The Cyberpunk as Modern Alchemist
The chain of events that elevated us to this new genetic status, HOMO SAPIENS CYBERNETICUS, began around the turn of the century.
Physicists, we recall, are traditionally assigned the task of sorting out the nature of reality. So it was the quantum philosophers who figured out that units of energy/matter were sub-atomic bits of programmed information that zoom around in clouds of ever-changing, if/then, start/stop, off/on, 0/1, yin/yang probabilities in clusters of pixels, up-and-down recurring stairways of paradox.
When they started out, no one understood what these guys were talking about. They expressed their unsettling theories in complex equations written on blackboards with chalk. Believe it or not, these great physicists thought and communicated with a neolithic tool -- chalk-marks on the wall of the cave. The irony was this: Einstein and his brilliant colleagues could not experience or operate or communicate at a quantum-electronic level.
Imagine if Max Planck pottering around in his mathematical chalk-board had access to a video-arcade game! He'd see right away that the blips on Centipede and the zaps of Space Invaders could represent the movement of the very particles that he tried to describe in the dusty symbols of his blackboard.
The baby boom generation has grown up in an electronic world of TV and personal computing screens. The cyberpunks offer metaphors, rituals, life styles for dealing with the universe of information. More and more of us are becoming electro-shamans, modern alchemists.
Alchemists of the Middle Ages described the construction of magical appliances for viewing future events, or speaking to friends distant or dead. Writings of Paracelsus describe a mirror of ELECTRUM MAGICUM with telegenic properties, and crystal scrying was in its heyday.
Today, digital alchemists have at their command tools of a precision and power unimagined by their predecessors. Computer screens ARE magical mirrors, presenting alternate realities at varying degrees of abstraction on command (invocation). Aleister Crowley defined magick as "the art and science of causing change to occur in conformity with our will," and to this end the computer is the universal level of Archimedes.
The parallels between the culture of the alchemists and that of cyberpunk computer adepts are inescapable. Both employ knowledge of an occult arcanum unknown to the population at large, with secret symbols and words of power. The "secret symbols" comprise the languages of computers and mathematics, and the "words of power" instruct computer operating systems to complete Herculean tasks. Knowing the precise code name of a digital program permits it to be conjured into existence, transcending the labor of muscular or mechanical search or manufacture.
Rites of initiation or apprenticeship are common to both. "Psychic feats" of telepathy and action-at-a-distance are achieved by selection of the menu option.
By Timothy Leary and Eric Gullichsen