Robotics And The End Of Human Meaning?

As you might have heard, recently, the robot Sophia — created by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics — sold a self-portrait she, or it, had made for US$700,000. Sophia has appeared at various conferences and has been seen in the media over the last few years. And, in 2017, Sophia “became the first robot to be granted citizenship rights when Saudi Arabia declared the robot an official citizen,” notes InceptiveMind.

Sophia’s self-portrait doesn’t break new ground. It isn’t really different to anything created by humans. And — pushed to its limits — perhaps it is unlikely that static, two dimensional will develop in radically new ways.

But robot-created art throws up new questions about creativity and self-expression. Although a lot of traditionally-minded people don’t like Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, or any other art movement of the twentieth century, with the invention of photography — and with photography becoming at once highly accessible and considered an art form — painting could no longer produce variations of likenesses of the real world.

The Impressionists were inspired by Japanese woodblock prints. Surrealism turned to psychology, hypnotic techniques such as automatic drawing, alchemy, and magic. Picasso drew from African tribal art.

Perhaps, most famously, Picasso took a bicycle seat and handlebars and put them together to create his sculpture “Bull’s Head” (1942), in effect, returning art to something archaic and more in line with prehistoric cave art than the era of the camera and the silver screen.

Our own time is one of creative decline (at least among the general populace — younger people, especially). We can consume whatever we want, any time we want it. If we want to express ourselves we can join the herd and go onto social media and denounce whoever is being denounced today in the Two Minutes Hate. There is no need — and little desire — to create.

By “need,” here, I mean that there is no material need. However, there is a greater need, which we often overlook. And that need is spiritual. Sophia can create art for us. But she cannot express, from experience, how it feels to be human, with our desires, fears, love, bravery, and overcoming of personal limitations. And nor can robotics express our sense of being a part of history or our sense of mortality.

You are probably aware of occult artists Austin Osman Spare and Rosaleen Norton. I have mentioned esoteric artist Hagen von Tulien before. And you might also be familiar with the mystical art of Alex Grey. Outside of the world of the esoteric, Jonathan Pageau is a contemporary Christian artist, creating wood-carved icons. There are also a number of contemporary Muslim artists, working especially with calligraphy. And crossing the borders of architecture and art and the ancient and the modern is Jordanian architect and designer Abeer Seikaly.

When things are done for us, we fall into the trap of believing that we don’t need to do it for ourselves. In New York, where I live, I’ve met plenty of people (men and women) who order food every night. Some of them — men and women — don’t actually know how to prepare a meal.

Over the last century, we, in the West, came to see mass production as a sign of quality. Hand-inlaid wood doesn’t mean anything to most people, who would prefer plastic. But, beyond the materials of mass production, which we’ve come to fetishize (sometimes, literally — think PVC boots and latex), it is, of course, the logo that has come to be meaningful. We identify with the brand name and seek to express ourselves by purchasing the products of those brands that we think represent us (think of the radical, Hippie stance of Ben and Jerry’s, which is owned by Unileaver). Even the robot Sophia is a brand.

Yet, when things are done for us, we end up losing something. And, if everything is done for us, we entirely lose touch with who we are. Or we can never progress, in our personal evolution, in the first place.

Instead, when things are done for us, we have to look deeply to see what’s missing.

Picasso realized that, in the age of the camera, there was no longer any place for highly realistic art. He, instead, worked to represent the primal. In the age of robot-created art, there may be no place for highly technical art. What we will still need, however, is art that speaks of the human soul. This is something that we can all create in some small way.

In my researches into various esoteric organizations and movements, I have seen a great deal of art. The most boring is always the manufactured art. What has always caught my attention is the art of the amateur or outsider artist. They have some particular idea that they want to express. And they often create art because they love something — something that they feel themselves to be a part of. That can’t be replicated. And such art — amateur, though it is — remains inspiring centuries after it has been created. Many of these amateur and outsider artists would never have believed that their art would be in books and museums a century or so after they created them. Undoubtedly, most were ridiculed in their time by professionals. Yet, their art has grown in importance, and is admired a century or so after their death.

