Two Abuses of the Renaissance Sage’s Eros-Magic: Part 1. Hermes T. vs. Aristotle: What is the Origin of Transhumanism?


Two Abuses of the Renaissance Sage: 1. Hermes vs. Aristotle: What is the Origin of Transhumanism?

       Many conspiriologists, following writer Michael A. Hoffman, like to kick around the phrase “the alchemical processing of the masses,” and claim to see the claw-prints of ancient secret societies on all contemporary pop culture and political events. Hoffman and others like Alex Jones rant about the Masonic/Illuminati programming that readies us for the “it shall be” and “it must be” of transhumanism, which is the ultimate goal of the secret scheme: to make humans into gods (and others apparently into food for those gods).

The use of alchemy and magic as descriptors is not metaphor to these people. Although it’s easy to draw a parallel between the CIA-Pentagon’s secret body augmentation/mind control/propaganda labs and that of the alchemist or magician, many like Hoffman go further and posit that events such as the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 are “alchemical psychodramas” meant to traumatize and imprint mind control schemas upon the American soul.

Judging by what passes for “the truth,” what once were genuinely “fringe” beliefs 25 years ago has become a paranoid worldview for perhaps millions of Americans.

The origination for these ideas goes back millennia. We could speak of the anti-Mason movements of the mid-19th century, or Adam Weishaupt’s Bavarian Illuminati conspiracies of the 1760s-90s, but the genesis of psychological imprinting/priming of which Hoffman and others speak is supposedly ancient, and originates in the Mysteries that emerged from the Neolithic.



Its modern incarnation encompasses the past six centuries. As the story goes, the humanism of the Italian Renaissance originated in rediscovered ancient texts that spurred a revival in “natural philosophy”—a concept which grew to encompass a double meaning, science and magic.

This new learning eventually superseded the Scholastic model of the universe used in the Roman Catholic monasteries. In the 1460-80s, the Florentine Medici family bought and translated the ancient Greek texts obtained from scholars fleeing the sacked Byzantine capital, Constantinople. This influx had a double effect: some of the texts bolstered belief in the existence of angels, that had already been codified for the Catholic masses by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and his study of Pseudo-Dionysius’s The Celestial Hierarchy.

But some of the new texts also laid the foundation for undermining ten centuries of Nicaean doctrines. The Aristotelian-Dionysian classifications that informed the medieval “Great Chain of Being” doctrine—that a naturally hierarchical cosmos had been created only once, ex nihilo, by God—were especially affected by these textual discoveries.[1]


       In opposition to the Aristotelian scheme, Plato’s mysticism was strengthened by new, independent sources via the Egyptian/Hellenistic Hermetica that the Medici purchased. The texts raised Plato’s Egyptian-Pythagorean theogony to a near-unimpeachable status in intellectual circles. Scholars had found the Catena Aurea (Golden Chain).[2] This was the esoteric lore concerning self-transformation and transcendence that had been passed down from adepts from the time of ancient Egypt.

The figure of the sage Hermes Trismegistus symbolized this tradition. The Greek/Arabic Hermetic writings purchased by the Medici family book-buyers were, over the next century, translated and elucidated by Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, and Tommaso Campanella.

Opposing the dominant Roman Catholic-Aristotelian view of creation, these scholars came to view humanity as unfinished as opposed to fallen from a paradise (Pico entirely abandoned this view and recanted, but was put to death nevertheless for heresy).

The Hermetic tracts Poimandres and Asclepius that had been discovered proclaim that it is possible that humanity may become “whole beings” and possess powers co-equal with God. Pico wrote his Oration on the Dignity of Man in 1486 using this idea; the tract is a blueprint for secular humanism, albeit through a mix of Neoplatonism and a proto-existentialism.[3] Humanity’s Golden Age existed in the remote past, yet processes for achieving apotheosis were still available by using theurgic ritual to channel the stars’ and planets’ energies and evoke daimonic assistance in the task.


       Ficino developed a Christianized Hermeticism, while Pico chose a Jewish-Christian Kabbalistic method for humanity’s return to Godhood. Giordano Bruno entirely rejected the Christian worldview in favor of Egyptian alchemical/astrological religion. In 1600 the Inquisition torched him believing in an endless universe populated by innumerable worlds—or at least consensus history views it so.

There is much more to the reasons for his execution.

Essential to Ficino and Bruno’s view were the ideas of imbuing images in one’s imagination with vast emotional and psychic force, binding them to the unconscious and one’s anima (soul). Ficino viewed Eros as the prima materia or ever-present element behind all phenomena; this belief became near-dogma for the Florentine Academy of 15th and 16th century.

Eros may be characterized as the resting state of ensoulled beings; all living things possess an unconscious “self-love” that causes them to act in self-preservation in myriad ways and through sexual passion both heighten one’s sense of being and “reproduce” the self.

But for humans, sexual Eros can be very dangerous. The ancients’ conception of spirit (pneuma, “breath”) was axiomatic to Ficino’s magic; pneuma was the medium through which visual impressions passed. Drawing upon the Greek Stoics’s idea that the cosmos was all pneuma in varying degrees of tension, the individual’s hegemonikon (heart/governing principle) vibrated a pneumatic beam to its object(s) and “bound” itself with it/them. This created an impression upon the hegemonikon/heart that at times could be an eidetic image (phantasia kataleptike) of the object. These images could then be imbued, according to Ficino, with very strong mental and emotional “chains of association,” increasing the images’ (phantasia) power within the soul. Eros is normally conceived as the life-force/drive, and acts in everything from sexual vigor to sublimated forms of energy that lead to the creation of art and society’s structures.

