Tuesday, 4 September 2007

MS-352 Virtual Life week 6

6. DIGITAL TRANSCENDENTALISM: De Chardin, McLuhan, Moravec

We began the course by considering different western philosophical views of reality. One strand – idealism – suggested that the physical world was not the primary reality: that the true reality was a higher realm of divine spirit, reason or mind. The implications of this were that the physical reality could be left behind, or that we only really existed as mind. Although usually associated with theological positions the same ideas reappear in the hopes and dreams of many contemporary new media theorists and advocates. Here, though it is materialist science itself (technology and new electronic media) that is seen as providing the means to connect humanity and link them together in a single unit, to connect them to the divine, or to let them pass beyond the physical world and its limitations. This lecture looks at three examples of digital transcendentalism: Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s belief in the emergence of an electronically connected mind; McLuhan’s belief in the cosmic destiny of an electronically linked humanity, and Hans Moravec’s posthuman dreams of downloading consciousness and the future minds and intelligences that it will lead to.



Davis, E. (1988) Techngnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail.

On De Chardin:

Begin with the Wired article that relates him directly to developments in new media. Theall’s essay is also useful in parts (though ranges beyond De Chardin into a detailed discussion of Joyce…)

Cobb Kreisberg, J. (1995) ‘A Globe, Clothing Itself With a Brain’, in Wired, 3.06, June, at:

Theall, D. (2002) ‘Becoming Immedia: The Involution of Digital Convergence (on Teilhard De Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man), in Tofts, D., Jonson, A. and Cavallaro, A. (eds.) Prefiguring Cyberculture, London: MIT Press.

De Chardin, P. T. (1976) The Phenomenon of Man, London: Harper Perennial [pub. 1955, written 1938-40].

Cunningham, P. J. (1997) ‘Teilhard De Chardin and the Noosphere’, in Computer Mediated Communication Magazine, March, at: http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1997/mar/cunning.html

There are many web pages (obviously…) devoted to De Chardin, but be warned, his work moves towards some strange ideas and picks up much strange commentary. What you choose from this to look at is your decision. Evaluate commentaries and essays from an academic viewpoint and use them academically.

On McLuhan

My own paper on McLuhan is a good starting point:

Merrin, W. (2008) ‘McLuhan’ in New Media: Key Thinkers, Cambridge: Polity. (available on

Then dive into McLuhan! You’ve already covered him in MS200 so some of you will have already read him. If not, then begin with:

McLuhan, M. (1995) ‘The Playboy Interview’, in McLuhan, E. and Zingrone, F. (eds.) Essential McLuhan, London: Routledge, pp. 233-69 [1969]. Available on-line at http://heim.ifi.uio.no/~gisle/overload/mcluhan/pb.html

(1994) ‘Part One’, in Understanding Media, London: MIT Press [1964]. – followed by the rest of the book …

(1989) ‘Laws of the Media’, in Sanderson, G. and Macdonald, F. (eds.) Marshall McLuhan. The Man and the Message, Golden, Col: Fulcrum Inc, pp. 205-09 [1977].

McLuhan, M. (2002) McLuhan Unbound (Volume 1), Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press.

McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. (1996) The Medium is the Massage, San Francisco: Hardwired.

Benedetti, P. and Dehart, N. (eds.) (1997) Forward Through the Rear-View Mirror. Reflections On and By Marshall McLuhan, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

After that consider the following applications of McLuhan:

De Kerckhove, D. (1995) The Skin of Culture: Investigating the New Electronic Reality, Toronto: Somerville House.

Levinson, P. (1999) Digital McLuhan, London: Routledge.

McLuhan, E. (1998) Electric Language: Understanding the Message, Toronto: St. Martin’s.

Theall, D. (2001) The Virtual Marshall McLuhan, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Important Discussions of the themes of this lecture may also be found in:

Genosko, G. (1999) McLuhan and Baudrillard. The Masters of Implosion, London: Routledge.

Horrocks, C. (2000) Marshall McLuhan and Virtuality, Cambridge: Icon Books.

Huyssen, A. (1995) Twilight Memories, London: Routledge.

Kroker, A. (1995) ‘Digital Humanism: The Processed World of Marshall McLuhan’, in Ctheory, Articles, A028, www.ctheory.net/text_file?pick=70

Marchessault, J. (2004) Marshall McLuhan, London: Sage.

Wolf, G. (1996) ‘The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool’, in Wired, 2.01, January, pp. 44-9 [available on-line at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.01/saint.marshal.html ]

If you want to explore other things McLuhan wrote, the following might be tracked down (but some will need ordering):

Carpenter, E. and McLuhan, M. (eds.) Explorations in Communication. An Anthology, Boston: Beacon Press.