Today, we are very shy about creating. We always think we won’t be good enough. We compare our work to the mass-produced. Our music won’t be as good as music produced by a multi-billion dollar music label. Our art won’t be as good as that of an artist with a dozen assistants that create it for them — before it’s shipped to a major art gallery and purchased as an investment. Don’t give in to that kind of thinking.

Instead of comparing yourself to the mass-produced and the heavily marketed, embrace your own humanity, your flaws, struggles, aspirations, and dreams; draw, paint, write a poem, write a novel, or create music. Cultures are born from creative acts, especially literary. And if you create something, you might be surprised who — and how many people — you inspire, now or in a century’s time.

Angel Millar is the author of The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician.

Why There’s No More Sacred Sex

In the West, Tantra has gone from a completely unknown esoteric phenomenon, involving esoteric lineages, the deities of Sanatana Dhamma, Hindu castes, and chakras, to merely a kinkier way to have sex. Mentioning no names, in one alleged book on “Tantra,” one of the co-authors talks about how they got involved with orgies, BDSM, peep shows, and “masturbation workshops” as they embarked on writing the book.

None of this would be recognized as Tantra by any actual Tantric lineage. Right-hand path Tantrikas don’t even have sex as a part of their practice. And, while left-hand Tantrikas do, they generally refrain from sex before and after participating in any rituals in which they do have sex. In other words, abstinence is also a part of Tantra. (Male Tantrikas also don’t ejaculate.)

It’s not an excuse for orgies. There are no Tantric masturbation workshops. And, ultimately, it’s not even all about sex. It is, in a sense, about harnessing and transcending desire — and probably no desire is as powerful, or as easily misused, as sexual desire. (We only need to think of one or two politicians or Hollywood movers and shakers to realize the latter point.)

But, perhaps, we’re getting hung up on “Tantra.” In the West, over the last couple of hundred years, “sex magic” or “sex magick” has also emerged from the shadows. Although similar to Tantra in some respects, in sex magical practice the male sex magician doesn’t refrain from ejaculating. So maybe the Western way is a little more loosey-goosey. And, in Western sex magic, there is a heavy dose of experimentation and Jungian psychology.

But what about plain old sex? Sex that felt magical or mystical in and of itself? Although more open-minded about a range of sexual identities, young people are having less sex than ever. This suggests that, when it comes to sex or intimacy, young people, in particular, are facing certain society-wide problems. Porn, of course, is immediately accessible. And, probably not unrelated to this, from 1992 to 2014, rates of masturbation doubled among men and tripled among women.

But which came first: masturbating or not having sex with a partner? With dating apps, people are always available for sex. Yet, a third of young people have opted out of hookup culture altogether, with only a quarter participating in it enthusiastically (I’m guessing most of that quarter are young men).

Then, of course, there’s politics. Today, every fact comes prepackaged with morals. And we cannot debate the facts without appearing deeply immoral. The facts might be on our side, but we will still be wrong if the morals du jour are not. Consequently, of course, every act is fraught with political implications — sex, perhaps, more than any other.

Hence, the “consent contracts” that couples are being encouraged to fill out on college campuses. Personally, I can’t imagine anything less arousing than signing a contract, but if that’s you’re kind of thing you can find out how to write one here. But, according to eForms:

The sexual consent form is a written agreement that relays in clear terms the intent of two consenting adults to participate in sexual acts together. The form allows the couple to enter the date and time the activity is to occur and list the exact permissions made by the consenting party. In case things go beyond what was originally intended, the consenter will have to mark that it will be ruled an accident with no repercussions or that the accident will be determined as assault. After the agreement is made it is recommended, although not required, to be signed with a witness present.

On college campuses, at least, this, apparently, is the new language of love.

But, of course, it is. The seeking of bliss, highs, and nirvana; tuning in, turning on, and dropping out; and Hippie trails to Woodstock or Kathmandu is as alien to our age as medieval Europe — maybe more so in some respects.

Ours is a world in which everything is politicized; everything is legalistic; everything is about manipulating the facts. It is a world in which we are cautious about expressing ourselves — because we know that fewer and fewer people are interested in knowing who we are and more and more people want to see only identities composed of political markers that must be denounced.

In sharp contrast, the sacred effaces our own identity, especially our social (and, thus, in today’s terms, our political) identity. According to Christianity, in the eyes of God the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker are the same as the overpaid, tenured, college professor, who is looked up to as a moral and ideological authority.

