An excerpt from Timothy Leary and Eric Gullichsen’s unpublished book The Cybernetic Society, written in 1987.
1967, L’ete d’amour, when Hesse was revered by college students as the Novelist of the Decade. A mega-sage, bigger than Tolkien or McLuhan or Bucky Fuller or even Kahil Gibran!
In the ’60s Hesse’s mystical, utopian novels were read by millions. The popular electrically-amplified rock band “Steppenwolf” was named after Hesse’s psyber-delic hero, Harry Haller, him who smoked loose “long, thin yellow … immeasurably enlivening and delightful” cigarettes and then zoomed around the Theatre of the Mind, ostensibly going where no fictional heroes had been before. Since Dante Alghieri, Coleridge, Rimbaud and Huxley, anyway.
The movie Steppenwolf was financed by Peter Sprague, at that time the Egg King (or Shah) of Iran. It starred Domenique Sanda. One of us had been offered $25,000 to play the Harry Haller role, but the cyber-cops of Attorney General John Mitchell closed down the Switzerland exile. The part fell to Max von Sydow.
But that story is filed in another data base.
Hesse’s picaresque adventure, The Journey to the East, was a biggie too. It inspired armies of pilgrims (yours truly included) to hip-hike somewhere East of Suez, along the Hashish Trail to India. The goal of this Childlike Crusade? Enlightenment 101, an elective course. Cosmic unity, a sophomore year abroad course, familiarly referred to as The Big Brain Ride, the Orient Express.
Poor Hesse, he sounds out of place up here in the high-tech, cyber-cool, Sharp Catalogue, M.B.A., Lee Ioccoca ’80s. No wonder our relevance detector, Daisy, said, “Hermann Who?”
HERMANN HESSE: COMPUTER AGE PROPHET
But our patronizing pity for the washed-up Swiss sage may be premature. In the avant garde, cyber-hip frontiers of the computer culture, around Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, around Palo Alto, in the Carnegie Mellon AI labs, in the backrooms of the computer graphics labs in Southern California, even in the Austin labs of MCC, a Hesse comback seems to be happening.
However. This revival is not connected with Hermann’s mystical, eastern writings. It’s based on his last, and least understood, work, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.
This book, which earned Hesse the Expense-Paid Brain Ride to Stockholm, is positioned a few decades in the future when human intelligence is enhanced and human culture elevated by a device for thought-processing called The Glass Bead Game.
Up here in the Electronic ’80s we can appreciate what Hesse did, back down there (1931-1942). At the very pinnacle of the smokestack mechanical age Hermann forecast with astonishing accuracy a certain post-industrial device for converting thoughts to digital elements and processing them. No doubt about it, Hesse’s Bead Game anticipated an electronic mind-appliance which would not appear on the consumer market until 1976.
We refer, of course, to that Unauthorized Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge called the Apple. In this Old Testament scenario Eve and her assistant Adam became the first psyber-punks; they committed the Original Sin. To Think for Yourself.
ALDOUS HUXLEY: HERMANN HESSE
I, for one, first heard of Hermann Hesse from Aldous Huxley. In the fall of 1960, Huxley was Carnegie Visiting Professor at MIT. His assignment: to give a series of seven lectures on the subject “What a Piece of Work is Man.” About 2,000 people attended each lecture. Aldous spent most of his off-duty hours hanging around the Harvard Psychedelic Drug Project coaching us innocent novice Americans in the history of mysticism and the ceremonial care-and-handling of what he called “gratuitous grace.”
Huxley was reading Hesse that fall and talked a lot about Hermann’s theory of the three (3) stages of human development.
- The tribal sense of tropical-blissful unity.
- The horrid Newtonian polarities of the feudal-industrial societies, good-evil, male-female, Christian-Moslem.
- The Einsteinian rediscovery of the Oneness of It All.
No question about it, Hegel’s three thumb prints (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) were smudged all over the construct, but Hesse and Huxley didn’t seem to worry about it, so why should we untutored Harvard psychologists?