The very effortlessness of sexual attraction is a signature that it is primordial Eros magic. The visual impressions of the beloved remain, unbidden but active, in the mind. Here they can be transformed into a higher Eros or fester into complete obsession. A very dangerous situation indeed; we think of “crimes of passion” and the extreme phenomenon of narcissism, a hegemonic-image that has unconsciously made of the world an extension of its damaged self and demands constant recognition of that self. This “black magic” is done by individuals who are spiritually lost and cannot recognize how their own hegemonikon has been captured by images of its own feeding/making. As scholar Ioan Couliano points out,

Circulating through the same pneumatic passage in which contagion of the blood is spread are images that, in the mirror of common sense, are changed into phantasms. When Eros is at work, the phantasm of the loved object leads its own existence, all the more disquieting because it exerts a kind of vampirism on the subject’s other phantasms and thoughts. It is a morbid distention of its activity which, in its results, can be called both concentration and possession: concentration, because the subject’s entire inner life is reduced to contemplation of one phantasm only; possession, because this phantasmic monopoly is involuntary and its collateral influence over the subject’s psychosomatic condition is highly deleterious.

       Interestingly, the love object plays a secondary role in the process of establishing the phantasm: it is only a pretext, not a real presence. The true object, omnipresent, of Eros is the phantasm, which has taken permanent possession of the spiritual mirror. Now, this phantasm represents a perceived image that has gone beyond the threshold of consciousness, but the reason it has assumed such obsessional dimensions lies in the deepest part of the individual unconscious. We do not love another object, a stranger to ourselves, Ficino thinks (Amore, VI, 6), thus anticipating the analytic psychology of Carl Jung. We are enamored of an unconscious image.[4]


       But Eros is a malleable force as well and can be channeled to many uses. We can all understand these dynamics, how the beloved “infects” the imagination of the lover. As Couliano points out, the beloved can become far more than is “presented” by the simple reality of their presence. Active imagination is always at work, whether conscious or not. The unconscious may take over, leading to obsession that may entirely swallow the personality and lead to madness, the heroic fury of heightened existence:

“(Ficino writes) The lover carves into his soul the model of the beloved. In that way, the soul of the lover becomes the mirror in which the image of the loved one is reflected”….That entails rather a complicated dialectic of love, in which the object is changed into the subject, ousting the subject who, tormented by the anxiety of prospective annihilation due to being deprived of his state as subject, desperately claims the right to a form of existence.

       The phantasm that monopolizes the soul is the image of an object. Now, since man is soul, and since soul is totally occupied by a phantasm, the phantasm is henceforth the soul. It follows that the subject, bereft of his soul, is no longer a subject: the phantasmic vampire has devoured it internally. But it also follows that the subject has now grafted itself onto the phantasm which is the image of the other, of the beloved. Metaphorically, therefore, it can be said that the subject has been changed into the object of his love.[5]

What results is obsession with an internalized, living image of the anima or animus that is always existent within the soul but now finitized, active, and intensified.

At a deeper level, there is a dialectic to this narcissism. The self’s inner image of itself is incomplete, because it does not “possess” that love object (that non-self or other) for which it yearns.[6] But in Couliano’s sense the “Western” ego/self unconsciously senses it must not ever possess it, for that would be utter self-destruction, given that the other must have autonomy in order to embody its numinous nature. This autonomy would be denied it were it assimilated or fully possessed by the ego. On the other hand, the other is apotheosized, elevated precisely because of its numinous nature. So instead of attaining it directly, the ego/self must be transformed to become worthy of this “object” infecting its inner landscape; the self must become more than it presently is in order even to meet it. This requires a synthesis, and that synthesis may be achieved through theurgy and magic. This internal ideal is, in both alchemy and magic, an asexual being because it is beyond the mundane embodiment in “given,” incomplete creation. By means of a sort of secular via negativa, we could say the human ideal is not mortal, not intellectually limited, not prone to disease, not prone to sin, not gendered, not sexed, not limited by 5 senses, etc.—all the qualities of the human, all-too-human. With this erasure comes the birth of a new being with unimagined (and perhaps unimaginable) qualities. It follows in a positive sense from that it would exist beyond the laws of physics, including perhaps time’s arrow and the entropy the arrow signifies, etc.

The problem is, as always, the supposed mind-body or spirit-matter split and how one aspect of our being affects the other one. The Renaissance sages, following their Neoplatonic forebears, found a way around this apparent contradiction.

As Ficino and Bruno learned by studying the ancient texts, a magician could use this natural procedure of Erotic fixation, amplify it with intense concentrated meditations, then reverse it and imbue physical objects such as talismans, amulets, candles, shields, pens, or paintings with this emotional/psychic power.

