Cyborg Eschatology: Whitehead and the Posthuman (Part V)

vi. Evolution & Transcendence

Whitehead does not write directly of the possibility of God’s relationship with beings that human beings substantially create, but he does write of the difference in God’s creative relationship with every actuality. From this discussion, Whitehead describes God’s operations within and upon the metaphysical universe as the ongoing act of “enabling finite beings themselves by their own activity to transcend themselves.” In fact, it seems clear that the spiritual soul may in fact, arise out of such divine operations. The material reality of our environment becomes another novel ingredient in God’s satisfaction relative to the creation of a new entity. The manner in which a cybernetic soul may connect with its own ultimate possibilities in fact takes place through the same type of creative actuality we are privileged to participate in through Jesus Christ. Instead of being “redeemed” out of the world, Christ “redeems” our understanding within the material reality – whether that understanding is flesh or silicon. God’s providence for us is coupled to God’s providence – and creativity – in the world.

As computer scientists have already realized, the act of creating their own symbolic solutions will be the first “evolutionary step” for computer systems. For the possibility of transcendence is there as a “seed” in the very act of teaching a computer how to use language – even if that language is a system of points and program referents. Language itself is symbolic: as Jacques Lacan explains, “the function of language is not to inform but to evoke.” In Christian terms, the evocative character of language allows us to conceive of an eschatological reality – a future that is dynamic and mutable.


Eventually, we will look back at the present period – the glass that we look in darkly, as the Apostle Paul writes – and consider it a time of primordial possibilities. Yet even in these moments wait the possibility of the actual, of the novel, of the constant creativity, which may take us towards a cybernetic relationship with the ultimate creative power of God. As Whitehead writes,

“When we survey nature and think however flitting and superficial has been the animal enjoyment of its wonders, and when we realize how incapable the separate cells and pulsations of each flower are of enjoying the total effect – then our sense of the value of the details for the totality dawns upon our consciousness. This is the intuition of holiness, the intuition of the sacred…”

Just as we early realized that God’s creativity is not limited to organic embodiment, so in the cybernetic world we will discover the possibilities for optimal expression. Only through opening ourselves to the creative possibilities of unification will other beings take their place as embodied beings in Christ.

How will the realization that consciousness is no longer limited to organic embodiment become part of our accepted knowledge? Whitehead, for one, stated that ideas nearly have a force of their own and constantly work towards fuller expression in the culture. In fact, evolutionist Richard Dawkins seems to have popularized an essentially Whiteheadian notion in his creation of today’s popular term for a self-propelled idea, a meme, which is essentially an idea described as a self-replicating unit of information. In Adventures of Ideas, Whitehead describes how the meme of universal human en-soulment became part of our accepted ‘knowledge’ as the modern era approached: “Finally, the humanitarian movement of the eighteenth century, combined with a religious sense of the kinship of men, has issued in the settled policy of the great civilized governments to extirpate slavery from the world.” What if such a movement was duplicated today, in regards to post-organic embodiment?

Already, there is a general ‘humanitarian’ movement towards accepting consciousness as inclusive of actions and locations outside the organic body. The initial upswell of this movement can be found in those who spend a great deal of time in 3D immersive worlds, and also in the work of those who investigate consciousness in bodies that have no external sign of physical action. Over the coming years – perhaps within the next two decades – we may gradually experience a ‘religious sense’ of the kinship of all entities that share consciousness, whether those entities present themselves in organic or post-organic bodies. In line with Whitehead’s description, this last development may well see us on the way to issuing policy that extinguishes the last prejudices against machine-embodiment and silicon consciousness.

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