EVERY RENAISSANCE, FROM THE AXIAL AGE TO THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, was marked by a wide adoption of new psychotechnologies: psychological tools that allowed humans to deliberately and skillfully do things that previously perhaps only happened accidentally.
Psychotechnologies is a term that describes various practices, ways of thinking and being in the world, as well as philosophical, ethical, and religious frameworks. The word “psychotechnology“ comes from ancient Proto-Indo-European roots:
- Psyche - via Greek psykhē "the soul”, traced to a PIE root *bhes- "to breathe"
- Technology - via Greek tekhnologia, “systematic treatment of craft, method”
- Techno - from PIE *teks-na- "craft” or “weaving"
- Logy - from PIE root *leg- "to gather” and “to speak" (to pick out words)
So psychotechnologies are something like “methods of soul-craft”. Indeed, language and craft / tool-making themselves were some of the early human psychotechnologies.
Collapse, Dark Age, or Renaissance: What’s Next?
The Axial Age was one major transition in history that happened between 8th and and 3rd century BC. It was an explosion of new ways of thinking that happened in many places around the world. Many of the modern large-scale religions were born or reformed during this era, and later propagated to the world. This era saw the appearance of Confucius and Lao-Tse in China, the Upanishads and the Buddha in India, Zarathustra in Iran, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible in Palestine, and Homer and Plato in Greece. The Axial age was preceded by the Bronze Age Collapse around the 13th-12th centuries BC, the biggest civilization collapse in recorded human history, and a subsequent dark age.
Major transitions often happen like this. First comes the collapse because things can no longer continue as they have been. Then comes the dark age, when seeds have to be planted for the new world. Then comes the renaissance when those seeds grow and bloom.
The transition we are undergoing as a humanity this time is no different. It may be a once-in-a-thousand-years transition like the Industrial Revolution, or it may be a once-in-ten-thousand-years transition like the advent of agriculture. It’s impossible to predict, but my deep sense suggests it may be the latter. Many crises of our world are coming to a head: ecological degradation, political extremism, war, strained supply chains, runaway technology, worsening physical and mental health, declining fertility, and more. As during the Bronze Age Collapse, the crises are compounding, and it’s difficult to know which one will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Humanity is at a point where we either have to heal ourselves, our relationships to each other, and our relationship to Mother Nature - or we are likely to perish.
If we want to survive and thrive as a humanity, we have to adopt the psychotechnologies that will allow us to do so.
This is not to say that psychotechnologies are the only thing that will play a major role in this transition. How we raise kids, education, food production, health, which technologies we use and how, and other areas of life will be very important too. Those are, however, outside of the scope of this piece. For the purpose of this article, I am focusing on psychotechnologies because it is one very important area, and it is also one of my competencies that I can speak about with some confidence.
Psychotechnologies can be roughly categorized like so:
- Individual Cognitive-Creative
- Individual Somatic
- Individual Integrative
- Collective Intelligence
- Collective Somatic
- Collective Sapience
I want to make it clear that I don’t think these categories are discreet or exhaustive. Things can be mapped and organized many different ways, and the map is not the territory. The reason why I have chosen to categorize things this way is because it points to integration. To integrate means to heal, to bring into wholeness.
Ok, so let’s take a look at what can be included in each of these categories:
- Individual Cognitive-Creative
This category includes practices to do with the mind - things like alphabetic writing, mathematics, logic, and the scientific method. It also contains philosophical & ethical frameworks, meditative and contemplative practices, psychological modalities like talk therapy and shadow work, “sensemaking“, cognitive sovereignty practices, as well as art and other forms of individual creative expression. These frameworks and practices have been extensively documented and experimented with by many great thinkers over the millennia. My intuition suggests that this category is not where the big psychotechnological innovations of the coming decades will come from.
2. Individual Somatic
This category includes individual practices to do with the body and embodied cognition. Individual sports, yoga, dance, tai chi, martial arts, and other movement practices are in this category. Some physical healing modalities belong here, such as bodywork and other touch-based therapies, primal screaming, and any modalities that work with releasing emotions. Note that even though touch therapy includes two people - the practitioner and the patient - I have included them in this category, because there is usually no relationship between these two people (by nature of professional conduct), and the practice is focused on the patient receiving what they need, rather than the interpersonal aspect of the interaction. This category of psychotechnologies has also had extensive work done in it, both in the ancient times and more recently.
