Goodbye To All That: Nature and the Future Body in Sri Aurobindo

This paper seeks a long overdue critical exploration of Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary vision and how it might inform contemporary discourse on globalization and those regimes of techno-science whose productions propel its advance. That such a critical inquiry is overdue is regrettable because we live at a time in which we are undergoing what is perhaps our most rapid period of change in human history. We live in an era in which the dislocation of our physical, life and mental worlds seems to result from the pull of three strange attractors accelerating at different speeds.

Gazing out from the edge of digital culture in North America to do a critically inquiry into the future is problematic because our perspectives are already conjoined to the gaze of a culture entrained in exponential change. But what would constitute a future view? An epistemology of the Other? A discourse on the never quite? The future is that distant coordinate which is only know[n] through its proximity to our present. So what does the present teach?

In America we are traveling so rapidly that from here we do not hear the voices of indentured knowledge workers standing in lines of up to mile, amidst the smoke and decay of south India, to compete with the multitudes of Heidegger's “standing reserve” for their conditions of economic bondages; of eight to twelve partitioned hours a day spent facilitating the global flow of virtual capital. Although the gaze from here may sense the desiring nature of the machine it lacks an epistemology for coping with its assemblages and a methodology for resisting its discipline.

If as Foucault says, our bodies are disciplined by the panoptic gaze of society, made to conform to the power relations of specific historical eras, then our bodies today are increasingly disciplined by the compression of global markets even as our social spaces are redrawn to conform to the economic requirements of the networked society with its shrinking time demands. In the future our bodies may come to favor certain genetic mutations which facilitate their ease of insertion into virtual environments, just as today our fingers must develop the necessary dexterity for navigating key boards and our bodies adapt to half slumped postures needed to peer into video monitors. Our bodies will be passed on to future generations as technological progress outstrips our ethical imperatives, our biology following patterns of culture which specify the parameters of the spatial dimensions we inhabit and provide metaphors for our orientation in language.

We surround our bodies in dromospheric environments of a culture organized around the instantaneous transfer of information/capital which allows little time to consider adaptations or world views other than those which conform to its networked demands for rapid mental processing of telematic images. These images are fed back to us in the eternal reconsumption of the same 24/7 by electronic mass media. As our physical and lifeworlds accelerate blind spots fissures, discontinuities open up in fixed reference frames. Anyone who has spun too rapidly on a roundabout knows this feeling of the resultant vertigo.

When this vertigo becomes our culture reference to maintain balance we may want to collectively consider whether we will be able to evolve perspectives which allow us to revision physical, vital, and mental ways of orienting ourselves in the world through a way of knowing which integrates head, heart, and hands.

What Sri Aurobindo envisions in his integral yoga can be called a “authenticity of coalenscences” in which different ontological sheaths or structures of Being, physical (cellular/matter), vital (will/heart), mental (graduations) supramental (gnosis) are integrated in a “progressive” movement of the evolution of consciousness. Although Sri Aurobindo speaks of a progressive evolution of humanity it is a bit more complex than a linear time sequence would imply. In fact, he conceptualize progress as paradoxically intertwined with an eternal return in a repetition of yugas and karma. He sometimes even speaks of circular progress in which Origin remains equidistant to a general advance of human consciousness from infra to supra-rational (his terms), in which civilization follows the cognitive path laid down by individuals or those visionary truth/seers who first apprehend those radically new epistemologies which will become our future cultural metanoias. Perhaps using a familiar trope we can call this an advance in which phenotype eventually recapitulates the mutations of a graced genotype. From this perspective the progression of human civilization follows on pioneering individuals who first explore those rarified topologies of mind through a praxis which will yet reveal vast new cognitive experiences and with this knowledge also a power and a methodology for their excavation and scaling.

In short Sri Aurobindo['s] aim is no less than the reconciliation of the great philosophical questions, being and becoming, unity and multiplicity, difference and repetition through an evolutionary movement which reveals a commitment to the authenticity of our future embodiment.

