The Sacred Cyborg
Fantasy 4: Becoming Pure Spirit
'"There's a great burning column, like a tree of fire, reaching above the western horizon. It's a long way off, right round the world. I know where it springs from: THEY'RE on their way at last, to become part of the Overmind. Their probation has ended: they're leaving the last remnants of matter behind."'
- Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End.
The desire for a silicon body usually leads to an even more primitive form of mysticism: the fantasy of the separation of mind from matter. According to the Gnostics, religious fervour would allow the pure soul to leave the corrupt flesh and to merge with the God-head. In the modern world, we can't believe that our spirits can ascend to heaven by magical means. Instead, we're urged to fantasise about abandoning our bodies to live in cyberspace. Already, if we use Minitel messageries, IRCs or MUDs, we can adopt virtual identities distinct from our everyday selves. The adepts of mystical positivism wish to take this process to its illogical conclusion. Our avatars will no longer be simply means of role-playing. They will become our sole form of existence. They will even allow us to fuse together into a cyber-version of the Overmind.
As with its other fantasies, this manifestation of the artificial life cult partially draws on our experiences of modern life. People living in modern societies are dependent on information technologies to overcome the limitations of time and space. Both in work and at play, we spend increasing amounts of time in cyberspace. But digital technologies cannot eliminate the interdependence of our minds and bodies. Even when we're being avatars in cyberspace, our physical beings remain sitting in front of the screen. The PC, the Net, the telephone and the media are tools which enhance our ability to work and play together. Believing that these technologies can lead to a digital nirvana simply obscures the crucial question: how can hypermedia be used to improve the lives of the majority of people on the planet. Half the world's population hasn't yet got access to a telephone let alone the Net. Mystical answers do not provide practical solutions to our problems.