THE CHURCH OF THE BLACK HOLE: Mystery Traditions in the Digital Age
Hello, readers. Before we get started, MF Sullivan has two announcements for you: FIRST, come back on Friday the 23rd to check out the cover reveal for Book I of The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, THE HIEROPHANT’S DAUGHTER! With May 19th, 2019 now less than six months away, be prepared to get your copy and keep an eye on this blog for links to the forthcoming Amazon page. Readers of this essay are particularly encouraged to check out the trilogy.
Meanwhile–are you also a writer, occultist, UFOlogist, or miscellaneous crackpot? Painted Blind Publishing is looking for guest posts! Please send your pitches/finished articles to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it sounds good, we’ll edit it, toss it up on the blog and link to your book, product, blog, or witch shop. We here at Painted Blind Publishing make light at times, but we are profoundly open-minded to a great many topics–anything from Mothman to chakras to explanations of Elvis sightings is welcome for your coverage.
Now–on to the essay.
I. From Magic to Science
We live in a secular era. In a world rife with religious dissent, it may not seem as such. But, when we look back in time across a world ruled by gods walking in the form of the Pharaoh, granting the divine rights of Kings, and inspiring more wars among greedy Papal city-states than one could easily list, we must recognize that we are living in an extremely unique time and place. For what may be the first time ever in recorded human history, it is considered undesirable by most people that faith and state should mix.
Superficially, at any rate. As an American, seeing a violation of this principle is often as easy as turning on the news; arguments break out between conservatives and liberals on a daily basis, with both sides of the duality fighting tooth and nail to protect any number of rights which really only serve as an excuse to quarrel. One need not even speak of the torrid political drama which has plagued both the U.S. and the world beginning around the year 2016 to understand that in the absence of a unifying faith, that unifying faith becomes politics. The two are intimately connected in the mind of the people, for the macrocosm is a reflection of the microcosm in the political sphere as well as the spiritual. No matter how the government may deny it, spirituality—or something latent which approaches spiritual faith—is a requirement of the most valuable voter. A person with a spiritual inclination but no spiritual belief is like a zealot without a cause, or a wanderer without a compass. They are alarmingly easy to misdirect, and often begin life with so good-natured and open a heart that they will believe whatever they are told.
For instance, the separation of church and state appears ever more a superficial construct; and the more we learn about history, the more it implies that this has always been the case. If the accounts of Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, are to be believed, the Hellfire Club, of which Benjamin Franklin was a famous member, knew how to throw a righteous pagan party; Thomas Jefferson, an adamant critic of religion and ‘superstition’, re-cut the Bible with a razorblade to put emphasis on Jesus’s philosophy without the spiritual miracles of Christ, completely without irony or understanding of the deep cognitive dissonance required for such an act. This particular example is a fine demonstration of the effects of materialism upon the brain: one can think only superficially, for one has become a fundamentalist of a different kind, and fundamentalism is incompatible with symbolic interpretation that is loyal to the meaning of the thing in itself with respect to its place in the world a la Heidegger. Fundamentalism, whether religious, materialist or political, only allows interpretation with respect to the fundamental belief in question: it is a virus, and the confirmation bias is its mechanism.
Unfortunately, most of our friends and neighbors—and even those occultists who may be new to the party, or partial to one particular path—are almost all secret fundamentalists in one fundamental way: they have been taught from birth that the mind/body problem is not a problem at all, because it is ‘obvious’ that the material world is material, and the world of the mind is imaginary, and any boundary or interaction between the two should be ignored. This is literally the fundamental belief at the core of their reality, and when it is challenged, the challenger may be met with anything from an eye-roll to a heated outburst. The reason for this may be because Descartes’s philosophy is often taught, but seldom read; and readers who pick up Discourse on the Method would see it is steeped in spirituality of an especially gnostic flavor, much as readers who studied Descartes would understand that his path in the sciences was revealed to him by what he interpreted as an angel who visited him while he was shut up in a room with a heater to escape the winter cold (and therefore maybe suffering from mild carbon monoxide poisoning).