By these means Ficino and Bruno revived the ancient tradition of statue-animation. This, too, used angelic/astrological/planet-invoking processes, most of which date back to Sumeria, Akkadia, Babylon, and Egypt—and probably long before.[7] A transmission route can be traced from Egyptian funerary and resurrection practices on through Hebraic merkavah and hekhalot (“throne” and “chariot”) meditations to Iamblichus’s Neoplatonist theurgy and into the magic revived by Ficino; at least they all share a very strong family resemblance. All involved invoking angels/daimons, ethereal beings that inhabited both the physical world and the liminal space between the physical and the incorporeal. Eros binds them all together, and becomes the clay in the magician’s hands. The sages exploited the liminal realm, the third term, the penumbral that resists Aristotle’s excluded middle and rigid classificatory systems. Humanity’s finite nature and incompleteness becomes something amenable to transformation.

For the most part, the Florentine Academy’s “Christianized” hermetics was entirely in line with the goals of Iamblichean, Platonic, Hebraic, and Pythagorean practice: to contact the higher worlds via the daimons/angels, uplift the human practitioner of magic, and gain a vision of or even henosis (subsumption) with God. To imbue a statue with celestial/stellar energies was to create both an object of contemplation and, more importantly, a launching point for absorption to the higher spheres.

These procedures, along with those outlined in the Arabic grimoire Picatrix and remnants of the 5th-Century Greek Magical Papyri, were gathered in Cornelis Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531), which remains the largest compendium of Neoplatonic magic ever written.

And of course, statue-animation (i.e., idolatry) and binding spells that involve daimons are the foundation from which the Abrahamic religions censure all forms of magic (except that of the miracles inspired by Jesus and Mary in Catholic Christianity’s case, and those of the Talmudic sages in mystical Kabbalism). The ancient Hebrews censured depictions of YHVH and speaking the name of God; Muhammad went further and condemned even depictions of human beings as sacrilegious. But in Judaism we find the mystical traditions of Kabbalah and a representation of the All as the Tree of Life, and in the latter we discover many Platonically-inspired geometric designs on mosques and illuminated Quran/hadith texts, as well as the Arabic script itself as being divinely imbued.



Then there was the alchemical tradition. When these tracts were disseminated in Latin it gave emotional impetus and new material for the lone magicians and alchemists to practice “hidden arts.” Although it is an ancient global project, the Westernized varieties of alchemy are concerned with attaining the “Philosopher’s Stone.” The consensus view is that this amounted to achieving the elixir vitae, or immortality for the human soul/spirit of the practitioner through chemical/pharmacological means, or through the production of a kind of spiritual substance within the alchemist’s body that preserved itself. Central to the alchemist’s view also is the idea of a prima materia; what we see around us are merely emanations, mixtures, or “masks” of this singular substance.[8] The four elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire and the base metals/materials of which they are comprised in varying degrees could be wedded together to produce quintessence, a fifth element that possessed the desired emergent properties, one quality of which is indestructibility because it “shares more closely in the nature of the prima materia” of which everything is ultimately made. Metals were considered double-natured, because they could be melted to liquid and fused together. Mercury was “king of the metals” because it naturally possessed both solid and liquid properties and an inherent coherence even when separated into drops of any size. No other element had this quality, so mercury was of central importance in transmutations.

Alchemy means controlling the processes of change, whether it’s transforming elements through a hierarchy of levels by manipulating spiritual essences, or changing the consciousness of the practitioner’s biological processes and ultimately their aging process.[9] The most elaborate alchemical procedures involved the practitioner observing astrological strictures and undergoing ritual purification before the Great Work proceeded. As with Ficino’s and Bruno’s image-magic, specific planets’ and stars’ powers were invoked for specific operations. The goal was not only to affect bio/chemical change but alter the spiritual essence of the elements by way of the alchemists’ will and the “gods” of the elements they used—putting them in service to the alchemist.

Secrecy was always imperative to ancient, medieval, and Renaissance sage alike. The rabble was not only considered unworthy of such knowledge, it was feared that the secular use of such techniques could be disastrous (and for the same reason, the secular authorities feared and condemned the alchemist, who theoretically could mint as many gold coins as desired, debasing the currency). So purity is a quality consistently stressed throughout the tradition, which is achieved through prayer, fasting, chastity, and cleanliness. The magician-alchemist dealt with angels and demons, spirits and elementals, demigods and gods. Opening portals to the higher or lower worlds was serious business.[10]

This did not prevent adepts from organizing themselves into secret societies and using particular rituals to psychologically affect individuals (which was the goal of most of the rituals of the Greek Magical Papyri and many Solomonic magical texts). It was a small step to believe the same processes could also be used to transform humanityif not in its material bodies, then in its emotions, thinking, opinions, and social relations. This is the central tenet to conspiracists’ views on the matter.

It is certain that Giordano Bruno and the Rosicrucian tracts of 1614 boosted this societal prospect. As Couliano points out, Bruno’s essay “On Binding in General” (or “On the Chaining of Chains”) describes how the magician can manipulate the pneuma-images absorbed by both individuals and groups to do their bidding through sympathies and the prima materia of Eros.[11] Carl Jung believed transformation of the practitioner’s soul via individuation (the conscious incorporation of its repressed complexes) was alchemy’s ultimate goal, if only unconsciously for the alchemist, through the materials and rituals.[12]

What is the difference between a magician bending a single person’s will to theirs, and the Erotic channeling of a crowd or a nation’s collective will to the ends of a mad Elite? Or the creation of a manikin through astral influence and charging? These practices are only a few steps away from robotics, artificial intelligence, or the creation of MKULTRA “zombies” after all—right? It only requires the adjustment of outlook from magic’s spiritual power to a hardcore physicalist stance. The same ends by other means. Or does it?