In Tantra, the initiate of one caste would have ritual sex with a person of another caste, breaking that societal taboo and releasing them from their identity. Falling in love is not so different. Love makes one person fall for another of a different class or background despite the tutting of neighbors or parental concern. It is naive and spontaneous. It is a rule-breaker, not a signatory of consent contracts.

There are no sexual taboos anymore, except, perhaps, love itself. We can have all the sex we want so long as it’s not sacred. Modernized and commercialized “Tantra,” porn, hookups, masturbation workshops. It’s all available, often at the click of a button or two. But these things are only symptoms of a consciousness that has changed, collectively, to one of suspicion and scapegoating. To a consciousness that only sees degrees of ugliness rather than beauty. To one in which we no longer see the individual — even the individual with whom we personally may be having sex. It is symptomatic of a time in which people need an escape from tension and have no concept of the sacred, freedom, or ecstasy.

Angel Millar is the author of The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician.

Synchronicities And What They Really Mean

You’ve probably had the experience of thinking of someone intensely that you haven’t seen for years and then running into that person only a few hours or, at most, a couple of days later. For the materialist, such an event is dismissed as mere coincidence. For Carl Jung, one of the earliest pioneers of psychology, such an event (not apparently connected by cause and effect but by meaning) is a “synchronicity.” And, as you have undoubtedly felt, such a synchronicity makes you suspect that the mind called out to the other person or that their relative presence alerted your mind to them and drew you to where they would be.

Although he believed in the power of ESP (extra-sensory perception), Jung noted that it could not be measured, proved, or disproved by science and, as such, synchronicities could not be considered scientifically. In his essay “Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle.,” Jung says the following:

[Synchronicity] cannot be a question of cause and effect, but of a falling together in time, a kind of simultaneity. Because of this quality of simultaneity, I [Jung] have picked on the term “synchronicity” to designate a hypothetical factor equal in rank to causality as a principle of explanation

C. G. Jung, Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle. (From Vol. 8. of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung).

Jung goes on to say that,

I considered synchronicity as psychically conditioned relativity of space and time. […] experiments show that in relation to the psyche space and time are, so to speak, ‘elastic’ and can apparently be reduced almost to vanishing point, as though they were dependent on psychic conditions and did not exist in themselves but were only ‘postulated’ by the conscious mind. In man’s original view of the world […] space and time have a very precarious existence.

C. G. Jung, Synchronicity An Acausal Connecting Principle. (From Vol. 8. of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung).

The shamans (“wizard priests”) of the world’s remaining tribal peoples are, it has been reported, able to “call” people to them through the use of their own mind. To do this, they will enter into a trance state and will focus their attention on the image of the person, while mentally calling them to a particular place. The person called is said to feel an urge to leave where they are and to go to that particular place, though they cannot explain why.

Synchronicities automatically make us feel that, behind everything, there is some cosmic Intelligence (or what Peter J. Carroll called “Chaos” — a kind of absolute potential infused with Divine Intelligence — or with Geist (Mind or Spirit)). Or, to put it more plainly, in the language of religion, it makes us feel that there is a God. And God, of course, appears to be interacting with us through each synchronicity, giving us “a sign.”

This is, perhaps, especially the case in the “positive thinking” movement. The individual might be looking for a better job, let’s say. They pray to God, to the cosmic Intelligence, or to the universe, for a better job. Then, possibly — seemingly, purely by chance — they run into someone at a social event who happens to need someone for the role they are looking to fill, and they are offered the job. Voilà! A synchronicity.

The positive thinking movement (also sometimes called New Thought or “mind metaphysics”) has quite a lot in common with the Western esoteric movement (previously known by such spooky names as “Magic,” “Magick,” or — yes — “the occult”). However, in Magic, it is assumed that doing a ritual to create an effect in the world (a synchronicity) might not work. Worse, he or she might get a result that is contrary to it. (There might be different technical reasons why. Unlike the positive thinker (who might use crystals or vision boards at most), the magician has lots of paraphernalia (incense, altars, statues, oils, wands, daggers, etc.) and not using the correct one, or not using it correctly, or at the wrong time, might — it is suspected — have an undesirable effect. But there might be other reasons.)