The mechanics of Cartesian dualism, the result of Descartes’s cogito ergo sum statement, are fairly simple, but the root of a problem. The result of Rene’s thought process is the view that mind and body are made of two separate substances; the mind can exist outside the body, but the body cannot think without the mind. This very reasonable conclusion has formed the basis for essentially all philosophy since its Latin printing in 1656; but, much as Descartes refused to accept his predecessor’s conclusions as valid, modern technology forces us to re-assess René‘s fine work. His philosophy was rooted in the scientific models of his time, as is the philosophy of every one of us rooted in our own time; and the scientific models of his time were only a few decades more advanced than the scientific models of Shakespeare. The basis of Descartes’s philosophy is that same basis upon which alchemists such as John Dee and Basil Valentine based their understandings of the world. The 1500s and 1600s were not exactly a healthy time to be alive, and the body was poorly understood. Magic, science and politics were all so intimately tied that science had not even extricated itself from the mix, and indeed would not for many years, if it has ever truly extricated itself at all. Lest we forget, Isaac Newton died choking down tablespoons of mercury, like any good alchemist of his era. If the division of religion from politics is a relatively new occurrence, the deliverance of science from spirituality may still be considered a work-in-progress. With Einstein’s theory of relativity came a new clarity and boundary to the universe which no man had ever imagined before, and ah, the possibilities that came with it! Hypothetical universes, quantum mechanics, theoretical physics! Scientists would hate to have it pointed out to them that although their models may be very complete and provable, they are only more secular and universal ways of discussing what occultists have been babbling about for centuries—and, not only that, but science gives us the answer to a great many spiritual questions, for it is not the spiritualist who denies science, but the scientist who denies spirituality. That is to say, one of philosophy’s children can play nicely with its sibling, but the other has a bad humor about it. But if scientists would only re-read the works of alchemists and a great many mystery religions, they would see that they have developed a mystery religion of their own.
II. The Church of the Black Hole
According to the (now infinite) Stephen Hawking and his Cambridge colleague, Professor Malcom Perry, black holes do not destroy the information which enters them; rather, they are thought to store information on their event horizon, and transform it into a 2D hologram in a process called ‘super translation’.1 At the same time, the integrity of the universe is intimately tied to the concept of information: if one tries to pack information more densely than 1069 bits per square meter, said information will collapse into a black hole, which may be nothing more than the universe’s all in one projector/hard-drive.2 The holographic principle which seemed to boom in popularity between 2014 and 2016 may not be far off, although easy to take literally as any other model of reality. At the root of the principle lies ‘information theory’, which is not only the solution to black holes and their relativity-violating consumption of information, but a solution to Cartesian dualism, religion, and most of our basic questions about physical existence. What is information? By definition, everything. Everything contains information, whether it is an image, a word, a mathematical formula or a three-dimensional potted plant sitting upon one’s writing desk.3 The notion that everything exists, suspended upon the surface of a black hole at the end of space-time which is responsible for projecting space-time itself, sounds an awful lot like an extremely cogent model of the spiritual phenomenon described as eternity, whether it is called ‘samadhi‘ or ‘being with the Lord’. The recognition and subjective experience of this phenomenon during one’s life is, in other faiths, an important step in what leads to the human expansion of consciousness—and consciousness itself is a byway down which many scientists, philosophers, and artists have stumbled without anything approaching full comprehension, for the conscious being understands that it is like Hekate with a third, ever-unobservable face merely hinted. The dog chases its tail; the man chases his own thread of consciousness. He does it not by physical chasing, but by eternally refining his models of being to a more universal, defensible, and fundamentally true model; and yet, he must do it without being a fundamentalist about it.
