“The stakes are very high indeed. They are as high as stakes can get. Unless we can find ourselves before earth ceases to be able to support human bodies in numbers, we are going to find our journey very rudely interrupted. . . It is my impression that much of the sexual manipulation our visitors have engaged in has been about creating bodies not that would enable them to live here but rather that would enable us to continue our quest elsewhere, if we lose earth.”
—Whitley Strieber, Solving the Communion Enigma (p. 199).
In the last chapter, I mentioned in passing Carlos Castaneda’s old seers. Now I feel compelled to say a little bit more about the subject, because of how much it overlaps with the primary themes of the second part of this book. Before I do, however, I should point out a couple of facts. Castaneda is the author who, along with Strieber but even more so, had the most formative influence on my mystical beliefs. Like Strieber, I eventually came to understand that his writings, besides inspiring me, had filled my head with half-baked truths and helped generate a deceptively coherent fantasy of supernatural self-empowerment. Castaneda wound up as the shadowy head of a cult-like organization whose principal members (Castaneda’s “witches”) reputedly all committed suicide after his death. In his final years, based on one of the group’s testimony at least (Amy Wallace’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which Strieber reviewed), Castaneda went barking mad.
It would be unwise therefore to view the descriptions in his books—most of which are supposed to come from Castaneda’s superhuman nagual, “don Juan Matus”—as any more reliable, in terms of factual information, than Strieber’s “Master of the Key” material. On the other hand, some of these descriptions (specifically the ones about the old seers and the inorganic beings) have some very striking parallels both with Strieber’s experiences and, even more acutely, the immortality dreams of Kurtzweil and the transhumanists. What follows is a summary of those teachings, paraphrasing Castaneda while keeping all of his original terminology and most of the phrasing intact. The material comes from two of his later books, The Fire from Within and The Art of Dreaming.
As “don Juan” (Castaneda) describes them, the old seers were terrifying men, and in fact are terrifying “even today.” Their bid is to dominate, to master everybody and everything. The problem with the old seers is that, while they accessed transcendental knowledge of the universe and of themselves, they put it in service to their lower selves. Much of this knowledge came to them via communication and interaction with what they called “inorganic beings,” beings that possessed consciousness but no organic form, that were a kind of conscious energy with structure and cohesion but no “opacity,” making them both invisible and intangible to human beings. The old seers encountered these beings through what they called the art of dreaming, that is, by exploring other realms via the projection of their consciousness into those realms. They eventually learned to enter these other realms with their total being, i.e., physically. The inorganic beings which they interacted with became their “allies,” and, “by means of deliberate examples,” the inorganics taught the old seers to perform marvels. The allies performed the actions, and the old sorcerers were guided step by step to copy those actions, without changing anything about their basic nature, in a form of interspecies mimesis.
The ultimate goal of the old seers was immortality. This they attempted to achieve by manipulating their own energy bodies. By using will to alter the form of their energy bodies from a “luminous egg” to a straight line, the scope of what the old seers were able to perceive and do, as lines of energy, was “astronomically greater” than before. Since they were motivated by greed and the desire for power and personal gain, when they came to a crucial crossroads, they took the wrong fork. Castaneda writes that everyone who is on the path of self-discovery has to go through the same steps as the old seers, however, because they were the ones who invented dreaming.
The old sorcerers portrayed the inorganic beings’ world as a blob of caverns and pores floating in dark space, and the inorganic beings as hollow canes bound together, “like the cells of our bodies.” The realm of inorganic beings was the old seers’ field, and to arrive there, they tenaciously fixed their “dreaming attention” on the items of their dreams. By this method they were able to isolate “the scouts,” which is to say, the allies that journeyed into the realm between humans and inorganic beings (the dream realm) so as to make contact with humans. Once the old seers had the scouts in focus—once they isolated a real energy from the empty projections of the dreamscape—they voiced their intent to follow them. The instant the old seers did so, they were pulled by that foreign energy into another world.
Awareness grows when we perform conscious dreaming of this sort; the moment it grows, something out there acknowledges its growth, recognizes it, and makes a bid for it. The inorganic beings are the bidders for that new, enhanced awareness. The inorganic beings are like fishermen: they attract and catch awareness. Of all the transcendental observations of the men of ancient times, Castaneda writes, the only one with which we are familiar, because it has filtered down to our day, is the idea of selling our souls to the devil in exchange for immortality. This comes straight out of the relationship of the old sorcerers with the inorganic beings. Part of the strategy of the inorganic beings to trap dreamers is to give them a sense of being unique, exclusive, and, more pernicious yet, of having power. “Power and uniqueness are unbeatable as corrupting forces.”
According to Castaneda’s description, the universe is constructed in layers, which the energy body can cross, and to this day the old seers still exist in another layer, “another skin of the onion.” They sought refuge in the inorganic beings’ world, believing that, in a predatory universe, poised to rip us apart, the only possible haven is in that realm. Since the inorganic beings can’t lie, their sales pitch is all true: that world can give us shelter and prolong our awareness for nearly an eternity. The old seers’ “damnation” was that the inorganic beings took them to worlds from which they could not return. Since they entered into that world with all their physicality, and since it was a total world, being there created a sort of fog that obliterated any memory of the world they came from. To turn a dream into an all-inclusive reality is the art of the old seers. This is dreaming. According to Castaneda, its transactions are final.
