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TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information

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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. Davis uncovers startling connections between such seemingly disparate topics as electricity and alchemy; online role-playing games and religious and occult practices; virtual reality and gnostic mythology; programming languages and Kabbalah. The final chapters address the apocalyptic dreams that haunt technology, providing vital historical context as well as new ways to think about a future defined by the mutant intermingling of mind and machine, nightmare and fantasy.

372 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Erik Davis

41 books107 followers
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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5 stars
257 (41%)
4 stars
231 (37%)
3 stars
98 (15%)
2 stars
19 (3%)
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14 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews
Profile Image for Travis Todd.
64 reviews8 followers
May 12, 2012
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!
Profile Image for Logophile.
182 reviews7 followers
October 30, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
437 reviews161 followers
October 15, 2020
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 attempts at putting to words the emerging sensibilities of technological spirituality. But they were also the vital seeds of the slow creation of social meaning appropriate for the 21st century. Virtual Reality was only a dream then. It is a reality now. Mass scale social media was only a figment of imagination then. It is a full blown reality today. As such, delving into the first and second waves of techno-futuristic mania in the 90s is of more than historic value today. We are still living in the TechGnostic trajectory of human development. Connecting with our emerging technologies on a spiritual level, or at least on an imaginary level, can provide new ethical, social, and political guidelines for a life in an interconnected, evolving word.

The first thing that sticks to mind when reading the book is the presence of a kind of technological drunkenness that permeates the whole book. Its style mimics its subject matter. Davis writes about the Dionysian dreams of the internet age not merely as a cool observer but as a participant. You get a sense of excitement and dreaminess, as if the whole book is a long, high tech acid trip. The writing style is a mixture of the journalistic and the priestly. It deals with obscure occultisms and hermetic homilies that are interpreted to the profane in the exoteric language of journalism. For the most part, the book successfully pulls off the difficult task of communicating esoteric knowledge to a secular readership that needs to be convinced (presumably) of its internal coherence. And it showcases a remarkable familiarity with the historical developments of the internet age. Some of the most perceptive sections deal with the deep history (what might be called the "spiritual anthropology") of technological development. The author convincingly shows how all new technologies, from the arts of writing and skygazing to the tools of electricity, became infused with novel meanings and objects of gnostic fascination. This evolutionary history is long and interesting. The successive unfolding of spiritualized man-machine relationships did not start with McLuhan and the Global Village. It is as old as humanity itself and as young as the yet unborn.

The central insight of the book is that technologies shape human beings as much as human beings shape technologies. And this shaping can be understood in evolutionary, even transcendental terms: as we increase our ability to control nature, nature tightens its control over us in the process, but in a way that gives human beings new powers of action, communication, and cooperation. Technology is nature's way of directing human evolution towards unknown ends. Technology seems to be guiding us rather than the other way around. As puppets of evolution, we might as well enjoy the ride and make the most of it. Even if there is no finish line.

At the same time, the one big shortcoming of the book, and of the optimistic TechGnostic imagination itself, is its failure to foresee how technological development can be easily diverted into crass and boring ends. We are still waiting on the promised singularity while we are ever more cognizant of the limits of human evolution. As Peter Thiel has put it: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” At the same time, authoritarian countries are using technology to keep people docile and trapped. This makes some of the utopian technological promises of the early days seem hopelessly naïve.

However, I do not think that the "TechGnostic" imagination is going away. Nor should it. It still has many things to teach us. The eschatological dimension is unavoidable in any developmental process characterized by massive structural changes and asymptotic growth. Even though the Star Trek future is taking a long time coming, there are good reasons to think that it will. At least unless human beings manage to destroy themselves and the planet before it. Before then, human beings are going to be fundamentally shaped by new technologies that are constantly evolving. One of them is CRISPR-Cas9, the gene editing technology, whose social ramifications are yet unknown. Jennifer A. Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for their discovery of the technology just a few days before I wrote this review.

So, although the techno-spiritual imagination of the early Internet cannot be replicated, it can, and must be, reimagined. Although it will be impossible to reach the singularity in Ray Kurzweil's lifetime, thereby disproving the most optimistic and foolhardy scenarios, it may be equally impossible to thwart during the lifetime of our grandchildren. Even. If. We. Wanted. To.
12 reviews
October 21, 2020
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 seems to muddy terms in order to justify his shoddy and worthless arguments. "Human beings have been cyborgs since year zero," Davis claims in the opening sentence of Chapter 1. Well, there goes any attempt to use clear concise definitions to back up his arguments. Instead there is a lot of bluster, a lot of philosophising and navel gazing, but no attempt to analyse what might otherwise be an interesting topic in a level-headed and balanced way, or to explore why this phenomenon exists (which I'm left doubtful of after what I read of this book).