3. Individual Integrative
This category includes the practices aimed at integrating the mind and body, for coming into wholeness with yourself and the natural world. Being in nature, prayer, cooking, crafting or using hand tools, hunting activities in this category. Indeed, these are also activities that our ancestors engaged in. Certain forms of archetypal and lineage integration work can also go here if they include a serious somatic component (i.e. physically doing what your ancestors did, moving your body as a certain archetype, etc). There has been some great work done in various more exotic modalities like somatic experiencing, individual tantra, shamanic and plant medicine practices that focus on personal healing & integration, as well as traditions aimed at achieving and cultivating the nondual state of consciousness. We can think of these as the power tools of the category.
Now we come to one important point: I believe that the conceptual divide between the mind and the body is no longer working for us at this stage in human evolution (and my personal experience says that it is indeed a conceptual divide, not a real one). Psychotechnologies that help us break the mind-body divide and restore wholeness of self are going to be some of the most significant ones. Certain techniques in this category can begin the process of unwinding perceptual divides within the psyche towards a deeper wholeness known as nonduality. Refining and applying these psychotechnologies will be an important lever we can press to upgrade human capacity to meet the challenges of the coming era.
4. Collective Intelligence
This category includes practices for the mind that are done with more than one person, and especially in small groups. Our ancersors did this when they had wisdom councils around the fire. These sorts of practices have seen a lot of experimentation in recent years among several groups I know, including The Stoa
, Neurohacker Collective
, and others who are less public.
A few years ago, I co-ran a weekly collective intelligence group at Future Thinkers
, where we used practices like sensemaking, shadow work, sovereignty, meditation, contemplation, and a number of other modalities to create a “collective mind“ - an entity that arises when a small group of individual minds come into deep coherence
with each other. This happens especially well when people are able to surrender their egos in service to what wants to emerge. I would also place collective art projects, group theatre & comedy improv, group singing and music-making into this category, which are some other flavours of collective intelligence often overlooked in intellectual circles.
5. Collective Somatic
Interpersonal practices that have to do with the body, especially those intended for groups, go in this category. The most obvious example is group sports. Others include structured synchronized movement practices like tai chi, dance, and martial arts, as well as more freeform practices like ecstatic dance, contact improv, and massage circles. Interpersonal versions of tantra that focus on sensuality (which is most of Western neo-tantra) may also be included here. Many of the latter practices have been popularized through events like Burningman and in so-called conscious communities around the world. These too will play an important role in the coming transition, especially for our touch-deprived Western society.
5. Collective Sapience
Now we come to the last category in the framework. In my terminology, collective sapience means “the wisdom of being human together”, especially as we stand at the precipice of civilization collapse and mass extinction, in the age of exponential technology. So this category of psychotechnologies has to do with the very crucial question: How do we survive the coming transition, together?
Collective Sapience must includes and integrate the practices that:
a. Restore wholeness of body and mind, a wholeness of self
b. Restore wholeness of self and other, a collective intimacy
c. Restore wholeness of self and world, an intimacy with Life
d. Work in the context of rapidly advancing technology and the many compounding crises of our world
This is a very tall order. And yet, if we don’t do it, we humans may not make it on this planet at all. Or we may hobble along through a long dark age, until we figure it out. One pathway may be to draw upon the lineages and psychotechnologies from before the dualistic frameworks of the Axial age. Existing practices that focus on intimacy with Life and restoring individual & collective wholeness may be the precursors for what is possible here. Celebrations of natural transitions like birth and death, solstices and harvests, and initiations into adulthood and elderhood are some examples.
This is the domain of religion - not in the dogmatic sense, but in the experiential sense - reverence for the sacred, for Life itself, and how to live in accordance with that. These new or adapted practices would likely need to be deployed in combination with strong traditions, both ancient and new, and a wisdom framework for how to be in the era that we’re entering. Perhaps what we’re trying to do is not only create wholeness in and among living beings in deep space, but also in deep time.
There is something emerging in our collective patterns of behaviour that resembles a proto-version of this collective sapience I am talking about. At this time, it seems to be happening only in pockets, and not yet consistently. Few people and groups can do it, and even fewer can do it reliably and continuously.
I am most interested in the practical applications - what actually works. Conceptual understanding will be useful once we know what it is that we’re doing, and how to actually do it reliably. This is where a good chunk of my attention is going to continue to be pointed. Other current areas of interest for me are motherhood (the most transcendent initiation
I have ever undergone), ancestral wisdom and lineage, education, relationship with the land, the healing arts, and religion in the experiential sense.
I intend to be publishing a lot more written work in the coming year on many of these subjects. Stay tuned.