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Chapter 2: The Internet and the Noosphere (continued)

A New Sacred Medium

     If our hypothesis that humans are able to join with Gaian consciousness in entheospace is correct, then how is the noosphere to enter this space? Drumming, chanting, deep meditation, yoga, etc., work fine for humans, but they will not work for the ethereal noosphere. Even the ancient use of entheogens is not an option for a mechanically grounded sphere of thought. If the noosphere has no way to enter entheospace, how is this great collective consciousness going to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Mother Nature?

     Consciousness always seems to find ways in which to communicate with other forms of awareness. That is why, I believe, Gaia herself has been instrumental in the evolution of the Internet. Perhaps one of the reasons we humans have been inspired to build, and then so quickly embrace, this new technology we call the Internet, is to provide a focal point for the noosphere so it can more easily achieve communication with Gaian consciousness.

Ancient Entheogenic Communications Technologies

     As you may know, deep spiritual seekers have long used a wide variety of methods to expand their awareness beyond the realm of what is called normal human consciousness. These explorers of consciousness seek to enter into other realms of mind. Through meditation, yoga, entheogenic plants and drugs, drumming or any of a multitude of other techniques, shamans and psychonauts struggle to reach deep states of entheogenic awareness. As in all spiritual practices, the more time and energy we apply to our preferred techniques, the better the chance that an epiphany of consciousness will take place.

     Such techniques are often used by very introspective persons who seek to more deeply explore their own inner landscapes. As well tested as these practices are, however, they lack mass appeal. Only a few shamans and psychonauts are courageous enough to tread down some of these arduous paths. Yet the rewards are beyond description, for all of these techniques, in their highest form, lead to a portal through which entheospace can be entered. In Figure 4, I group shamanic practices into two main categories, plants and techniques. Both branches lead to the same inner core. To reach that deep inner core, however, often takes a shaman or psychonaut years of training and practice.

Modern Entheogenic Communications Technologies

     During the 20th century, new techniques for entering into states of shamanic ecstasy were developed by brilliant chemists in laboratories all around the world. I refer to the invention and proliferation of what are commonly called psychedelic chemical substances. Although there is debate in the psychedelic community as to whether a human-made chemical is an acceptable substitute for a natural entheogen, it seems clear from many accounts found on the Internet, that at least some experiences enhanced by synthetic psychedelic chemicals are as entheogenic in nature as are those achieved with natural counterparts.

     For purposes of this discussion, we will call these new shamanic tools "psychedelic chemicals." I separate these new techniques for deep exploration of inner landscapes from the plant group, not because of any differences in experience they may invoke, but rather because of the way in which these new tools affected society. Instead of providing universal access to the Mysteries of Eleusis, these substances have inadvertently caused widespread suppression of the use of all entheogens, synthetic and natural, in most parts of the world. Thus, while our picture of shamanic ecstasy techniques has been significantly enlarged with the addition of psychedelic chemicals, the number of people actually employing these techniques has experienced only modest growth.

The Evolution of Cyberdelic Space

     Recall our earlier discussion about cyberspace where we said, "A mind that is in cyberspace is a mind that is altered from its normal, walking around state." The first thought that enters some minds when they hear about altered states of consciousness often involves psychedelic substances. It seems inevitable, then, that the word "cyberdelic" would find its way into our language. One of the first uses of the word "cyberdelic" is in an article John Perry Barlow wrote in 1990. (22) In this early analysis of the profound potential of Virtual Reality, Barlow said:

The closest analog to Virtual Reality in my experience is psychedelic, and, in fact, cyberspace is already crawling with delighted acid heads. . . . The Cyberdelic Experience isn't like tripping, but it is as challenging to describe to the uninitiated and it does force some of the same questions, most of them having to do with the fixity [sic] of reality itself. (23)

As Barlow points out in his article, "cyberspace is already crawling with delighted acid heads." This fact was also pointed out by Erik Davis in his ground-breaking book, Techgnosis:

In 1968, Marshall McLuhan prophesied that "the computer is the LSD of the business world." But in today's Silicon Valley and San Francisco's multimedia gulch, computers plus LSD sometimes seems like the formula for success. . . . Silicon Valley's corporate heads didn't just come to accommodate the fact that many of their most brilliant employees liked to gobble weird drugs-they also realized that "weirdness can be an export commodity." Experienced and intelligent trippers are often characterized by a fluid sense of perception, a willingness to tinker with cognitive structures, and a sensitivity to what Gregory Bateson called "The pattern that connects"-just the kind of mental gymnastics that come in handy when you're crafting the giddy complexities of information space. (24)

     It is as if a bond of some sort exists between the psychedelic and computing communities. What may perhaps always remain a mystery is whether this symbiotic relationship is primarily due to the nature of the people who are actually laying the deep foundations for cyberspace, or whether cyberspace itself has a psychedelic component. In any event, the fact that there may be yet another tool that could be of use in the exploration of inner landscapes is important news. Perhaps a socially acceptable way for large numbers of people to enter entheospace has evolved.