McLuhan, M. (1962) The Gutenberg Galaxy, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

(1966) ‘The All-at –Once World of Marshall McLuhan’, in Vogue, August, pp. 70-3, 111.

(1966) ‘Cybernation and Culture’, in Dechert, C. R. (ed), The Social Impact of Cybernetics, London: University of Notre Dame Press, pp.95-108.

(1967) Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations, New York: Something Else Press Inc.

(1967) ‘Television in a New Light’, in Donner, S. T. (ed.) The Meaning of Commercial Television, London: University of Texas Press, pp. 87-107.

(1968) ‘The Reversal of the Overheated Image’, in Playboy, December, pp. 131-4, 245.

(1974) ‘At the Moment of Sputnik the Planet Becomes a Global Theatre in Which There Are No Spectators Only Actors’, in Journal of Communications, Winter, pp. 48-58.

(1976) ‘The Violence of the Media’, in Canadian Forum, September, pp. 9-12.

(2003) Understanding Media, Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press [new critical edition].

McLuhan, M. and Carson, D. (2003) The Book of Probes, Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press.

McLuhan, M. and Fiore, Q. (1997) War and Peace in the Global Village, San Francisco: Hardwired.

McLuhan, M. and McLuhan, E. (1988) Laws of Media. The New Science, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McLuhan, M. and Parker, H. (1969) Counter-Blast, New York: Harcourt Brace and World Inc.

McLuhan, M. and Powers, B. (1989) The Global Village, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The following are contemporary discussions of McLuhan that are now hard to find but might be ordered off the internet:

Crosby, H. H., and Bond, G. R. (eds.) The McLuhan Explosion. A Casebook on Marshall McLuhan, New York: American Book Company.

Duffy, D. (1969) Marshall McLuhan, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Finkelstein, S. (1968) Sense and Nonsense of McLuhan, New York: International

Miller, J. (1971) McLuhan, London: Fontana/Collins.

Rosenthal, R. (ed.) (1968) McLuhan. Pro and Con, London: Penguin.

Stearn, G. E. (ed.) (1968) McLuhan. Hot and Cool, London: Penguin.

Theall, D. (1971) The Medium is the Rear View Mirror. Understanding McLuhan, London: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

And the following are other texts that apply McLuhan to the contemporary era or discuss his relevance:

Cavell, R. (2002) McLuhan in Space; A Cultural Geography, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lanham, R. A. (1995) The Electronic World: Democracy, Technology and the Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Meyrowitz, J. (1985) No Sense of Place, New York: Oxford University Press.

Moss, J and Morra, L. M. (eds.) (2004) At the Speed of Light There is Only Illumination, Ottowa: University of Ottowa Press.

Patterson, G. (1990) History and Communications. Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, the
Interpretation of History
, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Powe, B. W. (1995) Outage. A Journey Into Electric City, Toronto: Random House of Canada.

Finally, other important McLuhan-related items include:

Genosko, G. (2004) Marshall McLuhan. Critical Evaluations. Vols. 1-3, London: Routledge.

Gordon, W. T. (1997) Marshall McLuhan. Escape Into Understanding, New York: Basic Books.
(1997) McLuhan For Beginners, London: Writers and Readers Ltd.

Marchand, P. (1989) Marshall McLuhan. The Medium and the Messenger, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

McLuhan, E. and Zingrone, F. (eds.) Essential McLuhan, London: Routledge.

Molinaro, M., McLuhan, C., and Toye, W. (eds.) (1987) Letters of Marshall McLuhan, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moos, M. A. (ed.) (1997) Marshall McLuhan, Essays. Media Research, Technology, Art, Communication, Amsterdam: G+B Arts International.

Sanderson, G. and Macdonald, F. (eds.) Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message,
Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Inc.

Willmott, G. (1996) McLuhanism, or Modernism in Reverse, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

As for web-sites, try –

http://www.mcluhan.utoronto.ca/ - the McLuhan program in culture and technology.

http://www.law.pitt.edu/hibbitts/mcl.htm – lots of McLuhan links (though some are dead)

http://www.dreamwv.com/probes/ - McLuhan ‘probes’

http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/mcluhan-studies/ - Journal of McLuhan studies

http://www.mcluhan.ca/links.phtml – more links to other sites
(As usual please note that all sites used are quoted, referenced and correctly listed in the bibliography of your essays. Don’t assume that because it’s not listed in this booklet it can’t be found).

And to round it all off, consider looking at:

McMahon, K (Dir.) McLuhan’s Wake, Primitive Entertainment Ltd. [DVD]

The Video McLuhan Archive [VHS] – in our library now.

On Moravec:

Begin with my own overview:

Merrin, W. (forthcoming) ‘Hans Moravec’, in Merrin, W. (ed.) New Media: Key Thinkers, ambridge: Polity (available on blackboard).

