I chose this because I couldn't find anything else and instead came up with a random picture of Taurt illustrating a quote about RAW from Tom's favorite author Jesse Walker on Wikiquote.
Chapter Two: Downloaded Souls
By Apuleius Charlton
Special guest blogger
Fortuitously, this past week I’ve been reading two books that complement “Hardware & Software.” The first, which I am a few chapters away from finishing, is Joanna Harcourt-Smith’s Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary, which would, I imagine, complement the entire book. The second, which I reread and have finished, is specifically appropriate to this chapter: Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.
In the past few weeks my class has been working our way through parts of Higgs’ Stranger Than We Can Imagine. Recently we read the chapters on “Id” and “Science Fiction.” During the Id chapter I tried to get the student to experiment with automatic writing, surrealist games and free association to understand the deep structures of their own minds. During the Science Fiction chapter I talked extensively about how science fiction, perhaps more than any other genre, can be shown to have demonstrable success in commenting upon and predicting societal trends. (I realize that this is a bias of mine and could simply be a case of enthusiastic pareidolia.)
In hindsight, there is little surprise my mind went to reading Stephenson’s first big novel to help redigest these concepts. Snow Crash not only accurately predicts much of the early twentieth century (at least if you squint your eyes and tilt your head) but also contains long dialogues about the similarities between language and computer programs. Fantastically, the Sumerian language is proposed to have been a vector for a virus (or, as Crowley/Tolkien would have it, a “disease of language”), represented by the pre-Semitic goddess Asherah, that infects and rewires the mind. The novel goes on to propose that the Babel myth is an allegory for the release of a counter-program that differentiated human languages and disallowed access to the original viral language. There’s a lot of allegory about this process and the development of language being easily expressed in coding terms; humorously, one of the participants cannot understand the allegory as they are themselves a piece of software.
Perhaps it was reading the chapter after reading Snow Crash, or the fact I’ve read Prometheus Rising so many times, but this chapter wasn’t particularly shocking in the way that I believe Wilson intended. However, I suspect it is simply the time that we are living in at the moment. The first exercise of this chapter is hilariously unnecessary in 2021. We are surrounded by computers and I doubt that many people reading this can count many days in the past month where they haven’t utilized one (don’t be pretentious--streaming services, smartphones/watches, GPS etc. all count). We are all so inured to cyber-reality that I doubt this chapter was terribly difficult to grok for any of the readers. I would also wager that many of us already occasionally model our conception of the mind in hardware/software terminology. Perhaps it is because of reading this in the past...much like the three later exercises at the end of Chapter Two, there are multiple answers for why we are where we are.
Those exercises are based on Crowley’s first task for students: a complete backwards biography. When you begin writing in your magical journal, perhaps the most powerful tool in Crowley’s Scientific Illuminism, you are to write exactly why you are writing in this journal at this moment: why you choose to undertake the study and discipline of magic, why you are are at the geographic location where you are located, the circumstances under which you came into being. I’ve always found this exercise particularly useful and have always endeavored to perform some version of it when I begin a new journal. After a while you find yourself doing it occasionally in the back of your head. Crowley’s Liber ThIShARB consists of elaborate directions for an ultimate undertaking of this task.
This week we finished the chapter “Nihilism” from Stranger. In the text, Higgs discusses how Roquetin, the poor schmuck at the center of Sartre’s Nausea, first encounters existential dread upon seeing a stone on the beach and thinking of why it is there -- there is no reason, no meaning, only chance. The fourth exercise amended to this chapter could conceivably lead to that, but I would posit that would only be from a lazy or half-assed examination. To repeat myself, Wilson points out that there is a quasi-infinity of questions and answers for why someone or something is where it seems to be. Settling on the random chance answer seems premature and unimaginative. As Higgs points out while discussing nihilism, an excellent inoculation against it or cure is experience of the “flow” state, Colin Wilson’s “peak experience,” or satori. However, Higgs points out that the experience of these states requires intense engagement with the subject. Twenty four hour Samadhi perhaps, fake it until you make it.
“I could never be an atheist because I wouldn’t know what to say during a blow job. Oh random chance! Oh random chance! doesn’t have much of a ring to it.” -my probably flawed remembrance of a RAW quote
Terrific post. I have enjoyed all of your posts.
I think Snow Crash was the first fiction book to blow my mind! And even if misremember 'Oh Random Chance...' is a favorite quote of mine as well. I wonder what using a device like a cypher-wheel (pre-automation) does to a brain? Probably nothing - I mean if you don't hold value in the device to begin with, it may just become the Chinese Room argument. I have to put that back on my re-reads list as well, I forgot if they ever found a workaround to the program.