     As in the case of the word "cyberspace," there does not seem to be an all-inclusive definition of the word "cyberdelic." An informal survey of web sites on which the word can be found reveals that people assume this term represents some combination of computers and psychoactive substances. To further refine the use of this term, I would like to introduce the concept of cyberdelic space.

     Just as psychedelic chemicals provide a portal to entheospace, cyberdelic space also acts as a portal to entheospace.

     When this piece of the puzzle is put in place, we see that there now may be a technology that large numbers of people can legally use to expand their consciousness into entheospace, using the portal of cyberdelic space. Mother Nature herself began this picture with the plant entheogens. Humans followed her lead and came up with other technologies for consciousness expansion. Thus developed a wide variety of shamanic techniques. Never content, humanity continued its quest for expanded awareness by inventing psychedelic chemical compounds, and now we may have built the Internet for precisely the same reason.

     It is important to remember that not everyone can break into entheospace through the portals of entheogens, psychedelics, and shamanic techniques. The same holds true when it comes to using the new tool of cyberspace. With today's technology, it takes a strong intent and a reasonable amount of experience to even be able to glance into entheospace through the portal of cyberdelic space. Yet it can be done, as I believe the following account by Bruce Damer illustrates:

I recently chaired a cyberconference held inside a complex of worlds, Avatars99 ( conf99), and while this event progressed, I tracked several thousand people, handling 2 interrupts a second while warping my avatar body from the exhibit hall to the breakout rooms to the art gallery, all for 20 hours nonstop. For a week afterward, I drifted in and out of a totally different mind state. This is not to say that these virtual world trips are just about being neuronially [sic] taxing. In fact I believe that my mind is now capable of an order of magnitude more complexity both on a conscious and subconscious level. I "run" multiple worlds, scenarios, lines of reason and dialogue at once. (25)

The Cyberdelic Communication Alternative

     As you look at Figure 8, keep in mind that Cyber Space is where both human brain/mind consciousness and Internet/noosphere consciousness can operate. The other three portals are available only to human consciousness as entrances to entheospace. The natural course of speculation, therefore, leads to the possibility that deep cyberdelic space and entheospace are fully congruent. If so, it is possible that one day we will be able to use the power of Virtual Reality technology to enter Inhabited Virtual Worlds, which in turn will provide us with the same sense of place one experiences in entheospace. If this can be achieved by individual humans, it seems at least possible that the same will hold true for the noosphere as well.

     If you haven't personally experienced being in both deep cyberspace and entheospace, the thought of these two places having points that are congruent might seem farfetched. If this is the case, recall the discussion in the previous chapter where the concept of cyberspace was presented as:

  • Mind-space.
  • A pure mental experience.
  • A pure spirit experience.
  • Having no physical limits, no boundaries.

     You will also find that a perusal of reports from shamans and other psychonauts will yield an abundance of descriptions of the places to which they traveled that are strikingly similar to, if not exactly the same as, what has been said about cyberspace. As Erik Davis points out, "Etymologically speaking, after all, computers are literally psychedelic; that is, they manifest the mind." (26) It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to avoid the conclusion that deep cyberspace and entheospace are at least partly coincident, if not actually the same place of unbounded consciousness.

     Once a mind is established in cyberspace it becomes larger; it expands; it becomes manifest in this new medium; it becomes psychedelic. Perhaps the Internet is evolving into a 21st century version of the sacred plant, or sacred medium. The Internet is a machine that can be used to catapult one's mind into cyberspace. If, as we speculate, deep cyberspace and entheospace have areas in common, it then follows that our species-mind, the noosphere, which rests upon the mechanical infrastructure of the Internet, now has a way to achieve unity with Gaian mind in its own right.

