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TechGnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information (Five Star Paperback) Paperback – March 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

The gap between the technological mentality and the mystical outlook may not be as great as it seems. Erik Davis looks at modern information technology--and much previous technology--to reveal how much of it has roots in spiritual attitudes. Furthermore, he explores how those who embrace each new technological advance often do so with designs and expectations stemming from religious sensibilities. In doing so, Davis both compares and contrasts the scientific attitude that we can know reality technologically and the Gnostic idea of developing ultimate understanding. Although organized into reasonable chapters, there's a strong stream-of-consciousness component to Davis's writing. His expositions may run, for example, from information theory to the nebulous nature of Gnosticism to the philosophical problem of evil-­all in just a few pages. It's as if there are so many connections to make that Davis's prose has to run back and forth across time and space drawing the lines. But the result, rather than being chaotic, is a lively interplay of wide-ranging ideas. His style is equally lively and generally engaging--if sometimes straying into the hip. In the end, he succeeds in showing the spiritual side of what some may see as cold, technological thought. --Elizabeth Lewis --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In the new millennium, will we drop our messy bodies and upload our mindsAand soulsAinto tidy android containers? Why not, argues Davis, a Wired contributor whose hip, erudite first book argues for the survival of a kind of gnostic mysticism in the age of information technology, carried over from the specifically Christian movement of late antiquity. Davis marshals an impressive, even exhausting, amount of evidence from Eastern and Western literature, history, philosophy, scripture and popular culture to support his sometimes opaque position on the matter of technology's impact on human spirituality and vice versa. In wave after wave of hybrid vocabulary ("mythinformation," "netaphysician," "cyberdelia," etc.), he offers a dizzying implosion of simulated hypertext, leaping from an authentic Gnostic poem to a '60s rock concert to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook to the latest cultic catastrophe. This deluge of information and theory manages to be quite entertaining ("Already in Homer, Hermes is a multitasking character"), but, ultimately, readers may be unsure whether to applaud Davis's conclusion that the phallic vector of technological development has been supplanted by a womblike matrix. But it's not always the destination that matters, and readers who hang on will find that surfing Davis's datastream makes for an exhilarating ride.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Five Star Paperback
  • Paperback: 372 pages
  • Publisher: Five Star (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852427728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852427726
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,649,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

When I'm abroad, I usually tell people I am from California rather than the United States. I'm not just trying to be clever, or to slough off the increasingly heavy load of being an American in foreign climes. I actually identify that way.

I was born in the Bay Area in June of the Summer of Love, and grew up in Del Mar, a town of university profs and mellow longhairs name-dropped by the Beach Boys in 'Surfin' U.S.A.' When I was a teenager, my family moved to Rancho Santa Fe, into a rambling ranch house that lay about a mile from the Spanish Revival mansion where the Heaven's Gate UFO cult later committed mystic suicide. Since 1995, I have lived in San Francisco, where my great-great-great-grandfather I. C. C. Russ disembarked with his family from the Loo Choo in the fortuitous year of 1847. My roots lie in this rootless place.

That said, I spent a good ten years on the east coast, at Yale and then in the freelance trenches of New York City, where I wrote tons about music, philosophy, and television for The Village Voice, The Nation, Details, Spin, and other more or less glossy rags. I started covering virtual reality and Internet culture long before the World Wide Web hit, and wrote the first national piece about Burning Man. I have always been interested in exploring the margins where spirituality, media technology, and culture intertwine, giving us flashes of possible futures.

Essays about this sort of stuff have appeared in over a dozen books, including AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man, Zig Zag Zen: Psychedelics and Buddhism, and The Disinformation Book of Lies. For years I was also a contributing writer for Wired.

