Early next week I will host an online video chat with Robert Geraci, the author of “Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality” (Oxford 2010) and “Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life” (Oxford 2014). We will discuss Robert’s exploration of religion, science, and technology in contemporary India, and the prospect of “Akashic Engineering” as a fusion of East and West, science and religion.
UPDATE: Video and slides in “The prospect of Akashic Engineering: Video Q/A with Robert Geraci.”
In his recent article “A tale of two futures: Techno-eschatology in the US and India” Robert argues that Western futurists and transhumanists have absorbed the apocalyptic eschatology of the religions through which they emerged. Indian religious eschatology is different, but it also has parallels with transhumanist thinking. Moreover, Indian futurists tend to embrace the tradition, appropriating science and technology in their affirmation of the past, more than their Western counterparts.
“As machines grow to superhuman intelligence, humanity will upload consciousness into machine bodies and join the artificial intelligences in what Moravec calls the Mind Fire, a cosmic expansion of intelligence throughout the universe,” explains Robert. Moravec’s Mind Fire could be able to resurrect the dead:
“Thanks to vast computation, even the dead shall rise and walk again in this digital wonderland, resurrected through historical analysis.”
Here’s how Moravec, one of the most visionary contemporary futurists, puts it in “Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind“:
“Minds intermediate between Sherlock Holmes and God will process clues in solar-system quantities to deduce and recreate the most microscopic details of preceding eras: Entire world histories, with all their living, feeling inhabitants, will be resurrected in cyberspace.”
Other contemporary scientists, notably Frank Tipler, have written extensively about the concept of technological resurrection.
I propose that the prospect of “Akashic Engineering” – a generic name for future technologies able to exploit the deep structure of physical reality to do “magic” in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law and even resurrect the dead – could be a much needed cultural fusion of East and West: Eastern ethereal spirituality and openness to holistic models of reality on the one hand, and the can-do engineering spirit of Western technology on the other hand.
In “Esoteric Buddhism,” available online as a free download), A.P. Sinnett was among the first Western writers to note that early Buddhism “held to a permanency of records in the Akâsa, and the potential capacity of man to read the same when he has evoluted to the stage of true individual enlightenment.” Then the concept of “Akashic Records” (ākāśa is a Sanskrit word for ether or space) was popularized in the West by Theosophy writers including Helena Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner.
A.P. Sinnett was (probably) thinking of spiritual rather than technological means to read the Akashic records. But we can switch to a Western engineering mindset and imagine technologies derived from future Akashic Physics.
How to “read the Akashic records” and bring the dead back is way beyond reach of our science at this moment, let alone technology. But current physics does offer hints that magic technologies could be possible. Of course, the idea is not new: Nikolai Fedorov and Nikola Tesla have been there, among many others, including science fiction writers like Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. According to Ralph Abraham and Sisir Roy, the authors of “Demystifying the Akasha: Consciousness and the Quantum Vacuum,” the idea could find in the East, and in particular in India, more fertile ground than in the West.
I used to dislike the “Akashic” terminology for its associations with the occult, spiritism, and all that, but then I realized that the core concept of a permanent cosmic memory is equivalent to my favorite scientific speculations on future science and technologies able to scan the past and copy the dead to the future.
If the Akashic records exist, future science will permit reading them. Conversely, if future technology will permit scanning the past at high resolution, then there is a cosmic memory. We don’t necessarily have to call the cosmic memory “Akashic records” (there are equivalent terms that sound much more scientific), but doing so permit establishing links to ancient traditions and bridges to spiritual seekers, which in my opinion is good.
Therefore, following Ervin Laszlo, Ralph Abraham, and Sisir Roy, I honor the ancient Akashic insights and use the term “Akashic physics” for the yet unknown physical theories upon which future resurrection technologies could be based.
Many current scientific ideas can be described in Akashic terms. For example, if there are micro-wormholes connecting every space-time pixel to every other space-time pixel (ref. Clarke and Baxter), then we could read the (Akashic) records of other places and times. If we think of decoherence processes scattering apparently lost local information into the universe at large, then the traces left could be called Akashic records.
In Everett’s interpretation of quantum mechanics, the collapse of the wave-function is local to the single branch of the multiverse that our senses perceive, and the apparently lost information is scattered to other branches. Therefore, information is preserved in Everett’s multiverse, which is a possible stage for Akashic physics. In “The Fabric of Reality,” physicist David Deutsch shows that other times are just special cases of other universes. Therefore, the apparently lost information – including the life events, memories, thoughts, and feelings of everyone who ever lived – are out there in the Akashic multiverse, and future scientists could search for – and find – ways to retrieve it.
Perhaps current quantum physics is not the last word. Top physicists have argued that future non-linear versions of quantum physics might allow for “magic” technologies. “Any attempt to generalize quantum mechanics by allowing small nonlinearities in the evolution of state vectors risks the introduction of instantaneous communication between separated observers,” notes Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg in his “Lectures on Quantum Mechanics.” The abstract of a paper by Joseph Polchinski reads: “Weinberg’s nonlinear quantum mechanics leads either to communication via Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen correlations, or to communications between branches of the wave function.” According to Deutsch (see above), that includes communications across time.
The considerations above don’t prove that Akashic Engineering is feasible, but they do show that modern physics permits suspending disbelief and allowing ourselves to contemplate visions of hope and happiness, without abandoning the scientific worldview.
A new religion 2.0 (or an appropriate formulation of an existing religion, even Christianity) based on the prospect of Akashic Engineering could offer all the benefits of traditional religion, first and foremost hope in personal resurrection.
Of course it is possible (actually certain) that future scientists could find our first conceptual explorations of Akashic Engineering very incomplete, imprecise, and naive. But, though we can’t see the road ahead clearly, we see that it leads to an enchanted world. Robert has written of virtual worlds as means to provide the enchantment that the real world seems to have lost. However, I am more interested in the re-enchantment of the real world.
To give Robert plausible deniability and protect his academic credibility from accusations of associating with lunatics like me, I must say that Robert is interested in these things from the detached perspective of a scholar, but he isn’t a believer. “I’m agnostic leaning towards ‘atheist’ on such projects,” he told me. “I don’t believe in the Akashic records and I’m skeptical about resurrecting our ancestors.”
I will not try to “convert” Robert. Rather, I want to hear his thoughts and comments on my cultural / religious engineering project: A new religion 2.0 (or an appropriate formulation of an existing religion) based on the prospect of Akashic Engineering. What is the natural target audience? Is the East, and in particular India, a more fertile ground than the West? How to overcome the aversion of spiritual seekers to science and engineering? How to overcome the aversion of scientists and engineers to spirituality, including imaginative scientific ideas that “sound like religion”? How to present our ideas to the mainstream religion and science communities? How to position our ideas politically in academy and society? What are the more suitable organizational structures? What do you think of my open source religion idea? What are the most suitable outreach formats? Are virtual worlds still a good option? And many related questions…
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Einstein and Tagore (Wikimedia Commons).