among New Age and pseudoscience communities, culture- by a conglomerate of theoretical perspectives across many disciplines, denotes an entity or body that can be measured.  While consciousness is the wellspring of our awareness, culture is the wellspring of our behavior.  While this prospective on culture as a living entity is metaphoric in its origin, over the last century we have observed this concept shed itself of its fairy-tale camouflage and move into a place of pure objectivity.  For many theorists, human culture has been comparative to the ‘cloud’ of the internet, the confluence of television airwaves floating above our heads, or the underlying codex of computer software. Like any other living entity, it has been viewed as forming a single body, inclusive of a collective memory, and is progressively growing in proportion and complexity.  The author, and botanist Wade Davis cleverly defined this as the ‘Ethnosphere’ (Davis, 2002). Recently expressed in a Ted talk that has since gathered over a million views, Davis articulated:

 

Together the myriad cultures of the world make up a web of spiritual life and cultural life that envelops the planet and is as important to the wellbeing of the planet as the biological web of life known as the biosphere, and you might think of this cultural web of life as being the ‘ethnosphere.’ And you might define the ethnosphere as being the sum total of all thoughts, dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. (Davis, 2007)

 

Davis’s concept of the ethnosphere, like several comparative perspectives on the body of culture, is close akin to theory for the wellspring of religious dogma. Scholars of religion have come upon the analogous conception for the wellspring of all religious thought and knowledge known as the perennial philosophy; a basic bedrock that serves as a template for all derivatives of religious belief and practice.  It is this wellspring that is believed to be the source of all mythology and religious dogma.  We find the first impressions of this in shamanism, the earliest form of religion on this planet.  From the voodoo acolytes in Haiti, the Jhakri shaman in India, to the Dogon sorcerers in central Mali, all share the universal belief in an unseen dimension from which they interact with spirits, ancestors, and bodies of intelligence.  It is through this otherworldly interaction, be it through ecstatic dancing to a repetitive drum beat, the ingestion of hallucinogenic plants, or a night of rhythmic chanting that they extract knowledge and wisdom (Lewis, 1971).  Moving away from religion and into the field of psychology, Carl Jung put forth the idea that there existed a collective unconscious that housed all human thought and knowledge from the beginning of time (Jung, 1968).  Further back in time from Jung, and in the field of paleontology and evolutionary theory, Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin composed the theory of the Noosphere; a sphere of human thought which much akin to the biosphere, belonging specifically to the consciousness of mankind (Chardin, 1959).

Throughout various disciplines, of theology, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, all have come upon this comparative notion that there exists an invisible dimension of information that directs human thought and knowledge on a collective scale. Why does this idea of an invisible realm of information keep popping up again and again throughout these various fields of research as an overarching theme for the wellspring of our humanity?  While it sounds much akin to a child’s bedtime story of otherworldly encounter, belonging more in legend and poetic verse than in the pages of academic journals, we find ‘the invisible dimension’ appearing again and again.

The religious sphere of our humanity, as well as our superstitious and magical perspective, has certainly diminished over the past few centuries with the rise of our scientific knowledge, with Nietzsche declaring “God is Dead,” all the way back in 1883 (Nietzsche, 1974).  Secularism has moved across the core of our society leaving an almost dreary domain of rationalism, and destroying our mythic legends in its wake. However coming into the twenty-first century as we move beyond this stage in the evolution of our logic, it may turn out that science is the place where God makes a triumphant return, and perhaps in the form of hard empirical data.  While all the esoteric and metaphysical seems beyond the reaches of scientific study, there is one place where it comes alive enough for us to observe and measure; our culture.

Human Culture is and of itself a deep mystery.  For over a century now social sciences have gathered evidence suggesting that we have an evolved psychology that informs what we learn and how we think (Boyd & Richerson, 2005).  It is this directing influence that initially codifies our behaviors; our own individual belief-systems; why we believe the things that we do and in turn where we see ourselves fitting in our greater society (2005).

The emergence of human culture was the dawning of a new phase in our evolutionary process (Ekstig, 2010).  As our planet evolved it went through several stages of evolution each specific to its own typology of transformation.   The most familiar to us was that of natural selection.  The theory postulated by Charles Darwin seems to hold true for major portion of earth history, however, there comes a point when the random process of natural selection seems to have shifted into autoorganization which is revealed through the natural symmetry that we find in nature.  Beyond autoorganization, the world shifted once again into a self-directed evolutionary phase guided by the daily choices of our own species (Galleni, 2001). These phases are known as the Geocentric, Organismocentric, and the Biosphereocentric.  Each of these phases is typified by a dramatic increase in the spread and connectivity of evolutionary information (2001).  Up until the emergence of culture this process was left up to the transference of genetic information.  However the emergence of culture offered a new way in which information was acquired, stored and transmitted to new generations (Buskes, 2013).

Cultural evolutionary theory has been hailed as vital to our understanding how evolutionary information is being transmitted. It is for this reason that the cumulative selection process of our biological evolution, is comparative to the selection process involving all of our ideas, technology, concepts, and sciences (Boyd & Richerson, 2005).   While Darwin postulated that evolution of the biological world happened at random, through human culture we actively direct and choose particular variations for ourselves, thus bringing our biological evolution into a co-creative process (Buskes, 2013).  Cultural variation is guided or ‘nonrandom’ because new variants are usually generated consciously and purposively.  We can actively seek out the variations and inventions that are needed.

Culture does not drive itself independently however, there is always an operator; underlying forces that influence its morphology. Culture has to be constructed and embellished to such an extent of complexity that it would be naïve not to assume there were some strategic planning buried somewhere there in our subconscious.   Phillip Hefner, once the editor of “Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science,” calls this process the ‘evolutionary epic.’  For Hefner, the epic of evolution is this process in which our human evolution of culture is natural and a fundamental part of our shifting biology (2003):

What should guide us in the construction and conduct of our culture? The values we espouse, the worldviews we hold, the decisions we make, all flow from the ways in which our consciousness is organized. In scientific terms, it is the psychological dimension of our personality that plays the role of gatekeeper between our genetic and cultural inputs, on the one hand, and what we shall select to pay most attention to and therefore act upon, on the other hand. (Hefner 2003, p. 539)

HUMAN CULTURE IS A PRODUCT OF EVOLVING INFORMATION

Major contributors to our current perspectives on evolutionary biology, including Richard Dawkins, and Kate Distin among many, argue that human culture is a product of evolving information (Dawkins 1990, Distin 2010, Boyd, R., & Richardson 2005). As the American author Howard Bloom writes:  “Culture transforms a record of the past into a prediction of the future; it transforms memory into tradition-into rules of how to proceed.  And culture is profoundly social.  It exists not just in one mind, but binds together mobs of minds in a common enterprise” (Bloom 2010, p. 146).  The heart of what Bloom is conveying, is that all of our interactions in society can be broken down into packets of information, a large portion of it being language itself, which shaped the whole ‘thinking’ system of our collective society. “Culture is the behavioral and artefactual product of interactions between humans and cultural information,” Distin Writes (p. 134).

Traditionally, when we think of evolution we imagine little fish-like creatures with gills and speckled skin crawling out of the water on their bellies sprouting appendages and phalanges and scaling the nearest tree.  Seldom do we think of evolution on the minute and unseen scale of compounding information stored in our DNA, or in epigenetic realms beyond.  Dawkins writes in The Selfish Gene, “the law that all life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities,” i.e that information is replicating itself as a means of transference, and “a view of life that applies to living things everywhere in the universe.  The fundamental unit, the prime mover of all life, is the replicator” (Dawkins 2010, p. 215).

From Dawkin’s perspective, evolution is a fundamental algorithm that informs the progression of all nature in terms of infinite replication (2010). A cell divides, becomes 2 then 4, then 8.  The same process is happening on a far more complex level in terms of our cultural biology.  Our cultural biology can be thought of as a body of language, or a living data thoughts and ideas that could spread and replicate themselves in the same way genetic information is replicated.

The British author, Susan Blackmore, popularized the idea of data-replication in terms of ‘memes’.  For Blackmore, “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, fashions, and ways of making things are all spread from person to person by imitation.  They vary and are selected.  These are the new replicators- the memes” (Blackmore 2000, p. 17).  For Blackmore, the evolution of info-replication has now surpassed its dependence on the biological world.  Through our human technology of writing, copy and printing, as well as our vast global communication networks and the internet’s ability to store infinite data, this replication process has reached a new level of accelerated complexity (2000).

According to Blackmore, as the copying increases, the thirst for innovation is unleashed to almost dangerous levels. She writes:

This flowering of a new replicator leads to a completely new way of understanding how humans came to have such unique features as their excessively large brain; true language; extensive toll use; a love of music, art, and religion; and complex culture.  I argued that by a process of “memetic drive,” memes changed the environment in which human genes were selected and so drove genes to produce ever-larger brains that were better at imitating the currently successful memes.  In this way our brains became selective imitation devices, adapted to copying some kinds of memes more easily than others. (Blackmore 2000, p.4)

It’s not just us humans who are responding to this sort of directive information.  When you set a flowerpot in a window, what makes it gradually turn its petals toward the glowing sun?  Plants will respond to the length of daylight and nighttime with differing chemical responses that are timed with each. Phythochrome is a light-sensitive pigment protein that goes active when sun hits it.  Like a mini solar-panels, when light hits the phythochrome and raises it to a particular level, the plant in turn flowers.  We find a multiplicity of examples throughout nature. What tells the bee to build hives, make honey, and pollinate flowers; or ants to work together in massive droves building labyrinths underneath the earth, sending out scouts to find food, constructing fungal gardens, and burying their dead?  It seems there exists some form of information beyond language that is encoded within nature.

While the natural world seems devoid of any phonic language systems, an innate system of information which dictates the function of the whole system seems to be undermining everything.  What we call ‘instinct’ is nature’s ‘auto-pilot,’ but what informs instinct? Is there a real difference between our biological program and the one operating in the cultural landscape? How much of our cultural make-up is fundamentally instinctual?   The same way that synthesis of structurally complex proteins shape our body’s functioning, so to do culture patterns provide a formative basis of programming for all our social and psychological processes shaping group behavior (Hefner, 2003).

One evolutionary theorist, John M. Smart, believes that there exists a cosmos of information, not confined to our own earth, but one that extends outwards, encapsulating all that twinkling blackness above our heads as well as our own terra firma down below (Smart, 2010).  The instinct which undermines the universe is believed by many to be the same instinct which commands the biological world of our earth, and the post-biological world of our human culture (Smart, 2000).  When we think of an invisible realm of information informing culture we at first assume this as language.  It is no argument that language was a huge leap for our species, giving us the ability to decrypt the innate language of our instinctual nature. It has been debated for a long time whether or not our language was a cultural evolution, or a biological one.  A majority of research out there seems to point to our acquisition for language as a biological ‘adaptation’ to work cooperatively in groups (Distin, 2010).

While our individual language systems are learned culturally, our acquisition for language has for a long time been a part of us (Distin, 2010).  Ever since the production of language, the accelerated rate of our evolution has come from the increase in our ability to exchange language faster and faster; with larger amounts of conceptual information being delivered in smaller and smaller packages (Ekstig, 2010).  Language, however, is only the symbolic encoding reflective of a much deeper basis of knowledge and data.  It is this deeper realm of knowledge that is the unseen dimension.  Cultural information is transferring between individuals on the same invisible airways so to speak.  It is for this reason that it is often contemplated how much of our culture is acquired through learned behavior, as opposed to some form of epigenetic inheritance.  Culture may be, in part, a signal that we are picking up from our external environment, like a radio signal or an airborne virus.

Wade Davis, mentioned at the beginning of this article, often discusses his encounters with Ayahuasca, a psychedelic made from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine.  The vine contains beta-carbaolines and is mixed with leaves from the Psychotria genus that contains 5-MAO triptamine.  When ingested together, users experience powerful hallucinatory experiences, often claiming to leave this world entirely and visit other dimensions and converse with the entities who inhabit them (Davis, 2007).   One fascinating, and mysterious detail about the drug is the fact that both the vine and the mixtures of leaves of a nearby plant are needed to produce the necessary effect.  If the vine is ingested alone it will not induce the entheogenic effect because the body metabolizes the 5-MAO faster than the drug has to being working.  However, the indigenous cultures learned several thousand years ago that the beta-carbolines of a nearby plant were the precise beta-carbolines needed to enact the 5-MAO and induce profound psychedelic journeys (Davis, 2007).  When questioned how they learned this particular pairing, they claim the spirit of the Ayahuasca vine told them so (2007). Even Albert Hoffman claimed to feel an angelic and guiding presence in the room shortly before his discovery of LSD.

Wade Davis further explains how the natives are able to distinguish between 17 various species of Ayahuasca that are visually undifferentiated by singing to the plants in the light of the full-moon (Davis, 2007).  Apparently each of the separate types of Ayahuasca vine will respond differently to the songs.  If one is to accept the credibility of this method of plant identification, further inquiries must arise to which science has yet to find answers.  What sort of information are the natives accessing through singing songs to plants in the light of the full moon?

According to Davis, “culture is born out of the imagination” (2007).  Culture is not born out of us alone, it is also an expression of nature’s creativity. Culture is found in the jungle portraits made by the ayahuascaros in hundreds of vibrant colors, or in the aboriginal dot-art found in central Australia.  It can be found in the intricate beadwork of Native Americans, the temples built in Machu Picchu, or in the cave paintings of El Castillo.  When we think of anthropology, generally we associate the field to indigenous cultures of the past.  This is because there are no microscopes in the field of anthropology, so if you want to get a closer look at culture, you have to look into the past when culture was a microcosm of what it has become now; when it was a neon bacteria growing out of the jungles of Africa.  When we think of the culture of indigenous tribes, we picture skin dotted with painted art, scarification, bone piercing, ritualized dancing, group chanting around the sacred fire. It is here that culture began, as art, as the creative expression of a group of people.

What has inspired mankind to express himself so creatively?  We find evidence throughout nature supporting the idea that beauty is an adaptation for evolutionary progression.  We see this in the beauty of orchids, the feathers of peacocks, the neon skin of the Dendrobates azureus poison dart frog.   As Phillip Heffner writes:

Culture, therefore, is a happening within nature. Culture belongs to nature. It is, in a metaphorical sense, nature’s organ. We must conclude that culture is nature’s own process of being self-aware—of being aware of itself, of trying to understand itself and its world—and of trying to discharge fundamental processes of evolution under the condition of free choice and decision making. (Hefner 2003, p.539)

LAMARK, NOOSPHERE, AND MORPHIC RESONANCE

Theologian and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that our species was “evolution becoming aware of itself” (Chardin, 1959). Teilhard was also a famous Jesuit Priest, as well as a paleontologist most notable for his philosophical contributions to the field of evolutionary biology with his development of the Noosphere, mentioned earlier. Teilhard was a Christian as much as he was a hard nosed-scientist. For Teilhard, there was no distinguishable difference between science and religion.  The teachings of Judeo-Christianity came alive in Teilhard’s perspective on the evolving world (Lubac, 1965).  Proof-of-God was in the systematic cyclical unfolding of nature in its process of evolution towards infinite complexity, what Teilhard called the ‘Omega point.’  For Teilhard, humanity belonged to this same system of evolution.  We followed along natures clockwork and not our own (1965).  Why was evolution so important to Teilhard’s perspective?

Much akin to Teilhard’s proof of God in natures ‘Omega Point,’ is the theory Lamarkian evolution.  Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was known for coining the idea that all biological life transformed from simpler into more complex and superior forms on an escalator of sorts (Wilkins, 2001).  It was Herbert Spencer who took this concept and coined the term ‘evolution,’ in the first place.  While most associate Darwin with the word evolution, Darwin actually remained distant from the idea, distrusting it (Midgley, 1985).  Dispite Darwin’s distrust, the idea of all life evolving in an upwards and singular direction has become the perspective that most individuals hold of evolution to this day.  It was most vital to Teilhard’s perspective in that it offered support that all life was indeed evolving in a unified manner towards a singular end-point (Lubac, 1965).

Lamark developed one of the key theories of evolutionary biology that still to this day parallels Darwin’s origin of species in terms of popularity (Midgley, 1985).  Lamarkian inheritance basically describes the process in which characteristics acquired during one’s lifetime can pass on to offspring through an epigenetic process known as ‘soft inheritance’ (Buskes, 2013). If a giraffe spends its life reaching for the high branches of the mimosa tree, then through ‘soft inheritance’ its offspring will be born with a longer neck.  What this view postulates is that there is a fundamental engine from which mutations are intentionally created.  By Lamark’s theory, adaptation does not happen at random as it does Darwin’s theory of selective evolution through random mutations- but instead is designed in accordance with the condition of the nervous system thereby improving the aptitude of the particular species by harmonizing mutation with an organisms innate desire for change (Wilkins, 2001).

Maria E. Kronfeldner, author of Darwinian Creativity and Memetics, postulates that cultural evolution is generally considered Lamarkian in character (Kronfeldner, 2006). While Lamark’s theory was abandoned with the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis of natural selection, strong interest in the theory has pursued still to this day in the field of epigenetic inheritance (Midgley, 1985).  For this reason, Lamarkism is most valued today in the field of cultural evolutionary theory.

