Gary Lachman is an author, musician, and lecturer. He has written extensively on the influence of occultism and esotericism in western culture: The Secret Teachers of the Western World (2015), Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (2018), Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock n’Roll, and The Wickedest Man in the World, and more recently Holy Russia: Apocalyptic History, Mystical Awakening, and the Struggle for the Soul in the World (2020).
Many of his biographies have explored the lives of P.D. Ouspesky (In Search of P. D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff), Rudolph Steiner (Rudolph Steiner: An introduction to his Life and Works, 2007), Emmanuel Swedenborg (Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Emanuel Swedenborg, 2006) and Colin Wilson (Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson, 2016). He is also known for being a founding member of the pop group Blondie and in 2006 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
My talk will look at how comic book superheroes – the superhumans of my youth - were a model for both today’s transhumanist movement, but also for the evolution of consciousness toward what I call the “fully human,” in contrast to the “only human,” of the dominant reductionist “scientistic” view. This highly selective view - which limits the human to only what it can quantify - is, however, ironically also the bottom line faith of transhumanism, which, in its efforts to “transcend” the human condition through technology, seems really a hypertrophied form of “only humanism.”
Borrowing from Nietzsche, we can even say that it is “transhuman, all too transhuman.” What is equally ironic is that many of the “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men” – ascribed to the comic book Superman - that transhumanism wishes to acquire through technology, are those which traditionally have been associated with the great sages, mystics and seers throughout history. They are also powers traditionally associated with the occult and the Hermetic arts – traditions that the “scientistic” view rejects as superstition. Yet within the Hermetic and other esoteric traditions, pursuit of these powers for their own sake is considered base; they are the psychic bells and whistles which may accompany a more meaningful alchemical transformation, into what I call the “fully human.”
This kind of alchemical transformation is also the aim of another, related tradition of thought, that of what we might call “creative evolution.” This recognises in humanity – in life itself - an evolutionary urge to “transcend” itself, to evolve, not through technology - although, to be sure, this can often be a by-product of such evolution – but through its own efforts, its will and imagination. That is, through the mind itself, which is both the agent and subject of this evolution. This sort of transcendence of the “only human” has been a theme in comic books and science fiction for decades; in my talk I will look at some examples of this, with the emphasis on how the notion of comic book superpowers were transformed, in some authors such as Colin Wilson, into expressions of the evolutionary potentials of human consciousness.
From this perspective, there is no point talking about the transhuman given that we aren’t even fully human yet.