But what of the single man? What relevance has an information-based universe upon his daily life? After all, when one walks down the street, one does not see information, numbers, a black hole; one sees sunny streets populated with cars and squirrel-covered trees under which lovers kiss and in which they write their names to exist there forever. Is it a false and joyless existence to view the esoteric mysteries at all, let alone through the secular models presented to us by science? Far from it—the scientific model merely validates millennia of symbolic tradition. If Aleister Crowley had been alive to understand what we now know of black holes, doubtless one would have found him crowing that this was that same phenomenon he worshiped in the form of Nuit. And while it is true that the irreligious sort may feel they have no use for these concepts at all, they are wrong. If all is one within a black hole, it has intriguing implications for a phenomenon called ‘synchronicity’ by Carl Jung, which may be explicable by quantum entanglement. Unobserved information or events may exist already, in superposition of 1 and 0 like a qbit in the world of quantum information. And yet, no matter how invaluable, insightful and interesting a model may be, it still too often fails in one regard.
Philosopher David Chalmers is credited for articulating the “hard problem” of consciousness, which Descartes felt was sufficiently answered by the existence of the spirit, but which modern philosophers and scientists tend to find ever-open. The hard problem is this: as you are reading this essay, the light, the page, your eyes and your visual cortex are all engaging in physical processes which lead to you, an observer, having the experience of ‘reading’; but how do you know that you are reading? How are you able to consciously experience yourself, this text, anything at all? The subject is all there, but whence come the observer? Physical and chemical science can tell us how something works, but not what it is. As Chalmers wrote when introducing the problem in 1995, “Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?”4 It is too easy for the occultist here to fall back, as did Descartes, on the explanation of ‘the spirit’, but we must remember we are working to develop an illustration of secular science’s interpretation of the mystery tradition. We have an inner world, so there must be an observer, but what is the root of this observer and how can the inner world be demonstrated? As ever, philosophy has the answer: philosophical zombies.
We are not philosophical zombies: at least, I know I am not. I cannot prove that you, reader, are not, or that anyone else is not. A philosophical zombie is a hypothetical being which seems for all intents and purposes like a normal human being, with normal responses to stimulus, but they have no conscious inner experience.5 It is a brain functioning without an observer; a brain which invalidates Descartes’ tenants of the mind/body problem, for it implies that it is indeed possible for the body to exist without the mind. To put it another way: at what point did we evolve from apes to men? When we walked on two feet? When we learned to speak? Or is there something more than learning to speak which is required for a being to become a conscious human? If you taught a dog to speak, at what point would it develop an inner life, an imagination, its own subjective experience of itself, its ego, its memories? Is it possible that an event in the future of a person’s life can trigger the beginnings of this development in their past? Is it possible that everyone starts life as a philosophical zombie, a dog which has been taught speech, and that we must earn our mind, our consciousness, by the acquisition and interpretation of sufficient amounts of information? Surprising events have greater amounts of information than an expected event6: by the ‘shock’ of reading a good Nasrudin story or suddenly comprehending a Koan, do we receive enough surprising information that the photon which brought it is absorbed into the system in a way which is not normally physically experienced? Or is it simply that consciousness is a phenomenon of electricity, and the ‘I’ really belongs to our electrons? We have many possibilities, but not one concrete answer; we have many religious traditions, but not one final solution which globally applies to man.
Science, whether it knows or not, has produced its own mystery tradition; it is simply a mystery tradition still in the making, and a mystery tradition whose primary tenant, not unlike Crowley’s, is skepticism. When a mystery faith leaves no room for mystery, and when it denies or maintains a firm skepticism toward unusual phenomena, how can consciousness comprehend those miraculous events which Jefferson saw as unworthy mud in the waters of Christ? How can we make room for the unknown in this new, secular faith? The answer is simple: we need not. The unknown will make room for itself. I would be far from the first scholar of the occult to point out the patterns of behavior shared in common between pagan gods, angels, and modern aliens; but I may be one of the few who continues to press, ‘what will be next’? For occultists have engaged in interaction with otherworldly creatures for as long as man has had consciousness; the problem is that now scientists will begin to have them, for these entities seem to be attracted by, or related to, the human expansion of consciousness, and generally seem strongly encouraging of it. Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger I utilizes a model of existence which involves telepathic communication with aliens from Sirius, and provides as his ‘evidence’ for both this and the occult a series of compelling (and ultimately tragic) synchronicities built throughout the book. How different is this, really, from Descartes’ carbon monoxide seraph?