Beyond biological evolution, the ideas postulated by Lamark seem to make the most since when talking about the inheritance of acquired behaviors as opposed to the inheritance genes.  This is because culture is based on directed changes and not those by predisposed by a biological algorithm, or so it appears. For Lamarck, acquired changes are caused by two factors: an internal drive towards complexity and a mechanism of adaptation to local environmental circumstances (Wilkins, 2001).  Kronfeldner points out that epigenetics is a new turning point in evolutionary biology in that it offers a form of inheritance that happens outside of genes (Kronfeldner, 2006). Kronfeldner argues that cultural evolution is neither epimemetic inheritance or the re-encoding of epimemetic changes into memes.  Instead cultural evolution occurs through the introduction of novelty and self-directed inheritance of cultural information:

The following is uncontroversial: Lamarckian inheritance, literally understood, is biological inheritance through physical reproduction of organisms. Since Lamarckian inheritance is inheritance of acquired characteristics, it is soft inheritance in the sense specified above. Yet, given our current knowledge of genetics, there is a disagreement on whether Lamarckian inheritance demands genetic inheritance or not. (Kronfeldner 2006, p. 3)

A historian and philosopher of biological science, John S. Wilkins, identifies Lamarkian hereditary material as ‘the codex,’ an invisible layer of information known to many in the school of cultural evolutionary theory as the ‘Lamarkian Dimension’ (Jablonka & Lamb, 1995).  Wilkins writes, “like a manuscript carries the written word inscribed upon it; and the end result of inheritance, the organism, the product” (Wilkins 2001, p. 167).

The underlying codex of the Lamarkian Dimension is believed to be evolving culture into higher and more complex forms of itself (Jablonka & Lamb, 1995). This perspective of evolution in a continually upwards and outwards direction is considered fallacious for bio-evolutionary theory however is suiting when tied to the evolution of culture.

Culture, and cultural information will always build towards higher and more complex forms of itself for the simple fact that information never dissipates, it only expands and increases as more of it is introduced.  The same is true for the human capacity to store memory and knowledge.  As we gain more and more information, we build a larger memory of our daily existence.  Unless by some trauma or brain injury we lose access to portions of our memory, the amount of stored information only increases.  The same way that we gain wisdom with age through an accumulation of experiences and learned behaviors, culture on a whole progresses in the same fashion; collecting, storing, and organizing cultural data which is processed and promotes change to improve the culture at large ensuring its survival, sustainability, and growth beyond anything.

Rupert Sheldrake, an author and researcher in the field of parapsychology, developed the theory of ‘Morphic Resonance;’ the idea that memory is inherent in nature (Sheldrake, 2009).  His theory postulates that ant colonies, pigeons, and other ‘natural systems’ inherit a mass of information, like a collective memory,  which has been collected by all previous species of its own kind.  Like the Lamarkian Dimension of epigenetic inheritance, this collective memory is stored in an invisible space beyond the veil of our physicality and is accessed telepathically as it is beyond the individual mind and is stored in a collective field (2009).

Long before Sheldrake, Maurice Halbwachs, a French philosopher, influenced by both Durkheim and philosopher Henri Bergson, came up with the idea of a ‘collective memory’ (Smith, 1964). Halbwachs was interested in how people interpreted the past and mythologized history (1964).  Halbwachs saw collective actions of commemorization such as festivals, storytelling, and writing, as means of record keeping and passing on historic memories (1964).  Like Durkheim’s theory of social solidarity, Halbwachs saw that collective memory was what held society together keeping everyone operating under the banner of a unified story of which every individual found themselves a character.  Halbwachs saw religion as a form of collective memory and expressed itself through myth and dogma (1964). This was the importance of festivals as it dramatized the relationship between individuals and society and gave members a chance to role-play their own legends or see their mythos acted out before them.

Joseph Campbell, one of the leading founders of comparative mythology, believed that the patterns found in mythology cross-culturally expressed the idea of there being a fundamental layer of our psyche that was universal among all mankind.  Campbell’s work was also deeply influenced by psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung whom also believed that myth was our symbolic interpretation of deeper realms of the psyche (Jung, 1965).

The most influential thinker of much this debate was Teilhard de Chardin mentioned earlier.  It was during the 20’s that Teilhard, along with a philosopher friend Eduard Le Roy, coined the before mentioned noosphere to describe a layer of blueness around the earth which for Teilhard symbolized the density of thought (Chardin, 1959).  His word, ‘Noosphere’ describes the layer of mind, thought and spirit hovering just about the earth like a layer of our atmosphere (King, 2005).  Beyond mere metaphor, Teilhard believed that this layer physically existed as real as the atmosphere separating us from the hydrogen of space.  While the idea was at first asinine to Teilhard’s contemporaries, the idea has since regained popularity with the emergence of the internet, as well as New Agers adopting the term to support many pseudoscientific theories including Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Resonance.  Teilhard writes:

Our own hominised planet is now developing a noosphere (a new geological stratum consisting of tightening webs of mind, culture, economics, politics, science, information and technology), thus moving evolution in the direction of a new level of complexity-consciousness. (Haught, 2007)

Teilhard saw the deployment of the noosphere beginning with the handprints found on walls of a cave in Spain, in the Pyrenees and Perigord, and fertility symbols dating back to the Magdelenian Man.  For Teilhard, these were expressions of early superstitious thought and essentially marked the emergence of man’s religion (Chardin, 1959).  He called it the ‘Threshold of the Terrestrial Planet.’ Similar to the stages Geocentric, Oranismocentric, and the Biosphereocentric mentioned earlier, Teilhard saw the planet having gone through geogenisus, leading to biogenisus, catalyzing psychogenisus which was the emergence of man, and finally ‘noogenisis’ an awareness of an organisms’ choices and responsibilities of its activity on the planet (Chardin, 1959).  In The Phenomenon of Man Teilhard writes:

Our picture is of mankind laboring under the impulsion of an obscure instinct, so as to break out through its narrow point of emergence and submerge the earth; of thought becoming number so as to conquer all habitable space, taking precedence over all other forms of life; of mind, in other words, deploying and convoluting the layers of the noosphere. (Chardin 1959, p. 191)

Is Teilhard’s vision the formative dimension of information of both Dawkin’s, Distin’s, and Lamarkian theories of cultural evolution?  It seems one’s curiosity of the function of this invisible realm can only expand to acquire more inquiries while gaining few answers.  What is this realm which seems to be an intersection of so many fields of research; a directive realm of instructive data like the invisible waves that carry radio signals across the planet?  The transference of acquired characteristics would transcend beyond the mere learned.  If it was such, then culture could be a contagious air-born virus that influences anyone in range of it.  And if such was true, finding an answer to the probability of its existence therefore should be rooted in our biology.  If culture does exist as a living entity of breadth and globalized connectivity as Teilhard de Chardin had witnessed in his visionary glimpse as the shroud of blueness enveloping the earth, and there really were a living dimension of thought, knowledge, and human memory, at what point does the theory move beyond the boundary of humanoid and trail into the wilderness of biosphereic and possibly cosmic interaction?

CULTURAL EVOLUTION IS BIOLOGICAL

The earliest uses of the word ‘culture’ had little an association with society.  The original use of the word was linked with the cultivation of crops (Smith, 1964). Many of us are familiar with the use of the term when describing a growth in a lab, such as a ‘culture of bacteria.’  This is because the original use of the word indicated something that was grown and cultivated. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the word came to be used to describe the spiritual and intellectual development of an individual (Smith, 1964).  At the first part of this century anthropologists began using the term ‘culture’ as we understand it today, and ever since we have come to associate the term with the aesthetic development of any given group of people. Culture in this sense, is the blossom of human society.

Culture shapes our human action and human action is what interacts and transforms the biological world around us.  Evolutionary theorist Chris Buskes writes that “culture is directly linked to biological evolution because what counts in the end is the genetic fitness of the creatures that possess culture, culture must be viewed as a biological phenomenon, a complex biological adaptation that allows human beings to cope with the most diverse environments.” (Buskes 2013, p. 666)  In Buske’s article entitled “Darwinism Extended: A Survey of How the Idea of Cultural Evolution Evolved,” he points out the Nature-First approach as one of the earlier theoretical links between culture and nature. The Nature-First approach is the theory that human culture is embedded within the wider and much older framework of human nature. The theory has one main flaw however; it neglects the influence of culture and the ways in which cultural evolution can feedback onto biological-genetic evolution (Buskes 2013).

It’s a little odd to think of culture having influence on our genetic evolution as culture is not traditionally considered to be inborn, but an operating system that exists outside of the genome.  As evolutionary theorist John Wilkins points out “If the origins of novelty in culture are effectively random, just as they are in biology, the subsequent spread and fate of those novelties can be just as Darwinian as they are in biology also” (Wilkins 2001, p. 172).  This argument is known as ‘Dawkin’s Conjecture’ and is the point at which the entirety of this thesis launches beyond the constraints of our own self-directing free-will, shrouding mankind in swaddling cloth and placing him into the sling of nature.  ‘Dawkin’s Conjecture’ basically states that all Lamarckian processes of cultural evolution are redescribeable as Darwinian.  Wilkin’s further postulates that out that the argument raises the sociobiological specter to reduce all social behavior to genetic determination (Wilkins, 2001).

All decisions and actions made up by cultures, while rooted in their values, moral systems, and group consensus. All are rooted in biological determination.   Mary Midgley called this the ‘irresistible escalator’ in her book “Evolution as a Religion,” the escalator signifying the seductive illusion that evolution insinuates a forward progression in complexity and superiority (Midgley, 1985).  This does not take into account the entire history of mankind and the undisputable fact that the largest portion of our history is unknown to us.  For all we know- humanity could have reached such an exalted and technologically advanced state as it stands today, and for whatever reason, crumbled and fell reducing itself to ashes only to be born and rise again.   Shortages of food reduce men into beasts; falling from the high peak of self-actualizing on Maslow’s Pyramid to go scraping for morsels down at the bottom. Is this also true of cultural complexity, of a seemingly endless escalator towards the high and mighty crest of our capacity for intelligence and greatness?  Cultures rise and fall. No matter how exalted we stand, Nature with a capital N has always proven herself the silent master.

In the last century, the social science’s perspective on the integral role our culture plays in our humanity is more and more inclusive of the biosphere. While it seems that human culture is something relatively new in the history of our evolution, spawned only after the emergence of our self-awareness when we first climbed out of the trees and began hunting and building fires and organizing ourselves into tribes, culture also seems a reflection of something that belonged to this planet long before us. Think of all of the relationships between plants and animals, bees pollinating flowers in springtime, flocks of geese flying south for the winter, beavers building dams in rivers causing vastly new ecosystems of their own- are all part of the culture on the planet.            While these examples may all seem as part of the natural ecosystem of the planet, why then is not our own human culture and our social behaviors rooted into the same system?

As Richard and Boyd write in Culture is Essential, “Culture affects the success and survival of individuals and groups; as a result, some cultural variants spread and others diminish, leading to evolutionary processes that are every bit as real and important as those that shape genetic variation. These culturally evolved environments then affect which genes are favored by natural selection” (Boyd & Richerson 2005 p. 76).

The idea of universal harmony is found in religious traditions all over the world, from Buddhism to Christian theology.  The concept translates perfectly into the Organismocentric Theory.  As a matter of fact, when the concept was initially formed it was intended as the presence of a geometrical and mathematical organization of the universe.  There was nothing biblical at all in its original intended definition but a concept, which arose from Greek philosophy meant for mathematicians. In the year 1202, the mathematician Leonardo of Pisa introduced The Fibonacci sequence to mathematics. These are numbers in the following integer sequence, 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 ,34, 55, 89, 144.  The first numbers are 0 and 1.  Each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.   It was realized that this pattern was found in the natural patterns of nature.  In the biological environment that encapsulates our material world, tree branches, the sprouts of a pineapple, the arrangements of pinecones, the uncurling ferns, all following along this pattern of multiplying integers.  Long sense its numerical meaning and expression of the sacred geometry that unifies this planet, the concept has been adopted by various world religions and stands as a central teaching by theologians across the planet (Galleni, 2001).

There are several existing theories pronouncing the interconnectivity of the biosphere.

One of the more well known is James Lovelock’s ‘gaia hypothesis.’  Lovelock saw the entirety of the biosphere as a living conscious entity.  Under his theory, stability of the biosphere was reached through diversification and the increase in complexity by creating a greater and more diverse web of connections (Zimmerma, 2004).   Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky developed the Bisphereic Theory which looks for connections between the different parts that constitute the biosphere while taking into consideration the whole biosphere as an evolving entity (Gallini, 2001).  Steven J. Dick put forth ‘The Intelligence Principle:’ that there is a driving force of cultural evolution that forms a natural bond in our intelligence, a main nerve of influence that compels whole ecosystem forward in it’s progression.    As John Smart, mentioned earlier, writes, “Life has an innate tendency to improve (ameliorate, make better or more tolerable) some definable aspects of itself (complexity, intelligence, survivability, and perhaps other measures) may be proposed by quantifying life’s melioristic record of complexity and capacity improvement on Earth” (Smart 2010, p. 207).

Teilhard’s ‘Omega Point’ connotes this maximum level of growth and complexity; an end goal or product of which all evolution was aiming towards.  The expansive diversity of the biosphere and Teilhard’s noosphere were so closely interwoven and interdependent for Teilhard de Chardin (Lubac, 1965).  Teilhard believed that the planet was aspiring to a process of mega-synthesis which he describes as a “super-arrangement to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today, individually and collectively, subject” (Chardin 1959, p. 204). He saw this as a germination of the strata of planetary dimensions including the noosphere and biosphere into a new ‘thinking layer’ which as Teilhard writes, “intertwines its fibres, not to confuse or neutralize them but to reinforce them in the living unity of a single tissue” (1959 p. 205).

According to Herbert Spencer, cultural phenomena is intimately associated with psychological phenomena. Spencer coined the term, the ‘superorganic’ to describe the whole complex myriad of psychological, cultural and the biosphereic interaction (Kroeber, 1917). The idea is close akin to the super-organism- of which the society of mankind serve as the brain of a much larger organism.  Our means of communication are like the nerves of the planet, and each one of us are cells of the larger body. At the lower level of complexity we find everything that makes up the physical universe; atoms, particles, the building blocks of life that are in some since lifeless, or inorganic.  The next level up, the organic, which includes all the living things that make up our planet; trees, plants, the birds, bees, and we ourselves, are the progeny of the inorganic.  The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Our world’s biological make-up does not cease here however.  There are more to the dynamics of the system than just putting the right pieces together.  Frankenstein’s monster would not have sat up on his own the moment the its final toe was stitched upon foot.  The Prometheus needed a bolt of lightning; a powerful life-giving surge of electricity to get all his parts working. Much like the dynamics of carbon atoms, or how plants convert sunlight into living energy- it is at this level that the organic rises above the inorganic.  It is at this level that it becomes a biological system. The Superorganic, in perspective, sees culture as a living part of a much larger system. The same level of complexity in which photosynthesis occurs in plants, or hibernation in some animals in the winter- this plane is believed to be shared by human culture (Kroeber, 1917). Durkheim expressed this fact  “Humans have thoughts and behavior. Those are carried by individuals. They behave, however, in concert with each other, as a system external to individuals society” (Durkheim, 1912).

In 1917 anthropologist Alfred Kroeber built upon this theory.  Kroeber saw culture as operating in its own sphere like Spencer and many others.  He writes:

There may be those who see in these pulsing events only a meaningless play of capricious fortuitousness; but there will be others whom they reveal a glimpse of a great and inspiring inevitability which rises as far above the accidents of personality as the march of the heavens transcends the wavering contract of random footprints on clouds of earth. (Kroeber, 1917, p. 31)

Kroeber saw culture transcending the sphere of human thought and believed that it was inclusive of the biological world as well. Kroeber writes “without individuals, civilizations could not exist, civilization therefore is only a sum total of the psychic operations of a mass of individuals” (Kroeber, 1917).  The biological and psychological operate upon the same foundational blueprint more or less, “The mind and the body are but facets of the same organic material or activity; the social substance-civilization, transcends them for all its being rooted in life,”  Kroeber writes (1917).  This ‘social-substance’ Kroeber was visualizing all the way back in 1917 was what author Robert Wright, called the ‘divine-algorithm,’ in his book The Evolution of God.  For Robert Wright this was an underlying strata of information, akin to the Greek Logos which dictated all wisdom and life on earth (Wright, 2010).  He writes, “the Logos reconciles the transcendence of God with a divine presence in the world. God himself is beyond the material universe, somewhat the way a video game designer is outside of the video game. . . God may be outside the physical universe, but, as Goodenough puts it, there is ‘an immanent presence and cooperation of divinity in the created world.” Wright then adds that “the job of human beings … is to in turn cooperate with the divinity, a task they’ll do best if they sense this presence and the purpose it imparts” (2010, p. 135).

The American anthropologist, Leslie A. White writes in Man’s Control over Civilization, “We no longer believe that human destiny is a plaything for spirits, good and evil, or for the machinations of the Devil.  There is nothing to prevent our making the earth a paradise again except ourselves.  The scientific age has dawned and we recognize that man himself is the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. The controls the course of his ship, and so, is free to navigate it into fair waters or foul, or even run it on the rocks” (White 2005, p. 255).   While it is true that science diluted our mythical perspective that there is a godhead in rule over us, science is at the same time increasing our awareness of how intertwined our own human behavior is with Nature- capital N.

WHAT ROLE DOES HUMAN SPIRITUALITY PLAY IN ALL THIS?

So why do we have a sense of powers beyond? Are there really directive forces that influence and guide the evolution of the planet?  Researchers David Hay, and Pawel Socha believe that our spirituality might in fact have a primordial source based in our biological make-up.  Religious experience is argued by Hay and Socha to be a sub-category of spiritual experience which they argue is the part that is biological (Hay & Socha, 2005).  Durkheim pioneered this idea; that religion and spirituality are human universals fundamental to the organization of society (Durkhiem, 1912).