Perhaps we should ask the wizards of Madison Avenue, and the AI gurus of MIT, DARPA, and Alphabet?


       When we combine the ideas of Ficino and Bruno’s Eros magic with the alchemical program, plus a scientific-humanist Elite bent on transforming our concept of the “human,” we get the paranoid belief-system to which millions subscribe today. Couliano alluded to this in his book in a very oblique manner (and some say that was why he was mysteriously murdered).

Although many conspiriologists see alchemy and its life-extension goals as the philosophical and practical beginning of transhumanism—and we can see how this is at least a possible rationalization—it is only plausible because of the physical aspects to its program, i.e. transmuting the elements, and by analogy transmutation (or perhaps just mutation) of the alchemist’s body, whether it be for longevity or the gaining of “superhuman” powers…By extension, according to the conspiracists’ thinking, the process implies a long-term project to transform humanity as a whole into another kind of being, as imagined spiritually in the writings of the 15th-16th century Florentine Academy and implied in the Rosicrucian tracts of 1614-18.

The Rosicrucian writings describe their members as “invisible healers.” In addition to healing diseases in the manner of shaman-physicians (by accessing the “otherworld” for help), these mystic physicians could be said to be performing theurgistic feats to convert their patients into adherents to their “new religion,” and set them on the path to spiritual perfection. This is called “perfectibility,” and its practitioners Perfectibilists.[13]


       The principles and structure of the first Freemasonic Grand Lodge of England chartered in 1717 would expand outward throughout Europe and America. The organization preserved both the esoterica of the Renaissance/Rosicrucian alchemists such as Heinrich Khunrath, Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, and John Dee, but also material from “Solomonic” grimoires; the latters’ contents can be traced back to the Egyptian-Greek magic papyri of the 2nd century CE via the Hygromanteia.[14] Many groups split off from this Grand Lodge and there’s evidence that Masonic fraternities far predated its 1717 public establishment. The fraternity’s secrecy spawned rumors of concealed atheism and political machinations. The former charge is entirely spurious, but the latter is true to an extent (as far as the German chapters go). As the empirical sciences spread, the “science of the spirit” was taught by degrees in the Lodges; a man could thus be a scientist by day and a mystical epopt by night.

This double-face is what brought the Lodges under public censure, despite the fact that freedom of worship was a core Freemasonic tenet and the dignity of humanity as free beings, first expounded by Pico della Mirandola in Florence, was the underlying ethos of the American and French Revolutions. The connection between the Florentine “free thinkers” and the Masons’s beliefs vis a vis the struggles against monarchy and arbitrary tyranny cannot be under-stressed.

Although Masonry’s goal is to spiritually transform its members, primarily in the death/rebirth rituals of the first three grades of Master Apprentice, many scholars see Freemasonry as an extension of Rosicrucianism, or as Rosicrucianism’s evolved form, or an alternate public front for a very secret society. The great financial wealth of many of its members and their philanthropic activities, which include the underwriting/endowing of think-tanks and medical programs (some with an openly transhumanist bent) is seen by conspiriologists as proof of the long-term project to transform certain members of society into what amounts to demigods; all the transhuman research is done “under cover” of extending existing medical techniques to relieve existing diseases.

What can actually be accomplished with secret medicine goes much further, these conspiricists say, pointing to NIH, DARPA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the thousands of subcontracted medical research facilities across the globe.

But we have a problem here with distinguishing between a) the existence of a secret program, which undoubtedly openly exists as “normal science” looking to cure disease and slow the aging process, b) the technological means to carry it out, which is equally probable, c) the psychological motivation of its technical practitioners, i.e., are they covertly bound to certain institutions and expected to deliver certain results for select clients? d) and most importantly, the end-purpose of such a program.

As the techniques of nanotechnology and genetic manipulation mature, they may move from quantitative organic changes to qualitative changes, as explored in my previous essays. When humans begin toying with the molecule and the chromosome and the gene we are dealing with very unpredictable results and a range of unintended consequences—just like our toying with the atom did. Market forces supposedly ensure that delivery of new medical miracles to the public be swift and uncluttered by moral subtleties…But of course it never happens that way, does it: recouping R & D costs is always given as the reason for astronomical prices for new treatments, despite the fact that in most cases taxpayer dollars were used to fund such studies through government NIH subcontracting.[15] Only the super-rich can afford the most avant-garde treatments that cost millions a year to deliver. Religious-conservative members of the American Congress are rhetorically outraged over the use of embryonic stem cells in disease research, etc., but the secular humanist/transhumanist subtext is that we must have no illusions that other countries, namely China[16] possess no such scruples as we do, and they will be the ones to push ahead in the biological race to immortality. If you doubt, consider this:

But to give the conspiracists some weak credit: Excluding the popularity of Shelley’s Frankenstein, what by the early 20th century was a marginal literary genre called science/speculative fiction has now become a 360-degree cultural bestiary. In other words, at this point transhumanist propaganda of all degrees of acceptance or critique is ubiquitous, and has almost “normalized” visions of a future humanity that just five decades ago would have been considered horror shows.

No doubt humans are intrinsically fascinated with our abilities to magically change our selves, our destinies, our capabilities—and equally fascinated with our penchant to fuck up everything we touch. Culture has reflected this from the beginning of recorded history in myth and history. So, according to the conspiriologists, the body-augmentation work goes on in secret military and private sector labs whose fingerprints are seen in published papers that do get mainstream coverage: DARPA works on “supersoldiers” who possess pharma (and possibly genetic) alterations for enhanced hearing and vision and drugs that can keep them awake for days without deleterious effects.[17] Since World War Two, arms races both real and ginned-up have been the norm between the US military industrial complex and other countries. The armed forces are always the beneficiary of breakthroughs because “national security” ensures the Pentagon and its vast network of subcontracted labs and university research receives billions to further their secretive aims.

In any case, this split between viewpoints on the original source of transhumanism seems to depend on how one views humanity: as a finished product, set for all time (as the Abrahamic religions and Aristotle’s Lyceum academy saw it) or unfinished/able to transcend by its own efforts the physical, mental, and spiritual bonds entailed by our “thrownness” into the world, as Plato, the Neoplatonists, and Florentine Academy saw it. One professing creation ex nihilo by God will see humanity as the property of God; one seeing emanation as the human matrix will see us as properties of God, blinded and unable to change our state of existence without special and hidden knowledge and techniques.


Generally, humanism came to mean the belief that humanity can be studied, and through that study, its behavior altered to conform to a “higher ideal” of its own choosing.

       Who does this choosing for the masses is another matter.

Secularism became synonymous with a rejection of any power perceived as higher than humanity’s intellect and aspirations, as seen in the Enlightenment’s philosophes and science’s embargo on morality in favor of “value-free” research. It is in this wider sense that transhumanism is defined—but we must never lose sight of the source of this vision of improvement or perfectibility in the alchemists’ visions.

The alchemists’ quest to “return to the cosmic origin” is a noble one. The creative, eternal force of God/Tao/Ungrund still exists, shattered by embodied nature into the “ten thousand things” of Lao Tse, or Jewish alchemist Maria the Prophetess’s axiom “from the one comes two, from the two the three, and from the three, the all (completion).”

The alchemist and Neoplatonist seek reunion with the One by various reversal and reuniting procedures for vision, guidance, and elevation, an intensification of being, a heightened sense of interdependence and connection with the Creator and Creation. In this, alchemy is ultimately a spiritual program in which salvation from the bonds of materiality may be said to be the goal—and not particularly the augmentation of the body’s existence.

No such lofty program exists for the transhumanist, it seems, except more—more of everything, pleasurable experience, edification, learning! Perhaps in their extended longevity and enhanced mind they will stumble across the reality of the eternal, a preexisting condition that operates always and everywhere, encoded into the cosmos’ very fabric. One can only hope.



[1] The ethical concerns of the resurrected “pagan” philosophers allowed morality to be purged of supernatural origin. Instead, with the “new instruments” of skepticism and Socrates/Plato’s elenchus, nature’s workings could be revealed through observation, experimentation, and logic. By the 18th century, the French philosophes promoted the idea that humanity alone possessed the means and methods to determine its behavior and morality and the scope of its knowledge.

[2] Strictly, this name refers to St. Thomas’s exegesis on the four gospels; but Thomas was himself an adept and alchemist, and it has come to mean an occult tradition passed down though time.

[3] Three centuries later, G.F.W. Hegel would extract a “dialectical movement” from natural and human history that would supposedly end in self-transparent Spirit—and the Prussian democratic state. His student Feuerbach would strip theology from the Hegelian equations, creating the philosophical bridge that allowed Marx to build his materialist story of human cultural evolution. In all three eschatologies, the emancipation of humanity from nature was destined to occur, whether by Spirit coming to itself or the dawning consciousness of the workers’ conditions and their rectification (in Marx’s case). All of these end scenarios are dark reflections of the popular but theologically irregular monk Joachim de Fiore’s vision of an Earthly Paradise under divine love (the Age of the Holy Spirit) that he espoused in the 13th century.

[4] Couliano, Ioan. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance, University of Chicago Press, 1987, pgs. 30-31.

[5] ibid, pg. 31.

[6] You might say human history is the story of how we fill this lack, over and above the meeting of material needs; the monk and nun seek communion with the transcendent by any name, the shaman fulfills the spiritual needs of the community by the results of their astral journeys,

[7] These formalized procedures most likely originated with prehistoric shamanistic animation of dolls constructed for healing or harming purposes.

[8] This brings us to the Neoplatonists’s many formulations of reality, which is why alchemy is tied up with ancient Egypt by way of Plato’s supposed initiation there, and the Neoplatonist’s obsession with a “ladder” of being one could ascend to achieve the One.

[9] The most ancient forms of alchemy were Chinese and were concerned with exiles for longevity sought by emperors. See Levenda, Peter, Stairway to Heaven: Chinese Alchemists, Jewish Kabbalists, and the Art of Spiritual Transformation.

[10] I suppose they viewed their secret knowledge as akin to the blueprints for a hydrogen bomb circa 1930, as if Leo Szilard, Teller, Einstein, and Fermi had concealed from governments through (seeming) absurd symbolic codes the method for building the heinous device.