Then look at his own writings. The good news is that much of Moravec’s best work is available on line. Start by reading ‘Dualism Through Reductionism’ (see below) then look at essays such as ‘Pigs in Cyberspace’ (oldies will spot The Muppet Show reference!), ‘The Age of Robots’, ‘The Senses Have No Future’ and ‘Simulation, Consciousness, Existence’. To find them, go to his own web page – http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/ Follow the ‘Publications’ links and look at the following. Ignore the more scientific papers he has written in favour of those which touch upon the theme of the lecture. The following are probably his best essays.

(1977) ‘Intelligent Machines. How to Get There From Here and What to Do Afterwards’, Informal report, September 3rd, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1977/smart

(1979) ‘Today’s Computers, Intelligent Machines and Our Future’, Analog, Vol. 99, No. 2, February, pp. 59-84, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1978/analog.1978.html

(1987) ‘Dualism Through Reductionism’, in Truth, Vol. 2,

(1989) ‘The Robot as Liberation From Human Nature’, in Interactions: 10, December, pp. 32-42, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1989/WPI.ltx

(1990) ‘Open Letter to Roger Penrose’, at:
(1991) ‘The Universal Robot’, in Hattinger, G. and Weibel, P. (eds.), Out of Control: Ars Electronica 91, Landesverlag, Linz, Austria, pp. 13-28, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/robot.papers/1991/Universal.Robot.910618.html
(1992) ‘Pigs in Cyberspace’, in Miller, B. and Wolf, M. (eds.), Thinking Robots, an Aware Internet and Cyberpunk Librarians: the 1992 LITA President’s Program, Library and Information Technology Association, pp. 15-21, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1992/CyberPigs.html

(1994) ‘The Age of Robots’, in More, M. (ed.), Extro 1, Proceedings of the First Extropy
Institute Conference on Transhumanist Thought, April 30-May 1st, Extropy Institute, pp. 84-100, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1993/Robot93.html

(1997) ‘Hans Moravec’, interview with Nova, October, at:

(1998) ‘Interview – Hans Moravec’, with Carlo Bertocchini, 28th November, at:

(1998) ‘The Senses Have No Future’, in Beckmann, J. (ed.), The Virtual Dimension: Architecture, Representation and Crash Culture, Princeton Architectural Press, pp. 84-95, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1997/970128.nosense.html

(1998) ‘When Will Computer Hardware Match the Human Brain?’, in Journal of Transhumanism, Vol. 1., March, http://www.transhumanist.com/volume1/moravec.htm

(1999) ‘David Jay Brown Interviews Hans Moravec’, in Mavericks of the Mind,
http://www.mavericksofthemind.com/moravec.htm 13th March.

(1999) ‘Simulation, Consciousness, Existence’, in Intercommunication, 28, Spring, pp. 98-112, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1998/SimConEx.98.html

(1999) ‘Rise of the Robots’, in Scientific American, December, pp. 124-35,

(2000) ‘Ripples and Puddles’, Web publication,

(2001) ‘Kubrick’s AI and Mind Children’, June 25th, at:
(2002) ‘Robots Rising. Hans Moravec’, interview with Roy Christopher, at:

(2003) ‘Robotics’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, July,

(2003) ‘Robots, After All’, Communications of the ACM, October, pp. 90-97,

Moravec, H. and Pohl, F. (1993) ‘Souls in Silicon’, in OMNI, Vol. 16, No. 2, November, pp. 66-76, http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1993/Silicon/Souls.html

If you prefer to be physically and intellectually stimulated by crushed and dried plant fibres stained with vegetable and mineral-derived dyes and attached together with a biological glue of dubious composition, probably involving animals, then look at the following:

Moravec, H. (1988) Mind Children. The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, London: Harvard University Press, especially ch. 4, ‘Grandfather Clause’.

(1994) Robot. Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Other on-line Moravec interviews and related resources include:

http://frontwheeldrive.com/hans_moravec.html - frontwheel drive interview

Platt, C. (1995) ‘Superhumanism’, in Wired, Issue 3.10, October, at:

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Downloading%20consciousness – on downloading

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Transhumanism - on transhumanism

http://www.jetpress.org/ - Journal of Evolution and Technology

For a critical discussion of Moravec look at:

Davis, E. (1988) Techgnosis, London: Serpent’s Tail, ch. 4.

Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Burns. A. (1997) ‘Moravec’s Dangerous Idea’, in Disinformation, at:

Hayles, N. K. (2005) ‘Computing the Human’, in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 131-51.

For fictional representations of downloading go and find:

Rucker, R. (1987) Software, New York: Avon Books [1982]

Egan, G. (2000) Permutation City, London: Orion Books, especially the ‘prologue’ [1994].
(1998) Diaspora, London: Gollancz.

Sladek, J. (1970) The Muller-Fokker Effect, London: Hutchinson.

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