Much as science can explain reality in a superficial but not really tell us ‘what’ it is, we have yet to find a way to objectively quantify subjective, consciousness-based experiences. We do know (at least, we occultists know) that there are experiences which can be had only by the conscious observer, and not by the unconscious subject; but how do we measure or communicate those experiences from the inside when every human being has been raised in a slightly different context, with a slightly different brain, and slightly different hopes and dreams and intentions for the world? How do we measure or communicate those experiences when not everyone has them, and those who don’t refuse to believe them? How do we prove that we are not all philosophical zombies?
It is impossible to take a measurement if no one can agree on the length of a ruler, and that is the inherent problem with mystery religions in a global scoiety. In a secular world where we are all desperate to preserve our individual blend of esotericism, however, we have the opposite problem: the scientists have all agreed on the length of the ruler, but they are extremely dubious about the thing they are measuring, and whether or not there is even anything to measure at all. Is there not a happy medium here? Let us never forget the good, old-fashioned Arthur Clarke science fiction axiom: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”7
III. The Squaring of the Saucer
From the outside, we see a tree growing and see it as static; but if a tree were conscious and had its own inner experience (and how do we know it does not!), how would it imagine the blueprint of the potential perfect tree which we eventually see it become? Would it imagine that potential at all? Surely it must, if we are to attribute it a proper inner life. And how would it strive to achieve that potential; learn to achieve that potential? Would it be visited by the spirits of its ancestors? Would it dream of a great tree-god, who shows it the path to the sun? What is the difference between the tree of life, and a twisting spiral of D.N.A.; and why should we be so arrogant as to think that we are conscious, but the genetic code which forms our blueprint is not?
Psychiatrist Carl Jung posits more than once in a few sly ways the concept that the archetypes, his categorization system for this type of celestial, extra-terrestrial and inter-dimensional phenomenon, may be little more than the manner in which consciousness interprets its instincts.8 This would mean that whatever shape they may take, they are little more, once again, than numbers on a ruler; yet, it is a ruler which is barely agreed upon, sometimes erroneously heralded as the highest truth, and sometimes accused as pointless or blasphemous. But, as the Hindus say, that which can be thought is false. The highest truth is beyond the construction of words because words are symbols, and the perfect, ‘truest’ word to express the highest truth is, itself, the physical emergence of the truth, which is like the emergence of the Logos. The perfect word creates that which it speaks, is the thing which it speaks, and therefore is not a word at all, but being. These beings which communicate with the mind, these extraordinary strangers, are information as much as anything else, but hidden so deeply within matter that only consciousness can find them.
And yet, we see so often that there is a physical component to these experiences. They are not strictly mental. Contact has been claimed since the dawn of time in a litany of forms. St. Paul was brought up to heaven and shown “things of which it is not lawful to speak”, as is recorded again and again by many occultists; what difference is there between this and an abductee, except for the advantage of context and coherence? How could one possibly grasp an experience like this if one had no basis, spiritual or scientific, from which to do it?
The answer is necessary, because the experience is going to be had with increasing frequency as more people across the globe come into contact, not only with each other, but with these unnameable instances of being. While it is easy to blame the fall of organized religious mysteries on a shift of import from the religious to the scientific, the truth is that globalization, an inevitable and important process in the development of the species of humanity, is responsible for blotting it out. When all systems are revealed to be at least a little bit ‘right’ and all systems are revealed to have an esoteric variation, it means the time has come for a consolidation and development of knowledge, rather than a lamentation for its destruction. Could it not be that all religions are marks upon one great ruler, whose termination is science? We live in an age where enlightenment is both more easy and more difficult than ever, for every one of us has a magic box sitting in our house from which we can acquire any book, any illustration, any bit of knowledge for which we could ever ask; and yet, the minute one Internet occultist means another, they descend into an argument as quickly as they would with a materialist.
