The Magus of Silicon Valley – multiple afterlives of a conference paper

Transhumanism and religion proves a popular topic.  I started exploring some aspects of the transhumanist movement from the perspective of a scholar of religion and esotericism earlier this year, in connection with a conference.  I have never had more responses from so many different audiences to a conference paper. After uploading my “Magus of Silicon Valley” paper to this summer, I’ve had private messages, emails, reblogs and comments (including a few annoyed transhumanist reactions) – several requests for spinoffs. First of this was a public lecture in the occulturally oriented Forum Nidarosiae in Trondheim. There’s also been interest from more old-fashioned humanists (the type that’s not too impressed by flashy prefixes such as trans-, post-, or neo-). Thus, a spin-off article is underway with the Norwegian secular humanist magazine Humanist, while another has just now been published in the Australian online magazine MercatorNetdescribing itself as being of “dignitarian” orientation, which I take to be a non-confessional, non-partisan, cross-worldview form of humanism (the editor in chief, Michael Cook, is open about his Catholic leaning – while justifications appear to be classic European Enlightenment: no revelation, just reason, evidence and critical practice).

So if you haven’t read it yet, “The Magus of Silicon Valley” is now relaunched in a new medium – slightly edited and modified for the occasion (the jargon should be a little less Academese this time around). They also added a link to a very recommendable documentary on Ray Kurzweil: “Transcendent Man”. Watching it a few years back contributed to my interest in doing something on the movement from a religious studies perspective.

It’s time to sit back and await the first accusations of being in league with this or the other vested interest, dissing the transhuman visionary movement – or perhaps even supporting the coming Inquisition against it.



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This blog post by Egil Asprem was first published on Heterodoxology. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Open-access publishing and Western esotericism: Greeting Correspondences Vol. 1.1

Correspondences journal header

The first issue of a new peer-reviewed journal for the study of Western esotericism has just been released. There aren’t too many of those around to begin with, so Correspondences is (as announced previously) a welcome newcomer to a small field. The first issue already shows much promise with four articles covering a broad span, even breaking some new ground (read them here). But what makes this journal a particularly important newcomer is that it is entirely open-access. Everything is published openly online (after editorial selection, peer review, copy-editing and typesetting, of course), and shared through social media under a Creative Commons license. Without compromising anything on the side of peer-review (a broad editorial board has helped the editors-in-chief find competent reviewers), and with typesetting that completely matches what the paywall-protected publishers typically can muster (let’s face it: it was never anything too fancy to begin with), the result is fully fledged, quality-approved academic articles that are completely free, open to everyone, and published without the often considerable lag of subscription journals.


Faking it

Bad science is normal. Outright fabrication and fraud is luckily less normal, but much more wide-spread than it ought to be. Results may be fabricated entirely to support desired conclusions; conversely, inconvenient results may be challenged by fabricated doubt – whether the fabricators are payed by tobacconists fearing the consequences of cancer research, or oil companies afraid of climate taxes and infrastructural changes. The result is false knowledge and fabricated ignorance – both serious threats to a complex global risk society that needs decisions to be made on the best possible foundation.

While industrial interests and funding structures in the sciences are no doubt accountable for much bad science, they are far from the only reasons. There is of course the personal factor; but even the inevitable moralizing discourse on frauds – the black sheep of the academic flock, who act on egoistic intentions, manipulating colleagues, friends, students to their benefit with a lack of conscience that borders on the psychopathic – is ultimately unconvincing. Especially considering that bad science is normal, while psychopathy is not.


Bad science is normal (pseudoscience is neither)

Frankenstein's monster, immortalized by Boris Karloff's performance

Science gone bad. Frankenstein's monster, immortalized by Boris Karloff's performance.

I have an unhealthy interest in what some like to call the “pseudosciences”. Having spent quite a bit of time trying to understand this category from historical, sociological, and philosophical perspectives, I have also developed a keen interest for another category, “bad science”. Bad science and pseudoscience should not be confused with each other, however. While pseudoscience may also be bad science, most of bad science is not generally considered pseudoscience. In fact, bad science is normal. Pseudoscience, on the other hand, is defined precisely by deviating from the norm of science.


A bright day for freedom of speech in science

Courtesy of Richard Wiseman

After two years’ struggle, the British Chiropractic Association finally dropped their libel case against science writer Simon Singh. This has been a high profile case in the campaign (which has only just begun!) to reform the UK’s ridiculous libel laws. This is a great step in the right direction. For the man who’s occupied centre stage, the victory will still be a costly one. Singh has spent 200.000 pounds to defend himself in the case, which started after he wrote an article in the Guardian in 2008 criticising the (lacking) scientific basis for chiropractic treatments. Instead of meeting him with arguments and evidence, the BCA attempted to sue the criticism to silence.


Eugenics and Progressive Social Policies in Norway

Jon Alfred Mjøen explaining Mendel's law in Oslo, ca. 1920. (American Philosophical Society, Eugenic Archives)

While I was researching something completely different I came across a note in Science from 1917 that caught my attention. It informed readers about the launching of a state sponsored race hygiene program in Norway, under the leadership of biologist Jon Alfred Mjøen (1860-1939). After reading up a little I started wondering about the relation between Mjøen’s politically quite active laboratory, Vindern Biologisk Laboratorium (VBL; established 1906), and the heritage of Norway’s progressive legislation in areas such as healthcare, public loans, targeted taxation policies, etc, which are still deeply felt today. Could there be a discernible eugenic motivation behind them?