The coalescence of being/becoming he envisions reorients our move toward the future and suggests a way forward and out from our current disassociation. While this is certainly a philosophical move in a grand style it does contrast precisely the view of ourselves as assemblages of spinning parts which we perceive in our vertigo. An integrative whole would remain obscure to one whose senses are spun in an sparking whirl of frictional parts. If an integrative whole were to presence itself through a sensation of balancing ourselves at the edge of a chaotic networked society then our first perceptions of it would be of alterity.

The alterity I refer to here is the gaze of Sri Aurobindo, whose radically expansive epistemology contextualizes this inquiry streaming along gradient toward two attractors; synthesis and hybridity. Here, synthesis refers to the practice of integral yoga which derives from a synthesis of karma, bhakti and jnana yogas, while hybridity refers to the orientation of the spiritual practices of India (yoga) within the progressive evolution heralded by Modernist European scholars at the beginning of the 20th century.

While a synthesis is an atemporal fusing of sheaths or horizons of being (koshas) a hybridity is a fissionable production of history.

In my use of synthesis or integral, I refer to a psychological process akin to what Whitehead refers to a " pre-hension". It is very difficult to describe this phenomena with words but one may come close by referring to it as an intuitive grasp of the pre-existent unity of seemingly discontinuous elements comprising a whole which is always greater than the sum of its parts. Although the parts of such a whole may subsequently be revealed analytically as individual events or structures, they are implicitly continuous with the horizon of the whole, and do not act independently of it.

A whole formed from a hybridity by contrast is a grafting of differing elements together in which the parts may be mutable but their autonomy remains discernible. Wholes instancing such hybrids can be found in societies, linguistic communities, ethnicities. Bakhtin provides a good definition of hybritity: “It is a mixture of two social languages within the limits of a single utterance, an encounter, within the arena of an utterance, between two different linguistic consciousnesses, separated from one another by an epoch, by social differentiation, or by some other factor”. (Bakhtin 358)

In this paper I begin by interrogating Sri Aurobindo's ideas of progressive evolution and the future body he envisages emerging from it. In doing this I contrast his evolutionary perspective with those of the Catholic philosophers Teilhard de Cardin and Marshall McLuhan, who believed that the formation of a new consciousness would result from its collectivization through a planetary thinking layer and/or the deployment of global communications technologies.

I also explore post-modern critiques of technology and culture whose arguments strongly contest views of the future in terms of progressive evolution. Through these arguments an attempt is made to understand our future bodies in terms of how these are subject to discipline, control, and the panoptic gaze of the socio-economic and technological structures in which they are embedded.

Additionally, I examine the occult mechanism which Sri Aurobindo argues to be the main driver behind the evolution of consciousness and the body. I suggest that what we now know indicates that the primary impetus behind the evolution of human consciousness is culture. I also argue that by virtue of the paradigm of complexity found in science today, especially in its framing of autocatalytic processes and cybernetic principles may now provide satisfactory explanations of what was previous thought of as occult. My interests lie in examining the process by which nature (Prakriti) can be simulated and demystified through algorithm and computation, and I believe this is a view which would be accepted by Sri Aurobindo and most Eastern spiritual traditions.

The question then arises just how much of our experience of the world is given to us as natural entities through the billions of years we have been programmed by nature. To what extent can we separate ourselves as autonomous human agents from our conditioning as merely the automata of nature? Just how much of human nature is machinic in nature? How much freedom do we actually have? These questions prove themselves to be difficult to answer.