The notion of the Singularity—with which Strieber’s own strange vision of humanity’s future has certain unavoidable and ominous parallels—would seem to correspond with the “crucial crossroads” which the old seers faced in Castaneda’s fantastic narrative, before choosing “the wrong fork.” In all cases, what’s on offer entails the transformation of the fundamental energy of a human being into a vehicle designed to both perceive and travel into new and potentially infinite worlds beyond this one, and to gain “eternal life.” In both Strieber’s and Castaneda’s model, the possibility of “damnation” is present, as well as the necessity of some sort of guidance (and the danger of deception or exploitation) by non-human, highly sophisticated otherworldly beings who are interested in our awareness while seemingly belonging to a sort of hive-mind. Castaneda’s viewpoint was a sorcerer’s one with apparently no place or need for technology. Strieber’s partakes of both the sorcerous inorganic and the technological inorganic. It is both more religious and more scientific than Castaneda’s. Kurtzweil and the transhumanists’ vision of human potential is all technology, while at the same time being perhaps the most brazenly religious of all in both its claims and aspirations. Yet somehow, as I hope to demonstrate, these visions are all of a piece. What they have in common is not only their prime goal and directive, but also their method. They all attempt to apply a combination of knowledge and conscious will to bring about “salvation,” “self-transformation,” or “total freedom,” depending on who you talk to. In a nutshell, the will to power.
“Only as a substantial segment of society recognizes that other conscious states and other paradigms are not only possible but desirable will the movement toward new social realities take place.”
—Edgar Mitchell, Psychic Research: Challenge to Science
The overlap between these three models would seem to be strikingly apparent in the body of the text of Strieber’s The Key. The Key is a work that Strieber calls “a sacred text.” I myself once regarded it as such. Since it was first published (privately by Strieber) in 2001, I have read it a dozen times, and incorporated it into my own writings and conversations on numerous occasions. It was reissued as a trade paperback in 2011 in a slightly different form (I have written elsewhere about the controversy Strieber stirred up over the two different versions); for the writing of this book, I borrowed it from my local library and re-read it. In the light of my recent discoveries, I had a very different response to it. Several things struck me, probably the most relevant of which is how frequently the text refers to the idea of Earth as a “prison” and a “death trap,” and stresses the need to develop the technology to leave the planet and “find [our] place in the higher world.” I counted at least twelve references to space travel in the book, some overt, others more oblique. In terms of proscriptions for practical action, this would appear to be the principle message of The Key. The other, only slightly less urgent practical action which it proscribes is the development of machine intelligence. Here are two separate speeches which Strieber’s Master gives:
To save yourselves, you must learn to build machines that are more intelligent than you are. . . . You are lagging in this area. You cannot understand how to create machines with enough memory density and the independent ability to correlate that is essential to the emergence of intelligence. You waste your time trying to create programs that simulate intelligence. Without very large-scale memory in an infinitely flexible system, this will never happen.” [p 123-4. He then gives Strieber design suggestions on request.]
Unlike Kurtzweil and co, and more in keeping with Castaneda’s reality model, The Key frames these practical directives within a much wider and deeper context than mere species survival: that of the salvation of the soul and/or the extension of individual consciousness into infinite and eternal realms. The Master of the Key talks of a hidden world that co-exists with this one. He talks of the necessity to prepare ourselves—by developing our psychic senses—to enter into that world (at death) so as to continue as “radiant bodies,” into eternity. He makes frequent use of Christian terms such as God, sin, evil, Heaven, and Hell. He even affirms, as part of the scientistic model of reality which he offers, Strieber’s Catholic belief in eternal damnation! All of this, to put it mildly, is highly motivational material, so far as bringing about desired forms of action.
Before we get to the motivational aspects of Strieber’s “sacred text” (which it has in common with both Kurtzweil and Castaneda’s weltanschauungs), let’s move to more prosaic ground for a moment and look at an early proposition for technological evolution, as in, human evolution of technology leading “organically” into human evolution by technology. This is from Kurtzweil’s The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (Viking, 2005):
An even earlier conceptual foundation for nanotechnology was formulated by the information theorist John von Neumann in the early 1950s with his model of a self-replicating system based on a universal constructor combined with a universal computer. In this proposal, the computer runs a program that directs the constructor, which in turn constructs a copy of both the computer (including its self-replication program) and the constructor. At this level of description, von Neumann’s proposal is quite abstract—the computer and the constructor could be made in a great variety of ways, as well as from diverse material, and could even be a theoretical, mathematical construction. But he took the concept one step further and proposed a “kinematic constructor”: a robot with at least one manipulator (arm) that would build a replica of itself from a “sea of parts” in its midst (p. 227-8).
This is a rather difficult passage to make sense of, I admit, but I cite it here for three reasons: firstly, it introduces von Neumann into the narrative as a pioneer in the transhumanist field (and the first to use the term “singularity” in this context); as mentioned already, Strieber identified with von Neumann enough to write a first-person story about him in relation to the visitors (“The Open Doors”). Next, what von Neumann is describing (in the last sentence specifically) is roughly the same idea proposed by the Master of the Key: the creation of a technology programmed to replicate and improve on itself—and the potential for the exponential, evolutionary growth of machine intelligence. Lastly, more obscurely, it puts forward a subtler idea: that of intelligence extending itself from the immaterial (computer software) into the material, from a theoretical or mathematical construction to a “kinematic constructor.” This notion, that of a (potentially two-way) channel between the physical and nonphysical realms, is central to the whole human debate, whether it’s the sorcery debate of Castaneda, the Singularity one of Kurtzweil, the alien contact of Strieber, the body-soul question of the Master of the Key, or, for that matter, the Man-God dialectic of millions upon millions of Christians and other believers. It is, in this sense, the primary human question and concern, bar none.
To read full essay, order Prisoner of Infinity: UFOs, Social Engineering, and the Psychology of Fragmentation