Concerning the Spiritual in Cyberspace: Immortality of Artist and Artifact in the Digital Domain

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  • Concerning the Spiritual in Cyberspace: Immortality of Artist and Artifact in the Digital Domain

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  • Abstract

    Long Paper

    Summary

    Cyberspace technologies provide new opportunities and questions concerning the spiritual. This paper looks the spiritual in 20th century art and science as the basis for examining the spiritual implications in cyberspace, itself the outgrowth of art and science This is followed by a discussion of the virtual worlds of William Gibson and Frank Tipler. The emerging discipline of studies in consciousness is Introduced as a link between the spiritual and the digital. and the prophetic work of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin discussed for his concept of the ‘noosphere’, the spiritual implications of a conscious Internet are then examined.

    Abstract

    The start of the 20th century saw a profound influence on the arts from a strand of spirituality that had incubated at the end of the previous century. These strands included Theosophy (Blavatsky, Leadbeater, Besant), Anthroposophy (Steiner), and the work of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Theosophy’s impact on Mondrian, and the spiritual guidance of Itten at the Bauhaus are all evidence of a strong undercurrent throughout the 20th century, which also saw post second. As we look into the 21st century one is tempted to speculate that the spiritual movements of the early 20th century are now generally misunderstood, or even ridiculed, and that a new spirituality is emerging with its roots in science and not in the religious or the occult. The priests of the New Physics such as Frank Tippler and Paul Davies, however much derided by their reductionist colleagues, seem to promote a spirituality that is appropriate for the cyberspace artists of the 21st century. This paper looks at the teachings of Theosophy, Anthroposophy and Gurdjieff-Ouspensky and its influence on this century’s art; it then examines the genesis of cyberspace in the new technologies and in the writings of science fiction writers such as Gibson and Sterling, and cultural theorists such as de Landa and the Krokers. The spirituality of the New Physics is discussed and the parallels with older forms of spirituality identified: in particular the idea of transcending the body, and the relationship. The key question surrounding the vision shared in Neuromancer and Tippler’s Physics of Immortality is: are we just data? If so we can upload our personalities and become immortal. If consciousness is more than data than we cannot, and this question then brings us to the new Science of Consciousness. This infant science may be as doomed as phrenology was at the corresponding point a century ago, or it might provide us with the answers to our spiritual questions in cyberspace. While it is recognized that any discussion of the spiritual is fraught with difficulties, this paper attempts to open a debate that has been difficult to externalize in the arts for much of this century. The extraordinary challenge of cyberspace for the arts, with its questioning of the very bases of our identities and relationships, means however that it is a debate we cannot avoid.


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