For Hay and Socha, the reason spirituality was fundamental to the underlying processes of culture was the after-effect of relational consciousness following religious experience (Hay & Socha, 2005).  While spirituality has been traditionally viewed as an individual process, ‘relational consciousness,’ on the contrary, is a means of expanding awareness and acknowledgment of ones surroundings and their relationship to them.  As Hay and Socha write,  “We suggest that culturally recognizable spirituality emerges from an interaction between biological, psychological, and social components” (2005, p. 600).  In summary, spiritual experience is an expansion of ‘relational consciousness.’  How is this rooted in our biology?  Several evolutionary theorists are starting to think that spirituality was an adaptation in our evolution as a species as it served as a means of cooperating with groups and the natural environment.

Humans have been around for some 6 million years, however it took us all that time to evolve from the chimpanzee into what we are today.  Overtime, we learned to stand on two legs, our brow ridges receded back into our foreheads, and our brains grew bigger and bigger.  Based on the archeological record it wasn’t until 200,000 years ago that we came into the form that we are in today. We are genetically identical to the caveman who walked the earth 200,000 years ago. So what changed if not our brain size and bodies?  What evolved us out of being cavemen?

We find the bones of our ancestors in the archeological record but we find zero evidence of any sort of religion, or any sort of art, or of any culture for that matter.  The evidence proves that we barely hunted successfully, even though we were atomically modern.  Then all of a sudden, 35,000 years ago something changed; out of the blue we begin creating the most extraordinary art.

All over the world, at the exact same time, cave and rock shelter paintings begin emerging everywhere expressing imagery unlike anything found on this earth.  Most archeologists have argued that these paintings depicted the animistic spirits, the gods of nature that were once mankind’s subject of worship and supernatural projection.  This answer has a half-truth that we’ve already accepted; the gods of primitive man, the emergence of a primordial religion was integral to the evolution of our consciousness.  From this communication derived mythology, wisdom of living, agency of human purpose, prophetic visions of the future, and often the intuitive sensation of Armageddon looming somewhere ahead in our future.

As we evolved in separate groups all over the planet, our initial religious practice and techniques of rites, ritual, and ecstasy were relatively the same, down to our rituals and ceremonies of practice.  As man’s religion evolved over time, man broke out of the myriad of hunter-gatherer societies that dotted the world and began to form larger state societies (Wright, 2010).

Since the earliest man, our individual lives, as well as our communities, shared a relationship with the invisible dimension- known to the earliest shaman as a realm of spirits, enabling a development of our spirituality, and overtime our religious dogmas.  Since the dawn of our consciousness our daily lives have always been dictated by magic, myth, the presence of spirits, and voices within nature.

Most spiritualist, mediums, and shaman, consider the spirit realm to be a place consisting of several spheres, zones, or layers.  Emanuel Swedenborg, a writer from the 18th century, played a significant role is constructing and swaying views of the architecture of this realm (Lewis, 1971).  From his descriptions, this realm was made up of several of these compounding layers of hierarchical organization- becoming more illuminating and celestial the ‘higher’ the layer.  It is interesting that Emanuel thought of these layers as spheres.  Like Teilhard’s Noosphere, they were molded to the outline of our planet, acting as atmospheres within which our own human psychosis respires in thought and imagination. Swedenborg saw it as a world of otherness beyond our own, existing of a multiplicity of spirit beings, a realm thought to be inherently good, and truth-seeking (1971).  It fed notions of spirituality, was a source of wisdom, and was what the theosphophist C.W. Leadbeter called “The Home of the Soul,”  a place of meaningful transcendence and transformation (1971).  It is believed to have been the source of our morality and value systems which informed culture at large.  It was this ‘sphere’ of moral-information, nevertheless, that orchestrated the fundamental structure of early cultures.

Edward Burnett Taylor, known for coining the term ‘animism,’ also speculated that spirituality may have served as a functional basis for the development of civilization and thus was the reason why society and religion evolved together as one.  Taylor’s theory asserts that determinates of all these parts were universal (Wright, 2010). Taylor believed that once an animistic worldview had taken shape within a tribal group it began to evolve and change autogenically, taking on form through an organic and self-directed process.  Under Taylor’s theory, all ideas and concepts of early man simply became more complex as time went on and man himself evolved; his consciousness and society becoming more complex right along with him.  One of my favorite lines from Taylor, and probably one of his longest sentences:

 

Upwards from the simplest theory which attributes life and personality to animal vegetable and mineral alike- through that which gives to stone and plant and river guardian spirits which live among them and attend to their preservation, growth and change- up to that which sees in each department of the world the protecting and fostering care of an appropriate divinity, and at last of one Supreme Being ordering and controlling the lower hierarchy-through all of these gradations of opinion we may thus see fought out, in one stage after another, the long waged contest between a theory of animation which accounts for each phenomenon of nature by giving it everywhere a life like our own and a slowly-growing natural science which in one department after another substitutes for independent voluntary action the working out of systematic law (Stocking 1985, p. 197).

 

The evolution of these supernatural concepts began to correspond directly with our changing relationship with nature.  Elements of nature began to be regarded as controlled by distinctive spirits.  Some animal species began to be regarded as masters of surrounding environmental phenomena; changes in climate, sudden unexpected rains, snowstorms and droughts.  The ancestral spirits of the deceased were believed to exist in these invisible realms surrounding the tribe; a realm believed to include upper and lower floors, above and below the earth.

Many early tribes believed they, along with their ancestors could travel to both above and below worlds and extract information necessary for the survival of the tribe.  Whether travel to the upper and lower worlds meant communing with the deceased, a deity, or the spirit of Nature.

Despite the depth of their ever-increasing phenomenology, these early humans didn’t necessarily have a religion par se.  All these ideas were universally understood as a natural part of their interpretation of the environment.  They believed that our material world and the spiritual world were one in the same (Wright, 2010).   Even within the verbose of their languages, there were no words to describe the supernatural as a separate world from our own.  It was as much a part of their environment as the ground they walked upon and the air they breathed.   As they saw rain come down from the sky, and the winds blowing through trees, or the waxing and waning of moon, they believed spirit beings controlled every bit of it.

Beyond the ego breakdown of spiritual ecstasy, within the threshold of liminality, is the passage into anew.  It is a transformative space, but who determines the progeny of the passage, the outcome of what an individual becomes on the other side?  Rites, ritual, and liminality in cultures all over the world are bound and directed by the traditions of which they are encased.  However, when the traditional frameworks are removed, and there is no expectation for what one is to become on the other side, what happens?  Chaos abounds of course, but out of that experience of ego-loss the individual falls into a post-liminal condition where they do transform into something else.  Is this something else dictated by internal desires for change? Yes possibly, but is this the extent of it?

The same way that the liminal condition opens one up to spirit possession within ecstatic trance rituals, can this same ‘possession’ occur with larger bodies of intelligence, or systems in nature if they do in fact exist as deeper levels of our own psyche?  Take the collective unconsciousness of the human species of Jung hypothesis for example: is it possible for this oceanic intelligence to awaken within the body and mind of someone within that state?  Could an expansion of relational consciousness come to include the Noosphere as put forth by Teilhard?  It would certainly account for the depth of visionary experiences found in accounts of religions ecstasy describing moments of oneness and unity.  The ‘hive-mind’ experience occurs post ego-loss, and gives one the sense of feeling connected to the whole history of humanity as well as feeling a kinship with all of those around you, part of the ‘group-mind’ (Lewis, 1971). Could this momentary possession of the larger body of intelligence in fact dictate the outcome of what the individual will become post-liminality; moving forward with this expanded awareness and the harmonization to a grander system; becoming possessed and essentially ‘downloading’ the ethos of the planet?

As the cultural theorist Kate Distin writes,

 

My conclusion is that information can never exist in isolation, but must always be transmitted to a receiver that can interpret it and respond appropriately.  Information is any variation that a receiver discretely represents, and it can only be acquired from a representational source if the receiver discretizes it in the same way that the source does.  This means that evolution depends on each generations ability t o interpret and express the information that it inherits. (Distin 2010, p. 35)

 

From Animism, to Polytheism, to the God of Abraham who eventually came to be called Yahweh and went on to lead the conquests of Judaism, Muslim, and Christian religions, when all began a split between the material world and spiritual world, when God became detached from the world and from the body, something made from something else, the separatist entity that existed far and away from our human world-out in the cosmos somewhere, dimensions disconnected from our own, until the rediscovery and integration of Eastern philosophy with the West, until now, when the coming religion of our globalized society seems a hybrid of past traditions.  This hybridization of spirituality seems to include science and magic, imagination and quantum mechanics, ancient religious archetypes and mathematical languaging; exemplifying that the true spirit of man’s religion has always been his progression in interpretation (King, 2005).  Spirituality has always served as a fundamental component of our human nature, truly infused with the same transformative animation which gives life to all of us.

What is interesting is that although religion now spans such a wide range of diversity within belief systems and practices, the practice of shamanism in our archaic history was virtually the same cross-culturally (Wright, 2010).  Despite the fact that these early tribes were separated by mountain ranges, bodies of water, and entire continents, the archeological record tells us that these groups thrived for thousands upon thousands of years in isolation from one another, and yet all practiced the same form of religious rituals (2010).  Even their mythologies were so similar to one another that it suggests religion at its fundamental core is innate.  This suggests that over Millennia there has been an ongoing dialogue between the self and the other, between Man and Nature, and God and Man.  It is this dialogue with the earth and cosmos that has produced our mythos, our prophecies, our internal societal values, and moral systems of living.

Historically ever since the Descartesian split between mind and body with emergence of modern science, spirituality has been left in a grey area. With the domination of rational thinking, the magical consciousness of the premodern world was abandoned, and along with it went our animistic-magical thought processes. As we moved into the modern world, we lost our power gods and mythical hierarchies. The mystical was catalogued as hallucination and schizophrenia; a state of delusion brought on by brain dysfunction and psychological stresses. Fatigue, emotional distress, mental illness, were all thought to be the primary perpetrators of mystical experiences.  Freudian’s believed that mystical states were triggered by a neurotic regressive urge to reject a reality which was unfulfilling to the individual, in an attempt to recapture the bliss which we knew as infants (Hay and Socha, 2005).

In 1997 Jeffrey L. Savor, and John Rabin wrote in The Neural Substrates of Religious Experience:

Religious experience is brain-based, like all human experience.  Clues to the neural substrates of religious-numinous experience may be gleaned from temporolimbic epilepsy, near-death experiences, and hallucinogen ingestion.  These brain disorders and conditions may produce depersonalization, derealization, ecstasy, a since of timelessness and spacelesness, and other experiences that foster religious-numinous interpretation.  Religious delusions are an important subtype of delusional experience in schizophrenia, and mood-congruent religious delusions are a feature of mania and depression. (Sabor and Rabin 1997, p. 198)

In Saver and Rabin’s study, they found that religious experience was very common among both children and adults leading them to believe that it was universally frequent everywhere.  In a national survey conducted in the United States, up to 60% of individuals report having spiritual or mystical experiences at some point in their lifetime (1997).

Alistair Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, attempted to identify the various forms of mystical experiences people were having universally.  He came up with a typography of mystical states and then ordered them by their frequency of occurrence amongst individuals (Hay and Socha, 2005).

1) A patterning of events in a person’s life that convinces him or her that in some strange way they were meant to happen

2) An awareness of the presence of God, or ominous presence,

3) An awareness of receiving help in answer to a prayer or ritualized intention

4) An awareness of being looked after or guided by a presence not called God

5) An awareness of being in the presence of someone who has died

6) An awareness of a sacred presence in nature,

7) An awareness of an evil presence

8) Experiencing in an extraordinary way that all things are “One.”

 

As Alistair Hardy pointed out in his study, the interpretation itself can then be subdivided into multiple categories of explanation, no matter how divided the interpretation, the fundamental source is neurologically universal among all humans (Hay and Socha, 2005).

In a study done out of the University of Pennsylvania, brain scientists Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause developed a theory they called “The biology of belief,” a title shared by author Bruce Lipton.  In their work, Why God Won’t Go Away, they tie together modern brain science research with what we know of religious experience.  What they go on to claim is that mystical experience is made possible primarily by a neurological functioning (Newberg, D’Aquili and Rause, 2002).

Similar to Hay and Socha’s idea of the relational consciousness, Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause, claim that mystical experience is the result of a dimensioning of the sense of self and the absorption into a larger sense of reality. This occurs when the brain’s orientation area is cut off from neural input (2002).  The orientation area is the part of our brain which determines our spatial and temporal grasp. Sensory deprivation tanks work in the same manner. Once the mind is cut off of all external sensory input, rather than being inhibited by quiescent activity, the arousal system is stimulated by this neurological spillover.  The end result is an intensely altered state of consciousness. Blocking this neural information can be done through meditation, becoming deeply relaxed, or through the repetition of a religious ritual, chanting, or strongly rhythmic music.  All these methods produce the same effect of depriving neural input from the brain’s orientation area; a process Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause call ‘defferentiation’ (2002).

Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause found that the varying levels of experiential intensity depend the level of neural blockage.  By the same degree that blockage could vary in increment, the same is true of the varied spectrum of unitary states possible to achieve. They called this spectrum the ‘Unitary Continuum’ (2002).

According to Newberg, D’Aquili, and Rause, at one far end of the ‘Unitary Continuum’, the experience becomes so intense that moments of ecstasy and hyper-lucid vision occur (2002).  It is in these moments that mystics will claim a spiritual union with ‘God.’ These advanced unitary states are rare, even for the longest practicing and most devout mystic.  The human body simply cannot sustain physical ritual intensity for the amount of time needed for such an intense level of differentiation to occur.  Mystics have traditionally understood this.  They are also aware that the experience requires inexhaustible meditation in-tandem with ritual to carry them into this far-end of the ‘unitary continuum’ (2002).

Beyond the brain and alternative states of consciousness, much of our spiritual selves depend on the chemicals flowing through the rest of our body. According to a recent issue of Psychology Today, there is even a fundamental molecule associated with our moral behaviors; oxytocin (Zak, 2012).  Oxytocin, when supplemented outside of its natural form, has been found to bring about the empathy required to insinuate a sense of moral.  Paul Zak, the author of The Moral Molecule, claims that what makes humans unique are our fully developed moral sentiments.

Oxytocin is found in all mammals, it is what makes mothers care for their offspring, and what causes animals to live in herds, fish to be living in schools, or foxes to live in burrows.  Humans release oxytocin during breast-feeding, massage, sex, prayer, and of course dancing. Oxytocin infusion increases feelings of empathy.  According to Zak, it is empathy that makes us connect to other people, and makes us help other people, and empathy that makes us moral.

In Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759, he argues that we are moral creatures because we are social creatures who share emotions with others (Zak, 2012).  If we do something that will hurt someone else we will feel their pain, on the contrary if we do something that brings joy to someone else we will also feel that joy. At the basis of Zak’s conclusion, morality and the release of oxytocin describes biologically how we are connected with other people.  It makes us feel what other people feel.  People who release more oxytocin are happier people and have stronger relationships with people and communities at large.

For this particular thesis, if morality has a chemical origin, then spirituality may have been an adaptation of our evolution, primarily a biological adaptation.   Psychological researcher Jonathan Hiadt sought the basis of morality across different cultures and came to the conclusion that the basis of morality had something to do with our evolution as a species.  He finds self-transcendence to be a basic universal about being human (Haidt, 2006).  Ego-loss, and the experience of the ecstatic, has for centuries been described as uplifting, elevated, and part of a higher state of consciousness.  The experience almost always leads to the dissolution of the moralistic self.  Post ego-loss, an individual becomes more loving, empathetic and forgiving.

According to Hiadt, the many religions of the world are representative of methods people have discovered for climbing this staircase of consciousness (2006). Methods of meditation, psychedelic drugs, dancing, people going to rave, are all about the experience of dissolving the self and incorporating the collective.  Emile Durkhiem theorized that the human is a homo-duplex or a two level man.  At the lower is the profane.  At this ordinary level we are interested only in satisfying ourselves as individuals our own personal desires or goals.  Durkhiem saw the second tier to be that of the sacred, which was our desire to work in groups and to carry out goals that satisfied the collective (Haidt, 2006).  Durkheim saw the level of the sacred as the level that bonded us into teams, tribes and nations (2006).

For Durkheim, the central function of religion was to unite people into a moral community (Durkheim, 1917).  It is for this reason that people will organize themselves around anything that causes them to work collectively as a team.  They will assemble the collective around the central source of their assembly, often found in the power of religious symbolism. Haidt questions is if this is a feature of our design, a product of natural selection, or if it is it a fluke in the system, a random byproduct of the mind (2006)?