I wonder how the second chapter would've read if RAW was more familiar with Command-line and coding.
Neal Stephenson is maybe my favorite living author, but I read "Snow Crash" many years ago, and I confess I don't remember it very well. (It's not one of the Stephenson novels that I've re-read yet.) What made you want to read it again?
Thank you Gregory for this post. The decision made to have the three of you taking turns at leading the discussion allows for different trajectories, since everyone have their own angle of approach, and still it somehow all seem interconnected. Very approriate for this book.
Great job in bringing Snow Crash to the discussion, some of the underlying themes indeed seem very much aligned with ideas from PR. SC might even come in handy many times again, to try and illustrates points made by RAW. Since your reading is still fresh, feel free to keep us updated on whatever connection pops up in your mind.
I read Nausea when I was around 20 and felt as shocked as you describe PR's chapter 2 being for a 2021 reader. That is, I thought I was reading a very accurate description of my daily life, almost like a documentary on what was going on in my mind. The remake by Linkin Park called Numb wasn't as good.
Oz Fritz, thank you for sharing the essay on the rhizome last week. I am in the midst of reading it, and will probably need time to digest it, but so far I happily noted that they did not lose any time before paying lip service to Burroughs' cut-ups and James Joyce. I am also slowly going through the series you ran on your blog some years ago on D&G and Crowley. I have a feeling that this might be pretty illuminating.
I will come back later with some thoughts on the MLA related material.
Tripping the Bardo gives an excellent, fun and informative, read. I think it would make a great film or documentary. It also provides a great companion book to The Starseed Signals, they approach the same period of Leary's life from different, close angles. I'll put Snow Crash on my list of books to read.
Indeed, computers appear ubiquitous these days. The metaphor of the brain and nervous system working like a sort of human bio-computer has gained much currency in consciousness raising circles since John Lilly introduced the idea in the 60s, in large part likely due to Leary and RAW's popularization of the concept. The metaphor's extension into "software occurs everywhere" seems very important to me. I like the simple, but effective illustration showing this in PR page 19. I don't know how many people know to the extent they program or condition themselves with what they watch on their screens or listen to in their ear buds or speakers, or the information they take in any other way.
In pre-computer days, G.I. Gurdjieff called this "software" food. The impressions you receive provide a kind of food, he stated. This relates to the alchemical accretion of substances and the creation of "higher bodies" - possibly his conception of what Leary/RAW mean by the activation of higher brain circuits. Many people where I live here in California have a heightened, sometimes obsessive, awareness and concern for the physical food they purchase and consume. Viewing brain software as a kind of food, personalizes it more for me.
E.J. Gold, another enthusiast of the computer's potential for voluntary evolution, holds that one can train (program or condition) for the Bardo or OOB experiences by playing certain computer video games (Diablo II, Team Fortress, and Nintendos Zelda) A LOT! He also extolls the benefits of learning to design and program computer video games, a practice called "blue lining," as a way of becoming a creator of worlds within worlds, something literally done when making a computer game.
Thank you everyone for your responses. I appreciate them even when I see them in between classes and forget to respond.
I have to admit, I know very little about coding myself. I should learn more sometime. I can follow along with spoon-fed stuff like Stephenson, but I am easily lost when a conversation between adepts occurs.
@BFHN- I read Nausea and The Stranger in high school and both a brief impact on me. I always found atheism to be a bum trip. At the same time I was reading Nietzche, which for me seemed spiritual, and dabbling in the tide pools of the occult. That sucked me in pretty quickly and I have found my apprehension of magic and nihilism/atheism/existentialism don't jive. I guess that means I spent a lot of time with an insane martyr complex when I was sad in my early twenties.
I would enjoy hearing how you'd describe our three agendas or approaches- or at least mine.
@Oz- Errol Morris made a documentary out of it and it is beautiful! "My Psychedelic Love Story" (its on, blech, Amazon). I had to take it in increments the first viewing, it drew up so much emotional energy.
I was thinking about Gurdjieff's "food for the Moon" idea today. Interesting sychronicity.
I liked The Stranger much more than I did Nausea, perhaps because unlike Sartre's book that felt to me like a 300 pages long description of depersonalization, Camus allowed to me somehow identify with the main character despite his motives being unclear. It was both familiar and weirdly eerie. Meursault has this Johnny Cash quality to him, what with the "I shot an Arab in Algiers just to watch him die" attitude and all. not that I ever did that myself or anything.