[11] Couliano, (1987), pgs. 87-143

[12] It is also possible that the chemical fumes that were produced as a byproduct (barring those that would damage or kill of course) induced altered states of consciousness in the alchemist and, by way of the psychokinetic powers unleashed, assisted in the physical transformations of the prima materia.

[13] This was the name used by the 18th-century Bavarian Illuminati sect under the Jesuit Mason Adam Weishaupt, but it has gained traction as a term for anyone sporting the attitude of limitless change for humanity through technology, whether physical or spiritual.

[14] See the works of Stephen Skinner on the history of the Solomonic tradition.

[15] See Dr. Marcia Angell’s The Truth About the Drug Companies: How they Deceive Us and What to Do About It for the full story of medical-industrial complex chicanery.

[16] The very land where alchemy is said to have originated during the unification of the first Chinese state by Tai Yu the Great in the 20th century BCE.

Hello, Ray, do you read me? Do you read me, Ray?

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       Google’s head futurist Ray Kurzweil, like Hans Moravec and many other transhumanists, goes on and on about one day digitizing and uploading his consciousness into a computer. But it’s highly unlikely to happen in the way he imagines.

Let’s use an extreme example: Ray Kurzweil by way of Victor Frankenstein. By “one free miracle” Ray’s consciousness has been successfully uploaded to an AI. His deceased body is frozen but samples of his DNA are preserved for the eventual “perfecting” of cloning techniques. His digitized mind has conversed for a century with fellow transhumanist scientists via a speaker box. He has had a library of information integrated with his “mind,” allowing him to solve many problems—mostly about how to get the hell out of this box of electrons and into a human form again. He finds the solution. His colleagues have finally been able to grow from his 100 year-old DNA a “perfect” specimen, a biological version of Ray Kurzweil into which his consciousness will be, by a “second free miracle,” copied and downloaded from the AI.

The clone, Ray 2, reaches the age of 21. By this time Ray 2’s neural systems have grown to an optimal level to receive Ray 1’s “mind.”

But this clone has acquired an entirely different set of life experiences than Ray 1. Perhaps he enjoys living his life just this way, without an overwriting of the knowledge and experiences he has uniquely gained.

Seeing this possible outcome ahead of time, perhaps until majority he has been sheltered from life, kept in a state of induced hibernation in nutrient-rich chemicals to prepare the way for the Great Implanting.

Right here there are ethical problems, of course. Barring the tremendous neurological difficulties to be surmounted in keeping a growing body in stasis, and more importantly brain, in optimal functioning while in suspended animation, what right do these scientists and the disembodied Ray have in inflicting a rewiring/reprogramming of Ray 2’s brain? Is he not, in an existential sense, the same as Ray’s monozygotic twin brother born more than a century later, and subject to the right to choose whether he accepts his photonic “brother’s” experiences and cognitive capabilities?

To be clearer: Can Ray Kurzweil 1, since he “owns” his own DNA, give consent to have a copy of his DNA, grown to personhood at a different place and time, subjected to the downloaded experiences of his original body?

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       Foreseeing this ethical thicket, let’s say Ray 1 will be compelled to have a battery of twins created, hoping one will freely accept the downloading. So let’s say one of them freely chooses to have their experiences overwritten/augmented by Ray 1’s life and thoughts. A preparation protocol is used to increase biological Ray 5’s neuronal connections to a level comparable to the mature, 30 year-old Ray 1. Perhaps a transition program is used to incrementally acclimatize Ray 5 to Ray 1’s intellect and memories, and vice versa. There may be several outcomes:

a. Ray 1’s copied consciousness will not be able to adapt to this new body due to some unforeseen medical complication. It will become a prisoner in a recalcitrant body. The period spent as zillions of ones and zeroes will have fundamentally changed Ray 1’s relation to and sense of embodiment. Ray 1’s consciousness will reject the embodiment in Ray 5, like an organ transplant is rejected. He will be screwed—a homunculus consciousness inside a physical being who may disobey his wishes. Not unlike a person with Dissociated Identity Disorder, Ray 5 will struggle with Ray 1 almost constantly. Advanced “smart drugs” may be able to chemically keep Ray 1’s (or Ray 5’s) “will” at bay, but this will hardly be a happy existence for either.

AI Ray will say, let’s try again….

b. Let’s say there is a super-advanced transition program that will acclimatize Ray 1 back into an embodied existence. Even still, this new body of Ray 5 occupies a different existence, a distinct timeline in space-time than his original 170-year old shell. Ray 5’s body has been exposed to different cosmic conditions—radiation levels, electromagnetic fields, nutrients, environmental toxins and consequent immunities, etc. Ray 5’s body is a holistic product of and at equilibrium with the interaction between his genes and the future environment, just as Ray 1’s body was 170 years ago. Ray 5’s body may, despite the preparation, reject the superimposed neuronal changes as a body rejects a transplant, as in A. This may be taken into consideration early on, and all of the clones’ lives lived in conditions as close as possible to simulating the conditions of Ray 1’s world—that of the world, generally, 170 years ago. There still may be laws as yet unknown that “fix” a person’s life conditions into a set of parameters that cannot be altered by the addition of something as complex as another person’s life experiences.

