An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Technology Is Not Sacred by Charles Upton

In technology on June 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm

islamic_fractal_star_-_outlined_-_full_product_pageTechnology has no intrinsic relationship to the sacred one way or another; it is a category of al-Dunya. To the degree we have realized Allah in the Inner, we can see the objects and events of the outer world as signs of His nature and action—but if we try to seek Him in the outer without having first met Him in the Inner, we will be led astray. 

God is not one of the objects of the universe; to believe that He is such an object is the essence of idolatry. An idol is anything that the ego identifies with in order to posit its own separate reality. To worship the stars, the moon, the sun is essentially to say: “I am stars, moon and sun because I can recognize them and encompass them with my individual consciousness; in worshipping them I worship myself” [cf. Qur’an 6:77-79]. But Allah cannot be encompassed by our individual consciousness; He is not an idol; He is al-Haqq, the Real.

Sun, moon and stars are not divine, but they are signs of the Divinity of Allah. The forms of virgin nature, since they were not created by human action and desire, have an “angelic” quality in that they embody “messages” from Allah addressed to terrestrial humanity. However, when it comes to objects created by human thought and labor, the original revelation of virgin nature appears as filtered through, and partially veiled by, the ego. The creation of every form of tech-nology, from the Stone Age to the Digital Age, requires an understanding of objective natural laws, as well as the intervention of imagination; both these abilities—which are expressions of the Divine Necessity and the Divine All-possibility—are based on inspirations from Allah entering the human mind. On the other hand, no technology is totally free from ego since it is created by human action. Technological devices are signs of Allah in the same sense that the objects of the natural world are, but not to the same degree, since they are obscured by an additional veil of human desire and egotism; insofar as they are “utilitarian”, they lose some of the symbolic immediacy of the natural world.

Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din (Martin Lings) said that one of the compensatory graces of the latter days, when the human Heart is progressively closed to divine realities unless the individual can break free from the spiritual decay of the human collectives, is the availability of “encyclopedic knowledge”—a principle that is obviously exemplified by the internet. At this point, however, we should remember the words of poet T.S. Eliot: “Where is the wisdom lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge lost in information?” To believe that the immediate availability of vast quantities of information, more massive and chaotic than any human mind could possibly assimilate or make sense of, somehow indicates the presence of Wisdom, is foolish to say the least. If you possess a degree of wisdom, you can make good use of knowledge; if you have a certain amount of real knowledge, then information can be highly useful to you. Massive amounts of information, however, will never add up to real knowledge, just as knowledge, no matter how much you may accumulate, can never amount to wisdom.

 The internet “unifies” the human world at the expense of progressively isolating the human individual from other individuals and from the natural world outside cyberspace. The more widely we relate to the world via the digital media, the smaller the portion of ourselves we are able to bring to these “virtual” relationships. And to the degree that we progressively identify ourselves with this digital identity, we no longer know ourselves; we are less able to realize, even on a theoretical level, what a human being is. If “to know oneself is to know one’s Lord”, then to fail to know ourselves is to forget Him. And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves [Q. 59:19]. First we define ourselves only in terms of that tiny fraction of us that is capable of expressing itself in the world of high technology and cyberspace. Then we see that computers and robots are much better at functioning within that world that we are, which finally leads some of us—I’m thinking of the “Transhumanists”—to dream of turning themselves into computers and robots. Just as some Pagans used to practice human sacrifice in the cult of this or that god, so the Transhumanists would have us sacrifice our humanity itself, our fitra, in the cult of Technology. We offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man assumed it. Lo! He hath proved a tyrant and a fool [Q. 33:72].

Information technology can certainly be used for positive purposes—though when I asked a friend of mine, in the days when the PC was first appearing, what he thought computers were good for, his answer was: “Computers are good for dealing with the explosion of information created by computers.” But as Marshall McLuhan said in his 1960’s classic Understanding Media, “the medium is the message”. By this he meant that the intrinsic perceptual sets imposed by our various media—writing, print, telephone, radio, television etc.—have a greater effect upon human consciousness than the “content” carried by those media; consequently the notion that “the internet is good to the degree that it is used for good—that is, insofar as it transmits good content” is relatively meaningless. And though the web can carry both the texts of all the world’s spiritual classics and unlimited pornography, the traffic to porn sites vastly outweighs the traffic to sites dedicated to spirituality, or intellectuality, or psychological insight, or aesthetics; and this is no an accident. To the degree that a particular medium addresses itself to a shrinking fragment of the human form, while at the same time appropriating the “right” to embrace and address itself to the entirety of that form, the whole tone of the human/technical exchange must sink in the direction of evil, given that evil is fragmentary, while the Good is whole and complete.

Nonetheless, our digital technology is not exclusively a veil over the face of Allah; it may also stand as a sign of His presence. I recently spent a number of late nights viewing fractal animations on YouTube. Fractals are often pointed to as an example of “sacred technology”, since they are capable of producing the most complex and fascinating patterns based on relatively simple mathematical expressions—as if to prove that the vast complexity of life and consciousness could have arisen by itself from relatively simple elements. But those who assert this often forget that fractals did not in fact arise by themselves, but emerged from human consciousness and labor at a point where imagination (Possibility) and an understanding of mathematics and natural law (Necessity) intersected. Consequently they are a subset of the human form, expressing nothing but what already pre-exists within that form. The human form is traditionally understood as the synthetic union of all the Names of Allah, just as the universe is the analytical deployment of those Names; this is why Adam, by the command of Allah, was able to tell the angels their names, which they themselves were ignorant of [Q. 2:33]. If, through our invention of fractals, we are capable of recognizing that these are not simply a human invention but in fact pre-exist in nature, and then go on to conclude that since our own version of fractals was produced by human consciousness, naturally-occurring fractals must have been created by a Divine Consciousness immensely transcending our own, then well and good. Viewed in this way, fractals are truly a sign of Allah in the world of conditions. But fractals can also be used to serve idolatry and illusion. If we are foolish enough to take the human creator out of the equation, and view fractals only as an immensely complex expression of relatively simple mathematical elements, then we may start to imagine that the entire complexity of organic life and animal and human consciousness could likewise have arisen from simple elements, such as hydrogen in primordial space, in much the same way. According to this distorted view, fractals appear to support the evolutionist idea that matter creates itself, that consciousness arises from matter, and that Allah as al-Khalq (“the Creator”), al-Bari’ (“the Producer”), and al-Musawwir (“the Fashioner”) is in no way necessary to the process—a notion that seems to be further proven by the fact that we ourselves can “play God” on the basis of our mathematical and technical knowledge. But our very ability to create fractals, and build complex computers, and carry on genetic engineering, must at one point—unless we have destroyed all human rationality before that point is reached—impress upon us the realization that just as we have created all our technological wonders by conscious design, so an immensely greater Consciousness much have created the universe and us ourselves, also by design. And so, for all its drawbacks, including its great ability to cloud and fascinate and darken the human mind, technology may yet stand as one of the greatest and most convincing signs of the reality and power of Allah.

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