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Voodoo Gods in Cyberspace

by Michael Szul on

This post is a rewrite from the Apotheosis project, and was previously published in both blog and podcast form on Codepunk.

At the end of Neuromancer, the Wintermute artificial intelligence (with the help of Henry Case and Molly Millions) broke down the firewall preventing Wintermute from reaching the other artificial intelligence—the namesake of the book: Neuromancer. In doing so, Wintermute merged with Neuromancer, bypassing programmed rules on artificial intelligence evolution, and became an entirely different artificial intelligence.

With Count Zero—William Gibson's sequel—the result of the merger in Neuromancer was an eventual evolution and splitting of the artificial intelligence into multiple artificial entities. One can assume that since Neuromancer was capable of creating "RAM" entities as opposed to "ROM" entities, each of these splinter entities had the ability to grow, evolve, and change.

In Count Zero, these entities presented themselves as Loa—traditional voodoo spirits—roaming cyberspace. In fact, in the book, these Loa "rode" Angie (with her biological chip)—as well as others that jacked into the Internet—in a similar manner as Loa in Voodoo traditions. They were even worshiped in almost a traditional sense by Beauvoir, Lucas, and their people.

The Matrix—heavily inspired by the Sprawl trilogy—gave us a second film populated by rogue programs in cyberspace, while the trilogy as a whole saw "The One" (Neo) through the mythological resurrection story, drawing parallels with Jesus and Osiris.

In Tron Legacy, Flynn "discovers" isomorphic algorithms that spontaneously appeared in "The Grid"—populating cyberspace with unique entities born out of nothingness. Flynn believed that the discovery was going to change everything, including religion. At the end of the film, Flynn's son brings Quora out of the grid and into the real world—breaking through the barriers of digital pixels and biological flesh.

Caprica, meanwhile, brings us the beginnings of the Battlestar Galactica story—a story in which Cylons found monotheistic religion and saw humanity as lesser pagans. In Caprica, Clarice Willow—a member of a monotheistic cult/terrorist group—sees Zoey Graystone's avatar as a key to apotheosis: the process of deification.

One of my favorite philosophers is occultist and anthroposophy founder Rudolf Steiner. In his youth, lacking direction, Steiner found inspiration once he was introduced to geometry. He saw geometry as a pure form of logic, as well as being an undeniable definition of reality. As an occultist, Steiner believed that even the most spiritual of events could be investigated using the same cognitive tools available on the physical plain.

Steiner wasn't the only philosopher or scientist with a hand in the occult or religion. From Pythagoras to even the crown jewel of science Isaac Newton, all explored the mysteries at the edge of being.

Today, scientists have a tendency to position themselves more as atheists, but there is a significantly high percentage of mathematicians that are very religious or spiritual.

I always found that to be fascinating—people obsessed with how mathematics either describes the universe or brings the universe into being having a tendency to believe in a higher power.

The metaverse is far from reality today, but just as social media changed how we think of friendship, virtual reality—if it ever comes close to how it's portrayed in literature and the cinema—will undoubtedly have an effect on our conception of "being" and our thoughts on reality and religion. After all, programmers and mathematicians strive to build (or uncover) a higher order, and the human brain is hardwired for belief. Once we take that hardware and introduce new forms of reality through software, anything becomes possible, and we likely will fulfill Timothy Leary's original belief that computers were the new psychedelic revolution.

Of course, even as we think of experiencing new realities, large corporations are set to dictate that reality to us. Would it be a stretch to say that people like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have their own god-complexes to feed? With Zuckerberg as a Clarice Willow stand-in and in charge of the industry leading hardware for virtual reality, whose new reality and whose new religion is being shaped.