Don't waste your time, I'm sure you can find this topic explored more competently elsewhere.
Profile Image for AURORA.
307 reviews23 followers
December 7, 2016
Kad lasīju Tehgnosi krievu tulkojumā, tā bija intelektuāla bauda. Lai arī daudzas grāmatā paustās domas man šķita pārsteidzošas un prasīja krietnu laiku idejiskai sagremošanai, tomēr pašu tekstu lasīju bez piepūles. Es ļoti priecājos par to, ka šāda veida grāmatas (dažreiz) tiek tulkotas arī latviski, tomēr ar šo izdevumu es ilgi nomocījos un tā arī nespēju izlasīt un uztvert. Pagaidām nesaprotu, vai vaina ir tulkojumā vai drīzāk tajā, ka visas šīs idejas ir pārāk advancētas šī brīža latviešu kultūras laukam un tāpēc nepadodas plūstošam tulkojumam un organiskai uztverei. Tāda kā cargo-cult paciņa mežoņiem, nomesta no futūristiska teleportācijas šķīvīša. Vai arī man šobrīd nav īstais laiks lasīt latviski, noteikti mēģināšu vēlāk vēl. Angliski un krieviski - noteikti iesaku! Ēriks Deiviss ir super tehno šamanis. TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information
Profile Image for Natalie.
63 reviews
February 7, 2016
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.
Profile Image for George Pollard.
51 reviews21 followers
October 21, 2019
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.
May 12, 2023
I highly recommend this book. I was very surprised how relevant it managed to stay.
16 reviews4 followers
January 1, 2017
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 fruit from the tree. This fruit contains knowledge allowing to free oneself from prison.
Intension of this book is to examine complicated links between this heresy and science and technology. As author notices, surprisingly often scientific and technologic breakdowns correlates with the rise of interest in various mystic philosophies and hermetic knowledge.
Among events of this type Davis lists e.g. invention of alphabet - which contains part of the world in ideal, unchangeable form - that would inspire Plato to create his Theory of Forms. Or alchemy which fascinated such great modern minds like Newton. Further we have discovery of electricity and invention of telegraph which inspired emergence of spiritualism in 19th century. Likewise development of psychology inspired George Gurdjieff to perform an experiment on awaking of a mind. Inspired by this person L. Ron Hubbard announced that mind is only a computer and it’s possible with certain knowledge to unlock its proper potential.
Examples like those are many in this book but reader need to be critical with accepting some of author’s fantastical speculations. Nevertheless this book is interesting view on intriguing subject and is worth recommending.
Profile Image for Travis FFFFFFFFFF.
7 reviews2 followers
October 25, 2016
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?
Profile Image for Rane.
3 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Eugene Pustoshkin.
441 reviews70 followers
May 13, 2013
Книга в своё время оставила очень хорошее впечатление. После чего многократно её рекомендовал своим друзьям.
Profile Image for Blaine.
47 reviews2 followers
April 7, 2015
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.
December 26, 2021
I am not sure where to even begin with this review. TechGnosis is a book that I never expected to be so intriguing, intense, at times esoteric (to me) yet with its complexity; even with accessible language; the stories within this made me think about concepts I never thought of. And some concepts that I had initial thoughts on (before I read this), but now I am forced to review and re-examine as I need to account for subtle nuances and dig deeper beneath the surfaces. Overall, Davis writes his extraordinary thoughts for us and places them into the context of Humanity's evolution and culture, and how these intertwine and respond to technological shifts and advancements, and creates a feedback loop, and thus also; how technology affects Humanity's cultures and evolution.

There were many times where after each chapter it took me a long while to try and digest the readings that I have just undertaken, not necessarily because it was difficult for me to grasp, but rather, difficult to try and organize such notions in my mind. I loved how in the end in the afternote, Davis leaves for us a message that he purposely did not simplify the fundamental notions that make up the chaotic webwork of how our civilization was and has become and yet to be. Because it is only in this chaos that things can make sense.

This book has achieved what it was set out to do, and I am left curious. Trying to comprehend and evaluate and articulate and discover and recognize and be aware and notice and compute and imagine. What a wonderful feeling.
132 reviews2 followers
August 26, 2017
Gnoza była ruchem religijnym dążącym do wyzwolenia człowieka za pomocą magii, nauki lub wiary z materialnego świata. Książka Erika Davisa opisuje początki gnozy oraz jej współczesne wersje.