There is a story about the occultist and visionary artist Austin Spare that illustrates this point. He had a visitor at his apartment in London one day and wanted to conjure up some roses to show his friend some magic. Spare began the spell and concentrated very intensely. Then, as he pronounced the word “roses” the sewage pipes broke and flooded his apartment with dirty water.

Perhaps, the story is true. Perhaps, it is not. Regardless, we will all have experienced such negative synchronicities. We expect something to happen — and, according to logic and experience, it will — yet, the opposite occurs. For example, we expect to see a particular friend at a social gathering. We have thought about him or her all week, imaging speaking with them. We have visualized it and we believe it will occur (indeed, we have no reason to think it will not). But, then, on the night, they are the only friend who is not present.

The positive thinking movement says that this is impossible — that if we visualize a particular future and believe it, without any doubt, it will occur. Yet, we know that this is not true. Synchronicities happen. Sometimes they are positive or affirming (we think of a long-lost friend and then, a little later, we run into them). Sometimes they are negative or negating (we fully expect something to happen, and, logically, it should, but the opposite occurs). But why?

As said, a synchronicity might make us feel that there is some kind of cosmic Intelligence behind everything — that there is, in fact, a God. Yet, when we experience synchronicities, we can also come to delude ourselves that things should be easy for us, that we shouldn’t need to work at anything, and that we certainly shouldn’t need to work on improving our own self, because what we want should just be given to us by the universe once we’ve believed sincerely enough or visualized intensely enough.

Positive synchronicities often occur when we don’t expect them. (We think of someone; then we see them, But we don’t think that our thinking of them will make us run into them.)

And negative synchronicities also occur when we don’t expect them to happen.

Mike Tyson famously said that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” (And Tyson practiced positive thinking under his coach Cus D’amato, incidentally.) Yes, life is truly weird (or wyrd, to us the Anglo-Saxon term, which means fate or destiny). Cosmic forces seem to invade our little lives. A Divine Intelligence — or God — seems to be behind or above — and, perhaps, inside — material existence.

But life is a great adventure, not a menu that we can select a few items from. Like the dragon-slayer Sigurd, we have to go out to meet the dragon, rescue the maiden from a ring of fire, and learn the Mysteries. The Divine Intelligence, or God, plays with us, plays dice with our life, but, through negative synchronicities and messing up our plan, He, or It, pushes us out of our comfort zone, out of the shire, out into the world of men, the world of tests, and the realm of destiny.

We could get what we want as soon as we want it. But we would become stunted if we did. As we all know deep down, the greatest things that we can be given are not material comforts but friendships with those who struggle with us for something better, respect from those we respect, the good fortune of a friend who is a good example, skills and intelligence for life, reflection and wisdom, and enough misfortune early on to test us and to reveal to us that we are much more than we thought.

If you’ve read the work of Mitch Horowitz, you’ll know that the positive thinking movement is a lot more interesting than its popular, cliched expressions. But, it has no role for negative synchronicities (as I am calling them). According to the positive thinking movement, if you get punched in the face it’s because you didn’t believe enough or because you didn’t visualize enough. That’s a shame. Because the heroes of legend, and the heroes of life, are those that were forced to face adversity.

The Buddha was born Prince Gautama. He was born with everything that most people would want. It was said that he was destined to become either a great king or an enlightened being. But because his father wanted him to become a king, he protected him from reality, surrounding the young prince with luxury and beauty, and banishing every sign of sickness and death. But, eventually, glimpsing these horrors by chance, Gautama left his kingdom, and his comfort and riches with it, and went in search of enlightenment, suffering even starvation for a time. It was the negative experience that pushed him to search for enlightenment. If he had experienced only luxury, he would not have become awakened, though his life would have been easier — until some point when he would have had to have faced his mortal condition.

For the hero of myth and the hero of life things don’t come easy. They go wrong. He or she experiences the unexpected. There may even be tragedy. But they discover — and are forced to discover — a power inside that is a thousand times what they once imagined. And, unsurprisingly, in recognizing it, they not only find themselves, they transcended themselves, finding the Mysteries, the Divine Mind, Fate, or enlightenment.

“Do not pray for an easy life,” said Bruce Lee, “pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”

Angel Millar is the author of The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician.