Article categories: Arcadia
March 23rd, 2010

Ancient Greek architects devised arcades to support aqueducts and sheltered walkways between buildings. The alcoves beneath each archway provided a proscenium for the entrance to performance arenas, market stalls and public orators.Early Christian monasteries influenced by Roman (and thus Ancient Greek) architecture, built arcades around courtyards, gardens and as rooftop shelters for strolling monks that would look out from the highest perimeters of the building. Thus the commercial countenance of the modern arcade shares its history with public philosophy, entertainment, and spiritual reflection. And within the annexed halls of the modern arcade—full of window-shoppers, food-courts, buskers and rivaling balloon merchants—game arcades full of coined-operated techno-mythologies churn out endless re-enactments of simulated realities. Arcadia is the notion of a place with room for a private and a public soul. It reflects the evanescent promise of utopia, transcendence and life beyond death, and the arcades of technology and spirituality we visit to find it.

It could be said that for all living things there is no biological death, only the continuous swell and collapse of identity.  Rising out from an ocean of genetic possibilities, the human ego is a unique pattern of consciousness: a crazed webbing of biological predisposition, social circumstance and personal choice. The health of consciousness is heavily dependant upon the ways in which we perceive our universe, which in turn is dependent upon the perceptual apparatus we are born with and born into.

From an early age we are presented worldly pictures, mediated by the symbols, games, tools and toys donated by our society and culture. From the crude implements cupping a chaotic mash of vegetable pulp over in front of our infant mouths, through to philosophical complexity of myth and religion, human beings are media and build media spaces that house ruminations upon else-worlds, as well as providing the means of communication in across an existing one.

Media and technology extend the networks that have already been proffered to us by biology, delivering experiences of culture that are greater than the sum of its individuals. Behind the adoption of languages that help us to share experiences with others, each of us are secret assemblers of an invisible code, the public face for which is personality.  Filmmaker and new media activist Shuddhabrata Sengupta states:

As someone who works a lot with images and narratives, I have for some time now been struck by the power that accrues to pictures, and to evocations by word or text of the textures of reality. These images, or texts, or narratives strike me as being strings of code, shorthand formulations with which we express an algebra of our relationship to the realities we are located in. […] I have found images and myths to be like equations. And the word God, or the notion of spirit, or an image that expresses divinity, to me, is a way of talking about the entirety of the cosmos, and the accumulation of all human memory, with a single syllable, or a single legible visual event.”

Religion and personae are particularly human constructions that shape the inscrutability of the natural world as it impacts upon individuals and collectives in differing societies. Such tools are fundamental in drawing the lines of defense between the dread of disorder, principally of death. The quest for abstraction and transcendence share a common goal – the unification of beliefs and empirical knowledge.

Transcendence is an arguably hard-wired behaviour that takes human consciousness into realities beyond the sum of our senses. Whilst science is founded upon critical reasoning, theology attempts to accommodate [or mediate] emotional responses to perceptual excesses within its principals of social order [which are entangled with cognition in the shaping of cosmologies]. Dr. Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud speaks upon the phenomenology of religiousness as transcendence beyond chaos, asking:

“… is it an experience of finally ‘seeing’ the pattern, when we haven’t been able to for so long? Is it an aesthetic experience that ‘heals’ the ruptures and discontinuities? Is it an enlightenment and social solidarity that transcends ‘sense’ and ‘non-sense’? Or is chaos a no-pattern, a forsakenness, a rawness that leads either to compassion or madness?”

Science has donated its fair share of transcendental technologies to the modern world through pharmacology, the pluralism of quantum theory, or as Erik Davis and Niranjan Rajah have suggested within this publication, through immersive audiovisual technologies such as surround sound and virtual reality. How to accommodate the liberties of individuality with notions of ecology, harmony and equality within the public domain, is a challenge met with principles of sacredness. Mysticism and reason, religiousness and agnosticism, secular and the sacred….all terms that have been popularlised after the age of Enlightenment. Acting upon belief, or in good faith, whether in the spiritual or secular sense, does not make an act sacred. Nor does it justify a lack of forethought upon the consequences. When idealism ignores realism, the resulting fallout is often fatal.

In recent years—as Jim Moss relates in his discussion on sacred science, technology and aesthetics—the baroque abstractions of string-theory and quantum physics have attracted a lot of attention from popular gnosticism and new age mystics, as current modes of cosmological inquiry grazing on the shoreline of chaos.  Whilst physicists stalk atomic shadows, marine biologists are recreating the dark menageries 3000 feet beneath the ocean in 3D.  Artificial Intelligence, the cyberpunk landscape of neural networks, stems-cells and nanobots…certainly these scientific and technological manoeuvrings are reshaping the mytho-poetical dimension of the modern imagination. It is not radical to assume that the progress of science and technology applications are positively affected by sacred, religious and spiritual practices.

Spiritual references have filtered into the techno-mythologies that emerge within the dreaming of cinema and animation. It was the influence of Eastern mysticism created The Force, arranged the code of the Jedi Knights and fused atomic awe, the alien conciousness and cybord dreams in the technofutures of Japanese anime such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell.

Myth is also like a good Nintendo game – the deeper you get into it, the more complex it becomes”, says Geniwate.

With interactive games such as the Final Fantasy series, human technology has merged and expanded in respect for its universe, acknowledged to be vastly more important as a whole than anthropomorphic concepts of the cosmos will permit. Within these fantasy game worlds, mortal players become molecular engineers and interact with the bioluminescence of mating planets. The technologies of perception and survival, manifesting in sophisticated representations of environmental life-forces, are crucial to the development of appropriate scientific engineering technologies that may augment the quality of life and the longevity of the human lifespan.

Within this publication is an assemblage of contemporary ideas on Art, techgnostic philosophy, religion, modern science, secular spirituality, and public soul across cultures in the 21st Century. Its aims are to convey the poetic and practical relationships between science, technologies, religious and spiritual practices and how they might contribute to life in the future and the future of imagination.

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