- I will attempt to answer these questions without exploring the weird world of quantum physics which paints a picture of sub-atomic reality as strange as any occult explanation of reality found in the world's mystical traditions. Illustrations from this science could also demonstrate one of my central premises which is that the advance of science is a solvent for dissolving what was previously thought occult. However, as I wish to elevate this conversation above merely empirical and scientific observations of the world to explore phenomenological themes, for the most part I will avoid using these descriptions. -

Finally, I argue that by re-visioning Sri Aurobindo's evolutionary perspective to account for the cultural transformations of the past half century suggests the possibility of a way of knowing from which an ethos emerges which privileges caring for the physical and life worlds rather than a view of the body and experience that can be discarded as just so many bytes of information. I argue that this ethos may provide a guiding light for the future sciences as they intervene in nature to create the future body through the grafting of information science on to flesh and bone.


Goodbye To All That

(Nature and the Future Body in Sri Aurobindo: part 1)

Richard Carlson


"The new type, the divine body, must continue the already developed evolutionary form; there must be a continuation from the type Nature has all along been developing, a continuity from the human to the divine body, no breaking away to something unrecognisable but a high sequel to what has already been achieved and in part perfected. The human body has in it parts and instruments that have been sufficiently evolved to serve the divine life; these have to survive in their form, though they must be still further perfected, their limitations of range and use removed, their liability to defect and malady and impairment eliminated, their capacities of cognition and dynamic action carried beyond the present limits. New powers have to be acquired by the body which our present humanity could not hope to realise, could not even dream of or could only imagine. Much that can now only be known, worked out or created by the use of invented tools and machinery might be achieved by the new body in its own power or by the inhabitant spirit through its own direct spiritual force. The body itself might acquire new means and ranges of communication with other bodies, new processes of acquiring knowledge, a new aesthesis, new potencies of manipulation of itself and objects. It might not be impossible for it to possess or disclose means native to its own constitution, substance or natural instrumentation for making the far near and annulling distance, cognising what is now beyond the body's cognisance, acting where action is now out of its reach or its domain, developing subtleties and plasticities which could not be permitted under present conditions to the needed fixity of a material frame. These and other numerous potentialities might appear and the body become an instrument immeasurably superior to what we can now imagine as possible. (Aurobindo 1914/50)

The preceding passage found in Sri Aurobindo's early essays, and later compiled in the book The Supramental Manifestation, reads rather differently today in light of the current technological colonialization of the body than it did when it was penned in the first part of the 20th century. The effect of reading it today is a feeling of slight disorientation as it contrasts so starkly with contemporary narratives of the body evolving under the pressure of technology and culture. When revisited these passages on the evolving superman they begin to take on almost enigmatic meanings, that is when one considers that some of the characteristics which Sri Aurobindo envisages as the sensory experience of a future body (
acquire new means and ranges of communication with other bodies) seem already accessible to us by virtue of our collective participation in technological environments.

Sri Aurobindo however, is not referencing technology or electronic bodies built by human design but rather the continuation of a biological mode of existence which is privileged by virtue of its very naturalness, or rather by a certain conception of what natural is. What he seems to be doing here is to extrapolate a perspective of nature formulated early in the 20th century to its perfected culmination in a future body. But in the 21st century, after the advent of information and biological technologies, can we still rely on conceptions of nature from a century ago to govern our vision of a future body?

Ironically, if the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan is correct, the passage of time and the advent of certain technologies may actual result in the atrophy of the body rather than its progress. One of McLuhan's well known aphorisms puts the issue as follows: “Every technological extension is a -biologcal- self-amputation”(1964 p45) When we develop machines to perform work for us those parts of our anatomy which were once involved in those physical task become inactive and begin to atrophy. For example, this evolutionary reversal is implicit in the technological extension we know as the automobile. Adults drive automobiles and in so doing radically curtail physical locomotion, children play video games (such as grand theft auto) rather than engage in sports themselves. The result is that bodies go docile even as we adapt new forms of sustenance to nourish them.

Indeed the same petro-chemicals which power automobiles also provides fuel for the machinery of agro-buisness which maximizes food production through coercive land use practices. Viewed through these agrocultural practices nature becomes merely an object to be exploited through the use of technology. For example, bio-technology intervenes in natural processes to increase crop yields dramatically. The resultant wholesale instrumentalization of Nature has since 1980 squeezed out 600 more calories per person daily. Although this means that food prices have fallen it also means that since 1985 we consume at least 300 more calories a day than in 1985.

