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TechGnosis: Myth, Magic Mysticism in the Age of Information

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  534 ratings  ·  47 reviews
How does our fascination with technology intersect with the religious imagination? In TechGnosis - a cult classic now updated and reissued with a new afterword - Erik Davis argues that while the realms of the digital and the spiritual may seem worlds apart, esoteric and religious impulses have in fact always permeated (and sometimes inspired) technological communication. D ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published November 12th 2004 by Serpent's Tail (first published 1998)
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Travis Todd
May 07, 2012 rated it liked it
I got to the end of this book like one of those staggering marathon runners who collapse just after they've made it past the finish line. So breathlessly in love with its subjects, and so full of labrynthine and endless sentences. I now resemble one of those constricting snakes right after it's eaten some giant, unfortunate mammal. I'm just going to rest here for awhile until I can metabolize some of this. Peace! ...more
Oct 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Less satisfying than I'd hoped. Though Erik Davis makes the case that technology and spirituality are and have been inextricably linked throughout human history, he doesn't really offer a theory as to why this is so or take a position on whether this is a good or a bad thing. I would have preferred less of his supporting his argument and more analysis of it. ...more
Dec 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Drawing a connection between the human quest for transcendence and spiritual oneness through belief/religion and technology, Davis presents an incredible amount of theory, philosophy, history, and research from ancient times, when the latest technology was cave drawings, to the relative present. Written in 1998, the book's descriptions of online gaming, virtual reality, and the Internet is sometimes comical, but it's also a great reminder of just how fast technology develops when building on its ...more
Oct 21, 2020 rated it did not like it
I started this book because I was curious from reading the back but I gave up after chapter 3. The book is written in an unnecessarily dense way as if the writer shows off how in love with his own rhetoric and how many long words and allegories he could use without saying anything meaningful.

The entire argument of the book seems to be exhaustingly postmodern too in its approach, and very dated in a 90s kind of way which comes across as more pretentious than endearing or interesting.

The intent se
Dec 08, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: got-tired-of
Big words, annoyingly long sentences- I don't know what audience this was for but you'd have to be an academic to be able to get through this. I didn't make it through the introduction. Too atmospheric. ...more
Otto Lehto
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gnostic imagination was rampant in the 1990s. Many of us who grew up then remember the allure of the visions of spiritual ascendance that was prevalent not only in obscure IRC chat rooms and bulletin boards but also in several techno-futuristic videogames, movies, and books. Erik Davis's book is a time capsule of that special time when the future was pregnant with untold possibilities. Today, as the afterword explains, some of that aesthetic imaginary feels outdated. They were the first, naïve a ...more
George Pollard
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: software
I loved this. Not only does it shine light on traditionally-occulted aspects of tech history, the writing exuberates in allusions that range from hilarious to astute.
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Gnosis is a form of religion or spiritual doctrine occurring through history since antiquity. It proclaim possibility of freeing oneself from prison - which is material world – and attaining enlightenment through mystic knowledge. This knowledge was hidden from humanity by evil Demiurge and his archons to isolate men from true God. This story was presented in apocryphal “The Secret Book of John” found in Nag Hammadi in which Jesus as a snake sneaks into Eden and persuade blinded Adam to pick fru ...more
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is the jam.

Davis doesn't really pose a single hypothesis so much as gather and articulate the historical relationship between mysticism and technology.

This is one of those books that introduces you to all the left-field thinkers you need to have read. And it offers a compelling mythology about the nature of this monkey man -- we've been using tools to make better tools for so long... what are we really building?
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technology, culture
One of my all time favorite books, though I do agree with some of the criticisms I have read - Erik Davis chooses to show examples that support his ideas on the links between spirituality and technology/media, but never really puts in any solid conclusions. Also, the language can be fairly dense. It's worth the effort though, and manages to get my mind rattling off a million ideas a minute, every time I read it. ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
I generally take notes about books I don't agree with, but I didn't bother for this one because it was so clearly not a threat. ...more
Apr 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was destined to be a favorite from the title alone and man, oh man does Erik Davis do it right. I never quite figured out if the theories I took away from this tome of brilliantly organized information were the authors or my own. All I know is that Erik Davis guided my thoughts to new places and allowed me to make wholly new connections among my two favorite themes: mythology and technology.