We all dutifully set to work reading Hesse.
Huxley claimed that his own spiritual-intellectual development in England followed the developmental life-line of Hesse in Germany. Aldous delighted in weaving together themes from his life which paralleled Hesse’s.
HUXLEY RECAPITULATES LITERARY PHYLOGENY
Huxley was born in 1894. His grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, was a philosopher of evolution and the principal advoccate of Darwinism in England.
During his Serious, Idealistic, Romantic Youth Aldous wrote critical essays and symbolic poetry. These works expressed the standard dissatisfactions of a 19th century educated class which was very busy rejecting the Industrial Smokestack Society. Eton-Oxford ecological concern for the land and scorn for the sooty factories.
Wordsworth had laid down the basic EPA theme. Coleridge kept it going. Byron, Shelly, Burns, Keats, Southey – to a man these poets detested the satanic mills and pined for something more flowerlike. Thomas De Quincey in his Confessions of an English Opium Eater won the Greens prize for poetic eloquence. William Blake was the undisputed Sierra Club spokesman of the period.
Aldous Huxley’s genetic debt to the Romantics was recognized in some of his most compelling quotes; his use of Blake’s phrase “Doors of Perception,” for example.
Huxley’s disillusionment stage began at age 25 when he began that series of brittle, skeptical exposes of European decadence: Chrome Yellow, 1921, Antic Hay, 1923, Point Counter Point, 1928. Huxley’s neo-Romantic cynicism about the tenement society peaked with Brave New World, the portrait of a grim Bladerunner, 21st century assembly-line society. This book surely deserved its mega-rep. Huxley was writing about happy-pills and test-tube pregnancies back there in 1932, the very year when Adolph Hitler was losing his first presidential race against Paul von Hindenburg and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was winning his race against Herbert Hoover, another H.H.
In the late ’30s Huxley, having worked out his vein of irony, followed Hesse into the Third Stage of Hegelian Transcendence. This, naturally enough, involved a migration to Southern California where Aldous joined the legendary Golden Age of Far-Western Philosophy personified by Thomas Mann, Christopher Isherwood, Alan Watts, Swami Yogananda, Gerald Heard, Cary Grant, et al. There, amid the palm trees, Aldous devoted the rest of his life to psyberdelic philosophy and test-tub mysticism, both theoretical and experimental.
PARODIES OF PARADISE
Huxley’s last book, Island, presents an atypical, tropical utopia in which meditation, gestalt therapy and psychedelic ceremonies create a society of Buddhist serenity.
I spent the afternoon of Nov. 20, 1963 at Huxley’s bedside, listening carefully as the dying philosopher spoke in a soft voice about many things.
We fashioned a pleasant little literary fugue as he talked about three books he called “Parodies of Paradise,” his own Island, Orwell’s 1984 and Hesse’s Bead Game.
Aldous told me with a gentle chuckle that Big Brother, the beloved dictator of Orwell’s nightmare society, was based on Winston Churchill. “Remember Big Brother’s spell-binding rhetoric about the blood, sweat and fears requisitioned from everyone to defeat Eurasia? The hate-sessions? Priceless satire.” As soon as he said this, I “got it.” Sure, and the hero’s name is Winston Smith.
Aldous was, at that moment in time, fascinated by the Tibetan Book of the Dying, which I had just translated from Victorian English to American. This manuscript which was later published as The Psychedelic Experience was used by Laura Huxley to guide Huxley’s passing. The book proceeded to have a publishing life of its own, running through 30 printings in several languages.
Along the line of endings, Huxley spoke wryly of the dismal conclusions of Island and The Glass Bead Game and Orwell’s classic. His own idealistic island society was crushed by industrial powers seeking oil. Hesse’s utopian Castalia was doomed because it was out of touch with human realities. Then he spoke of the brutal mugging of love in 1984.