Our diets are disciplined according to the economies of scale which global food production requires, even if this means processing out many of the nutrients which have sustained us over our evolutionary history. “Nearly a quarter of these new calories come from sugar (most in the form of high fructose corn syrup, another quarter of these calories come from added fat and 46 percent from refined grains. The overwhelming majority of these supply lots of energy but very little else in the form of nutrition” . Because of the high glucose content in the form of frutose which is metabloized in the liver and transmitted by insulin to the cells for energy, the ability of protein hormones to process insulin is overwhelmed. As a result Americans born after 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing diabetes in his/her lifetime (Pollen 2008). In short, bio-technology extends surplus food even as it processes out traditional forms of nourishment

Vanishing with our dietary nutrients is also our sensory experience of the world which increasingly disappears in passive feats of telematic viewing. In America where the feed back mechanism of inactive bodies and telematic experience is most tightly bound up in a cynical polity, which discourages active participation in the civic sphere, the population has reached record levels of obesity. This is especially true in children whose physical activity is rapidly becoming virtualized. A recent university of Michigan study found 8th graders in the United States spend almost one day per week (23 hours) playing video games and more than a day and a half (38 hours) a week watching TV. In a society in which children spend endless hours playing video games and watching television childhood obesity is epidemic. In the current evolutionary movement of our techno-scientific culture the body is disciplined in certain ways. Much like Foucaults post-Enlightenment prison populations, our bodies are simply made docile.

In an age in which physical activity increasingly vanishes into technological encounter and civic engagement is increasingly virtualized, in which bio-technology reduces bodies to identities of code, to just so much information, we seem to be moving headlong toward a cyborgian narrative of the future.

The symbiosis of man and machine may construct our future body although it may just as well undermine our presence in the world. The paradox of technology as the arbiter of our well being, as extension of our body, and yet as the servant of our self-destruction is here described by Jean Baudrillard:

From a classical (even cybernetic) perspective, technology is an extension of the body. It is the functional sophistication of a human organism that permits it to be equal to nature and to invest triumphally in nature. From Marx to McLuhan, the same functionalist vision of machines and language : they are relays, extensions, media mediators of nature ideally destined to become the organic body of man. In this“rational” perspective the body itself is nothing but a medium”. (Baudrillard 1994)

But if [in] the rational perspective the body is simply that of a medium, a vehicle, and if technology is an extension of the body then man and machine are inextricably linked. It follows if the body must die, then technology is also the extension of our death. A death often brought to the body because in its symbiotic relationship with the machine it must participate in the ritual of the accident. “In the apocalyptic version of “Crash” technology is the mortal deconstruction of the body no longer a functional medium, but the extension of death” (Baudrillard 1994 p111). Such reasoning applied to the future body must ask whether it will become a vehicle of evolutionary advance or its technological crash?

But it is not only the technological accident that threatens the body in the form of the automobile accident, the airplane careening into sky scrapers, the chemical leak from a railway car or a terrorist dirty bomb, but our daily participation in a cultural feedback loop of physical abuse.

One sees the crash daily in telematic images of agonizing bodies subjugated to real time violence edited to fit the chronological demands of our attention spans, which have been disciplined by the commercial sequencing of events that are streamed into our living rooms. This dissection of time to meet the demands of streamed capitalism reconfigures the ratio of our senses, so sight or the sound/image primarily govern our worlding experience. This sensorily deprived encounter with the suffering hordes of others diminishes our capacity to empathize with them. Light years away from the superman, we are truly morphing into Nietzsche's contemptible “last man”, pathetic comfort seekers, spewing our Christian (slave) morality while denigrating entire populations, happy to engage our nation in warfare so long as we can view it from the safe distance of our living rooms, so long as the battle is fought over there.