c. The downloading may be successful—at first. There may be eventual catastrophic decline or disruption to Ray 5’s cognitive or bodily functions, as in “Flowers for Algernon.” Nature always has tricks and fail-safes up her embroidered sleeves.

d. Indulging a variant of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic resonance conjecture, Ray 5 may actually naturally develop along the lines of Ray 1 both physically and mentally, and may even remember bits of his first embodiment. There may be a sort of memory encoded in the epigenetic changes Ray 1 went through in his 70+ years of life, and these left traces that unfolded in Ray 5’s development. This would make easier the superimposition of Ray 1’s consciousness.

e. The transplant may be entirely successful. Ray 5 will now become Ray 1 again at 21 years old, and Ray 5’s experiences integrated into him. With life-extension drugs having been perfected, he could live to 200 years old, until the next uploading/downloading occurs into another new body.

Additionally, perhaps computer engineers of the future (with AI Ray’s prodigious help) will be able to “perfect” an artificial body for him modeled entirely upon the reverse-entropic biological processes inherent in living beings. It will have a blank slate of artificial neural networks equaling the complexity (and perhaps copying) that of Ray’s organic brain. In this case, the download of AI Ray’s consciousness into this biomechanical manikin would seem more plausibly effective.

Again, the same results may happen on the AI Ray’s re-embodiment end: A single unforeseen glitch in translation could ripple through the system causing a crash; the interface may not achieve a robustness that allows his control of the “nervous system” and affect the autonomic systems. Back to the electron-stream.

The only way to know if any of this is possible, according to Kurzweil, is to try.

These are all assumptions based solely on a materialist/physicalist worldview.


A magnetic recording is an analog phenomena; the tape captures almost every sound vibration in the vicinity of a microphone by directly imprinting (interrupting) the steady magnetic field with a complex of wave­ signatures upon its surface. A digital recording on the other hand electronically “samples” the incoming vibrations thousands of times a second and reproduces it through a string of pulses represented as sets of ones and zeroes for each frequency or set of frequencies.

The analog recording concept theoretically applies to everything we can mentally perceive—a continuum of smooth, interdependent activity. But the scale of a phenomena or “bracketed” event matters when we describe it this way; we could call everything from the chemical elements and the larger biological forms they make up (like catalysts) analog forms, while a different conception of form exists at the subatomic level. Physicist Max Planck’s idea of a quantized change in energy from one state to another in electrons and photons implies discontinuities on this small scale, and this what is he meant by quantum—a self-­limited quantity.

But does the discontinuous “nature” or quality of this scale make subatomic events amenable to digital/binary modeling—and eventual copying—as Kurzweil and many transhumanist neuroscientists believe?

I don’t think so. Binary operations play a part in consciousness, but the larger chemical systems and organism in which they are embedded mediate the dualistic on­off processes of neuronal activity. Neurons considered from the quantum level function within a “flowing” analog environment of interdependence (and are subject to signal/noise degradation). The neuronal “fired/not fired” states cannot be viewed separate from the larger­scale systems. Every dendrite­-axon-synapse combination in the brain—trillions of them packed together—sits in a soup of chemicals and electrical impulses that defy quantization in their complexity. Our fastest and most yottabyte­heavy parallel processing computer systems still don’t come close to the complexity level of the brain. And they never will.

Transformation of the “analog phenomena” of an individual’s subjective sense of self into a digitized form seems to be the core of this kind of transhumanist project (although there are those who propose that there could be a “neutral substrate” made of purely disembodied information that can be translated and introduced into any type of form—silicon, crystals, light, liquids, even gases—and still meet a criteria of conscious and contain one’s “personality).[1] Claims that biological processes can not only be modeled as globally digital functions, but are digital phenomena are most often made with respect to neuron/synapse activity in the brain—but this is merely a specific metaphor run amok. But the use of metaphor has a history. It goes all the way back to the split between mind (soul) and body Descartes conjectured in his First Meditations; it is the idea that the biological half is purely mechanistic, like a clock.

One unspoken, perhaps unconscious core tactic of the transhumanist outlook—and even certain fields of science as a whole—is to remap the connection between a natural phenomena (origination) and a technological­-instrumental device (simulation), then reinscribe this established connection into another social domain by means of a handy metaphor.

The first phase is the simple one­ to­ one metaphor, as noted above with Descartes: biology is like, or mimics, a clockwork/machine.

As our machines have increased in complexity, and computing moved from analog to digital, allowing a thousandfold increase in power, it allowed modeling of biological systems and further, the possibility of seeing equivalence between the two.

Thus at the second phase, the metaphorical arrow of signification is double-headed and equalized: biology is no less and no more than a digital phenomenon. Thus the grounds for reversing the metaphorical signification are made possible. The ur-metaphor begins to shape the thinking of practitioners in cognitive science, neurology, and AI, then in a wide variety of disciplines—and can limit true thinking on a society­wide scale, be it from neuroscience to political science, from physics to economics, or from biology to sociology. The new “truth” begins to dominate thinking to such an extant as to obscure its origination point in the natural phenomena from whence it came. In this case, the latter has already been “enframed” into the condition Martin Heidegger called “standing reserve”—something whose tangible, unique, existence as an existent is “invisible” but is yet used as an instrument or commodity for a human, or humanity.