Aldous was into Unhappy Endings, it seems. I timidly asked him if he was passing on a warning or an exhortation to me. He smiled and nodded. I told him that we’d write a happy sequel “for him and George and Hermann.”
Two days later Aldous Huxley died. His passing went almost unnoticed because John F. Kennedy also died on Nov. 22, 1963. It was a bad day for utopians and futurists all over.
Hermann Hesse, for his part, was born in 1877 in the little Swabian town of Calw, Germany, the son of Protestant missionaries. His home background and education, like Huxley’s, was intellectual, classical, idealistic.
No question about it, Huxley was right. The life of H.H. exemplifies change and metamorphosis. If we accept Theodore Ziolkowski’s academic perception, “Hesse’s literary career parallels the development of modern literature from a fin de siecle aestheticism through expressionism to a contemporary sense of human commitment.” To wit:
HESSE: VOICE OF ROMANTIC ESCAPISM?
Hesse’s first successful novel, Peter Camenzind, 1904, reflected the frivolous sentimentality of the Gay ’90s which, like the Roaring 1920s, offered a last fun frolic to a class society about to collapse. Can we compare Hesse during this period with F. Scott Fitzgerald? With M.I.T.’s Huxley?
According to Ziolkowski, “From aestheticism he shifted to melancholy realism … Hesse’s novels fictionalize the admonitions of an outsider who urges us to question accepted values, to rebel against the system, to challenge conventional ‘reality’ in the light of higher ideals.”
In 1911 he made the obligatory mystical pilgrimage to India and along the Ganges picked up the micro-organisms that were later to appear in a full-blown Allen Ginsbergsonian mysticism.
HESSE: WAR RESISTER!
In 1914 Europe convulsed with nationalism and military frenzy. Hesse, like Dr. Benjamin Spock in another time-warp, became an outspoken pacifist and war resister. Two months after the “outbreak of hostilities,” an essay entitled “O Freunde, nicht dieser Tone” (“Oh Friends, not these tones”) was published in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung. It was an appeal to the youth of Germany, deploring the stampede to disaster. His dissenting brought him official censure and newspaper attacks. From this time on, Hesse was apparently immune to the ravages of patriotism, nationalism and respect for authority.
JOURNEY TO THE EAST
It should have been Journey to the West.
“I scorned all evasion. I told him frankly that I was a participant in that great enterprise of which he must also have heard, in the so-called ‘Journey to the East’ or the League Expedition, or however it was described by the public. Oh yes, he smiled ironically, he certainly remembered it. In his circle of friends, this singular episode was mostly called … the Children’s Crusade. This movement was not taken quite seriously in his circle. It had indeed been compared with some kind of theosophical movement or brotherhood. Just the same, they had been very surprised at the periodic successes of the undertaking.
“Then, to be sure the matter apparently petered out. Several of the former leaders left the movement; indeed, in some way they seemed to be ashamed of it and no longer wished to remember it. News about it came through very sparingly and it was always strangely contradictory, and so the whole matter was placed aside and forgotten like so many eccentric political, religious or artistic movements of those postwar years. At that time so many prophets sprang up, so many secret societies with Messianic hopes appeared and then disappeared again leaving no trace.
“His point of view was clear. It was that of a well-meaning skeptic … It was not for me to convert Lukas, but I gave him some incorrect information; for instance, that our League was in no way an off-shoot of the post-war years, but that it had extended throughout the whole of world history, sometimes, to be sure under the surface, but in an unbroken line, that even some phases of the World War were nothing else but stages in the history of our League. Further, that Zoroaster, Lao Tse, Plato, Xenophen, Pythagoras, Albertus Magnus, Don Quixote, Tristam Shandy, Novalis and Baudelaire were cofounders and brothers of our League.
“He smiled in exactly the way that I expected.”
In 1922 Hesse wrote Siddhartha, his story of a Kerouac-Snyder manhood spent “on the road to Benares” performing feats of detached, amused, sexy one-upmanship.
In the June issue of Playboy magazine, the Islamic yogic-master Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Noble and Powerful Servant of Allah1) summarizes with his legendary cool the life stages he has experienced. Abdul-Jabbar has obviously studied Hesse, since he uses Bead Game fugue techniques to weave together the strands of his biography: basketball, racism, religion, drugs, sex, jazz, politics. “… in my senior year in high school,” says Abdul-Jabbar, “I started reading everything I could get my hands on – Hindu texts, Upanishads, Zen, Hermann Hesse – you name it.
“Playboy: What most impressed you?
“Abdul-Jabbar: Hesse’s Siddhartha. I was then going through the same things that Siddhartha went through in his adolescence, and I identified with his rebellion against established precepts of love and life. Siddhartha becomes an aesthetic man, a wealthy man, a sensuous man – he explores all these different worlds and doesn’t find enlightenment in any of them. That was the book’s great message to me, so I started to develop my own value system as to what was good and what wasn’t.”
Siddhartha (and Abdul-Jabbar) were not the only Hesse heroes to “develop their own value systems.” The star of Hermann’s next book took self-actualization to the limit.
Steppenwolf (1927) was described by the pious Ziolkowski as a “psychedelic orgy of sex, drugs, and jazz.” Other observers with a more psyber-historic perspective, present company included, have seen Steppenwolf as a final send-up of the solemn polarities of the Industrial Age. Hesse mocks the Freudian push-pull conflicts, the Newtonian gravities, the Nietzschian either-torments, the Jungian polarities, the Hegelian dialectic machineries of European thought.
The hero of Steppenwolf, Harry Haller, enters “The Magic Theatre. Price of Admission: Your Mind.” Here Hesse screens a classic psyber-farce. First he films a “Great Automobile Hunt,” a not too subtle send-up of the sacred symbol of the Industrial Age. Then Hesse opens a door marked “Guidance in the Building-Up of the Personality. Success Guaranteed!” Here H.H. learns to play a post-Freudian video game in which the pixels are the elements of his own personality. “We can demonstrate to anyone whose soul has fallen to pieces that he can rearrange these pieces of a previous self in what order he pleases and so attain to an endless multiplicity of moves in the game of life.”
HESSE: FATHER OF NEW-AGE POP PSYCHOLOGY?
This last sentence precisely states the basis for post-industrial psycho-pop, anticipating the 1980s high-tech religions of self-actualization: all 38,000 of them! You learn how to put together the elements of your self in what order pleases you!
The mid-life crisis of the Steppenwolf, his overheated Salinger inner conflicts, his Woody Allen despairs, his unsatisfied Norman Mailer longings are dissolved in a whirling kaleidoscope of quick-flashing neuro-realities. “I knew,” gasps H.H. “that all the hundred pieces of life’s game were in my pocket … One day I would be a better hand at the game.”
THE GLASS BEAD GAME DIGITIZES THOUGHTS TO ELEMENTS
What do you do after you’ve reduced the heavy, massive boulder-like thoughts of your mechanical kulture to pixel clusters?
If it’s 1987 you write a new software program for your life.
If you’re Hermann Hesse in 1942 you read Quantum Physics and Janesch chemistry and you rearrange the fissioned bits and pieces of your personality in new combinations. Synthetic chemistry of the mind. Hesse was hanging out in Basel, home of Paracelsus. Alchemy 101. Solve et coagule. Dissolve the elements and re-compose them in new combinations.
Like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar you become a Master of the Bead Game. Let the random-number generator shuffle your thought-deck and deal out some new hands!
THE BRAIN GAME
Understandably, Hesse never gives a detailed description of this pre-electronic data-processing appliance called the Bead Game, but he does explain its function. Players learned how to digitize thought – convert decimal numbers, musical notes, words, thoughts, images into elements, glass beads which could be strung in endless abacus combinations and rhythmic fugue sequences to create a higher level language of clarity, purity and ultimate complexity.
PSYBER-TALK: THE GLOBAL LANGUAGE OF DIGITAL UNITS
Hesse described the Bead Game as “a serial arrangement, an ordering, grouping, and interfacing of concentrated concepts from many fields of thought and aesthetics.”
In time, wrote Hesse, “… the Game of games had developed into a kind of universal language through which the players could express values and set these in relation to one another.”
In the beginning the Thought Game was designed, constructed, and continually updated by a guild of mathematicians called Castalia. Later generations of hacks used the Bead Game for educational, intellectual and aesthetic purposes. Eventually the Bead Game became a global science of mind, and indispensable method for digitizing thoughts, clarifying thoughts and communicating them precisely.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE COMPUTER
Hesse, of course, was not the first to anticipate digital thought-processing. Around 600 BC the Greek Pythagoras (music of the spheres) and the Chinese Lao (Yin-Yang) Tse were speculating that all reality and knowledge could and should be expressed in the play of binary numbers.
In 1832 a young Englishman, George Boole, developed an algebra of symbolic logic. In the next decade Charles Babbage and Ada Countess Lovelace worked on the analytic thought-engine. A century later, exactly when Hesse was constructing his Game in Switzerland, the brilliant English logician Alan Turing was writing about machines that could simulate human thinking. AI, Artificial Intelligence.
Hesse’s unique contribution, however, was not technical, but social. Forty-five years before Toffler and Naisbitt, Hesse predicted the emergence of an information culture. In The Glass Bead Game H.H. presents a sociology of computing. With the rich detail of a World Cup novelist he describes the emergence of a utopian subculture centered around the use of digital mind appliances.
Hesse then employs his favorite appliance, parody, psyber-farce, to raise the disturbing question: what about class division between the computer hip and the computer illiterate? Cyber-crats vs. Cyber-proles. The electronic elite versus the rag-and-glue primitives with their hand-operated Caronas? What about the dangers of two-tier society, the information-rich thought-processors and the information-poor letter-men? The psyber-punks vs. the wood-fibre thought-holders.
HESSE’S GLORIFICATION OF THE CASTALIAN IBM CULTURE
The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, whom we meet as a brilliant grammar school student about to be accepted into the Castalia brotherhood and educated in the intricacies of the authorized thought-processing system.
The descriptions of Castalia are charmingly pedantic. The reverent reader is awed by the sublime beauty of the psyber-system and the dedication of the psyber-monks.
The scholarly narrator explains, “This Game of games … has developed into a kind of universal speech, through the medium of which the players are able to express values in lucid symbols and to place them in relation to each other … A game can originate, for example, from a given astronomical configuration, a theme from a Bach fugue, a phrase of Leibnitz or from the Upanishads, and the fundamental idea awakened can be built up or enriched through assonances to relative concepts. While a moderate beginner can, through these symbols, formulate parallels between a piece of classical music and the formula of a natural law, the adept and Master of the Game can lead the opening theme into the freedom of boundless combinations.”
In this last sentence, Hesse describes the theory of digital computing. The wizard programmer can convert any idea, thought, or number into binary number chains which can be sorted into all sorts of combinations.
We re-encounter here the age-long dream of philosophers, visionary poets and linguists of a universitas, a synthesis of all knowledge, the ultimate “relational-data base” of ideas, a global language of mathematical precision.
THE VISION OF HACKER VISIONARIES
Hesse with Mt. Palomar foresight understood that a language based on mathematical elements need not be cold, impersonal, rote. Reading The Glass Bead Game we share the enthusiasm of today’s hacker-visionaries – the Negropontes, the Minskys, the Paperts, the Kays, the Pynchons, yes, even the Feigenbaums and McCorducks, the von Neumans, the Engelbarts, the Taylors, the fugue-intoxicated Hofstadters who know that painting, composing, writing, designing, innovating with clusters of electrons (beads?) offers much more creative freedom than expressions limited to ink mechanically printed on paper, chemical paints smeared on canvas, acoustic (i.e., mechanical-unchangeable) sounds.
