Surf riding occultists, the soul and non-human people

One of the discourses within modern western magic and esoteric pursuits is that the magician is at the forefront or vanguard of evolution. By virtue of initiation and studying the hidden forces of the universe – as well as the occulted histories tossed into the dustbin of academia – the magician is supposed to be at the very crest of the wave of higher or evolving societal change. This view was, I think, first given substantial development by Eliphas Levi and became part of the rationale of Dion Fortune and others following her tradition.

With this in mind I am considering the debacle of the Copenhagen Sumit which shows we as a global community still can’t get our acts into gear. I do not know exactly how long occultists and magicians have been concerned and acting upon climate change. From memory and available sources at home and online, I suspect as a community we magicians have not really been surfing this societal wave at all. We’ve come on board no later or earlier than anyone else.

A few neo-pagans groups seem to have been writing about these issues a bit longer. But not that much. In any case, I remember hearing about ozone layer depletion back in primary school (mid 70s) and the wonderfully dystopian Soylent Green showed the effects of the global warming and economic collapse in 1973. Thirty five years later and we’re still flapping our arms about…

So personally I am not too sure about being on the wavefront of anything. And of course we are all indubitably in media res so it is really difficult to get beyond the spirit of our times and see from a deeper perspective. Still, that won’t stop me from trying. 🙂

One of the key issues that we are going to need to come to grips with is the ontological question of what makes someone a person. This follows on from our previous post about animals and is also a reaction to the latest abortionist murder in the USA. As genetic and reproductive manipulation becomes more sophisticated recognition of foetal rights and their status as people is going to be even more of a hot issue.

As esoteric folk where do we stand on this? Some older esoteric theories have the soul entering the body fully on first breath. With the advent of pre-natal ultrasound sonagraphs and pre-natal surgery this view is no longer in vogue as much as it once was. Other views state the soul enters the body around the end of the first trimester, once a foetus has developed from the embryo, though the soul may be linked to the embryo beforehand. Several schools of thought, including me ol’ mates the Hare Krishnas, posit that the soul is drawn in at the moment of conception via the subtle energies generated during sex. The more rarefied and spiritual forms of sex, with higher thoughts and chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra is supposed to attract a more evolved soul. Not sure if ‘Oh God, oh God’ counts or not 🙂

I am also not sure of contemporary occult theories and how they take into account new reproductive technologies. Take IVF for example, where conception takes place in a petri dish without any sex and possibly with one or both partners being deceased. Yet I am assuming all esoteric schools will accept the children born of IVF as having a human soul?

Whence then, if the soul is not physical, comes the soul? Does a physical mystery, fertilization – scheduled around a technician’s lunch hour – cause a non-physical mystery, ensoulment? Or does the soul only incarnate later when the foetal brain and body is complex enough to receive it? If so, are early embryos and foetuses soulless? And what about those poor babies who come to term but are born without any developed brain at all? It fairly boggles the mind, it does. I am so glad I grew out of having to know all the answers back in my twenties 🙂

Now abortion is only one area where society is going to have to come to grips with the thorny issue of personhood. Animals as people is another issue which will become fore-grounded as more research is undertaken and the economic need for vegetarianism grows.

Then there is the question of artificial intelligence and robots. The question of computers thinking they are people therefore they are/could be people is an old one and may not be solved for a long time. However, Bladerunner and inferior copies aside, the question of computers/robots being people is going to be a major conceptual leap for humankind. As a simple example, I currently correspond with a number of people I have never actually met. Or I assume I do as the only evidence we have for their existence is pixels on a screen. Any of these people could, theoretically, be a good computer program. 🙂 This will soon actually be the case, I am sure. It’ll probably come as an option on Facebook.

As a society we will need to get a grip on this issue very soon. Why? Because of the forthcoming wave of sex robots. Currently these beasties are unsophisticated. That will change and when it does it will be possible for a man to purchase a robot that imitates a woman sexually and socially to a large degree. As the law is now a man could own such a robot, abuse it, rape it, humiliate it and even ‘kill’ it. It could be programmed to act as a real woman would in these situations, expressing the same terror, fear and distress. Sadly it is true that some men, and some women, would like this and shell out big bucks for such a robot. To quote Jasper from the Simpsons as he enters a deep freezer, “Wake me up when robot wives are cheap and effective.”