Whether it be the smart bomb, cruise missile, machete, or suicide bomber the ritual of violence is played our virtually before society 24/7 as both fact and fiction; a weird hybridity of news and entertainment. We no longer blink, or think twice about it, because by 18 years of age we have witnessed some 200,000 acts of violence on television alone, the destiny of our physical evolution seems to end in the genuflection of subjugated bodies to a cult of nihilism which approaches at exponential speeds.

The productions of instrumental reason as measure in chip speed and memory capacity is accelerating at a pace which outstrips the often ponderously slow manner in which we make moral decisions. No longer measured according to the linear traces of biological time the exponential leaps in technological chronology out strips the measured steps we humans have so far taken on our evolutionary journey. This makes it much more difficult for us to grasp many ethical implications our own creations warrant or to reflect on the question of servitude and discipline or the ordering of servo-mechanisms; machine or man?

Indeed we are not only talking about faster computers or novel biological prosthesis but a new eugenics programs via genetic enhancement and the promise of crossing species limits. Hybridities were first manufactured by the hands of botanist, the Luther Burbanks of the world, and at a time when it was only dreamed in the realm of science fiction Sri Aurobindo seems to have envisioned the possibility of crossing species limits in Homo sapiens by similar biological interventions:

"Consciousness itself by its mutation will necessitate and operate whatever mutation is needed for the body. It has to be noted that the human mind has already shown the capacity to aid nature in the evolution of new types of plant and animal; it has created new forms of its environment, developed by knowledge and disciplined considerable changes in its own mentality. It is not an impossibility that "man should aid nature consciously also in his own spiritual and physical evolution and transformation" ( Sri Aurobindo 1949 p843/ 844)

But [the] ability of science to induce species mutation as an actual evolutionary potential has come upon us so rapidly that we are challenged to arrive at a future in which our experience as embodied natural beings will still cohere to a world designed by the human mind.

The fashioning of artificial organs and limbs is already long ago science, artificial insemination has become a routinized procedure for the conception of human life. The future development of cloning technologies and a synthetic womb may make physical procreation a mere artifact of primitive human history.

Genetic engineering has already crossed species limits to create unique hybrid lifeforms and clones. Grafting the traits of other species on to humans is a conceivable outcome. It is very possible that our values will one day shift in the way we view these technological augmentations which will exaggerate both the human body and ego: “Eyes that allow us to see the sky in terms of patterns of gravitation waves like migrating birds, genetically modified hearing at the level of previously inaudible sounds, is the likely new order of values of the twenty first century. The ethical consequences of this cultural change are decisive since what is challenged today is not simply the goals of technology but what it means to be human, to be post-human, to literally have a mind interfaced to the speed of digital networks”(Kroker 2004 ).

In addition to new technological prosthesis which may alter human physiology our consciousness has also been wholly infiltrated by languages not taught to us by our mothers nor dreamed of by poets and philosophers. I refer here of course to machine code.

Code differs from the language normally associated with human communication in that it is addressed not only to humans but to both humans and machines. Code is also unique in that its messages mostly bypass humans altogether and so provide machines a privileged language of their own.

More then ninety nine percent of all encoded messages are now that of machines addressing other machines, the other one percent is the encrypted communication of human subjects addressing one another. Yet, this “regime of computation” (Hayles 2006) which generates nine tenths of all communication circulating round the planet remains well below the awareness of [most of
the] folks engaged with technology. The entire flow of information  circulating throughout the global media sphere is encrypted in languages which render our experience of the world they facilitate, transparent to our senses. Like a frog in a vat of hot water, code works us over imperceptibly and is slowly stepping up the human organism to the vibratory level of electro-magnetic fields which resonate with the machine.