Pulling quotes from ancient mythological texts juxtaposed to modern technological fiction and no
Richard Kemp
Sep 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
The audiobook narrator was interesting. He is a good-to-great narrator in terms of intonation, but pretty shocking at pronouncing unusual words. I particularly enjoyed the way he mangled cthulu, Aldous, and Joachim. Experiencing things in audio can lack depth, because there's a little bit of extra friction to stopping and thinking about what you just read, or looking up further info. I'm tempted to re-read it in text some time, I think there are probably many many jumping off points in here for ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: occult, favorites
What a ride! This book easily made it to my top 5 after the first read. Such a beautifully researched piece of writing. No quacky new-age hypotheses, no forceful assemblage of confirmation biases, no unnecessary repetition. Author weaves you into curiously drawn connections between bits of occult and pop cultures which are all very close to my heart: Gibson, Dick, Burroughs, TOPY, nag hammahi, Jung, Paracelsus, trans-humanism, D&D, cold war, Jacques Vallee, UFO cults, terence mckenna, donna hara ...more
Joana Pestana
Aug 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Techgnosis is an inspiring and energetic book. It takes you on a journey to the 90s, right in the emergence of underground currents of electronic music, conspiracy theories and ufology. Following McLuhan's understanding that the history of religion is a part of the history of media, Davis explores the juxtaposition of spirituality and new technologies, tapping on the fears and hopes surrounding such relationships.
Roger Green
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
With a breezy and classic pomo style, Davis adeptly glosses various frontiers of gnosticism and new media. An interesting collection of eclectic sources, Davis's work in the field of religious studies serves him well here. ...more
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychedelic
One of the best books of all time. "Stop what you're doing and read it" isn't enough. It should be analysed and studied for many generations. ...more
Light Bringer
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All my heroes are here.
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fun stuff. A bit sprawling and unfocused but covers some cool topics, introduced me to some new ones, and is entertaining throughout. Not quite as good as High Weirdness tho, IMO.
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So, first off, I listened to this as an audiobook. I can already see it will eventually require a re-read so I can highlight all the important bits.
Jamie Stott
Jun 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Overall an impressive read with unique perspectives offered.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. Read John Grey's Black Mass before this, and afterwards Robert Geraci's Apocalyptic AI
Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality, and the three volumes form a trilogy
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: staff-picks
BL265 .I54 D38 1998. If you can stomach the bombastic media guru rhetoric and enjoy speculative arguments this book makes some startling connections between technology and magic and should spark some inspiration (or at least lead the reader to follow up on some of the works that Davis cites).
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
In this 1998 book, Davis traces the reciprocal relationship between information media and apocalyptic aspirations both spiritual and secular, beginning with the handwritten codices of the early Christians, through the 19th-century 'internet' of telegraphy, up to the state of the World Wide Web and persisting dreams of networked virtual reality at the end of the 20th century. Along the way, we see that the messages perceived by those with eyes to see remain much the same, whether their medium is ...more
Kristen Aldebol-Hazle
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Techgnosis will appeal to readers with interests ranging from mythology to science to communications technology. Davis's wide-ranging book avoids seeming disorganized and random by showing readers the surprising connections between our modern relationships with technology and the myths, rituals, and beliefs that have floated around civilization since it was first recorded.

Though this is certainly an academic book, Davis avoids jargon and writes clearly in a way that can appeal to many readers. H
Paul Samael
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I first read this shortly after it came out, but I have periodically been back to it and I think it's still as relevant as when it came out - which is no mean feat for a book that deals with a fast-moving area like technology. I think the reason it has stood the test of time so well has to do with its focus on our own attitudes to technology (as much as on the technology itself). We like to think of ourselves as having attained a level of sophistication that has taken us beyond the kind of primi ...more
Dimitris Hall
Dense book with complicated ideas and deep meanings. Makes me question the importance of eloquence when meaning is possible to be lost in the transmittance. TechGnosis shows how technology, digital media and computers have not made magic and mysticism obsolete but merely replaced them with something else, at times proving themselves to be great catalyst for the fusion of the two worlds (like technopaganism or scientology). Unfortunately, I can't remember much of it book because of the way it's w ...more
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read. Moves along at a good pace and seems to require at least one reread as there is just so much packed in to each section. Leaves me wanting a lot more. This is the kind of book that adds a lot of books to the "must read" pile. Its dizzying amount of information makes me think this is best read a second time with Wiki open and lots of time for notes and research.

The writing style is irreverent enough but not disrespectful to the myriad of beliefs described. The technology is quite d
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books I had been meaning to read since it first came out. It is a brilliant exploration of the Gnostic inheritances in our daily life from a Millennialist fervor that drives advertising and culture to the Internet seen as the net of Indra. Davis has a writing style that you will either love or hate. I happen to love his almost stream of consciousness jazzy writing that shows complete mastery of the subject matter. I cannot recommend this book enough for those who seek to und ...more
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A cult classic from 1998 updated in 2015, Erik Davis weaves a dense web of ideas from the philosophical and mystical history of the West and connects them to the history of technology and media. A dizzying mix of ideas from the ancient Gnostics, through to twentieth century thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan and the transhumanists. Full of insight and deep ideas, one to read and digest slowly. One of my favorite books.
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Erik Davis is an American writer, scholar, journalist and public speaker whose writings have ranged from rock criticism to cultural analysis to creative explorations of esoteric mysticism.

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6 likes · 1 comments
“The funny thing about games and fictions is that they have a weird way of bleeding into reality. Whatever else it is, the world that humans experience is animated with narratives, rituals, and roles that organize psychological experience, social relations, and our imaginative grasp of the material cosmos. The world, then, is in many ways a webwork of fictions, or, better yet, of stories. The contemporary urge to “gamify” our social and technological interactions is, in this sense, simply an extension of the existing games of subculture, of folklore, even of belief. This is the secret truth of the history of religions: not that religions are “nothing more” than fictions, crafted out of sociobiological need or wielded by evil priests to control ignorant populations, but that human reality possesses an inherently fictional or fantastic dimension whose “game engine” can — and will — be organized along variously visionary, banal, and sinister lines. Part of our obsession with counterfactual genres like sci-fi or fantasy is not that they offer escape from reality — most of these genres are glum or dystopian a lot of the time anyway — but because, in reflecting the “as if” character of the world, they are actually realer than they appear.” 8 likes
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