In this lecture, Robert Doede undertakes a multi-dimensioned examination of the Neo-Gnostic impulse, which he describes as the progressive immaterialization (and denigration) of matter and the material world. Rooted in early Gnostic spiritual beliefs and a certain trajectory of spatial abstraction evidenced in the physical sciences, this impulse is manifest today in the thought of various transhumanists who seek to overcome the impurity and weakness of human biological existence. Though scientific abstraction has resulted in many beneficial advances in thought, it has also produced a commensurate impoverishment in our understanding of the personal, so much so that many transhumanists see the transcendence of bodily personhood as a kind of salvation promising purity, perfection, liberation, and even immortality.
For Doede, however, such a dream neglects to consider those aspects of bodily personhood that can never be made explicit by our sciences and technologies. Drawing on the work of Michael Polanyi, Doede discusses the ineradicable opacity of the body and the “tacit dimension” of our thought, which sit at the core of our experience and indeed give rise to the unique structure of human cognition. Without this essential privacy of material flesh, its invisibility to itself, human being is dispossessed of its depth and complexity, which is to say, of its personality. For Doede, it is precisely in those spaces of human weakness, which require of us compassion, charity, and risk, that we must labour to reclaim human personhood.
The entirety of Doede’s lecture can be viewed below.