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin writes about the evolution of morality that our virtues serve groups and not individuals:

 

If the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members who were always ready to aid and defend eachother, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other.  Selfish and contentious people will not have cohere and without coherence nothing can be effective. (2006, p. 56)

 

In the last half million years, our ancestors joined into groups and tribes.  They divided labor, created various cultures, and worshiped gods specific to their groups.  As Haidt concludes, once we were locked into ‘tribes’ we could then reap the benefits of cooperation.  The benefits of cooperation are what Haidt believes unlock the most powerful force of our species human cooperation (Haidt, 2006).  Haidt states:

 

If it is an adaptation then the implications are profound.  If it is an adaptation then we have evolved to be religious.  I don’t mean that we have evolved to join gigantic organized religions, those came along to recently, I mean that we have evolved to see sacredness all around us and to join with others as a team around sacred objects, people, and ideas. (2006)

 

THE MORAL FOUNDATION

`            Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconsciousness stems from the idea that the actual experiences of our early ancestors, the development of prehistory, and the continuation of our societal progress is being catalogued into a shared plane of memory, one of which we all have access.  As mentioned earlier in this article, Jung believed that this storehouse of human memory is of considerable importance to the creation of myth and religious dogma.  It is expressed both in our humanity and all life-forms, plant, animal, and mineral alike.  It is expressed in our nervous system, and describes how the structure of the psyche autonomously organizes experience.  Jung writes:

 

My thesis then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.  This collective consciousness does not develop individually but is inherited.  It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. (Jung, 1968)

 

Many Anthropologists interested in the origins of myth believed that Jung’s collective unconsciousness was a part of a larger foundation of knowledge mentioned earlier in this article, the Perennial Philosophy.  The perennial philosophy is believed to be at the core of mystical experiences.  It includes the ideas that:

 

(1) The phenomenal world is the manifestation of a transcendental ground.

(2) human beings are capable of attaining immediate knowledge of that ground.

(3) in addition to their phenomenal egos, human beings possess a transcendental Self which is of the same or like nature with that transcendental ground.

(4) this identification is life’s chief end or purpose (Lewis, 1971).

 

While the existence of both Jung’s collective unconscious and the perennial philosophy are widely disputed, there are few other comprehensive theories that support the theosophical ideology that all religion’s share the same fundamental basis of truth.

In the vantage of the world at large, in consideration of its myriad of belief systems, god-heads, and intertwining narratives of myth it would seem the invisible world around us is comprised of innumerable creatures, omnipotent characters expressed through our differing religions are fighting one another to the death for rule over us and our collective vantage of the world and who upstairs is in charge. So where is the real battle fought?  Is it only expressed in the war amongst religions down here in the realm of the earth?  Or are their really mighty creator beings up their amongst the stars duking it out with one another for rule over our little blue-green sandbox of dust and wax?

While dogma is disputed, where religion is the most pragmatically intertwined with society is in the value systems they offer communities. Value is the delimiter of moral choice, the underlying reasoning behind our actions, the infrastructure of culture.  Mark Lupisella writes in his article The Coevolution of Culture and Cosmos and the Creation of Cosmic Value’,Think about culture as the collective manifestation of value—where value is that which is valuable to “sufficiently complex” agents, from which meaning, purpose, ethics, and aes­thetics can be derived” (Lupisella 2010, p. 322).

Spiritualists and New Age thinkers have for a long time viewed this as a layer of spiritual information.  They think in the abstraction of a metaphysical atmosphere of angelic dialogue streaming from a demagogue.  Sociologists however, view this as a stratum of value systems that inform culture:

 

Value orientations are complex by determinately patterned (rank-ordered) principles resulting from the transactional interplay of three analytically distinguishable elements of the evaluative process- the cognitive, the affective, and the directive elements-which give order and direction to the everflowing stream of human acts and thoughts as these relate to the solution of ‘common human’ problems. (Blake and Davis, 1954)

 

Anyone who has read Robert Prisig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance should remember the main character’s long internal dialogue with himself unpacking of the metaphysics of ‘quality’ (Prisig, 2006).  While this divulges a brief history of philosophy and Eastern vs Western thinking, his exploration into ‘quality’ leads him to an investigation of ‘value’ as an underlying determinate of all action.  What I took out of Prisig’s examination of ‘value,’ and its determining whether something was ‘good,’ was a deeper insight into this universal and evolutionary code which dictates the mechanisms of culture.  For many evolutionary theorists today,‘value’ is the formative algorithm.

Harvard psychologist Marc Hauser recently claimed that there exists a universal moral code embedded within not only our human nature, but the nature of the world on a whole (Hauser, 2007).  In Hauser’s book, Moral Minds, he discuses the possibility that there is this underlying set of moral laws which dictates the ‘human universal,’ something universal not only in our biology, but in our moral operations.

If there is a universal moral code, then there would be a basic algorithm underlying culture. However it is also true that we all do not follow the same set of moral norms (2007).  This part of the argument seemed to be disparate among our various cultures, and while it seemed that monotheistic religions offer access to a shared moral truth, even these are altered quite a bit par each religion.  James Rachel writes in The Elements of Moral Philosophy, that differing human groups have different sets of moral codes (2002). As Rachel writes, “Cultural Relativism, as it has been called, challenges our ordinary belief in the objectivity and universality of moral truth. It says, in effect, that there is no such thing as universal truth in ethics; there are only the various cultural codes, and nothing more. Moreover, our own code has no special status; it is merely one among many” (Rachel, 2002 p. 18).  Fundamentally, right or wrong is the point of demarcation where moral differs across various cultures.   Right or wrong may not have been universal across all territories of the world. Obviously if some Muslim group could consider jihad morally righteous, or the bloody Christian conquest of Pagan Rome just, individuals will argue moral to be embedded only within eye of the beholder.

In the diversity of moral traditions we find another argument for cultures dependence on the biosphere.  Right or wrong could also be relative to what is ‘good’ for keeping a symbiotic harmony with the environment specific to the local biological world.  What is ‘good’ in one part of the world must not be the same for another location.  Within the jungle of the Amazon, the frozen Tundra of the Yukon, or the concrete jungles of the world’s major cities, which vary in degree of resources, what is harmonious to survival and progressive evolution towards the ‘good,’ differs according to each alternate environment (Alexander, 1987). Jarod Diamond pointed out in the Pulitzer winning book Guns Germs and Steel, that human groups take alternate routes along their path of civilizing civilization.  Some evolve faster than others, and all by various means.  Some struggle for population, others for industry, others for technology.  Outcomes depended most on who had the most access to steel, the greatest amount of weaponry, and the ability to ward off horrible plagues. At the root of Diamonds conclusions he argues that the various differences between cultures and their rates of evolution were dependent most upon environmental differences which either enabled or disabled a groups (Diamond, 1997).

What is ‘good’ for man and ‘good’ for nature are not always in alignment.  It is argued that there are various systems of moral embedded in nature and work concurrently and dynamically (Alexander, 1987).  The only way these systems are able to work in a dynamic and balanced manner is through some process of moral-organization.  Moral organization must itself be an advantage for specific cultures who have discovered processes of organization.

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “On the Psychological Selection of Bio-Cultural Information,”  he defines spirituality as a system of organizing consciousness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1985).  For Csikszentmihalyi culture is not the operating system, Culture is the operation.  If society were an empty canvas, culture was what was being painted upon it, then whatever creative inspiration that was moving the painters brushstrokes was moving culture on a whole.  Spirituality was nature’s creativity, natures divine inspiration which directed, channeled, and brought forth harmonized cultural systems across the planet. Csikszentmihalyi writes:

 

It is a doubtful tribute to the resilience of the human mind and its capacity for irrationality that this doctrine of a cultural realm, separate or separable from man, where invisible strings are pulled to make the human puppets dance, is embraced mainly by materialists who , because they hesitate to grant man too mc in the way of will, creativity, and control, are sure they constitute a bulwark against mysticism and supernaturalism. (Opler, 1964 p. 515)

 

Csikszentmihalyi’s also believed that spirituality was  constituted by memes, the cultural counterpart to genes mentioned earlier in this article. This is where we come full circle and return to the organization and transmission of information; hence Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of religion as a ‘system of organization of conciousness’.

There is no doubt that the values underlying our religions control much of the world.  While this process may seem invisible to our contemporary world, our recorded history has made this symbiosis transparent.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz attempted to establish a new theory on culture and religion building upon the work of Durkheim’s theory of Collective Effervescence, Weber’s Verstehenden methodology, Freud’s parallels between personal and collective rituals, and Malinowski’s distinction between religion and common sense.  While these theoretical perspectives served as the foundation for building an anthropology of religion, Geertz felt it could be taken one step further.  According to Geertz, “religion tunes human actions to an envisaged cosmic order and projects images of cosmic order onto the plane of human experience,”  While Geertz writes that this idea is not new, he also points out the fact that it is hardly investigated (Geertz, 1993).  In “Religion as a Cultural System,” Clifford Geertz writes:

 

The tracing of the social and psychological role of religion is thus not so much a matter of finding correlations between specific ritual acts and specific secular social ties…..More it is a matter of understanding how it is that men’s notions, however implicit, of the “really real” and the dispositions that these notions induce in them color their sense of the reasonable, the practical, the and the moral. (Geertz 1993, p. 124)

 

Author Robert Wright, aforementioned in this article, calls this the ‘Anatomy of Wisdom;’ also his ‘Divine Algorithm,’ known to the ancient Greeks as ‘The Logos.’ The Logos were all the natural laws, which dictate all order from our physical world to the astrological, by which both the earth and the cosmos were bound (Wright, 2010).  According to the ancient Greeks, God set forth these initial ‘parameters’ and let the whole cosmic universe, earth moon and sun alike spin forth in a divinely blessed equilibrium.  Which according to Wright, not only animated men but ‘animated history’ with a ‘moral-ambition’. He writes, “God formulated the Logos the way an architect might have conceived a blueprint or the way a computer programmer might design an algorithm” (Wright, 2010).

When we look into our written history we know that religion has always played a major role in the establishment of our human ethos. The form that it has taken and the functional role it has played within society itself has varied over the years.  What we do know is that it has been reflective of the state of society and the level of our civilization.

For every phase of our human history, the agricultural revolution, the rise of state societies, the industrial revolution, and even now in our age of information, the face of religion has been in as much of a stage of constant progression as civilization itself.

Spirituality, mythology, God, and moments of ecstatic revelation, are fundamental components of the human consciousness, and function as drivers for the progressive evolution of human culture.

In our modern world, secularism has moved our dominant culture so far away from the vestiges of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or Krishna’s monologue given to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, or the mighty word of Allah passed down to Mohammed through the angel Gabriel.  Religion once dictated much of society, but is now dissolving from its frame.  However, in the history of religion and culture sacred symbols dictated people’s ethos and worldview.  It provided them with a comprehensive idea of the order of things, including their place in society.  No longer did their stories solely harmonize a single tribe, they had grown to include the world.  Geertz considered religion a dimension of culture, an algorithmic blueprint of society. From Geertz work, he defined religion as:

 

(1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (Geertz 1993, p. 90)

 

In the growth of our civilization, religion emerged as a phase of our cultural evolution.  In our history it has served as a primary outline for organizing consciousness.  It strengthens individual psyches, it mobilizes groups of people to make change in the world, it creates and projects the decisions and values that drive culture at large.  Therefore is the reason that religion has been viewed as an underlying system of information which directs the evolution of culture.  Their moral codes dictate and shape our lives. Even Nietzsche who was claiming “God is dead,” believed that morality was responsible for the transmission of judgment from one generation to the next (Nietzsche, 1974).

The evolutionary interpretation of religion seeks to understand what is the most life-giving organization of consciousness, which in turn is what Phillip Heffner believes is to seek an adequate spirituality for the next phase of our planetary evolution (Heffner, 2003).

CONCLUSION

As Henri Lubac points out in the book Teilhard de Chardin:  The Man and his Meaning,  Teilhard came from a Christian upbringing, and was himself a theologian (Lubac, 1965).  Much of Teilhard’s concepts are rooted in Christianity.  Teilhard himself was known for using the term ‘the total Christ’ for what he felt was feeling a presence in the universe (1965).  Part of Teilhard’s aim was to integrate science and his Christian faith, or as Lubac puts it to ‘harmonize or reconcile his work and his prayer’ (1965 p.81).  More than a mere reconciliation however, Teilhard felt as though he were stumbling upon a point where science and religion met.   He felt that the core beliefs of the Christian faith were expressed in nature as evolution (1965).

It was Charles Darwin who said “There is grandeur in this view of life,” speaking of his perspectives on evolution (Midgley, 1985).  While science and religion seem to be waged in an all out war with one another, it may very well be the summit of evolution where they find a sexing unison.

It was Robert Jastrow, the leading NASA scientist and cosmologist who said “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”  Darwin’s tale was a powerful piece of folklore in its own right.  Who’s to say that the creation legends of primitive man were not as logical and methodically informed in there own time as Darwin’s Origin of Species was in his?  From the beginning of human history, the development of our human yarn has been woven to the extent of our knowledge of the ecological world.  All of our mythos have some fundamental relationship with what’s real, whether its believing that the world is riding on the back of a sea turtle, or if the whole blue ball is floating in an infinite vacuum of hydrogen.

The conquests of science and religion are one in the same; to expand our awareness of the cosmos, find our rightful and purposeful place within them to shed meaning on our world, and to discover the unity and interconnectivity of all living things.  The encampment there at the top of the hill of Jastrow’s story, find themselves starring up at the starry and inky black of all the heavens above scratching their chins in curious amazement.  In the theory of evolution, its guiding forces, and ‘Omega Point,’ we find the telos of the universe alive in direction and animation. It is within our understanding of our integral and inescapable unity with this larger system that both our spiritual desire for wholeness, and our need of a rational explanation are jointly satisfied.

Gopi Krishna the author of Kundalini: An Autobiography, believes that evolution is the answer to the gap between science and religion.  He brings attention to the obvious explanation that the human brain is still in a state of evolution and that the extraordinary phenomena of spiritual experience and ‘erratic’ manifestations of higher states of consciousness are what will bridge the gap (Krishna, 1967).  Our acquisition for language was a biological adaptation that segued into the birth of our culture, simultaneously, our acquisition for spirituality channeled a dialogue with the ecosphere as much language had bridged our communication with one another.  Spirituality therefore, is more than a phenomena of the mind.  It is a phenomena of the planet- in the sense that is represents its ability to communicate a profoundly complex strata of information to all its living inhabitants.

Theologian Ursula King believes that our study of humanity as a part of nature ultimately means that our spirituality is also embedded in nature.  This new outlook on human spirituality is an expanded awareness that is needed to bring our human ecology into global ecology of the planet. King writes:

Studying the epic of evolution, the history of an evolving universe, the history of our planet and its living forms, can create a new kind of religiousness, a deep sense of wonder and mystical awareness of oneness which links up with earlier mystical experiences, yet also contains something new. (King 2005 p.84)

King further claims that through a process of ‘ultrahominization’ the Biosphere is domesticating us the same way we’ve domesticated dogs, and it does this through our connection via the noosphere/biosphere (King, 2005).  As mankind becomes more and more connected through globalization and the expansion of our communication technology a new hybrid spirituality will emerge out of our interconnectivity.  As our knowledge and new perspective on spirituality and religion shift through this transition I believe that we will begin to see the religious dimension of our humanity- not in the esoteric, metaphysical, or even sacred sense as it has traditionally been perceived- but as a new form of communication with the grander ecological system of which we are a part.  As we continue to evolve as a species, and come to understand this channel of communication more deeply- what was once the unseen dimension, the invisible terra beyond our world, will come alive in our daily lives as a new stratum of sensory data to embold our experience of life on, and with, planet earth.

 

 

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HELL0 OMEGA!

December 27th, 2011 by acjohner

Hello Omega!

By Andrew Charles Johner

The loneliness of my situation comes in waves.  The radio went out seven days ago and no word of my rescue has come.
In the sky a great drove of smoky black clouds emerges from the bowels of heaven and is bringing a dark and terrible storm upon me.
“What am I still doing here in the jungle?” I ask myself.
I am in a tree house thirty feet from the ground.  It is like a giant soup can on peg legs.  It looks like a water tower.  There is very little water, however.
The view from my window is pleasant …I can see the dig site below, the temple all the little instruments gleaming like tiny chrome sprinkles.
The solitude has gotten to me.  Last night I drank a whole bottle of Ramsfield scotch and smashed every electrical device in this rusting lab with an iron hammer.  None of it works anymore anyway.  There was this great single clasp of thunder some time ago that made all the little blinky red and green lights all around me dim into nothingness.
A few months ago one of the rovers on Mars sent back digital imagery of a stone wall imprinted with Mayan glyphs.  After that everything began to spin sideways.
I’m not sure much of the story.  Everyone but me left nearly two weeks ago. I volunteered to stay the extra night and power-down the system.  My bag is still packed in the corner.  It has been 12 consecutive nights now.
Something happened up there on Mars.  Right after the team left every computer in our labs fell into darkness never to reboot again.  Nothing in my vast knowledge of electrical-think-bots can tell what has happened.  Its as if some giant magnet was stuck up top our laboratory.
I look out at the rain outside my window.  I press my hand firmly against the warm pane of the window and feel the tiny rupturing orbs of rain drops break against the glass.
In the sky there are a thousand little blue fireballs falling from the troposphere and disappearing just before they reach the tree tops.  I wonder if anyone knows what the hell they are.  They weren’t here yesterday.  Mixed with the wind and rain I admit the sight is cosmically poetic but I’m sure nothing good wills come of them.

 

I walk over to the stove and flip on the gas.  There is a kettle of water.  I toss in a teabag and blow air through my puckered lips making a fart sound as it plops down into the water.

There is a graffiti of a red monkey on the tiled wall behind the stove.  One of the interns drew it on with a permanent marker.  The monkey is holding a gun to its head and above it is a little caption bubble that reads “no sienta ningún mal,” which is Spanish for feel no evil.
I sit down in a ripped leather chair and close my eyes.  When I close my eyes I see a thousand spinning triangles all creating this vast vortex of geometry that seems to pulsate in and out of its center.