Na początku opisani są antyczni mistycy oraz średniowieczni alchemicy. Następnie autor opisuje narodziny spirytualizmu, który wyłonił się między innymi dzięki powstaniu elektryczności i nowych sposobów komunikacji. Opisuje kościół scjentologiczny oraz sekty wierzące w kosmitów, którzy mieliby zabrać ich do lepszego świata. Opowiada o wpływach wschodnich religii wśród zachodnich intelektualistów i mistyków. Pisze też o poganach w dolinie krzemowej oraz o zainteresowaniu magią, które zostało rozbudzone przez literaturę fantasy oraz gry RPG. Opisuje także niektóre dzieła sci fi, które zawierały motywy gnostyckie. Wspominany jest też wielokrotnie internet, jako zrealizowanie marzeń wielu mistyków o kolektywnym umyśle. Główną tezą autora jest przeświadczenie, że nauka i rozwój technologiczny rozbudza oraz inspiruje wielu mistyków, z których niektórzy sami są współtwórcami nowych technologii.

Książka jest bardzo chaotyczna. Autor w wielu miejscach skacze po wątkach albo wkłada swoje opinie na tematy luźno związane z tematem tej książki. Dodatkowo bardzo razi nadużywanie słowa paradygmat. Jeśli kogoś interesują nowe motywy religijne we współczesnym świecie, to mogę mu polecić te dzieło.
Profile Image for Marley.
9 reviews7 followers
April 27, 2021
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 non-fiction the book felt like a web of knowledge constantly being spun and un-spun. The experience felt reminiscent of hyperlinking deeper into a wikipedia info-hole or following a line of thinking that allows you stop at each neuron for consideration.

Neither too optimistic, which is unusual given it was written in the 90s, nor pessimistic, which is unusual for any book about technology, TechGnosis threaded a quilt between the deepest parts of our human condition, explored through the stories we've told of other worlds here on Earth, and the ways in which we have built our own world to reflect these age old intuitions. Prophetic throughout, the book examines the relationship between man and technology which ultimately is revealed to be a relationship with ourselves.

Profile Image for Richard Kemp.
113 reviews4 followers
September 27, 2020
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 further research.

It occurs to me that gnosis is an intrsically personal phenomenon. It can't be shared, and often can't be described. The intro gave me the impression (mistaken or not) that this book would be selling a message, I now don't think a message on this topic is truly possible. What the book does do very well is show all the myriad ways in which gnosis and tech have both aligned and fed upon another throughout history. The book I expected to read was more exciting, but the one I actually read is the better book, I think.

I found the historical parts particularly interesting, the author draws on a really impressively broad and deep background knowledge across multiple topics.
Profile Image for Karin.
63 reviews
April 6, 2020
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 haraway - in a brief passing, but he checks 'em all, leaving the space open for your own interpretations. Great stepping stone for further reading, and all pinched with very intelligent sense of humour. Just great.
Profile Image for Joana Pestana.
17 reviews2 followers
August 24, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Mike Ljubsa.
10 reviews2 followers
October 5, 2021
A super important book to read, especially for anyone doubting technology’s role in a happier world. Every new technology provides exciting possibilities, with a natural dark side of possibilities. It is in our nature to stretch ourselves into some higher knowing or progress, and technology is the road we use to fill an inherent human yearning that can always make progress, yet is impossible to ever complete.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
621 reviews21 followers
May 22, 2022
I bought the first edition of this in 1999, and finally getting around to reading it two decades later, I assumed it would be pretty out of date. It holds up surprisingly well, though! The discussion of gnosticism online remains pretty applicable, even when the author's never heard of Facebook, Instagram, or QAnon. The good and the bad themes he explores still resonate.
Profile Image for Roger Green.
319 reviews18 followers
March 12, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Jacek Marchwicki.
13 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2021
Po latach od wydania już trochę bije naiwnością, ale zawiera pokłady nieskażonego postępującym cynizmem świeżego, pełnego nadziei i przenikliwości spojrzenia na rzeczywistość informacyjną, poszukując w niej mistycznych prawd które tam bez dwóch zdań są. Cudo ogólnie
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 7 books591 followers
July 23, 2021
This book is one continuous sentence it seems about everything cyberpunk, horrific, and weird. It’s a lot to take in and I found it difficult to tease out a coherent philosophy but maybe that’s not a problem because the book will branch my reading for years to come.
20 reviews
November 12, 2022
Took a while to get through but I am glad I did. The connection between cybernetic technologies and Gnosticism was fascinating and well researched. Written like a journalist, I really like Erik Davis' stuff.
Profile Image for Andreas.
4 reviews
July 14, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Artem Huletski.
538 reviews14 followers
October 10, 2020
Стиль местами захватывает, приятно читать книгу, где попадаются неизвестные тебе слова. Содержание варьируется от "аа, что ты такое" до "интересный взгляд на вещи".
Profile Image for Thomas.
Author 1 book52 followers
May 24, 2021
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.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 58 reviews

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