Parallel metaphors in theosophy and transhumanism

Title: Parallel metaphors in theosophy and transhumanism
Author: French, Aaron
Source document: Religio. vol. 30, iss. 1, pp. [25]-43
  • ISSN
    1210-3640 (print)
    2336-4475 (online)
Type: Article
In The Singularity Is Near (2005), pioneering transhumanist Raymond Kurzweil described the end goal of a six-epoch evolutionary cosmogony, claiming that "once non-biological intelligence gets a foothold in the human brain ... the machine intelligence in our brains will grow exponentially ... Ultimately, the entire universe will become saturated with our intelligence. This is the destiny of the universe". A hundred years earlier, Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, rolled out her own evolutionary cosmogony in The Secret Doctrine (1888), in which the "spiritual nature" of human beings, along with the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, as well as the chemical elements, are all developed through a complex cyclic progression of seven planetary stages, linked together via "rounds" and "chains," culminating in the spiritualization of all matter in the universe. At a glance, it may seem these two conceptual models, separated by years of history, have little to do with one another. Yet as I argue in this paper, the contemporary ideas of transhumanists share the logics of turn-of-the-century theosophists and theosophically informed esoteric groups, albeit in a reductive, materialistic, and technologically deterministic mode. Both intellectual expressions are anchored in a historical context awash in new forms of technology and scientific advancement and therefore share in the utopic hopes and apocalyptic nightmares about the transformation of human bodies and human consciousness. To highlight these similarities, I use three case studies: the Temple of the People in Halcyon, California; the prognostications of Rudolf Steiner's Anthroposophical Society; and G. I. Gurdjieff's notion of the "machine man". These case studies point to a link between the logics and use of metaphors in esotericism and transhumanism – the one religious, the other scientific – as well as the application of evolutionary principles to the developing stages of human consciousnesses and the cosmos.