I am use to the hallucinations now, or whatever they are.  They began a few days ago.  I thinks its my brain trying to expel my perception, or something metaphysical like that.

The hallucinations are entertaining now.  I watch the spinning vortex waiting for the light.  It begins as a dim red splotch in the center of the Mandela.  As I focus on it, the splotch comes into view and changes from a red to a dim green.  I see my gateway emerge as a spinning star which quickly spirals out from the center of the green light which is becoming a bright yellow and almost white.  I catch the star as it spirals the outer edge of the light with my attention and tightened the muscle underneath my forehead and SWOOSH.

The star amplifies into a billion mandalas which are all bending inward towards the bright center.  The light in the center intensifies as the two-dimensional wall of mandala stretches inward taking on a third-dimension.  This cracking of dimensions creates an even brighter light at the center which begins to suck me into it.

The feeling is like going 180 in a convertible with the top down and the top of your skull has been cut away so you feel the warping winds blast right over the top of your brain.  The feeling is quite astonishingly good, like jumping out of an airplane while doped up on morphine.  It seems to scratch an itch you never knew you had before.

I am shot through a bright tunnel, and at the end of the tunnel a creature made out of light is there to greet me.  I know this character.  I’m not sure how but I feel about him being here in my hallucination. I can tell by the expression on his face there is something he wants from me and something I want from him.

I am below him now.  His body keeps no distinct form, all except his head which is a large silvery diamond with two black beads for eyes and no mouth.  His voice is a vibrating hum, but so is mine.  I have no idea what we are saying to one another but I seem to understand enough to answer him.

“Urrrrrmmmmmmmmm,” I say to up to him, feeling like an ant in a child’s sandbox.

“Urrrrrrmmmmmmmm.” He says back to me smiling invisibly through his silvery incandescence.

There is an exchange of some kind.  It comes out from the center of my body and into a spinning mandala that has formed between his eyes and soon closes after the exchange is made.

There is a scream, like a child screaming murder, or like a zillion insects being squished at once.  This strange character is all at once absorbed into the space between my own eyes and the screaming gets louder and louder as all the spinning triangles fold in on themselves and I am sitting in my chair again hearing the kettle whistle.

I press my fingers to the spot on my forehead and blow air through my lips again making the fart sound.

“spppppp,” I say with my lips.

“Are you really comfortable in there?” I ask myself humorously rubbing my index finger hard into the spot until it hurts.  Then I stand and go pour the tea into a chipped glass.

I finger out bits of rust floating at the top and try to imitate the humming noise I made for the strange being.

I hear somthing outside. It is screaming at me from down in the jungle below.  I hesitate and reach for the handle of the door then hear it again.
“Anyone alive up there?” a voice calls out from a dark wet collage of leaves and ferns.

I step out onto the veranda and lean over the threshold looking down below.  The wind and rain is hitting my eyes hard.  There is a crack of thunder and the voice calls up once more.

“Anyone still here?”

I am hesitating to respond and don’t know why.  I just stand there leaning over and looking into the top of a jungle feeling the cool rain fall off my face and the collars of my shirt flapping hard against my skin.

“Who is it?”  I finally call not even referencing this encounter to the context of my semi-desperate, long anticipated rescue.

“Dr. Saunders.  I’ve hiked over from the other dig site.  There’s a chopper flying over in the morning.  It’s a customized autogyro. Nothing else gets in the air.  I’m sure you’ve noticed your computers are down.”

I pick at one of my nails.  “I have noticed that.  Strange malfunctions too. And what of these fireballs?  Should we be freighted of them?”
“I’m not sure much of anything, well, nothing that is making sense just yet…could I come up you think?  You have the back up generators running your elevator?”

“I’m low on fuel for the generator.”
I could hear the doctor scuffling his feet.

“Just give me the lift.”

I hit the elevator switch and stare down the shaft as the box cage disappears into the foliage of the jungle.

I turn from the thwarting sounds of the metal cables and grab at a stack of papers out of a rusting file cabinet in the corner.  I quickly find the roster for the other dig site and begin searching for Dr. Saunders name.  I find it scribbled in at the bottom of one of the sheets.

I notice the emblem next to his name…the Institute of Gaian Regeneration.  I had read an article published not long before we were all sent out here from the institute.

They had been working with a multitude of applications for programming the consciousness with electromagnetic code or something.  But what would the doctor being doing here in the jungle dusting glyphs on a crumbling temple?

The elevator cage emerges from the dark green patch below and I can see the white brim of a jipi woven panama.

The elevator cage slams against the top of the shaft and through the steel diamonds the doctor stands drenched, reading something on the inside of his sleeve cuff.

He is an older man in his early sixties.  A bit heavy with silver whiskers and gold rimmed spectacles.  He farts as he reaches to open the cage door.

“Excuse me.” He says avoiding my eyes and stepping into the empty ramshackle lab.  He immediately notices the strewn bits of broken electronics about the place.  He bends over and picks up a chunk of shattered plastic adorning the infamous Macintosh apple.

“What? We can’t eat it.”  I say sincerely.

There is an awkward silence then he reaches out to shake my hand.

Suddenly there is a terrible roar outside like a race car roaring past the window.  I lean to see over the doctor’s shoulder.  Out the window I see what appears to be a long scaly tail, although its all incandescent and pixilated like some digital hologram.

The doctor turns.

“Strange isn’t it?  All of this….” He pauses. “Have you seen these fireballs yet…tried to catch one?”

“No I wasn’t really considering trying to catch one but I have been observing them for quite some time and am mystified while all the same scared but in a reclusive sort of way.”

“I understand the feeling.  Here, come look see.”

The doctor pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket and adjusts his spectacles.  He wobbles toward the window and opens it quickly.

I am curiously watching as he sticks his hand out, adorned in the handkerchief, and waits for one of the blue fireballs to fall into it.  SPLAT! This gooey radiant blue hunk hits his hand like a wad of glowing peanut butter dripping down the sides.

The doctor pulls it in from the window and brings it over to me being very careful not to let the substance spill.
“Here, look,” he says pushing it into my face. “Watch.”

I look inquisitively down into his handkerchief and at the glowing goo which begins to bubble up from the center of its mess.

A round shape emerges from the center, then two beady black eyes open and a sloppy mouth opens discharging this nauseating gassy smell.  The blurbing blob rises slowly from the center and as it rises it takes on more form and structure.  It becomes a miniature alligator and snaps its jaws at me.

“Here, watch,” the doctor says leaning in close to the little alien reptile. He squints his eyes focusing on the little creature.  It begins to bubble again and another body emerges from its back side. It is a miniature version of the doctor.  Then the little alligator spins around and seizes the miniature doctor’s leg in its jaws.  The doctor waves his fingers over the gurgling goey figures and squints his eyes again as if projecting thought into the blue jizz.

Suddenly, at the point where the reptile’s teeth meet its victim’s leg, there is an abrupt transformation of its physical form, and a spiraling pattern of circles began to emerge engulfing all of the bluish goo in the doctors hand.

“Make it into something,”  The doctor says pleasantly smiling.

I look at the spinning blob whose circular spirals are becoming ever more complex.  The spiral shifts direction and every circle transforms into tiny pyramid, all of them stacking upon one another forming one large one.  Then, every single one individually develops a flap underneath which vibrate.  These vibrating flaps lift the pyramids off the doctors palm and into the air.

I follow the first one upward and think the word duck and it becomes a tiny blue duck.  I follow the second and think the word toast and with a quick gurgle it becomes a slice of toast.  The third comes at an instant without much time for myself to become aware that I have just imagined something else.   In a split second the third pyramid becomes this complex twisting fractal like a square slinky rotating around the doctor then divides and spins out in two separate directions dividing again at either end forming four spinning fractals that become sixteen and then become at least a hundred more branching off each end with more complex spiraling geometries every time.

The doctor and I watch in awe for a moment and the room quickly fills with a barrage of these spinning multiplying geometries until we ourselves are engulfed in what appears to be a magic eye painting vibrating and changing with every instant.

“Holy-moly!” The doctor cries out.

“Is that what you call this stuff?” I say, “How do we stop it?”

“Think of nothing, worry of nothing.”
And all of a sudden the doctor and I were standing in the middle of a black abyss, like actors on a green screen with no image imprinted behind.

“Now look what you’ve gone and done.”

Just when my brain begins to entertain the idea that I am in purgatory for all eternity and one step in any direction could send me eons beyond the doctor, forced to a hell of solitude with only my self and human capsule frozen in time, to never again age and only to think until I have run out of thoughts, and then realizing this is impossible because creation is also infinite, and right when some weird and unexpected acceptance of my fate begins to fill me like the smell of warm muffins, there is a terrible crash followed by a deep bellowing laugh and instantly all the dark space around us is sucked out the door of my tree house back into a little blue ball and rocketed back up into space.

The doctor and I stand dazed and confused for a long moment.  We both take long breaths and begin running our hands over our arms and legs and chest and head, to check and make sure we are completely intake.  All seems well.  We give eachother a look as if we had both just seen a polar bear in a tutu eating a Volkswagen Beatle and defecating Cinderella’s castle.

We both go to the window at once.  Outside, the rain is no longer falling, the dark clouds have moved away.  All the blue fireballs are shooting off into space.  The tail of the digital dragon returns to a vortex of light in the center of the sky and in a flash disappears altogether.
There is a roaring hum and behind us all the little green and red electronic lights begin blinking again, even the sound dial-up Internet makes, can be heard echoing through the sky.

The radio soon returns with a thousand broadcasts of amateur theory and callers with personal accounts of visions of heaven, hell, communication with aliens, angels, and demons alike.  They call in with accounts of brief time travel billions of years into the future and past, of being whisked away to other planets, sodomized and worshiped by extraterrestrial creatures.  They tell stories of miraculous healings of terminal illnesses, amputees regenerating parts, women giving birth to a thousand children in a single day.  Everyone talks about the great serpent in the sky, some who had spoken with it, some who had shot at it, some to have claimed to have seen it reduce itself to the size of a humming bird and fly right into their domiciles laughing laughing laughing.  One elderly woman claims the thing to have turned into a child and sat down at her dinning room table and demanded tea and upon her bringing it to the child-creature was forced to sit and listen to the thing read Revelations from Gideon’s Bible backwards and forwards several times.

A week later the doctor and I are rescued by our autogyro.  Upon return to the cities we were met with a barrage of madness.  The team from mars had just returned and promised to never go back.  Slowly but surly things are put back into their proper places, people go into work on Monday, the children back to school, the scientists back to their dials and gizmos and blinky lights and tools for digging, and  all is a jolly tit in an azure sky of deepest summer.

As for me,  I am beginning to feel slightly cheated.  As I reset my digital watch for another 26,000 year cycle, I admit to being forlorn and lost in meaningless revelation of absolutely nothing.

Feeling despondent and somewhat forsaken, I begin to entertain the idea that I am in purgatory forever, deserving of a wrath I may never receive.  ‘Forever without end’ is a maddening thought. Forced to live and to breath a three dimensional character in an infinite number of occurrences one right after the other from birth to death, to transverse the dimensions of heaven and hell alike right here on a both fertile and exhausted earth.

I go home and take out a bottle of the Ramsfield Scotch and smashed every electrical device in my house with an iron hammer.  I fall exhausted to my couch and pick up a magazine out from under my behind where I have sat down on a stack of newspapers and journals.  The page I pull before my eyes is an article about the doctor and a recent update on his brain code experiments with Gaian Regeneration.  From within the article the doctor quotes…

“We are hoping for a smoother run than last time.  We can never know for certain what will happen when we finally hit the switch again-“ and by the time I read this line in the paper, there is a terrible thunder and again I hear the sound of every electrical device on earth simultaneously shutting off.

You know what billion billion computers shutting down all at once sounds like? I press my lips firmly together, pucker, and blow, making the fart like noise that escapes the end of a balloon when you let all the air out…

“Sppppppppppp.” I say making this noise.

“Urrrrrrmmmmmmm.” The universe answers back.

The Marvelous Misadventure of Marko D Franklin

April 12th, 2011 by acjohner

 

 

The Marvelous Misadventure

of Marko D Franklin

by AC Johner


 

From a great wave of voluptuous rapture, Marko D Franklin was tossed out from the sea.  Waking and feeling of his wet withered nipples being touched by a warm breeze, his face gleaming in the golden light of the sun as he slowly opened both his eyes and starred blankly into the wild wilderness of the wacky and ferocious summer sky all lit up with morning and endless swooping clouds. He was wondering just what had happened, and why he had been taken so cruelly from his voyage among the wave.

Short of breath, and with all of his nerves tingling, he felt the sand underneath his fingers, the cold rocky soot of his familiar shore.   He peered into the horizon searching for some lip or pike of his vessel protruding from the water but saw nothing but the

Perhaps it were not the wild out-there of some sea-faring adventure he were seeking after all, and so underminded by his own twisting narration translating his constantly altering fate, he stood from the sand bowed to the sea, tossed his hat into the water and turned and went away.

Marko D Franklin, the most exotic of people had left from wading in small plastic backyard pools to go explore out on his own, this was all miles and years before when he were still driving a car and believing that anything were possible including tears in space and ripples in time, that the experience of his own life were cosmically and selfishly his own and no one else’s.  That all the rest of the dramatis personae in his court where merely the dancers and jesters and players of his own cosmic theater.  This was all before he was old, before Marko D Franklin gave up his heart to the wind and sea leaving him forlorn at the shore watching his own soul being whisked wildly away like a leaflet of paper, taken to someplace far and beyond any part of the world he would ever come to know.  He was left with only the hope that one day his dream would drift into some harbor and be found by a child who had the lungs, heart, and innocence to carry it on for him.

“Your not that old, old man.”  Kahrah said to him from behind the bar as the juke in the corner banged wildly away and wayfarers from ships marked with signs of Caribbean cruises spit upon the floor and cursed and laughed and beat there fists and winked at all the girls who were now huddled in one scared mass in the corner of the bar waiting for a taxi out of the madness.

Kahrah was a young yellow foreign person who built bicycles and took pictures of birds and had been in jail once for setting himself on fire as part of a demonstration in a park in Nazi Germany.

Marko looked over at Kahrah’s agile fists as he pulled at his peppery beard.

“Why do we always come here?”  He asked Kahrah.

“Because whenever we are away you want in again.”

“And whenever we are here I want away.”

“You want somewhere that is neither here nor there.”

“I want to be someplace only attainable through two doors, the mighty mutant mechanical lotus, and the barrel of a gun.”

“Take mine.  But go out and do it in the parking lot.”

And in that moment just as Marko was about to begin to cry, there was a loud crack, and the wall behind the bar split and from behind it a single golden strand of sunshine pierced through into the dim dingy sot of the grime of the bar.   The ray pierced right into Marko’s heart and as it began to flow a radiant light in through every one of his invisible nerve tubes connecting his body and mind, all the bar fell away to pieces like a finished jigsaw puzzle being blasted with a shot-gun against the back-drop of space and the other side was this great white light that Marko was falling steadily towards until he was completely engulfed within it.  Suddenly he felt a thud and found himself lying on the floor of a large cathedral and this old hairy raggedy man who smelt of urine and rotting feet stood before him shaking his head.

“Where am I?  Where is this?” Marko asked wondering where the bar had gone.

“The house of the holy brother.  Wake up and smell the clean chlorinated floor and see the saffron of the street lights come in through the stained glass windows, its as marvelous as you made it out to be and there are candles and its smells of bread.”

“How did I get here?”

“I dragged you all the way from 7th avenue where you were lying in that ally bleeding to death.”

“I was bleeding?”

“You said you were.”

“Am I now?”

“You tell me.”

Marko got up from off the floor, he stood and brushed himself off.  He looked around the room forlorn.

“How long have I been lying there?”

“Not long.”

“How long have I been out?”

“47 years.”

“And what happened to Kahrah?”

“He’s gone now.  He was eaten.  Eaten by a jelly fish.”

“That is the saddest thing I have ever heard.”

“There are sadder things in this world. Some say he wanted it the way it happened.  No one had ever been eaten whole or alive by a jelly-fish before and after it happened and was in all the papers, all the world came to know his name or at least his face or more his legendary death, which was more than most men can attain within an entire lifetime of trying, Kahrah did it in a single morning just by swimming in the bay at just the right time.”

“Everything to me is sad.”

“And everything to you is always sad.”

“I wish I could go back and do it all again.”

“You can, you can!”

“Yes but I don’t want to wait that long.  I want to rewind mid-experience.”

“You can’t, you can’t!”

And all of a sudden Marko turned into a triangle and the old sticky hairy man became an earthworm.  The church became this epically huge wheat-field that some child somewhere had dreamed within a dream to be heaven before he knew of such dimensions.  Marko the triangle and his new friend the strange earthworm began to wobble and crawl through the wisping and bending pieces of golden grass.

“There was a time long ago,” Marko began, “That I decided by some rare spirit to build a boat and sail away.”

“And what happened?”  The earthworm asked Marko who was then a triangle.

“It sank.  And me along with it.”

“That is sad.”

“I could have been eaten by a jelly-fish.  I could have been remembered forever as Kahrah was.  But instead the sea spit me back upon the shore.  Beaten, bloody, every bit of vigor in me sucked out.  I was wasted, beaten, confused.  Long before I set out on the road and took the road, after I set upon the mountain and I took the mountain.  But when I came to the sea, both wind and sound, the very spirits who had called me forward from the beginning sent me back with my tail between my legs.”

“You could have built another boat.”

“I thought about that for many years.  And for years I cursed myself for not doing so.”

“Well, I suppose if you had ever built another boat you would have never become a triangle.”