If all of reality exists as a projection back through time from the 2-D surface of a black hole, then it is logical to say we reside in eternity. Therefore, while material time travel might not be possible (though, with all due respect to Professor Hawking, no self-respecting time traveler would have outed himself for that little party he threw), if reality is all information and our thoughts, specifically, are information, then our thoughts form a doorway into eternity unbounded by material space-time and its crotchety laws of physics and causality. When the student of the mind discovers, one way or another, whether by Jung or Leary or Yahweh, that the faculty of consciousness is separate from the faculty of ego which may itself be separate from the faculty of persona, we become unstuck in time, as it were, not unlike Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V. Is it a coincidence that so many science fiction writers, who plunge deep into the bounds of the imagination, seem so often to re-emerge with unnervingly accurate predictions of future technology and even visionary experiences, like that of Philip K. Dick?
IV. Pursuing the Highest Truth
The more one delves into the unconscious, the more it gives back. One day after I began the process of writing this article, another article was drawn to my attention, published a few days before. The pair of studies, released in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and titled “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government In the Provider Role”, drew more or less the same conclusions we have here today: “An exchange model of religion implies that if a secular entity such as government provides what people need, they will be less likely to seek help from supernatural entities…In both studies, a combination of better government services and quality of life was related to a particularly low level of religiosity.”9
When humans have a supportive government or a comfortable material lifestyle, they do not believe that they need religion. This is because religion serves two purposes: exoterically, it organizes and supports the community with not just moral and ethical standards (theoretically), but with charity, and compassion; esoterically, it activates the human consciousness experience and forges bold new paths and powers in the world. However, as ever, the right hand knows not what the left hand does; and when it catches wind, problems always arise, because the esoteric principles are actually in superficial conflict with the exoteric principles. If the esoteric principles were to fall into the wrong hands, the thought goes, society could be very well destroyed. This is, after all, why Thelema’s infamous axiom, “’Do What Thou Wilt’ Shall Be The Whole Of The Law”, is so often misunderstood: unhampered and untrained access to the higher will can work both ways, for better or for ill, depending on the student’s clarity of vision.
When consciousness is applied to the inner world, the inner world can sometimes take dangerous precedence; but when consciousness is suppressed by a series of mindless, hollow rituals drained of their meaning (I speak both of genuflections and welfare lines), a human being cannot grow himself, and cannot hone his sight, inner or outer. His attention drops and he is given menial, distracting entertainments which he is told are important but which are only meant to fill his time until he is dead in the hopes that he will not become a thinking sort of man, because a thinking sort of man can very quickly become a conscious sort of man. It is not in the government’s best interest to allow anyone, especially a member of the working poor, to experience a physiological expansion of consciousness; especially not to the extent that they are capable of miraculous feats or psychic displays. The last time that happened, after all, well— we need not name names, but suffice to say, it did not go well, and people are still talking about it today.
And, yet, there sits on my desk, as we speak, a library book chronicling the government’s alleged history of experimentation with psychic warfare during its sordid MKUTLRA phase (and, of course, possibly after). Secular materialists in some circles do believe in subjects which most consider ‘occult’, but they do it as they should: in an occult, or hidden, way. If there is a ‘conspiracy’ in the world outside of the one being concocted most skillfully by our own D.N.A.’s programming, it is most likely a result of the fact that, like a priest who deals in pornography or a prude who secretly sells herself, that which we most loudly decry we tend to love in a way so deep we fear the very thought of loving it. We rage against those people like ourselves, so that no one will ever begin to suspect. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” as says Queen Gertrude.
So what is to be left, then, for those of us who are not part of any conspiracy? What is to be left for those seekers, those wanderers, who begin to stir awake in a sleepy world and find themselves handed no compass? Well: in this world of the Internet, is it not easy enough to learn how to build your own? Esoteric tradition is not disappearing in the face of modernity. It is simply waiting patiently for us to help it evolve, or perhaps it is already secretly evolving ahead and dragging us along with it. Many temples of the future will be digital: and I do not mean that they will be cluttered forums or rambling, 340-page-long websites on black backgrounds which were created in 1994 and not updated since. I mean that, as virtual reality grows increasingly commonplace and holograms are every day perfected, there will be a new plane of existence in which the magician may work. As the digital plane joins the material one and the astral (or, as I prefer to call it, informational) planes into the common knowledge of the esoteric scientist, he will find a vast array of tools available for use. How easy, or even desirable, would it be to engage in the construction—that is, the 3-D modeling—of the temple described by Crowley in Book 4, and then enter it and walk its surface with a headset on? How easy would it be for the profoundly-experienced and well-established consciousness to forget, literally or figuratively, the world for the time it wears the helmet?
