This is an excerpt from Timothy Leary‘s “High-Tech Paganism.” If it inspires, I recommend reading the rest of the essay and also “The Cyberpunk: The Individual as Reality Pilot”; both can be found in Chaos and Cyber Culture (Ronin, 1994 & 2014).
The baby-boom generation grew up in an electronic world (1960s to 1970s) of turn-on, tune-in television and personal computing screens. The cyberpunks, growing up in the 1980s to 1990s, develop new metaphors, rituals, lifestyles for dealing with the universe of information. More and more of us are becoming fuzzy logic shamans and digital alchemists.
The parallels between the culture of the alchemists and that of cyberpunk computer adepts are numerous. Both employ knowledge of an occult arcanum unknown to the population at large, with secret symbols and words of power. The “secret symbols” compose the languages of computers and mathematics, and the “words of power” instruct computer operating systems to complete Herculean tasks.
Knowing the precise code name of a digital program permits it to be conjured into existence, transcending the labor of muscular or mechanical search. Rites of initiation or apprenticeship are common to both. “Psychic feats” of telepresence and action-at-a-distance are achieved by selection of the menu option.
Young digital alchemists have at their command tools of a clarity and power unimagined by their predecessors. Computer screens are magical mirrors, presenting alternate realities at varying degrees of abstraction on command (invocation). The mouse or pen of the digitizing tablet is the wand, controlling the fire of the CRT/monitor display and harnessing the creative force of the operator. Spinning disk drives are the pentacles, inscribed with complex symbols, earthen tablets to receive the input of “air”, resulting in the crackling intellectual electricity of the processor chip circuitry programming. The RAM chips are, literally, the buffers (“buffer pools”), the water, the passive element capable only of receiving impressions and retransmitting, reflecting.
Iconic visual programming languages are a Tarot, the pictorial summarization of all possibilities, activated for divination by juxtaposition and mutual influence. It is a Periodic Table of Possibilities, the Western form of the Eastern I Ching. Traditional word-oriented programming languages—FORTRAN, COBOL, and the rest—are a degenerate primitive form of these universal systems, grimoires of profit-oriented corporations.
Detailed database logs of the activity of operating systems form the Akashic records on a microscale. At a macroscopic level, this is the “world net” knowledge base, the worldwide online hypertext network of information soon to be realized by the storage capacity of CD-ROM and the data-transmission capability of optical fiber—William Gibson’s cyberspace “matrix.”
Personal transmutation (the ecstasy of the “ultimate hack”) is a veiled goal of both systems. The satori of harmonious human-computer communication resulting from the infinite regress into metalevels of self-reflection is the reward for immaculate conceptualization and execution of ideas.
The universality of 0 and 1 throughout magic and religion—yin and yang, yoni and lingam, cup and wand—are manifested today in digital signals, the two bits underlying the implementation of all digital programs in the world in our brains and in our operating disks. Stretching it a bit, even the monad, symbol of change and the Tao, visually resembles a superimposed 0 and 1 when its curving central line is stretched through the action of centrifugal force from the ever-increasing speed of rotation of the monad.