“Your right.  Marko said to the earthworm.  And a triangle is more than most men get to be towards the end here.”

“Are we that close?”

“Yes, its just beyond that little knoll over there upon the horizon.”

“Ahh yes, the earthworm said. Ahh yes.  Now I remember.  I haven’t seen a sunset as magnificent as that since the day I was born.”

And from behind the knoll of golden grass amidst the backdrop of the sun setting languidly within a blanket of purple and orange and yellow and red, an ivory door materialized.  Etched upon the door was the world Fin.

As Marko the now turned triangle and the earthworm came to its face, the door began to crack slowly open.

“And whenever I finally get here I always want away again.”

“You want somewhere that is neither here nor there, don’t you dear Marko?”

“If I were still in the body of a man I would shrug both my shoulders and let out all my air in one long sigh.  Well?  Shall we go again?”

“Of course, of course.”

 

Written for KH

Bartelogenifugalwitz

April 12th, 2011 by acjohner

Bartelogenifugalwitz

By

A.C. Johner

A rumble of thunder quakes between the bridges sends slight drizzles of rain  down upon the pale and rusting city of Dublin.

Braxton B Barthazar walks out along the edge of the quays watching the reflections of small birds dance in the water.  He wore a long tailcoat, that due to an improper tailoring had been dragging through the sot and grim of every place marked with a neon light along the river Liffy.  It was a gray jungle there in Dublin.  Everything was always damp, and everywhere was the noise of laughter and tins and pints clinging and breaking amidst the sound of drowned out fiddles singing endlessly away in the back of every pub.

Braxton had been in Dublin nearly a summer on credit, and now counting the actual pennies in his account back in the United States, knew the true sounds he would face upon return.  He had failed out of Trinity with a clean smirk and gas. Had awoken one morning too many out on the green without shoes or pants, the last notes of Aldernine twanging off in the background of his memory.  Ireland had finally reached the edge of his collar when the World -Series was put on a tube in a pub down in the mines and this one old man stood and removed stockings and cap to the anthems low twitter as it scratched in through the pipes of the box.  Braxton stood watching, being reminded of home.  Then feeling ill about it and coming out of the door and vomiting in the streets just as one of his school mates was coming around the corner with a group of Irish girls, all of them missing teeth and all of them laughing at him.

Standing at the waters edge, he removed from his pocket the petal of a lily and tossed it down into the Liffy. Just as the sun was coming in behind a great green fog, and the oil ships began appearing like ghosts out along the horizon, Braxton Barthazar tossed himself into the lapping irksome waves after his lily flower now floating solemnly out to sea.

Braxton starred out at from the back of his mind somwhere, gazing into the twilight of a night slipped away.  Beyond the meld and dew droppings.  And rain came down upon Braxton Bigsby as he floated there on his back in his tailcoat in the black oily water.  And for a moment, for they are rare in Ireland, the sun came out from behind a desperate haze of gray and shown a single ray upon the Temple Bar long enough for Braxton to see it cast a heavenly glow and for an instant forgot his desperation and knowing that there is always a quarter inch of froth on every pint and the water pumped up from this here canal up through the swirling bubbling pipes of Sir Arthur’s factory which was a smudge of boxes in the distance beyond the Temple Bar and a clean white pipe that connected every pub with the factory floor.

“Hey there boy,” a heavenly voice came down from the dock, “What are you doing in the river?  Can’t you smell the shite about you?”

The sky ceased up like a puckering asshole and the sun vanished from the sky and Ireland was gray all over again.  Braxton looked up from the River at a girl in pale dress knelling over the dock smiling at him. And heaven was again an open sore waiting to be infected.  Braxton reached up his hand and took the edge of the dock into it with one flawless swoop emerged from the water and fluttered and flapped around on the dock in front of the girl pretending as though he were a fish, finishing the charade with a long arching spit of water out from his mouth and onto his boots.

“I’ve just swum from the Island of Man, and before that Richmond. I’m to round my way round this here blessed Island and find my way to back to the States to receive world record for having done so.”

“You, have swam all the way from the Welshland?”

“Have and will again.” Braxton said grabbing at his knees and going into pretend convulsions to get the water from his coat.  It was a good wash for his dusty tails now coming unpinned and dragging along the dock making him look like a duck.

“I’ve paused briefly to use a telephone.  Seems while I was on the swim my mom became terribly ill and may have it out with God if I don’t get a quick word with her and tell her to let them have the soul without a fight.  She was a demon catholic you know….Say do you think you could take me to a phone, and perhaps help me into some dry cloths and maybe have a look at the Liffy map and a drink down their at that place with the light and the white handkerchief where all the sailors and kiffmen are going in one end standing up straight and coming out the other sideways?”

“Are you asking a girl for a drink?”

“Well, if you are not busy with some other Irish business.  I should call your attention to my accent as it is American, and divinely so, means that I am made of money.  Can I see your teeth?”

 

-she smiles and shows all her teeth-

 

“Oh lovely, I have counted 32.”

“Are you Christian?”

“By Night.”

Arm and arm in sog and sot they are off down the dock.  Boots clicking along wobbly planks and the sounds of the waves gently beating the edge of the dock and slight licks of wind from the sea coming in around their ears making them go woo woo woo and all thinking of digging their bodies into one another and kisses and fairies and long trips in cars across to Kilarney, but first into this public house here where sailors go for jolly and a carved and ashen sign hung above the door reading…

 

The Half Bog

 

They are into the place and down into one of the corners where it is dark and there is a slight pale red light from the stained glass window in the front of the pub and the shadows grow long from its edge to the long golden rail of the bar where a one-eyed man is smiling chesterly at them and pouring a thick inky beer into frothing pints.
“Do tell your name dear swoon swan of the Liffy’s shore.”

“Bartelogenifugalwitz.”

“Your Mother’s?”

“Of course.”

“And the Primary?”

“Jamie.”

“And is there a middle to cusp the two?”

“Lee.”

“How delightful.  Let me put it all together….Jamie Lee Bartelogenifugalwitz.”

“Remarkable with the accent.”

“Thank you.”

“Is it a Boston?”

“No.  I am Midwesterner. We have far better sunsets and are the breeders of the nation’s best farmers and killers.”

“Of which breed are you?”

“You must look closely at my hands for signs of blood or dust to know the answer.”

“And what if there is both?”

“Then I am Irish.”

The man behind the bar comes around the bar with pints in arm and slabs them down upon the table spilling little bits up over the rim and down the sides of the glasses and upon the cedar table where Braxton is laying his face in to suck up the spilt contents with the sides of his mouth.

The bar man heads back to the bar.  Braxton finishes with the spilt contents in one clean slurp and then calls for the man to bring a token for the juke.

“We don’t have a juke.  We have a Woodbine.”

With that said, the barman hits a switch upon the wall behind Jamie’s shoulder, and deep deep deep into the darkest corner of the pub behind them, a dim saffron light was turned on and cast an oval light down upon the carving of a wooden doll, half the size of a man with red fedora and fiddle stretched from elbow to shoulder.  His eyes were two great white buttons with flashing red bulbs in the pupil of each. The entire contraption was caked in dust and spun with a thousands spider webs.

The barman hits a second switch, and the zzwooz of electricity buzzes from the pale balsa bones all the way up to its eyes.  It immediately stands on both legs with whirls of dust clouds emerging from its joints.  Its eyes beam two bright red electric lights out into the empty space above their table.  For a moment it is motionless, until Braxton gives its leg a flick and all at once it begins to play the fiddle and sing.

“Oh how marvelous!” Jamie cries clapping her hands and giggling like a little girl.

“Oh now see, that’s all it takes to impress them, a bit of hard wood and music.  Make him play the Rover!”

The Woodbine contraption goes into the White Rover flinging its two wooden legs about as if they were sacks of cabbage without bone nor joint.  Its red eyes flickering in and out with the electricity as its mechanical jaw goes WA WA WA.

“That is amazing! I love little things like this.  Oh dear, do I want one so bad!”

Just then the front door to the pub swings wide open and there in the doorway stood the silhouette of a mighty brut beast whose breadth of shoulders was nearly as wide as the door itself.  It snarls and growls and calls for six whiskeys.

The barman jumps and hits the switch on the wall flipping off the Woodbine and rushing to the bar knocking down a bottle of scotch with a great crash, Braxton following the sound with a sudden whale and tears and leaping at the floor.

The big Irish sailor comes inside making his way to the bar with two great swings of each of his legs and then knocking back six shots of the lud one right after the other.  Braxton comes up from the floor licking at the sides of his face and wobbling.  He looks over at Jamie who is glaring at him displeased and sighing and shaking her head.

“Hey you there,” the great green beast roars out at Braxton.  “You there!”

Braxton was alarmed but is careful to keep composure and stiff eyes and spine trying not to shift any of his main joints.

“Yes bear, I mean sir.”

“I just come in from the sea.  And I need a good strong lad to help lift me cargo off me ship.”

“Haven’t you a crew?”

“There was a storm out near the eyes.  They were all tossed overboard,” he said bowing his head and removing his hat placing it over his belly.

“That is terrible.  That is utterly terrible.  Although I am entertaining.” Braxton replies motioning towards Jamie.  She nervously smirks in the corner.

“Balls! Come with me!” He roared out again crashing his fist down upon the bar splitting a clean line down its center, and then stuffing both fists into his pockets and pulling out crap loads of dollars.  Braxton’s eyes are wild and immediately his liver is screaming from underneath his shirt and the froth of Sir Authors great black murk was emerging from the sides of his mouth as if he was a dog gone rabid.

In the darkness and dust of this ole establishment upon the quays, strangest of strange things happen and will continue without end as long as there is a river flowing through the city Dublin.  This dear Braxton boy of the United States, having never seen or attempted a decent days work in his life, is uplifted at the sight of tunes and toonies. Bending backward breaking all moral and dreaming of wines and hams and fires and the shedding of cloths down at the Barthar Palace where all the whispers have been shunned out, and satin sheets are pulled back with little mints and inviting nipples between.

“Oh dear, your not going are you?” Jamie says, all disturbed and clutching for his arm..

“I’m afraid something inside me is not giving me much a choice in the matter.” He says staring the brute straight in the eye trying to keep from shaking.

They are out the door following the man down the quays where they had moments ago met when Braxton had leapt into the water.  At the end of the lot stood the tall shadow of a swaying ship.  In a low cloud of fog, its sail’s towered high above the rivers edge and even above the rooftops along the quay where strings of laundry swayed gingerly against the winds of the sea.  Even from a great distance, the groans of its rickety belly echoed all down the river and off every window of every empty flat and public house that stood within a screams distance.

They reach the side of the ship and stare up the wooden pegged plank connecting the boat with the shore.  One step at a time they climb aboard behind the brute.  He disappears down a little hatch and immediately starts tossing wood boxes out of the little hole onto the deck of the ship.  Braxton starts running towards the crashing merchandise trying to catch them and pile them into neat stacks.

One of the boxes comes up over his shoulder and with a crash behind him, Jamie is suddenly screaming and he turns in time to sees her pale Irish face become as white as the moonlight, then looking down upon the floor and seeing the broken box at her feet, and a pile of eyeballs spilt about the deck rolling in all directions.

The two of them start running far beyond the quays, the groaning ship, and now shouting captain, as they disappear into a rare twilight at the edge of this Irish city.  Braxton with his hands out chasing after Jamie trying to catch her blouse and stop her as his own tail coat goes on flapping wildly behind him.  A small rain begins to fall. Big iron ships clang against the sides of the harbor and the two of them disappear underneath the tramway down a little ally where stray dogs are tearing apart a piece of rancid meat and somewhere in Ireland a baby begins to cry.

Jamie throws herself into a brick wall and goes to the ground kneeling in a puddle, her eyes full of tears.  Braxton catching up behind her throwing his arms around this girl realizing that he had never even told her his name, and even now having forgotten of the eyes and feeling sad for her as she weeps into his arms and he is nestling his face against her ear saying there-there, there-there.

And across the sod and crumbling cobblestone streets, the rain falls in slight patterns around bottle caps and shars of glass.  And Braxton hearing the song of the Woodbine begin to twang in his head.  Seeing its red electric eyes cast out across the dark and empty steam rising up from the concrete ally. “Its all just a sphere,” he thinks to himself, closing his eyes, as he strokes the Bartelogenifugalwitz’s thin sopping hair, whispering to her over and over, there-there, there-there.

 

 

 

Walking Through Spain

April 12th, 2011 by acjohner

Walking Through Spain

On down this old road. Dagger strapped heels tightly feeding on the ground. See beyond and out the world of madness and longing for more always wanting to put more in past the teeth and why they are never clean always putting more and more into there.  All the things that make us whole again.  But never ever ever full, always only partially empty, and partially full.  And never the way it was meant to be and why nothing works in this world except the wheel and if it ever breaks down the earth will come alive and screw us all to death.

Up over the hill the sunshine, then the glistening of a thousand wet rooftops all with scarlet clay tiles and I smile to myself because I have been on this walk before and know that this same little path winds all the way along the coast of the Mediterranean, all the way from Almeria to Barcelona.  It takes one summer to walk the entire way.  Sleeping on the beaches and drinking wine on the steps of churches and the Museum of Salvador Dali, and eating tapas with every drink never once having to pay for a meal.

Then waiting in Barcelona for my bus to Madrid where a plane would take me home and spending my last night out there on the beach watching teenagers rampage in and out of a row of discos some of them sneaking down the beach to get at one another and always in the style of the dog…it must have been something the Spanish liked to do a lot.  But that’s not what I remember the most, even though it is the part I love to tell friends…what I loved the most was a single sunrise I saw camping with hashish in Alicante and living with this strange girl in Madrid who was German and only liked to read American authors and always read my stories even though they were all terrible and told me I was a wonderful writer but sad.

And what is so sad about it Evelyn? Is it the same everywhere or do the expressions change with the changing of colors? Do you mean the flags? The Flag of Florida is my favorite. I hate the American flag.  Why is that Evelyn? It just looks disgusting all the colors are bad together.  Do you think American sadness is the same as German sadness?  Of course it is.  What about Spanish sadness?  There is no such thing, everyone here is happy.  Are you happy?  Of course. I’m not.  I want an adventure.  You’re on one.  This isn’t an adventure enough for you?  No.  All I’ve seen of Spain is this window and nothing beyond it.  That’s because you drink all the time and never go anyplace.  I’m not one for cities.  Get out of it.  Come with me.  No.  And her walking me to the bus station.  A frightened boy with no tongue but English and just wondering from town to town saying perdón perdón…donde está el cuarto de baño? And sometimes not getting answers because my tongue was all wrong.  Then meeting this girl from France, and one from Argentina, and two that had a cottage out in the countryside where we all got naked and let me lick wine off there breasts because it was all I wanted to do, and realizing that Spain is a lovly and loving country after all for divine nakedness and dancing and drinking in the streets.  Everything can be done in the street because everyone loves to watch and see how the others do and they always share everything.  Even if it’s only a baguette and a dozen mouths, crumbs are dispersed.  Running all the way up the coast in cars with strangers then mostly with this girl from France who was a Lesbian but we always slept in each others arms because it was nice and why not do nice things for a change you American she would say always thinking opposite of everything fun.

Then coming back to Madrid finally on a bus after seeing a thousand beaches covered in tits and walking up to Evelyn and not thanking her for my summer even though Spain was her invitation, and I was sorry that I got tired of sleeping next to her.  And that I would not stop writing and drinking long enough to take any walks with her in the park.  And now looking back I wonder just how I got by with my manners all like a bag of assholes.  And wondering why they always whispered behind my back but loved me when I was drunk which I was all the time anyway.

I could walk all this way again but I’ve come this far I might as well go back, otherwise I may never come back, and the adventure is always in vein for me if I can’t tell anyone the story.

LECTURE: Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride

December 20th, 2010 by acjohner

Transformational Festivals and The Industry of Experience

Lecture for Professionalism in Anthropology

AC Johner

Sections taken from Chapter Proposal for Graham St. John’s:

“CFP. Weekend Societies: Electronic Dance Music Festivals and Event-Cultures”

When we go to see a movie at a theater, we are paying for an experience.

We are taken to places in movies that we are not able to venture in the real world. Our field of vision becomes sweeping crane shots through the lenses of dozens of cameras capturing multiple angles of selective focus. We are drawn into the narrative of the characters, guided by the sonic engagement of millions of dollars worth of studio-engineered sound effects, and gripping choreographed videography swinging us all around the stage of players in the story. Through the amplification of sensory imput- with sound and picture technology- we forget the screen is even there separating the theater from the action.  A film not only mimics life, it amplifies it beyond the ordinary.

The film industry, sporting events, Broadway shows, fan conventions, health spas, and yoga retreats are all in a way similar. Emotional encounters are in demand. What is being marketed, requires active participation in an event that engineers an anticipated set of emotions.  It is this package of emotional experience which we are actually paying for when we buy tickets, entrance, or membership to one of these events.

Of the more thought-provoking industries of experience in our modern world are electronic music festivals. Akin to the experience of film, electronic music festivals celebrate immersion into an aural and visual playground of empathic pleasures. Through sonic entanglement and visceral chemical rapture, techno carnivals offer a unison of music, magic, humanness, and for some, a personal transformation.

Most of those who attend electronic music events will claim it’s more than just a party. Participants attest to experiences of ecstasy, communal and cosmic oneness, therapeutic healing, and spiritual awakening.

Many attendees will identify the events as sacred gatherings, the dancefloor as a hallowed ground, the music as extraterrestrial, and their personal stories of attending electronic events as a spiritual quest.