In Japan, there is a now-retired pop star named Hatsune Miku. She is not an organic human being, or even physical: she is a character called a ‘vocaloid’, a digital girl who sings songs written by her veritable sea of adoring fans. She will never grow old; she will never die; and in the minds of hundreds of thousands across the globe, I am quite certain that she lives a great many imaginary lives. What is the difference between Hatsune Miku and a tulpa? She is an entity which resides on the digital plane manifesting to a crowd of thousands for what amounts to a massive ritual of energy collection in the form of both physical/symbolic money and pure, unbridled adoration. What is the difference between Hatsune Miku, and a primitive god? (Don’t get offended; I’m sure somewhere there’s a chaos magician, Japanese or American, who has incorporated Hatsune into the constellation of his spiritual system, and he would be offended at your offense.) It is only too appropriate that her name translates to “First sound of the future.”10
The future really is now. 2012 was indeed a time of cultural awakening; a convenient line in the sand to mark humanity’s true plunge into the digital age. When we draw a line at that year, we see how few people before that point had smartphones; now we see how few people don’t. We see the ever-increasing pace of technology, and the exciting developments posed by CRISPR. We see a worldly, sometimes dangerous, but generally exciting future for man: but what of God?
I will answer that, by suggesting this: regardless of whether there are aliens, or entities disguised as aliens, communicating telepathically from the future to lure us into colonizing the universe (understand that this may simply be the manner in which the man conscious of his inner life interprets the pressure of his D.N.A. to spread the seed of his species across far reaches of space-time), or whether we are simply left to do it by ourselves, space travel is the future of mankind. It is the inevitable future; that, or death. But if we believe in quantum immortality, and we believe that consciousness itself cannot die, then it is an unhampered vine which will grow forever and ever upwards toward the sun. It is inevitable that mankind should enter the vast reaches of space. But when we have, what then? When we have reached Sirius and found ourselves those same aliens who once messaged back to the simple humans we used to think ourselves, what will we do then? What will be our highest reality? How will we touch God? Perhaps it is better to say, not that space travel is the destiny of mankind, but that divinity is; and space colonization is simply the next step of yet many leading only to the most profound truth.
Great spiritual traditions are generally founded around a great event; specifically, the enlightenment of a human being, and what that human does with its enlightenment. But as more and more of us become enlightened, and as more and more of us develop ultra-personal systems which may not serve any spiritual purpose to the common man, we must understand that the real religion of mankind is science; and it is not up to scientists to realize that they are a religion. Rather, it is up to occultists to remember that we have always been scientists. When we do, the route forward will be clearer than ever: and we will find that it is truly ‘up’.
- Rincon, P. (2015, August 26th). “Hawking: Black holes store information.” http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34062839 April 18th, 2018
- Becker, K. (2014, April 25th). “Is Information Fundamental?” PBS Nova. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2014/04/is-information-fundamental/ April 18th, 2018
- Chalmers, D. (1995). “Facing up to the problem of consciousness”. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2 (3): 200–219.
- Kirk, Robert. “Zombies”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
- Becker, K. (2014, April 25th). “Is Information Fundamental?” PBS Nova. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blogs/physics/2014/04/is-information-fundamental/ April 18th, 2018
- Clarke, A. “‘Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination'” in the collection Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962, rev. 1973), pp. 36.
- Jung, C. “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious”. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (1959, rev. 1990), pp. 43-44
- Zuckerman, M., Li, C,. and Diener, E. (2018, April 12th) “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167218764656 April 18th, 2018
- Zushi, Y. (2017, March 20th). “Crowd-sourced pop singer Hatsune Miku reveals the true nature of stardom”. New Statesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2017/03/crowd-sourced-pop-singer-hatsune-miku-reveals-true-nature-stardom April 18th, 2018