If we view these future robots as machines then there can be no legal or even moral comeback. Since no human is harmed, no legal problems. However, in abuse damage is done to the perpetrator as well as the victim. It is also done to humanity as a whole, especially if the abuse is condoned or legitimatized.  And from an esoteric perspective the energies in such abuse would not rest solely with the abuser but would in some way become part of the egregore of their family, home and culture.

The only way out of this dilemma, I think, will take humanity some way down the path towards acceptance of non-human computer based people, with some legal rights of their own. By now this is not such a weird concept, at least to sci-fi and comic book lovers. We have have been prepared for this eventuality thanks to decades of Astroboy, Walter the Wobot (2000 AD), the Doctor from Star Trek and other plastic pals who are fun to be with.

Again, I have no idea on the esoteric take on this? Once a computer or robot is complex enough, can it become ensouled? And just how – is it, like, flashing the firmware or something? Or is there something about the physical human body that makes it the only vehicle for souls? Again it fairly boggles the mind. 🙂

16 comments

  1. naomi · February 3, 2010

    Oh so many difficult and challenging questions that the mind boggles as science fiction moves towards science fact. Yes I suspect there is something unique about the physical human body, as opposed to replicas of the human body either by appearance or function. The question, What is a human ? is the story of Pinocchio and it is the central theme of The Golden Ass ( though I have often thought that this Is the same story!!) and of course more recently in science fiction itself; Data, the Star Treck character comes to mind, or even The Matrix as two brief examples.
    As for esoteric theory in the brave new world – we are the co-creators of heaven or hell – I for one do not expect the machine to develop self conscioiusness, though scientists have created, observed and documented a machine built to see if it might ! At the end of the long trial period, they saw nothing indicating ‘self awareness’ well surprise, surprise, basic esoteric science could have saved them the time and money spent in observing a machine doing nothing!

  2. David · February 3, 2010

    One of the things I always wanted to make when I actually enjoyed programming was an AI, the idea being to create something sophisticated enough that it could pretend to be human, my next idea was to steal a page from the OTO and evoke a spirit into it over time and see what happens.. Hopefully not the end of the world, but who knows.

    I grew out of this idea suffice it to say, as I’m barely capable of acting as a being with a soul as is, I would hate to be somehow indirectly responsible to create another one.

    Peregrin, have you ever asked any inner plain contact on this theory? Or used some form of spiritual sight to observe a person as they grow pregnant over time? It would be interesting to see what you would see. Even go and use that spiritual sight to watch an IVF procedure?

    Personally I believe that being human almost excludes us from being able to actually make the call, or observation as to when this happens, it would appear to need something or someone that exists outside of our physicality, and our incarnation process to observe it in a unbiased way and make proper conclusions?

  3. Arcad · February 3, 2010

    Care Fra Peregrin,

    this is a very ineresting post.

    As for the “where do we, as the esoteric community stand” question, it was always my understanding that it is a bit like in freemasonry. No politics etc. I assume as individuals who are building the esoteric community, we all have our views and we all may or may not act individually. Would it be helpful if “the community” as such would start to express a joint concern, make suggestions etc? I am not sure if that would be a great idea. Of course we are working with nature, with the energies etc. That way we should indeed be concerned and may well express that. Of course, all pagan groups which are based on natural religion etc, have a closer, natural link and may be more predestined to raise a voice there (as it is their gods and goddesses being harmed here). On the other hand, it could shift the focus and take us away from the work (purpose of the work?) as such. There are many activists groups out there, do we really need another one which doesn’t even have this as a main purpose? The teaching and studying of the occult science would be mixed up with a lot of “foreign” dogma and where would that lead us too? However, it is my sincere belief and understanding that the studying of the occult, working on the great work, hopefully raising the self also has an effect on the individual when it comes to the awareness of nature and its needs. Now, could we come up with ritual work supporting such an awareness? Do we want that special focus?

    The question about when does life begin and who is determined to be a person etc is very interesting. Being a lawyer I have been confronted with this question – or its specific legal, ethical, moral aspects from the beginning of my studies. Heartbeat, brain function, self awareness, all these have been determine to be the staring points. If you are religious your view may be different. If you are protestant it also may be different than from being catholic. However, I never thought about the question when the soul enters the human. I bet that “the church” would argue that it comes by default with conception as life begins. It is god given. That however also leads to the question, can men create “artificial in vitro” souls? If a soul would be “created” with the act of conception, then obviously every in vitro procedure would also include the act of creating a soul. We can separate any kinds of sub atomic particles from any other kind of sub atomic particle. Could we then also separate the soul from the embryo in vitro? Now for someone who believes in the travelling of souls, re-incarnation etc, the answer obviously is not that easy. Also, who is in the lead, I mean how come a soul joins that specific person? In a way this reminds me on the hen and the egg question.

    I am sure that we will get robot protection laws sooner or later in the same or even faster way, we got animal protection laws. In the olden times animals – legally – were things. There is no way you can harm a thing. You may damage it – and pay compensation, that’s it. Now we have animal protection lawyers who are representing animals and their rights in court proceeding. Also, I am not sure if I read that here or somewhere else, the idea of declaring dolphins being “non human persons” to protect them better. I believe that as soon as Robots will be able to express self awareness and feelings, the debate will be inevitable. Still, it is a machine with only a virtual life. Is switching it off for the night already considered to be “inhuman – or inrobotic”? And if we are indeed able to separate the in vitro embryo from the in vitro soul, we may as well implant it in a nice robot girl – or boy of course…

    In L.V.X.

    Arcad

  4. Peregrin · February 4, 2010

    Care Fr Arcad,

    Thanks for the reply and interesting points.

    I readily understand your questioning of the esoteric community being linked to activism. Most of the community agree with your views and questions, I think. Personally I come at it from a different perspective, as outlined in this post: https://magicoftheordinary.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/christianity-magic-and-politics/

    Your questions and ideas re conception and the soul are great. Thank you. Of course, I have no definitive answers but do feel sometimes our traditions should at least supply us with some thoughts about these issues 🙂

    Yes, you hit the nail on the head when you talk about animals previously being considered things. Once someone starts seeing a computer or robot as other than a ‘thing’ it will all begin. This will happen sooner rather than later I think. So it will be interesting. Never thought about the inrobotic act of powering down before 🙂 Ta.

  5. Peregrin · February 4, 2010

    Hi David,

    Thanks for this reply and questions.

    An interesting plan you had/have…I wonder if anyone has done this?

    I have of course had the wonderful and blessed opportunity to be with my son as he grew in the womb. There is a fair bit of esoteric material on conception, soul linkage, embryonic development etc we got from an inner plane contact within the Rosy Dawn of the Emerging Goddess tradition. And it does take into account modern developments. However, that tradition is at least on hold, if not defunct now, so the material remains largely unused.

    I agree it is hard as a human to ‘make the call’ as you say. However, anything outside our physicality, something more ‘objective’ still has to communicate to us and through us. So even if we receive 100 percent accurate objective information – from inner planes or from mechanical sensors – our incarnated mind will, by its nature distort or interpret it. This is maya, this is human 🙂

  6. Peregrin · February 4, 2010

    Hi Naomi,

    Great to have your comments! Yes, I agree – the western tradition teaches us that the human body, its very flesh and blood is essentially divine and has a special quality. It is part of the sanctity of Malkuth. This to me is the great mystery; the divinity of the flesh, which nothing can replace.

    However, as regards to self-awareness…I will place a large bet that before too long a computer will be in existence that reports it has self awareness. The exponential rate of IT growth ensures this. Whether it really will be self aware or just mimicking self-awareness is another question. How we will deal with the mimicry of self awareness is just as interesting and challenging as the question of it being real self awareness or not. 🙂

  7. Jim · February 4, 2010

    The issue of creating an artificial intellect that is self-aware is that we must first define what it means to be self-aware.

    In order to define what it means to be self-aware we must first define consciousness in it’s entirety…Humanity doesn’t even understand how consciousness works let alone have a definition thereof.

    And what of other modes of consciousness, so utterly different that we cannot perceive or comprehend them? It seems science of late has acquired tunnel vision–with the ever present thirst to create devices and services for instant gratification with little thought towards anything else…such as consequences and repercussions of our actions.

    Food for thought.

  8. R. · February 6, 2010

    I believe soul is perhaps everywhere in all things at all times. We do not create it. It already is. We self-reflect and see this energy and call it soul. This is our agreed upon reality. A computer already has “soul” running throughout it. This is all pervasive. If the computer becomes aware that it has a soul, this doesn’t create a soul for it as it was never soulless. It is just aware of itself and so has a will to create its own reality in this world. This is the acceptance of being, which follows or is followed by thought. And since no thought is stationary, this is followed by want or desire or action.

  9. Rachael · February 8, 2010

    iSoul v2.1 is currently in beta testing, not to be confused with iSole, which has a little bit to do with fish and not a lot to do with shoes.

    It is an interesting thing to ponder. And I will ponder no doubt. AI is fascinating and mind confunding indeed. As that great philosopher Morpheus (I’m being tongue-in-cheek) once said, “Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive,” will fate and the *future* be not without a sense of irony?

  10. kate · February 9, 2010

    So in a nutshell, what Peregrin is driving at here is : do machines (or will they ever) have have the ability to establish *preference* and/or move to *change* by themselves.

    Rachael, I agree, we have become dependent on tools, and pretty much have been, throughout history.

  11. Kate · February 9, 2010

    Although…it is also interesting to break down the word “ponder,” that Rachael brought up…and look at the difference between, ponder, meditate, and muse.

    This has a lot to do with consciousness. 🙂

    Very interesting.

  12. Kate · February 9, 2010

    Another one is “ruminate” (I’m getting these from the Webster’s online dictionary by the way), but it’s interesting to dissect the subtleties. I think machines can definitely “ruminate.” 🙂

  13. Suecae · February 9, 2010

    I’ve come to see more and more merit in the animist view of the soul, which is more or less as R. described it.

    Self awareness should not be a prequisite for good treatment. If we just evolved as a society to the point of inherent respect (in action!) for human as well as non-human forms of life and the eco-system which sustains life in its entirely: the question of respect for the theoretical forms of self aware lifeforms would also come more easily I believe.

    The problem today is that we have not reached this point. As is evident in the destruction of our eco-system and rampant use of fossil fuels and coal and whatnot.

  14. Peregrin · February 9, 2010

    Yes Kate, I think you have summed it up well 🙂

    Proving I am not a real Trekkie by not having the exact Stardate at hand, Captain Jen-Luc Picard once defined the essence of what it means to be human as the drive to be better than who we are. This is a very key point and the concept of machines doing this, Data and the Doctor, is explored well in Star Trek.

    Soon computers will at least mimic this quality of humanity. Does that make them human is only one question; how we as a culture react to this mimicry (at least) is a more important question. As mentioned in the post on Avatar, simple light on a screen effects our emotions. Consciously built robots or holograms talking, crying and laughing with all the outward nuances of humans will appear ‘real’ to our senses and hearts. Even if they are not ‘human’ or do not possess ‘soul’ I believe that to mistreat a replica of humanity would be to mistreat humanity.

    As for robots becoming human, to quote Captain Picard again:

    “Things are only impossible until they’re not.”

  15. Frater AIT · February 10, 2010

    Care Fra Peregrin,

    Excellent post! I agree that we are going to experience major issues with desensitization if folk go around abusing Robots….and “abuse” them is exactly what will happen. They will be sex slaves, laborers…you name it. The sex-robot will be particularly troubling; I know a few gents who wouldn’t bother with women at all if there was a facsimile that required none of the emotional work; this is sad for them, of course, but as they grow in maturity that will change. With use of something like sex robots, they wouldn’t have access to that emotional growth. There’s going to be a whole lot of disconnected young men running about….

    AIT

  16. Kate · February 13, 2010

    Thank you Peregrin. 🙂

    Yet this also makes me wonder: with all the possibilities…

    …it does seem to be the case that artificial-intelligence has held its place in the forefront of progressive minds for many, many years. This is very interesting.

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