Neither Complementary Nor Alternative but Integral: The Biochip is Here

For years we've been warned of developments that may strip us of our very humanness, including the implantation of tiny chips in the 'third eye' region that track, monitor, diagnose, regulate, and control our physiology (or maybe even that of others).

The warnings have come from New Age seers and 'prophets,' people like Dannion Brinkley (who had near-death experiences after surviving being struck by lightning - twice), and others.

The time is here: the biochip has arrived.

In some ways, the biochip is not different than a pacemaker, or any other medical device that is appended to or implanted within the body; nor is it a radically different concept that a pharmaceutical drug, or even St. John's Wort: it goes inside the body and changes the programmed software.

What's new and startling is the size of the device, what it can do, the possibilities for extension, and how this device mirrors other processes outside scientific technological ones (e.g., in the energy medicine domain).

From Chips to Human Cyborgs

According to a presentation at the III International Symposium on Advanced Therapy for Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease, held in Madrid, the biotechnological company Progenika presented a DNA-chip the purpose of which is the optimisation of the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and Ulcerous Colitis).

News-Medical.net reports that the biochip "is currently analysing 46 mutations related to inflammatory bowel disease (EII) and will shortly begin clinical trials....From a clinical practice viewpoint the implantation of the IBDchip has a twin usefulness: it enables the selection of the most suitable therapy for each patient and it also determines, in those family members of EII sufferers who wish to be tested, the degree of predisposition for developing the infirmity."

The same technology that offers magnificent possibilities for health and healing also renders new (and either disturbing or refreshing, depending on how you view the matter) possibilities for future medicine and the way we conceptualize our sense of self. As these devices get smaller and more sophisticated, it will be possible to turn over more and more functions to the machine within.

We are already becoming "natural born cyborgs," according to many pundits -- witness the seamless interface between the mind and the Web, for example -- between your thoughts and those of a billion other people.

Last year my wife and I debated whether to bring DSL Internet into the home, regarding this as an intrusion of The World, Mundus, the Mundane, with all its demands, chaos, and frankly, noise, into our personal space, a sacred geometry of solitude, reflection, and intimacy. A year later, responding to email before- and after-hours is a given reality; so too is use of the Net to capture data about current events or any other piece of information at any time of the 24-hour cycle.

If I'm not in meditation trying to access the mind of God, I'm at the keyboard trying to access the collective mind of my species.

Writes Andy Clark, Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, UK, in The Third Culture: "We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature's very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears."

In Beyond Complementary Medicine, I argued that clairvoyance and clairaudience should seem natural and understandable to a culture with cellphones. If Joan of Arc, for example, had had the benefit of a biochip implant connecting her to transmissions from interstellar civilizations (which she, in her culture and language, called "angels"), we would understand her sensitivity as technological and not spiritual or one hand, or insane on the other. (Assuming we made contact, accepted extraplanetary, interspecies communication, and no longer regarded ourselves as inhabiting a lonely stepchild of creation.)

Synthesizing Science and Spirituality

New scientific breakthroughs that allow paraplegics to move a mechanical arm via neuronic impulses of thought create technologically based powers similar to those previewed by science fiction and spirituality as telekinesis.

The boundary between technological and spiritual is being blurred; technological developments increasingly mirror spiritual technologies; yet the archetypical play of light and shadow remains present.

Andy Clark argues that we are meant to become cyborgs, that the interface of human and machine is conceptually no different than that between caveman (caveperson) and tool, and by extension, that our future evolution involves different notions of self than those to which we've been accustomed.

A diminishing sense of personal self will yield to an increased sense of collective self. I see Creative Commons licensing and Web discussion threads as part of this trend: one personality leaves off and another begins; what is important is the created and not the creator.

Is this broadening out from a cult of personality to a global net of information not the essence of altruism, the font of divine love, the end of selfishness, the depletion of ego and strengthening of service to community? Maybe; better tools can increase efficiency and can even channel energies along different motivational corridors. Yet some things remain the same. We still celebrate the individual by glamorizing celebrity -- for example, collectively investing more energy in the affairs of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston than (for some) what goes in our own hearts.

If technologies could be developed that cultivate the spirit as well as the mind, that would be interesting. The cyborg culture to which Andy Clark refers, and that the biochip portends, seems to be an intellectual one at base; though this same culture lets us share art, music, and spiritual ideals, it's very much about the (extended) head. Much in the way the old sci-fi movies portrayed aliens as having gigantic brains. (The religious icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for example, places emphasis in a very different location. The image of Krishna with a flute is playful; even Moses the lawgiver holds a set of stone tablets in his heart region.)

Through all this spiritual traditions may still offer ways to cope with, assimilate, and ultimately use these new technologies with wisdom; healing technologies may yet emerge in the borderland of medicine and religion.

In the meanwhile, medical technologies increasingly are becoming "integral" to the body -- not in the sense that Ken Wilber used the term "integral," not in a holistic sense -- but in the sense of incorporating the machine in the warp and woof of our biological existence, inexorably changing our notions of personal identity.