Whether it is the encoding of packets of information in “files”, found in “icons” or in “trash bins” or the opening of different “windows” to orient oneself in the cyberspaces we increasingly inhabit, or the way we imagine our thoughts flowing through a conduit to reach an electronic other, the ubiquitous technological world we encounter is effectuated within our consciousness through its own peculiar tropes. The metaphors presented to us through software help structure our journey along the “information super highway" connecting all points in the “global village”.

Code is the vehicle from which we gaze out into the anamorphosis of cyberspace to negotiate the multiplicity of computer platforms which enable electronic communication. That is as Althauser would recognize software facilitates an imaginary relationship with our real conditions of existence. e.g. desktop metaphors versus the binary ones and zeros represented as voltages in the chip. Therefore, as a medium which shapes our very perceptions of the world, software can be defined as “ideological speech”. (Huio Kyong Chun in Hayles 2006)

The shift in dominance of language which addresses only other human beings to a language with addresses both humans and intelligent machines is a rupture in the structures which make the world intelligible. According to N. Katherine Hayles this rupture can be compared to the historic distancing of the written from the spoken word. As with previous ruptures in the epochal consciousness, the schism opens a crevice through which the old godhead vanishes and a new metaphysical structure emerges.

To some modernist thinkers the altering of the sense ratio of society through code promises a golden future. Marshall McLuhan was one of the first scholars to prophes[y] the potential Utopian human condition which would be brought on by collectivization through the deployment of global communications technologies:

Our new electric technology that extends our senses and nerves in a global embrace has large implications for the future of language. .... Electricity points the way to an extension of the process of consciousness itself, on a world scale, without any verbalization whatsoever. Such a state of awareness may have been the pre-verbal condition of men. Language as the technology of human extension whose powers of division and separation we know so well, may have been the Tower of Babel by which men sought to scale the highest heavens. Today computers hold out the promise of instant translation of any language into any other code or language. The computer in short promises by technology a Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity. The next logical step would seem to be to by-pass language in favor of general cosmic consciousness which might be like the collective unconscious dreamed of by Bergson . The condition of weightlessness that biologist[s] promise [may confer] a physical immortality maybe paralleled by the condition of speechlessness that could confer a perpetual harmony and peace”. (McLuhan 1964 p83,84)

McLuhan's optimistic view on code and mass communications technologies and its ability to bring about a global pentacostal condition or cosmic consciousness follows closely on the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard DeChardin, who believed that human evolution was moving toward the universalization of consciousness. In Teilhard's view:

  • Evolution=Rise of consciousness,

  • Rise of consciousness=Union effected

The general gathering together in which, by correlated actions of the without and the within of the earth, the totality of thinking units and thinking forces are engaged---the aggregation in a single block of a mankind whose fragments weld together and interpenetrates before our eyes in spite of (indeed in proportion to) their efforts to separate--all this becomes intelligible from top to bottom as soon as we perceive it as the natural culmination of a cosmic process of organization which has never varied since those remote ages when our planet was young. “ (de Chardin 1955)

As a result of this aggregation a new super humanity would emerge:

The outcome of the world, the gates of the future, the entry into the super-human--these are not thrown open to a few of the privileged nor to one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. They will open only to an advance of all together, in a direction in which all together can join and find completion in a spiritual renovation of the earth”.... (de Chardin 1955)

To make the leap from Teilhard's vision of the evolutionary welding together of humanity toward the emergence of a universalized thinking layer surrounding the planet with a global pentecostal condition made possible by the encircling of the planet by mass electronic communications systems was a logical leap for the Catholic McLuhan. However, the implications of living a life immersed in technology maybe dubious for our future bodies, because unfortunately utopias often backfire, as Arthur Kroker reminds us here:

Teilhard de Chardin’s “noosphere” Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” The notion of an emergent form of being that comes out of the “human” and surpasses it. Samuel Alexander’s “deity” and all the other “gods” that humans are supposed to bring into being and which were in the minds of James, Bergson, Unamuno, and Whitehead. For the most part evolutionary and progressive. Also Hegalian. Just because the human will be decentered and surpassed by a new mode of being does'nt mean that the human will be diminished. On the contrary it will come into its own as collaborator in something greater. Honored collaborator. James’s god was a friend and a partner who needed us. Whitehead’s god was fulfilled only in its consequent nature through our efforts.