THE GOLDEN AGES OF CHEMISTRY AND PHYSICS
In the Golden Age of Chemistry scholar-scientists learned how to dissolve molecules and to recombine the freed elements into endless new structures. Indeed, only by precise manipulation of the play of interacting elements could chemists fabricate the marvels which have so changed our world.
In the Golden Age of Physics, physicists, both theoretical and experimental, learned how to fission atoms and to recombine the freed particles into endless new elemental structures.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF PSYCHOLOGY
In The Glass Bead Game Hesse portrays a Golden Age of Mind. The knowledge-information programmers of Castalia, like chemists and physicists, dissolved thought molecules into elements (beads) and wove them into new patterns, the iconography that “sings like crystal constellations.”
TECHNOLOGY INVENTS IDEOLOGY
Hesse apparently anticipated McLuhan’s First Law of Communication: the medium is the message. The technology you use to package, store, communicate your thoughts defines the limits of your thinking. Your choice of thought-tool determines the limitations of your thinking.
If your thought technology is words-carved-into-marble, let’s face it, you’re not going to be a light-hearted flexible thinker. An oil painting or a wrinkled papyrus in a Damascus library cannot communicate the meaning of a moving picture film. New thought-technology creates new ideas. The printing press created national languages, the national state, literacy, the industrial age. Television, like it or not, has produced thought-processing very different from oral and literate cultures.
How can we forget that brutal Zen koan about the Challenger disaster which everyone watched on TV?
Q. The head of NASA has his eyes glued, as usual, to the TV monitor. He sees the fireball explosion. What does he do?
A. He shakes his head resignedly and says, “I ordered a Bud Lite.”
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pre-television.
HESSE’S THOUGHT MACHINE
Understanding the power of technology, Hesse tells us that the new Mind Culture of Castalia was based on a tangible mental-device, a thought-machine, “a frame modeled on a child’s abacus, a frame with several dozen wires on which could be strung glass beads of various sizes, shapes and colors.”
Please do not be faked out by the toy-like simplicity of this device. Hesse’s message is that the medium has changed. Hesse has changed the units of meaning, the vocabulary of thought. Hey, this is serious, serious stuff. Once you have defined the units of thought in terms of mathematical elements you’ve introduced a major mutation in the intelligence of your culture.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE GAME
The Glass Bead Appliance was first used by musicians, “the wires corresponded to the lines of the musical staff, the beads to the time-values of the notes. “A bare two or three decades later the Game … was taken over by mathematicians. For a long while, indeed, a characteristic feature of the Game’s history was that it was constantly preferred, used, and further elaborated by whatever branch of learning happened to be experiencing a period of high development or a renaissance. “… At various times the Game was taken up and imitated by nearly all the scientific and scholarly disciplines … the analytic study of musical values had led to the reduction of musical events to physical and mathematical formulas. Soon afterwards, philology borrowed this method and began to measure linguistic configurations as physics measures processes in nature. The visual arts soon followed suit … Each discipline which seized upon the Game created its own language of formulas, abbreviations, and possible combinations … “… It would lead us too far afield to attempt to describe in detail how the world of Mind, after its purification won a place for itself in the state … supervision of the things of the mind among the people and in government came to be consigned more and more to the intellectuals … This was especially the case with the educational system …”
INTIMATIONS OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE?
“The mathematicians brought the Game to a high degree of flexibility and capacity for sublimation, so that it began to acquire something of a consciousness of itself and its possibilities.” In this last phrase, Hesse premonitors Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s nightmare about Artificial (NEUROTIC) Intelligence. “Open the pod doors, HAL.” “Sorry about that, Hermann,” replies the insecure AI. “This mission is too important to be threatened by human error.”
Follow this link for more of this excerpt from the unpublished book: http://downlode.org/Etext/huxley_hesse_cybernetic.html