I have also spent a good deal of time traveling the world, playing music, and fitfully practicing yoga, martial arts, and meditation. In politics and philosophy, I strive to be multi-perspectival; in temperament, I am both enlivening and prickly. I am committed to the life of mind and soul, even in these claustrophobic, competetive, potentially catastrophic days.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Alex Burns ( on April 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Erik Davis' fine writing has graced the pages of The Nation, Village Voice, Lingua Franca, and 21.C for many years. 'Techgnosis' grew out of an essay that he wrote for the seminal cyber-crit anthology 'Flame Wars', edited by Mark Dery.
Unlike other authors, Davis has an incredibly open mind and lets the disenfranchised speak for themselves. There are some stunning sections on Scientology, the Gurdjieff Work, John Dee, the Extropians, and the interface between early 1980s role-playing games like Gary Gygax's 'Advanced Dungeons and Dragons' and contemporary VR technology. Davis examines many of the integral examples of spirituality featured across many cyber-crit books, but his elegant writing and common sense inject a powerful dynamic into this work not often found elsewhere. He doesn't have the same hysterical tone often found in anti-cult literature for example, but is also balanced and can be subtly critical (confused yet?).
There are some strange omissions, notably an excellent piece Davis wrote for 21.C on the Mormons that appears to have been dropped by the publishers at last minute. Despite this, 'Techgnosis' is a strong debut that clearly conveys how the spiritual has transmutated into the technological at the end of the millennium. Fully referenced, Davis' book is a clear indication of the maturation of a defining authorial voice.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Vargr on April 24, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was not expecting a classical Gnostic text when I picked this book up, perhaps that's why I'm not as dissapointed as others who have read it. I was looking for a work in the Gnostic tradition (not Tradition). Davis makes some compelling connections between the old and new seekers after Truth. References cited in this book were also good, and steered me toward other interesting works.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By on July 31, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Davis sets his sights high - to explain the philosophical and mystical history of the West against the development of our technologies. While the argument is often made that technologies are value-neutral, Davies proves - conclusively - that our technological fancies rise from our intrinsic spiritual natures (explicit or implicit), even as every new scientific discovery equally spawns a new era of spiritual "research". From the Emerald Tablets of Hermes Trismegistos to the noospheric prognostications of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - who may have predicted the Internet a half century before it became a physical reality - Davies shows that being and doing, in the guise of spirituality and techology, are the twinned halves of the cultural DNA within which we operate.
Delightfully, this book is not just a dry retelling of history; Davis has a point of view, which is neither fancifully utopian or pessimistically Orwellian, but instead focuses on the reality of t! he isomorphism between what we believe about the world around us and what we believe about the life within us.
This book isn't just a good read, it's a necessary read, a clever antidote to all of the business-as-usual explanations of the age of information, and contextualizes our era against the last 3,000 years of history of the West. Anyone interested in the history of science, the history of religion, and the history and ethics of technology should read this book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brian Wallace (Co-author of It's Not Your Hair) on January 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Techgnosis creatively runs the gamut of the language and human expression game - unfurled in such divergent media as computers, literature, and science.
Davis paints a vivid picture of worlds that have opened up as a result of cutting edge human thinking and natural extensions of the human nervous system which have made our lives - if not entirely more useful - at least a lot more interesting and enjoyable.
Davis is a modern shaman who ties together the mystical with the technological in ways that make sense.
Very nicely done.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Arch Llewellyn on December 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Erik Davis's often creative connections between magic and technology suffer from his style--a hip, let me explain it to you in terms you can understand narrative that casts every age as a pale anticipation of our own. The bloom is off the information age, and while the Internet is here to stay, Davis's way of talking about it isn't. I'd give this book an 'A' for enthusiasm from a talented undergrad. But as a serious analysis of the bridge between myth and machines, the story collapses under its own pretense of being 'now'. Search out the sources he footnotes and take the rest as an artefact of the dot-com boom.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 10, 2010
Format: Paperback
Erik Davis has proposed that forms of communication shape social and individual consciousness of reality. IMHO, Techgnosis is worth another look now that social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) has spread so rampantly across our culture. The tracks of what we have followed tends now to define what is presented to us.

In a nutshell, "Different forms of communication -- oracular performance, writing, print, television, email - shape social and individual consciousness along specific lines, creating unique networks of perceptions, experiences, and interpersonal possibilities that help shape the social construction of reality. From this it follows that when a culture's technical structure of communication mutates quickly and significantly, both social and individual "reality" are in for a bit of a ride. ...The social imagination leaps into the breach, unleashing a torrent of speculation, at once cultural, metaphysical, technical, and financial. These speculations inevitably take on a utopian and feverish edge. ...However much we aspire to embody the rationalism of our machines, we cannot escape this feedback loop between techne [sic] and dream."

Categorized under Technology, Techgnosis is rich with the name-dropping, "Spunk and Bite" style, and mystical leanings that may appeal to Grunge crowds, old New Agers, and intellectuals. Oh, and it is of interest to historians, communication and media technology students, information technologists, millenialists, conspiracy theorists, and religious seekers.

Keep in mind this was originally written before the turn of 2000, even before the Wachowski brothers brought us The Matrix. I first read it in '98, when it helped me blaze a few new trails in my path. But there's plenty of thought here with staying power.
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