McLuhan’s technological humanism stands at the end of this modernist discourse. All other emerginists were visionary anticipators with theological imaginations. In McLuhan the noosphere materializes as the media-net. The emergent is no longer to be striven for as something in the future, but a fact. McLuhan is the moment of positivistic emergentism. He is reporting the fact that there is a mode of being that has succeeded and now encompasses the human. But he is still a humanist . He is still a doctor. He needs to prescribe. For him, there is a common sense which might be trained to respond to the distortions created by technology and to restore its homeostasis through an indigent diet. The media might yet serve “man”.............

Cross McLuhans’s nervous system outerized by the media with Nietzsche’s “last man” and you get crash theory. This is how it happens : Crash Theory is the post-humanist (not anti-humanist- what is there to be against if the “human” is dead and now a subject of endless resurrection efforts) continuation of emergentism. It follows McLuhan’s outerization thesis, and extends elaborates it by calling attention to how the media-net is constituted by technologies that were not in McLuhan’s ken. Crash theory, however, abandons the notion that media are “extensions of man”. Far from it . They are the humiliations of the flesh which remains an embarrassment after man dies.”(Kroker/Weinstein 1994 p142)

If the extension of the human in a collective web of consciousness results in the self-amputation of flesh, the destiny of our bodies is to dissolve in the unceasing flow of photons circulating through the global media net because our ontology is really that of information. If this disembodied reality is our future, one in which the ratio of our senses shrink to the parameters of virtuality, our perceptions are disciplined to the designs of techno-science, our cognition modified by electric bodies, the humiliation of the flesh will become in its evolutionary dead end.

If the crash of bodies follows on the vanishing of individual human consciousness into a collective media net, a vision of an embodied future would require emphasis be placed on the individual.

If this is the case the views of McLuhan and de Chardin contrast with those of Sri Aurobindo who does not envision the evolution of a future humanity resulting from the collectivization of consciousness - he was deeply suspicious of the phenomena of a group mind, - but rather it followed on the efforts of individuals who prepare themselves through yogic practice for the “descent” of a radically new consciousness, whose allegiances are to self and spirit.

He writes:

The individual is indeed the key of the evolutionary movement; for it is the individual who finds himself, who becomes conscious of the Reality. The movement of the collectivity is a largely subconscious mass-movement; it has to formulate and express itself through the individuals to become conscious: its general mass-consciousness is always less evolved than the consciousness of its most developed individuals, and it progresses in so far as it accepts their impress or develops what they develop. The individual does not owe his ultimate allegiance either to the State which is a machine or to the community which is a part of life and not the whole of life: his allegiance must be to the Truth, the Self, the Spirit, the Divine which is in him and in all; not to subordinate or lose himself in the mass, but to find and express that truth of being in himself and help the community and humanity in its seeking for its own truth and fullness of being must be his real object of existence. But the extent to which the power of the individual life or the spiritual Reality within it becomes operative, depends on his own development: so long as he is undeveloped, he has to subordinate in many ways his undeveloped self to whatever is greater than it. (Sri Aurobindo 1949/72, Life Divine p1050)

Today we live in the epoch which annunciates the totalization of the panopticon (Foucault 1977). The human gazes now looks out upon every terrestrial millimeter. We are all already enfolded digitally in a planetary Global Positioning System. There is no where left to hide from the eye of the satellite. On some occult electronic planes we only exist as virtual coordinates in cyberspace, we are all now networked in a collective etheric web (noosphere?) of human consciousness.