I wouldn't say that any of you really seems to have an agenda or a clearly defined approach. But different people make different connections, so perhaps neither Eric nor Tom would have thought of bringing Neal Stephenson to the discussion.
That being said and since you asked, I would say that maybe Gregory you are letting out a wee bit more information on your personal life, which I chose to see as an acknowledgment of sorts of the Observer observing the world as perceived by Himself. I'm not sure why, but I somehow enjoyed a lot your past account of being projected back into your RAWality tunnel upon seeing a bunch of coins, during the otherwise utterly mundane act of going for pizza with your daughter. There is almost what I would call a 'placid gonzo' quality to your writing style, like in the same post when you wrote "There are nuances and I’m not sure my Prover works as well anymore as my Thinker is constantly confused. I wish I had more convictions."
One could argue that an undertone of Sartre or Camus seems around the corner. At least, I often can relate to your views. Then again, French is the citizenship I hold, so maybe I was genetically predisposed to feel like a nauseous stranger?
But it's just like, you know, my opinion, man.
By the way, here's Colin Wilson on the peak experience:
Rarebit Fiend, thanks for the tip on the Leary doc, I'll probably watch it tonight.
Great job connecting the ch. 2 exercize with Crowley's instructions for keeping a diary, I didn't remember that. I agree about the importance of the diary/lab report in the magick arsenal. It was one practice Crowley consistently did his whole life even through hard times. I think it was New Falcon who published a book called Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary
Crowley writes about the Buddhist practice called Sammasati in The Confessions which I think he defined as Right Recollection or Right Memory and how that led him to writing Liber Thisharb. Thisharb represents Berashith, the first word of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew to indicate remembering backwards to the source. The exercize given there involves remembering your life events backwards to birth then remembering backwards from there to recall past lives.
Wilson's exercize here also involves activating the imagination, the constructive use of imagination being another useful weapon in the magick arsenal.
BHFN, I agree with your previous comment that Prometheus corresponds to Lucifer as light-bringer. In one instance, Crowley identifies his Holy Guardian Angel with Satan. Orthodox Christians who regard those two characters as the Devil may have problems with these. One Crowley branch has gotten mileage out of the shock value with the latter association.
To me, this recalls a variation on the "why am I doing this exercize" exercize. Common religious belief holds that God exists everywhere, therefore logic would presume that God must also exist in Hell. Satan or Lucifer (Prometheus) = God in Hell. To Qabalists, Hell = the space/time continuum (see Crowley in the Book of Lies (falsely so-called) or RAW in his Introducton to E.J. Gold's Visions in the Stone).
Crowley identifies his HGA with Satan. Prometheus in Prometheus Rising seems to refer to active readers who do the exercizes and thereby rise. Who is God in Hell? One of the best lay descriptions of Thelema, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land uses the phrase "Thou art God" as a greeting. Why is God in Hell? This seems a variation of the exercize, or another way to get to Know Thyself.
My synch this week appears not unrelated. I began reading Ishtar Rising (let's all rise, dammit!) a day or two before this week's post. I find notable similarities between the two rising titles, like for instance, RAW cut and pasted a section of Chapter 3 from PR into his most recent Preface in IR.
An hour or so after seeing the ribald joke about nonbelief in atheism that closes the OP, I came across RAW giving Linda Lovelace's detailed instructions on how to perform Deep Throat fellatio in IR and quotes her claim, "I have become one of the supreme c***s***ers of all time." Subsequently, Lovelace became a born-again Christian and renounced her past life.
I want to correct the end of my last comment, which was written quickly and leaves the anarchist in me appalled. Of course I did not want to imply any connection between citizenship and genetics. A better choice of words might have been along the lines of "having grown up in the nation-state referred to as France, perhaps I was culturally predisposed to feel like a nauseous stranger." A stranger in a strange land could give me better options, though. I'll take water sex over capital punishment any day.
This type of litterary French existentialism makes me think that this might be one version of Hell, in which one is awake enough to realize that the reality around them isn't quite sticking together anymore, but does not possess the tools to understand that the kingdom of Heaven is within. That is, being locked in a loser script so the light-bearer can't emerge to make good use of those peptides. If, like Camus in his essay on the matter of suicide, we see ourselves as Sisyphus rather than Prometheus, indeed getting out of here as quickly as possible sounds like the sane thing to do...
@Gregory Arnot: have you read Erik Davis latest newsletter? He talks about this book cowritten between a human and an AI. I found it to complement nicely our current talks on software as a metaphor, and particularly your linking this to Snow Crash. I'd love to know what you think of it.
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