The electronic music culture is a modern day quest culture. Quest cultures find themselves both collectively and individually engaged with the task of seeking new rituals, religious structures, mythologies, and above all, new meaning.

In recent years, the popularity and growth of festivals within the electronic music community has aided in the expansion of the spiritual dynamics of the group.  Events like Burning Man, Symbiosis, Rainbow Serpent, Boom Festival, and Lightning in a Bottle, are centered around ritual, co-creation, community experience, and participatory art, thereby enabling the expansion of the event beyond the stage, music, and dancers.  Such events offer workshops, yoga, ceremony, installation art, and community bonding activities.

While electronic events engage individuals with what many participants consider a genuine spiritual experience, large portions of the culture have sought to further engage this dimension of the rave and convert it into a source of religious transformation.

The rising popularity of events deemed “transformational festivals,” such as California’s Lightning in a Bottle, Lucidity, and Wanderlust are expressing new commercial potentials of the “transformative experience” through pharmacological, sonic, luminescent, and event technology.  Offering such experiences at the cost of an event ticket, transformational festivals are a modern recalibration of Hunter S. Thompson’s infamous line “buy the ticket, take the ride.”

More than becoming just another new church, or organized religion, transformational festivals retain their image as a form of marketed entertainment.   Events are advertised, tickets are sold, and elaborate entertainment is erected.

The transformational festival arose out of rave culture’s high-tech pleasure playground of musical rapture, hyper-sensory stimulation, and group ecstasis.  While traditionally raves were known for marketing communal ecstasy as a form of entertainment, the transformation festival advertises itself as a life-altering experience, one that fulfills a deep spiritual need.  Is the transformation festival a commodification of spiritual experience, of deep love, communal ecstasy, and self-healing?  We traditionally think of a commodity as a good or service produced to be bought and sold.  In terms of the transformational festival, a “transformational experience” is the product on the market.  Is this a new amusement park of transcendent love and communitas?  Or is their emergence foreshadowing a loss of the sacred and the emergence of a new form of ticketed religion?

Throughout my years investigating the social movement of electronic music, and the rise of transformational festivals on the west coast of North America, I admittedly anticipated their crusade would congeal into a beautiful, counter-cultural movement and would bring about tremendous change in the rest of world.  I expected these small transformational events to soon include the general public, generating free events in impoverished urban areas, music parks in ghettos, and a strong organized army of activists in constant pursuit of transforming the ecology of our world for the better.   Of course I was young, hopeful, and full of idealisms.  The year 2012 had been prophesied by the more evangelical of the transformational community to mark the birth year of their emergence as a legitimized human movement of social and ecological change.  As the date came ever nearer, the parties got bigger and better, as well as their production value and the elaboration of the spectacle. As far as changing the world…well…everyone still seemed to be waiting.  As the 2012 due-date came and past, the culture had emerged into mainstream appeal as they had all anticipated, and right on schedule with the Mayan doomsday.  Yet, the armies of activists out to change the planet were too few to make a scene.  The culture transformed as expected, but into something that I had not anticipated all those years of research…a big business.

While Reality Sandwich author, James Orac, offers several distinguishing differences between the transformational festival culture and the counter culture of the 1960s, another major difference Orac does not mention, is that the movement of the 1960s had been rebelling against all forms of capitalism, commodification, and big business.  Everything back then was free; free love, free entry into Woodstock, free gatherings, free music.  Hippies were uprooting from the machinations of currency and the economy and creating free communes, free art, growing free food, and interested in generating free energy.  While the transformational festival culture began with the same liberated discourse of breaking away from the “system,” the culture has instead shifted its perspectives towards participating in the global economy, and mainstream world as a legitimized industry with market potentials that were sure to attract big investors.

The transformational culture is driven by an economy of elaborate hand-made festival clothing, high-priced art, lavish events priced for the posh, and luxurious spiritual retreats. The group is among the few that began trending gifting circles, social groups advertised for acceptance, healing, and rejuvenation through communal support.  Participation in gifting circles comes at a high dollar buy-in cost; you pay to play, and your membership and success in the circle is dependent upon your ability to recruit others to buy into the larger circle; akin to pyramid schemes however propagated as sacred therapy.  Like their “gifting circles,” the transformational festival culture requires an entry fee, not only for admittance into the event, but for participation in the larger community once the cost of lifestyle is added into the equation.

More than selling food, clothing, and musical entertainment- “transformation” is also on the market.  Transformational festivals advertise themselves as both the high-tech pleasure playgrounds of conventional electronic music events, as well as an amusement park of transcendent experiences filled with workshops, classes, ceremonies, chanting, and often a promoted ethic of community, openness, and sacred intention. Transformational festivals offer ticket buyers an “experience,” as indicated on their

Many websites such as Lightning in a Bottle’s, will host a category called “experience,” or “offerings,” under which one can find the events musical line up, a list of workshops and classes, speakers, or scheduled ceremonies.  The “experience” is defined as of  “Oneness,” “community,” “belonging,”  “ecology,” and “self-transformational.”

Below this heart felt invitation is a red button with the words BUY TICKETS inscribed in bold, with a bright red click-box behind it.

Of course this sort of marketing is not unfamiliar too us.  While it may be the first time we have seen it used in the marketing of entertainment, it seems to have first emerged in other spiritually oriented markets.  Kimberley Lau, author of New Age Capitalism defines the rise of the new age market as a response to an increased pursuit towards health and wellness.   The self-proclaimed spirituality of alternative health practices catalyzed the transformation of such practices into commodities, thereby giving rise to the new age market.  This market seems to have been on an upswing in recent years with the spread of yoga, raw-food dieting, and campaigns for “greening” everything.  Along in the same bracket, we find the emergence of these new age festivals which are growing in popularity among millennial and the next generation of youth.

The presence of spiritual language, value listing, and self-branded culture-production exposes more than an underlying intention to sell tickets and make a buck.  While we can argue that the direction of transformational festivals and other old or emerging new age markets are consequential to culture on a whole, we can just as easily explore the genuine interest in pursuing spiritual change and cultural revitalization which is also expressive in the market dynamics of these event.  In either perspective, positive or negative, a new industry is emerging and is meeting an existing demand.

While the websites, as well as the festival gates, require an individual to purchase a ticket in order to engage in the transformational “experience,” entry-tickets are not the only major cash/experience exchange happening at transformational festivals. Patrons purchase body-work, such as reiki and massage therapy. They pay for healing crystals, flower essences, and psychedelic substances.

The monetary exchange for substance induced altered states of consciousness is another exhibition of the cost of transformation.   Transformational festivals are psychedelic events.  While the word “psychedelic” is rarely advertised at these events, at least here in the United States, the festivals are inspired by, and engineered for drug experiences. The psychedelic ingredient is an implicit requirement of full immersive exposure to the “experience” of the transformational festival. Psychedelics, and empathogens like MDMA, play a significant role in creating the sense of euphoria, ecstatic bliss, unity, and empathy; catalogue offerings of the transformational festival. While directly producing emotional and psychological states, the substances themselves are purchased.

The exchange of hard currency for a drug which produces a psychological and emotional states exhibits a microcosm of how transformational culture has grown to perceive experience as a commodity. Individuals in the culture are already predisposed to this sort of market exchange in order to engender transformational states of consciousness.  The transformational culture is rooted in the material. Not only are their experiences of spirituality rooted in the physiology of trance and ecstasy, experiences are most often produced chemically with substances, vibration through speaker towers, visually with projectors and screens, and enhanced by lasers, LEDs, and sonic entanglement through electronic music mixed on a computer.  The culture produced at these events reverberates deeper and stranger ties with technology, often through a techno-mysticism. Perspective of the spiritual as an engineered production of ecstatic technologies develops an ethos within the community that is rooted in a direct form of spirituality, homogenized as a science of emotion.  The assemblage of “experience” is so push-button, and systematical that the “transformational” culture which grows up around these events perceives spiritual experience as an engineered man-made object.

Within the context of transformational festivals, the word transformational may often seem an uncanny replacement for the word spiritual. While we find ourselves caught in the landslide secular argument of being “spiritual but not religious,” the participants of this community are seeking a new way to express spirituality and spiritual experiences beyond the boundaries of religious discourse, while maintaining a sacred identity.

In our modern world, individuals are seeking spirituality for personal development as opposed to narratives of dogma, connection with omnipresent entities, second comings, prophets prophecies, soul-selling, and life-devoted religious traditions.

People are seeking the life-hack for spiritual growth.  They want enlightenment in a pill, or a simple technique they can squeeze in on their lunch hour.

In the book Holy Mavericks, Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere suggest that the success of any religious group depends upon the market dynamics of their individual economies, their ability to customize their image- as well as core teachings- in order to conform to the religious demands of society; conforming to a transforming culture, as opposed to transforming a conforming culture. The authors bring to light one significant aspect of organized religion that most fail to recognize- supply and demand.

Society needs salvation, a sense of solidarity in a higher purpose or function, a sense of feeling okay with the way things are, as well as the rhyme and reason of why.

It seems that today, the popular contention accepts spirituality as natural need and function, while religion is merely an optional carter- among many other delivery systems gaining popularity- ones that have do with the body, breath, brain chemistry, social communion, or sex as opposed to the traditional codex of a prescribed dogma. It is through these secondary and physiological outlets of the extraordinary that a new spiritual marketplace is growing within the United States.  If spirituality is a basic human need, why would it not also become a commodity along with our food, water, and basic utilities for survival?

Selling experience, and marketing spirituality is historically customary in the United States. Through secularism, and dilution of national identity, and an increasing interest in the self, have moved society further and further away from traditional forms of access to spiritual experience, and opening them towards new alternative methods less focused on dogma, belief, or rigorous practice.

A new form of spirituality is emerging today, one that is reoriented towards self-indulgence, self-admiration, productivity, the accumulation of profit, social success, and therapeutic healing. The concept of God is being internalized, sought as part of an individual’s make-up; endowing them with powers of self-creation, or control over success and social wealth.   All of this is yet packaged within creeds of amalgamation with larger systems of social, ecological, and cosmic ecologies. The self as seen as an intricate part of the fabric of the larger universe, with self-improvement and self-care perceived as sacred practices through a biological harmony of mental and body health.  Individuals are seeking classes, cleansing products, new diets, styles of living, and forms of identity, which are believed to confirm an embrace of the sacred.  The new spirituality of our capitalist society is one that is market-driven, and consumer oriented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

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“Controversy Over Women’s Gifting Circles: Blessing or Disaster?” Ignite Channel. December 16, 2014. Accessed December 16, 2014. https://ignitechannel.com/controversy-over-womens-gifting-circles-blessing-or-disaster/.

 

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Curriculum Vitae

December 20th, 2010 by acjohner

AC JOHNER

acjohner@gmail.com

www.acjohner.com

www.electronicawakening.com

LinkedIn Profile

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND

M.A. (Graduating 2015) Ethnographic Journalism, Lesley University, Cambridge, MS

B.A.  2007 Anthropology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

2014 Ethnographer, Samsung, Samsung-Walmart Reboot Study, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by C. Castillo of Smart Revenue.

2014 Ethnographer, Pfizer-Nexium, Pfizer-Nexium FOTS Project, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Kessler of Smart Revenue.

2014 Visual Ethnographer, Bose, Bose Headphones, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative filmed interviews in field; managed video logging, video data and video encoding. Directed by C. Castillo of Smart Revenue.

2014 Field Technician, Bose, Bose Headphones, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative filmed interviews in field; managed video logging, video data and video encoding. Directed by C. Castillo of Smart Revenue.

2014 Research Assistant, Bose, Bose Headphones, Chicago, IL

Transcribed and coded qualitative interviews, data analysis and created presentations of data.

Directed by C. Castillo of Smart Revenue.

2014 Visual Ethnographer, Bose, Bose Headphones, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative interview analysis, created presentation scripts in excel and transformed scripts into visual clips utilizing filmed interview footage with Final Cut Pro.

Directed by A. Klepach of Smart Revenue.

2014 FOTS Ethnographer, Smart Revenue, Dollar Channel Tracker, Chicago, IL

Conducted quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by F. Glick of Smart Revenue.

2014 Field Ethnographer, Hersheys, Hershey’s Sam’s Club Reseller Project, Chicago, IL

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by L. Hanson of Smart Revenue.

2013 Field Ethnographer, Safeway-Safeway COS study, San Francisco, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Green of Smart Revenue.

2013 Respondent Recruiter, Redbull-Redbull FOTS study, San Francisco, CA

Conducted research-participant screening and recruiting, initial contact and follow-up in preparation of study.

Directed by J. Heuss of Smart Revenue.

2012 Field Ethnographer, Safeway-Safeway Breakfast Tracker study, San Francisco, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Kessler of Smart Revenue.

2012 Field Ethnographer, Campbells- Campbells Prepared Meals study, San Francisco, CA

Conducted participant observation, behavior mapping, quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by J. Kessler of Smart Revenue.

2011-2012 Social Media Research Analyst, Right Now- Consumer Information Management study, Los Angeles, CA

Researched business management hierarchies in software and airline industries.  Compiled contact date in Excel for purposes of further contact for research.

Directed by C. Boyle of Right Now.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Jarden-Jarden Consumer Decision Tree study, San Francisco, CA

Conducted participant observation, behavior mapping and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by J. Kessler of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Nestle-Valentines Day study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by K. Morris-Dennis of Smart Revenue.

2011 Market Researcher, P.O.P.A.I. The Global Association for Marketing and Retail, Annual Study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted display auditing, behavior mapping and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by D. Greewalt of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Safeway-Safeway Private label study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted display auditing, qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by J. Kessler of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Nestle-Nestle Waters study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by B. Barnhart of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, FedEx-Fedex Redesign study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by M. Watjen of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, PepsiCo-PepsiCo conversion research study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by T. Lauchlan of PepsiCo.

2011 Field Ethnographer, SC Johnson-Kroger Project, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by M. Moan of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Home Depot-Home Depot Department Tracker study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by M. Watjen of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Mann Packing Co.-Mann Packing study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by L. Tanikeller of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Brown Forman Spirits-Brown Forman Spirits purchasing study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by R. Leahy of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Mann Packing Co.-Mann Packing study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by L. Tanikeller of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Nestle Nutritional Foundation- annual study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Heuss of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Notravaris-Pain Releif study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Campilelli of Smart Revenue.

2011 Field Ethnographer, Sony- Sony Touch Screen study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by A. Swain of Smart Revenue.

2009-2011 Field Ethnographer, Walmart- Multi-sited Black Friday study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted participant-observation and shopper behavior mapping in multiple store locations during Black Friday, data and photograph logging and report writing.

Directed by M. Watjen of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Dole- Packaged Fruit study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by B. Crews of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Schwann Food Company- Schwann’s frozen pizza study, Los Angeles, CA

Analyzed purchase decision hierarchies. Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by A. Durning of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Colgate- Colgate Personal Care study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by A. Durning of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Abbott- Abbott Nutrition study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis, and report writing, directed by M. Watjen of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Del Monte- Pet Consumer Decision Factors study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Studwell of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Sara Lee- Bakery study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by R. Knowles of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, ConAgra- ConAgra SuperValu Frozen Meals study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by A. Durning of Smart Revenue.

2010 Visual Field Technician, and Lead Ethnographer, General Mills Incorporated- Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews recorded with video crew, assisted director and lighting crew. Conducted a shop-along methodology to the study, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by A. Durning of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, E & J Gallo- Winery Shopping study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Studwell of Smart Revenue.

2010 Field Ethnographer, Sony- Sony Kiosk Reader study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Avery of Smart Revenue.

2009 Field Ethnographer, LEGO- annual study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by J. Avery of Smart Revenue.

2009 Field Ethnographer, FedEx- Print and Go study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by A. Durning of Smart Revenue.

2009 Field Ethnographer, Dreyers Club- Dreyer’s Club Costco study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by M. Watjen of Smart Revenue.

2009 Field Ethnographer, HP- Best Buy Ink study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys in field, data analysis and report writing. Directed by A. Capplett of Smart Revenue.

2009 Researcher, California Public Utilities and Opinion Dynamic Corporation- California Statewide In-Home Ethnographic Research Study, Los Angeles, CA

Conducted in-home qualitative interviews with recruited respondents, mapped respondent behavior in homes, data analysis and report writing.

Directed by A. Capplett of Smart Revenue.

2009-2010 Field Enumerator, United States Census Bureau- US 2010 Census, Los Angeles, CA

Collected survey data from homes, managed data on national database systems and created reports of analyzed data.

2006-Present Principal Investigator and CEO, Federation of Earth Productions LLC, Los Angeles/New York

Managed $200,000 project budget and directed a crew of 25 for the production of an ethnographic film project. Coordinated research and continuous analysis of recorded interviews web-based information, conducted professional interviews, participant observation in the field and managed marketing and distribution of the project Electronic Awakening.

2005-2006 Program Ethnographer, Appalachian State University, Office of International Programs, Boone, NC

Assessed multicultural relationships for program restructuring, reviewed social impact assessment of policies/practices, produced and delivered presentation of research.

 

AWARDS AND HONORS

2014 Community Spotlight, Electronic Music Alliance. The EMA hosts a community spotlight once a month on someone who has been a significant influence on the electronic music industry.

2014 Special Selection, Kickstarter Film Festival. Selected for ‘Electronic Awakening’ New York, New York.

2012 Special Invitation, (“Featured Speaker”) at The Conscious Life Expo. Invited to speak on spirituality and electronic music culture, LAX Hilton, Los Angeles, CA February 2012.