At the time Sri Aurobindo was constructing his view of the individual, nature, and the future body there had not yet been a movement from an organic, industrial society to a polymorphous culture of information science, in which identities fracture under the infomatics of domination (Harraway 1991), in which natural boundaries are penetrated by streamed capitalism in its quest for twenty percent returns on investment. Ours is an age in which not only the bio-sphere but our genetics are colonialized by techno-science, in which cultures are grafted on to vivisections in the global economy into exploitive new hybridities.

In an era in which machine is inserted into flesh, in which natural and artificial boundaries permeate one another and protean adaptations of personality are required for our travel through the multi-dimensional topologies of cyber space, both nature and nature must be re-imagined. We all must take up the liminal existence of a nomad who moves freely from identities to affinities, from boarders to coalitions, from reality to virtuality.

The question we began with was whether it is still possible at present to conceive of certain individuals who through the practice of integral yoga will evolve the future bodies of the superman, which as Sri Aurobindo envisions: “must continue the already developed evolutionary form”, and be “a continuation from the type Nature has all along been developing, a continuity from the human to the divine body, no breaking away to something unrecognisable but a high sequel to what has already been achieved and in part perfected, or must we revision what we conceive of today as natural? Does nature mean the same thing in the first years of the new millennium as it did in the first years in the last century of the old millennium?

Has our immersion in ubiquitous technological environments that discipline our bodies at exponential speeds already defined a discontinuity in our future physiology? Will this discontinuity render our bodies of the future unrecognizable when viewed from a perspective of biological evolution, as Sri Aurobindo describes it: our already developed evolutionary form? Or is such a perspective, while it may have been appropriate at the time it was conceived, in light of the evolution of culture over the past century something which we now must consider naive and to which we must say “goodbye to all that”?


This is the first part of a longer meditation on the future bodies. I have entitled this section “Goodbye To All That” which is the title of Robert Graves autobiography in which he recounts his experiences in the trenches in WWI. What he is saying goodbye to is the passing of an era: of the naive, carefree, class based culture of Edwardian England, which did not survive the war. Sri Aurobindo wrote the passages referenced here at about the time the Edwardian era ended and the great war began. Because our views and valorization of nature are cultural constructions to appreciate why Sri Aurobindo extrapolates a certain form of naturalism into the future body we must first excavate his conceptions of “what is natural”.

The context of his writing referenced here on evolution and the future body seems to flow naturally out of a post-romantic protestant view of Nature he must have been exposed to growing up in England which lived on well into Edwardian era. To the British upper classes it was a view of nature as pristine, which they enjoyed in well manicured English country gardens, not yet smeared with the blood of the trenches. Above all nature was clearly distinct from the machinery given to us by culture.

In forming his view of nature Sri Aurobindo took account of Ruskin's, Carlyle's, and Arnold's critique of industrialism. This view of nature was certainly valuable for sacramentalizing nature at a time when the Industrial Revolution was rapidly desecrating it. Today however, the interpenetration of nature by information technologies and genetic engineering has added enough complexity to what it means to be natural/human that we can no longer escape environments which are increasingly mediated by technology. Electricity undergirds much of our phenomenological experience of the world, bio-technology sustains our physical presence in it. In such a brave new world the continuity of the already developed evolutionary form with all its biological naturalism seems to be a reality to which we have already said goodbye.

But, what is important for us in Sri Aurbindo vision of the future body is not necessarily that its a post-romantic construction, but rather that it is also informed by the darshanic discourse and yogic practices of India. It is his analysis of nature as prakriti and the way he conceives the epistemology of its knower purusha, which I would argue is most useful to us now in illumining a way forward which preserves the integrity of embodied experience in an age governed by the "infomatics of domination" and in laying down a path toward a bio-ethics of the future. I hope to explore this in the second part of this essay. 

I will post the guiding abstract next, this work should not be thought of as reaching toward any certain ends, which is to say what this all will become at its end is far from certain. Therefore I welcome all comments, collaboration, quips or quotes..


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