Here’s a specific example: a scientist or philosopher is discussing sensory systems or thought processes—the eye or the ear, and the brain’s operation—and casually reverses the arrow of signification on us the readers:

“The eye is a remarkable optical instrument.”


“The brain parallel­ processes a billion synaptic firings a second in its computation and algorithmic input-output.”

Such seemingly innocuous statements, made repeatedly over the course of the article or book, can gently abuse the “metaphor” until we begin to actually conceive the eye as an optical device or the brain as a computer. We then conceptualize the eye as a kind of device that evolved for the specific purpose of seeing. This is a wrong way to characterize it. “Seeing” as a phenomenon takes place within and is only a part of consciousness; consciousness includes the contents of “that which is seen.” The scientist’s narrow focus on a holistic event, as phenomenologists have attested, cannot be separated from the entire act of seeing. The “act of seeing” must be “bracketed” by the scientist as a specific type of biological activity limited solely to the mechanics of the eye for them to get away with the reversal. The boundaries of the act of seeing cannot be delimited as we commonly understand existence; we may use the term in a variety of ways, as related to visual phenomena or, as was explained by Plato, a metaphor to comprehend something abstractly. “Seeing” and “seeing-as,” as the Heidegger of Being and Time might have put it, are primordial to human being in any given situation, all situations of which defy conceptualization.

This is a difficult conceptual difference to convey, but it is vitally important. So let’s take a robotic example. An artificial device that is structurally identical to the eye will perform the function of translating photons striking an “outer appearance” and bouncing into its iris into identical patterns on an “inner screen” or representation of whatever impinges upon its outer surface—and its fidelity to those patterned photons is our standard of how well it performs its job as an eye (this “inner screen” or “theater stage” is the poor metaphor we have, by default, used for centuries). Yet we as observers of the overall isolated “seeing” system of the device have no way of fully measuring the originating phenomena at which it “looks”—the pattern of photons external to it that it is “looking at,” and the human eye’s own ability to encompass this same external area—to have a criteria of identity that is as exact and unambiguous as our scientist­writer would have us believe. Such a criteria of fidelity is entirely rough and depends, like it or not, on quantum phenomena in the eye, the optical center of the brain, and the “outer” world conceived as a bounded system subject to probability. The artificial eye we have constructed and are observing is an isolated system with reference only to capturing the patterned photons. Its fidelity and “what it makes of the scene” can in no way be known.

On a cultural level, this reversal of signification is taken as a given. It is deployed/disseminated from one discipline or profession of discourse into another and thus begins to shape the thinking of society on a wide scale.

Concepts from neuroscience find their way into politics, from business management to journalism, from biology to music, etc. None of this metaphor-making is wrong, per se; it is just that we should not literally believe any of it as real. The web of metaphors that is created is one that concretely literalizes them over time, and make their origination as metaphors a “trace” only, or effaced entirely.

It is quite possible that in time we will not be able to think outside our metaphors. Certainly it seems that scientists like Kurzweil cannot.

This is the situating matrix of transhumanist thought. It’s a short step from viewing biology as akin to “clockwork gears” to viewing it as a digital computing phenomenon. Everyone from neuroscientists to psychologists to physicists love to say Descartes’s radical dualism is dead, but it’s echoing pretty loudly in transhumanist talk of “uploading consciousness.” Bollocks!


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       Talk of uploading consciousness cannot but be based in the thorny debate over what consciousness is. It is still unanswered and perhaps unanswerable. Since some of the brain’s functions can be modeled digitally, it must be digital. Transhumanist rhetoric like Kurzweil’s thus assumes that it is “naturally” a digital phenomenon.

But let’s give him that the models can mimic the conscious behavior of a sentient being. Does mimicking require consciousness? If we say yes, does it imply there is a subject of consciousness behind the behavior? Not at all. We are back to the qualia mystery and philosopher Thomas Nagel’s “what is it like to be a bat?” question.[2]

Going further, let’s strike mimic and replace it with exhibit. “Mimic,” of course, is covered as a special form under the general concept “exhibit.” But the same problem confronts us, the age-old problem of “other minds” and we’re right back to Nagel’s questions. It wouldn’t matter if the model is digitally constructed or a “neurosoup” designed by nanoassemblers programmed to build a wet human brain in a vat.

We can allow that there are operations in the brain that are roughly algorithmic in function. We can also allow that there are brain operations that are like the binary of digital pulses. And we can combine these two phenomena into a synthesized model.

Suppose an advanced AI designs and builds a neurosoup brain that bypasses our human neural architecture, but its result seems to exhibit all the behavior of a conscious being. Through a vocal interface it can carry on conversations, has a sense of humor, can write poetry and even Simpsons episodes. The AI had in its “memory” all the necessary medical knowledge of the human nervous system but discovered “shortcuts” or ways to abbreviate functions in the natural design, the product of millions of years of evolution, and went ahead with dispensing with some of the architecture because it evaluated them as redundancies. The product appears to exhibit sentience, learning capabilities, and the self-criticality necessary for us to say it might possess consciousness.

We find we cannot reverse engineer the brain it built; we can’t comprehend the complex order of operations it performs, which appear different than the human brain.





[2] Nagel, Thomas, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” from Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1991.