2012 Special Selection, Tel Aviv Spirit Film Festival. Selected for ‘Electronic Awakening’  Tel Aviv, Israel.

2012 Honorable Mention, Sunset Film Festival. Mentioned for ‘Electronic Awakening’ Los Angeles, California.

2012 First Film Featured, Freestyle Life Film Festival. Featured for ‘Electronic Awakening’ New York, New York.

2012 Finalist, Desert Rocks Film and Music Festival. Finalist for ‘Electronic Awakening’ Victorville, California.

2012 Special Selection, Culture Unplugged Film Festival. Selected for ‘Electronic Awakening’ New York, New York.

2012 Special Invitation, Keynote Speaker at Los Angeles Center for the Arts Annual Conference. Los Angeles, CA May 2012.

2011 Special Invitation, (“Featured Speaker”) of Appalachian State University’s Anthropology Department Brown Bag Meeting. Boone, NC, April 2011.

2007 Special Invitation, Keynote Speaker at Appalachian State University Student Research Conference. Boone, NC.

2007 Inducted, Lambda Alpha National Collegiate Honors Society for Anthropology

2006 Inducted, Alpha Chi National College Honor Society

2006 Inducted, Gamma Beta Phi Society, Oakridge, TN.

2006 Inducted, National Honors Society, National College Honors Society, Washington D.C.

2006 Jill Loucks Memorial Scholarship, Appalachian State University Anthropology Department.

2001 Inducted, National Eagle Scout Association.

1998 Eagle Scout Award, National Boy Scouts of America.

GRANTS AND FINANCIAL AWARDS

2012 Lebowitz Writers Fund funded the research and production of ‘Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music’ in acquisition for publication ($6,000).

2011 Keyframe-Entertainment Sponsorship provided financial backing and production support from film production company Keyframe Entertainment for the marketing and distribution of ‘Electronic Awakening,’ ($30,000).

2011 Kickstarter Fundraiser funded for post-production of Electronic Awakening documentary film project ($21,000).

2010 Elevate Film Foundation Fiscal Sponsorship provided fiscal sponsorship from Elevate Film Foundation, (501c3 backing).

2006 Jill Loucks Student Research Grant funded preliminary research on the mysticism of electronic music culture prior to the start of the ‘Electronic Awakening’ documentary film project ($1000).

2006 Appalachian State University Office of Student Research Grant funded preliminary research on the mysticism of electronic music culture ($1500).

2006 Appalachian State University Office of Student Research Traveling Grant funded travel to Burning Man in Nevada for research on the mysticism of electronic music culture ($1000).

PUBLICATIONS

Articles

2009 Where’s the Party in 2012, Mushroom Magazine, 39: 26-48. Berlin, Germany.

2008 The Seamless Edge of Revelation, 2nd Creation, 12(3): 45-58. Melbourne, Australia.

Books

2015 Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco (submitted).

2006 Where the Hell is this Going: A Collection of Nonfigurative Fiction. Lulu Press, New York.

2006 A Concise History of Heaven and Earth.  Lulu Press, New York.

2005 The Singularity.  Lulu Press, New York.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

2015 Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: The Commodification of Experience within North American Transformational Festivals. In Weekend Societies: Electronic Dance Music Festivals and Event-Cultures, edited by G. St. John Queensland University Press, Queensland, Australia (submitted).

2015 Transformational Festivals and Allegiance: Assessing elements of Belonging, Identity, and Elitism among Transformational Festivals in the United States. In Exploring the Psychedelic Trance in Electronic Dance Music and Modern Cultures, edited by Emília Simão and Sérgio Magalhães and Armando Malheiro. IGI-Global (submitted).

 

PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATIONS

 

2012 Electronic Awakening: Spirituality and Electronic Music Cultures. Presentations given at the following locations:

Sacred Medicine for World Peace Conference in Alto Pariso-Goias, Brazil. Rainbow Serpent Festival in Victoria, Australia. Transverse Social Club in Revelstoke, California. Emily Carr University, Vancouver, Canada. The World Premiere of Electronic Awakening at Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California. ID & Theater in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Brandon University in Brandon, Canada. The Happiness Institute in San Francisco, California. Desert Rocks Film and Music Festival Event, Victorville, CA.  MEME Festival, Manitoba, Canada. Evolver Puna EMAX Conference in Kalai Resort, Hawaii. Casa Jays Eco-Cultural Center in San Paulo, Brazil. Cosmogenisis Conference in South Africa. Synthesis 2012 Conference in Chichen-Itza, Mexico. Evolver Salon at the Learning Center in Melbourne, Australia. Costa Rica International Film Festival in Montezuma, Costa Rica. Electronic Music Conference and Audio Expo in Manila, Philippines.

2012 Global Awakening: Electronic Music and 2012: Presentation at Harvard Divinity School, co-hosted with Daniel Pinchbeck. Presentation at Harvard University.

2012 Global Awakening: Electronic Music and 2012: Presentation at Yale University.

2012 Electronic Awakening: Festival Culture, Electronic Music, and Ancient Prophecy. Webinar presentation co-hosted with Graham St John at the Evolver Network.

2010 Seductions of Difference of Honu Travel and Cultural Impact. Presentation at CFP: Tourism and Seductions of Difference: 1st Tourism-Contact-Culture Research Network Conference. Lisbon, Portugal (invited to present but could not travel).

2010 Cultural Relationships between Mayan Mythology and Electronic Music. Presentation at Entheos Conference of New Sustainable Movements in Contemporary Dance Cultures, Vancouver, Canada.

2008 Mysticism and Electronic Music. Presentation at the Orford Theater. Harmony Film Festival.

2008 Mysticism and Electronic Music. Presentation at Lighting In a Bottle Festival.

2008 Mysticism and Electronic Music. Presentation at Symbiosis Music Festival.

2007 Realms of Revelation: New Perspectives on Mysticism and Dance Music Cultures. Presentation at Student Research Fair at Appalachian State University.

2006 New Realms of Time and Revelation in Contemporary Dance Movements. Featured Presentation at Appalachian State University Anthropology department.

SUBJECTS OF INTEREST

Electronic Music Cultures, The Global Psytrance Movment, Ecstatic Dance, Transhumanism, Minecraft, 2nd Life, World of Warcraft, The Impossibility Movement, Shamanism, Lamarkianism, Virtual Reality, Simulation Theory, Transformational Festivals, Psychedelic Culture, Gnosticism, Technological Singularity, Dreamspell Calendar Movement, Mayan Mythology, Commodification of Experience within EDM events and festivals, Burning Man, Neurotechnology, Nanotechnology

Religion and Technology Grad Syllabus

December 20th, 2010 by acjohner

ANTH 422

Spring 2014

RELIGION AND TECHNOLOGY

University of California in Los Angeles, Department of Anthropology

Class meeting time and place: Tuesday, 9:30-11:00 a.m., 402 Madison Hall

Professor AC Johner

 

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Skype name: acjohner

Office number: (323) 412-4545

Email addresses: HYPERLINK “mailto:acjohner@gmail.com” acjohner@gmail.com

 

Department Head: Peter Andrews (302 Madison Hall)

Department Staff: 408 Madison Hall

 

Course Description:

Can a technological culture accommodate spiritual experience and spiritual thinking?  This is the main question we will tackle in this course. Some researchers believe that the future holds a movement of re-enchantment which includes machines. This would lead us to reconstruct new theological models that bring religious questions of creation, metaphysics and immortality out of the context of religious beliefs and into the context of our own technological capacity. How will new perspectives on techno-spirituality and our relationship with machines alter our mythologies and dogmas? Will the course of our global culture be drastically altered from a future tech-gnosis of mankind? In this course we will discuss theoretical perspectives in anthropology, theology and philosophy of man’s sacred relationship with technology.

Course Materials:

 

Bishop, Jeffrey P. “Transhumanism, Metaphysics, And The Posthuman God.” Journal Of Medicine & Philosophy 35.6 (2010): 700-720.

 

Coeckelbergh, Mark. “The Spirit In The Network: Models For Spirituality In A Technological Culture.” Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science 45.4 (2010): 957-978.

 

Davis, Erik. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information. Five Star, 2005. 372.

 

Edwards Jr., Mark U. “The Pearly Gates Of Cyberspace.” Christian Century 117.36 (2000): 1327.

 

Farman, Abou. “Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery And Obsolescence In An Intelligent Universe.” Anthropological Quarterly 85.4 (2012): 1069-1088.

 

Jackelén, Antje. “What Is “Secular”? Techno-Secularism And Spirituality.” Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science 40.4 (2005): 863-874.

 

Johner, Andrew. “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco (in press).

 

Molendijk, Ariel L. “Religious Development: C. P. Tiele’s Paradigm Of Science Of Religion.” Numen: International Review For The History Of Religions 51.3 (2004): 321-351.

 

Sarewitz, Daniel. “Sometimes science must give way to religion.” Nature. 488.7412 (2012): n. page. Web. 10 May. 2013. <http://www.nature.com/news/sometimes-science-must-give-way-to-religion-1.11244>.

 

REQUIREMENTS:

(1) The majority of work in the course will be centered on participatory discussions in class over reading material.  For this reason, attendance is worth 50% of your overall course grade.

(2) You will be assigned one 25 page paper, which will be due at the end of the course.  This paper will make-up the other 50% of your grade.

 

WEEKLY OUTLINE:

Week One:

Read Erik Davis’s Techgnosis.

In class we will discuss man’s relationship with technology, as well as Davis’s Techgnosis.

At the end of the class we will have Erik Davis himself Skype in for a short question and answer discussion with the class.

Week Two:

Read Mark Coeckelbergh’s “The Spirit In The Network: Models For Spirituality In A Technological Culture.”

Read Mark Edward’s “The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace.”

In class we will discuss the age of information, the Internet, and how it has informed and transformed religions.

At the end of class we will discuss possible ideas for your papers.

Week Three:

 

Read Molendijk, Ariel L. “Religious Development: C. P. Tiele’s Paradigm Of Science Of Religion.” Numen: International Review For The History Of Religions 51.3 (2004): 321-351.

 

ReadAnd Sarewitz, Daniel. “Sometimes science must give way to religion.” Nature. 488.7412 (2012): n. page. Web. 10 May. 2013.

 

In class we will discuss the debate between science and religion and the effect on culture.

Due:  Your Paper Topics.  Write a one-page synopsis of your paper.

Week Four:

Read Jackelén, Antje. “What Is “Secular”? Techno-Secularism And Spirituality.” Zygon: Journal Of Religion & Science 40.4 (2005): 863-874.

In class we will discus what is secularism, and the secularization of society.

Due: Annotated bibliographies of your papers

Week Five:

Read Farman, Abou. “Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery And Obsolescence In An Intelligent Universe.” Anthropological Quarterly 85.4 (2012): 1069-1088.

Read Chapters 1-5 of Davis, Erik. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information. Five Star, 2005. 372.

In class we will begin a discussion about technology and its influence on mythologies, both historically and contemporarily.

Week Six

Read the rest of Davis, Erik. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information. Five Star, 2005. 372.

In class we will continue our discussion about technology and myth.

Week Seven

Read first half of AC Johner’s “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco.

In class we will watch the documentary film “Electronic Awakening.”

Week Eight

Read the second half of AC Johner’s “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco.

In class we will discuss the creation of new religious movements inspired by technology.

Due: Rough drafts of your papers

Week Nine

Read on article of your choice on transhumanism.

In Class, you will each give a 10 minute presentation on your article.

At the end of class we will all discuss the topic of transhumanism and how it may alter our spirituality.

Week Ten

Read Bishop, Jeffrey P. “Transhumanism, Metaphysics, And The Posthuman God.” Journal Of Medicine & Philosophy 35.6 (2010): 700-720.

In class we will finish our discussion on transhumanism.

Final Paper’s Due Next Week

Final Week

Due: Final Papers

You will all have 10 minutes to present your final papers in class.

Religion and Technology Undergrad Syllabus

December 20th, 2010 by acjohner

ANTH 422

Spring 2014

RELIGION AND TECHNOLOGY

University of California in Los Angeles, Department of Anthropology

Class meeting time and place: Tuesday, 9:30-11:00 a.m., 402 Madison Hall

Professor AC Johner

Office Hours: Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Skype name: acjohner

Office number: (323) 412-4545

Email addresses:   HYPERLINK “mailto:acjohner@gmail.com” acjohner@gmail.com

 

Department Staff Offices: 408 Madison Hall

Department Head: Peter Andrews (302 Madison Hall)

 

Course Description:

In this course we will discuss the theoretical perspectives of man’s relationship to technology, focusing on how it has and will continue to alter religion and spiritual thinking. We will be reading the works of Erik Davis, the author of Techngnosis, and my own book Electronic Revival. Through both of these works, as well as lectures and discussions in class, we will thoroughly investigate the sacred and technology.

Course Materials:

 

Davis, Erik. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information. Five Star, 2005. 372.

Edwards Jr., Mark U. “The Pearly Gates Of Cyberspace.” Christian Century 117.36 (2000): 1327.

 

Johner, Andrew. “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco (in press).

REQUIREMENTS:

(1) You are expected to attend every class and participate in class discussions.  Attendance and participation will make up 25% of your overall grade.

(2) You will take two tests in this course, once at mid-term, and the other the final day of class.  Each test is worth 15% of your total grade.

(3) You will have several writing assignments in this course.  Collectively these assignments will make up 20% of your overall grade.

(4) You will be assigned one 10 page paper, which will be due at the end of the course.  This paper will make-up the other 25% of your grade.

 

WEEKLY OUTLINE:

Week One:

Read Chapter 1 of Techgnosis.

In class we will discuss man’s relationship with technology, as well as Davis’s Techgnosis.

At the end of the class we will have Erik Davis himself Skype in for a short question and answer discussion with the class.

Week Two:

Read Mark Edward’s “The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace.”

In class we will discuss the age of information, the Internet, and how it has informed and transformed religions.

Week Three:

 

In class we will discuss the debate between science and religion and the effect on culture.

Due: 300 words on an article of your choice about the internet’s influence on religion.

Week Four:

Read Chapter 7 of Techgnosis.

In class we will discus what is secularism, and the secularization of society.

Due: 300 word essay on the definition of secularism and what science and technology have to do with it.

Week Five:

Read Chapter 8 of Techgnosis.

In class we will begin a discussion about technology and its influence on mythologies, both historically and contemporarily.

Due: Choose your favorite science fiction novel, or film, that in some way deals with religion, or spirituality. (an example would be the Force in Star Wars) Come to class prepared to give a 5 minute talk about the story and the religious elements depicted within it.

Week Six

Read Chapters 9 and 10 of Techgnosis.

In class we will continue our discussion about technology and myth.

Due: All remaining students who did not present last week will present this week.

Test:  Short 20 minute multiple choice test that will act as our midterm.

Week Seven

Read first three chapters of AC Johner’s “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco.

In class we will watch the documentary film “Electronic Awakening.”

Week Eight

Read chapters 4-7 of AC Johner’s “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco.

In class we will discuss the creation of new religious movements inspired by technology.

Due: Chose a new religious movement that has utilized technology to achieve success (such as scientology, or modern evangelism) come to class with a 200 word essay which you will read in class.

Week Nine

Read chapters 4-7 of AC Johner’s “Electronic Revival: Religion, Technology and the Rise of Electronic Dance Music. North Atlantic Books, San Francisco.

At the end of class we will all discuss the topic of transhumanism and how it may alter our spirituality.

Review your papers

Week Ten

Read Bishop, Jeffrey P. “Transhumanism, Metaphysics, And The Posthuman God.” Journal Of Medicine & Philosophy 35.6 (2010): 700-720.

In class we will finish our discussion on transhumanism.

Final Paper’s Due Next Week

Final Week

Final Test

Due: Final Papers

SmartRevenue Application Letter

December 20th, 2010 by acjohner

October 8, 2014

Nicky Barney

Human Resources Manager SmartRevenue
263 Tresser Boulevard 9th Floor

Stamford, CT 06901

Dear Nicky Barney:

I am applying for the Sales and Marketing Management position with SmartRevenue. I believe you will find my background in both marketing and the entertainment industry distinctively suiting fit for this role. Alongside my six years working as an ethnographer with SmartRevenue, I have also worked ten years in film, producing and directing my own feature documentary with global distribution, all while pursuing a masters in anthropology with a near perfect GPA.

I have a strong creative background and the ability to think outside the box with versatile skills in marketing, graphic design, video, and professional aesthetics. My experiences working in film and market research have prepared me to work on large M scale productions, with extensive responsibility, hard M deadlines, group leadership, and team synchronicity.
Over the past six years with SmartRevenue, I have worked alongside the team on 40 different project  as an ethnographer, including video M production and editing work for Bose Headphones and General Mills. Throughout the years, I have gained an integral understanding of the company and our vision to create transformative insight of marketing strategies and source innovative and winning solutions for our clients As a sales and marketing manager, I would aim to strengthen the graphic design of our proposals, integrate professional quality video, and apply my background in entertainment towards the creation of dynamic marketing proposals for clients.

I am dedicated to SmartRevenue’s mission and team, and ready to expand my role within the company. If you are looking for a results oriented, marketing manager, with enthusiasm for marketing and creative design, I would be interested in speaking with you further to discuss how I can integrate my versatile background into the SmartRevenue team.
Thank you for your consideration of my application and commitment to SmartRevenue. Please contact me at my email address acjohner@gmail.com

Sincerely,

Andrew C Johner

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