     You can personally test this hypothesis that the Internet has the power to alter your mind. The next time you have several hours at your disposal, log onto the Web and begin at a site that has information about a subject that deeply interests you. Then spend four or five hours following the information trails that fascinate you. Simply let your mind enjoy itself in the discovery of new information. Relax. Don't look at a clock or worry about the time you are spending. Then at some prearranged time, have a friend come into the room and begin a conversation about a topic that is totally unrelated to the one you were following on the Web. Unless you are very different from most people, you will find the first few minutes of this conversation quite difficult, and you will discover that your mind is still in cyberspace. In effect, you will have to go through the same process of coming down that is experienced by practitioners of the various ecstatic techniques used by shamans and others. The intensity of the experience of being in an altered state may be less in cyberspace than in a pure entheospace, but the feeling of expanded consciousness is much the same.

     Just as individual humans are not represented in Figure 8, the noosphere is not pictured either. While it would be interesting to show the noosphere encircling entheospace, such is not the case. As you recall, entheospace is in essence the sense of place sentient beings experience when on deep spiritual quests. Entheospace is not confined to any particular place, unlike the noosphere which is confined to planet Earth.

     These are revolutionary speculations to be sure, but the day has arrived for us to join together in a revolution of consciousness. We no longer have the luxury of waiting until we get it all figured out exactly right. Where these speculations, if correct, might lead us is the subject of following chapters. Before sailing deeper into such uncharted waters, however, let us first consider a few of the implications of our hypotheses that the Internet and the noosphere are so inseparably intertwined.

The Evolution of Global Consciousness

     Humankind is at its most significant crossroad yet. Our species has tapped the power of the atom and set foot on the moon. We are responsible for the fact that the number of inter-connected machines continues to grow exponentially, and yet the human species on this beautiful little planet remains plagued by war, suffering, hunger, and desperation. Although our species has evolved at an incredible rate, we still seem to have one foot stuck in the swamp from which we first crawled.

     Few will argue against the concept that human beings are the highest and most complex forms of biological substance known to exist. What distinguishes us from much of the observable universe is our minds, our consciousness, the fact that we know we know. Now reflect for a moment on the fact that, at the most basic level, what the Internet is actually all about is the interconnection of these conscious minds into a more unified global consciousness, a collective consciousness, the complement of our collective unconscious. For you Star Trek fans, I am in no way implying that the Internet will turn us into some form of Borg. Rather, I envision this elevated state of human consciousness to bestow a form of super-psychic abilities on our entire species, as is discussed in the following chapters.

     Thus, by connecting our minds in a unified global consciousness, I mean that while we remain individuals, each with an independent mind, we also have the ability to tune in to some psychic voice infused with Gaian consciousness, a voice that does not let us pass up an opportunity to take proper care of the biosphere. This voice most likely will be very subtle, and no doubt has already been heard by many who are drawn to this book. What a unified global consciousness implies is that everyone on the planet will be in harmony with this sense of Gaian consciousness.

     This sensation is easy to spot, by the way. For example, you might be walking down a beach at low tide and spot a shard of glass from a broken bottle. Perhaps the first thought that begins to form when you see the glass is, "There is no trashcan nearby. I'm not going to carry that piece of glass all the way home." But before that thought is fully formed, you hear a little voice saying, "When the tide comes in someone wading at the ocean's edge won't see that little piece of glass and could step on it. This is not a natural artifact, so remove it." While readers of this book may find the foregoing soliloquy not only familiar but also a bit quaint, it is a sad fact that the majority of our species has not yet paid attention this little voice. Terence McKenna may have put his finger on the problem when he said, ". . . half the time you think you are thinking you are actually listening." (27) Perhaps our species can learn to use the Internet to help us listen better, and thus use the Net as a lever to nudge the entirety of the noosphere back into the serenity of Gaian consciousness.

     Picking up a small piece of glass on the beach may not sound like the herald of a revolution in consciousness, but perhaps such a higher level of awareness and action on the part of every member of our species is the only way possible to change our current course of environmental destruction. When I mentioned this simple idea to a friend, he said, "Sure, it actually is that simple, but it would also be simple for pigs to fly if only they had wings." Well then, we conscious apes should learn to fly. Perhaps if we all spend enough time in Inhabited Virtual Worlds, where our consciousness can be expanded into Gaian awareness, we can learn how to fly, and maybe we will also learn how to clean up after ourselves. (28)

     If every member of our species takes an active role in preventing and correcting assaults on the environment, life on this planet will begin to improve overnight. All that is required is an expanded awareness of the fact that we are simply parts of a much larger whole. It is time for our species to realize that the Earth is not here solely for our use and enjoyment. We are here to serve as Gaia's most sophisticated tools, which have evolved for purposes we have not yet fully discovered. Expanding the consciousness of our entire species is a tall order, indeed. It may even require magic. Fortunately, we live in magical times.

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