This essay is written in the context of a research project on future economies with Philips Design, Avans University and Baltan Laboratories Eindhoven.

The printed publication is called:

“Co-Emerging Economies, exploring radical perspectives on post- anthropocentric economies”
and available for purchase here.

Thank you for reading. 

~ Lisanne

There is an emerging global awareness that our current free-market economic system is responsible for deteriorating environmental health and global warming. This threatens not only future human prosperity but may have existential consequences for all species.  The book examines how we can reset our relationship with the planet by re-imagining different socio-economic possibilities. The richly illustrated book contains a mix of essays, reports, stories, poems extracted from a storytelling workshop held with multidisciplinary teams. The publication is structured around a post-anthropocentric view; a perspective where the human identity is diffused into a larger eco-system. The two narratives Gaia and Etheria are the point of departure. In Gaia we see ourselves as an integral part of the natural ecosystem. We look for ways to live integrally embedded within natural biodiverse ecosystems. Gaia creates a worldview that puts the health of ecosystems first. In Etheria we value intelligence (sentience) as the ultimate virtue. In Etheria we aspire to become part of a larger post-human (post-biological) intelligence. This view detaches us from nature and the need for any biological systems.

With contributions by Godelieve Spaas, Lisanne Buik, René van Peer, Sunjoo Lee, Leif Czakai, Cynthia Hathaway, Elise Talgorn, Bea Xu, Yannik Güldner, Michal Mitro

Contributed essay by Lisanne Buik:

No-Body’s Economy 
Imagining an Ethereal Economy

Back in 2019, when I read Reon’s report for the first time, I could already see myself buzzing through Gaia with lush flowers in my hair, naked except from some algae or fungal skins, in total communion with nature, what a relief. So, when I was asked to facilitate a workshop to collectively dream up a future economy along the lines of the technological Etheria trajectory, of course I said ‘No’. I am not going to ‘vision board’ a future I don’t want. But I was tempted to learn from the Etherians, and so I did say yes, eventually. A future economy in Etheria is hard to imagine, because it is so otherworldly. We would be nobody in this future, nor would we have a body. Why? Because the transhuman Etherians (which is the original perspective that Reon based this trajectory on) perceive their body as no more than a brain taxi. I can relate to that, as I once also perceived my body as no more than a brain taxi, a side effect of growing up in a world which cultivates the split between body and mind as common sense. In my youth I met many bodies numbed by history, bodies that decided that it was better to leave a legacy of mind rather than embodying the vulnerable animal flesh. The life of the mind is free and unburdened with pain, death and emotional discomfort. If we cultivate our minds, we can rule. To have a body is to be food for the sharks.  

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

The Complete Poems
of Emily Dickinson
– Emily Dickinson

In school, I was taught that time and space are linear dimensions and that we are separate physical entities in a universe of matter. I learned reductionist philosophy without anyone telling me that there were alternative ways of perceiving. I was taught that we do not have free will, and so it is OK to externalize our authority to technology and to control nature, as man is above nature; that our visionary and auditory centres are the superior senses; that the ones who connect us to the carnal pleasures of taste, touch and smell are inferior, immoral and should be ‘managed’ and suppressed; and, that the subtle senses are too esoteric to be accepted. I learned that in Western culture, one should be identified with the rational mind. Not the anima or soul or heart (as in indigenous traditions), but the rational mind holds property over the self and maintains self-control over the body and desires. As Klapeer and Schönpflug (Towards a post- humanist economics: The end of self-possession and the disappearance of Homo oeconomicus, 2017) state so clearly, this Western scientific lens implies that rational (white) men acquire property over non-rational others, such as women, indigenous people, blacks an homosexuals, and that only rational humans have the right to transform nature, land, animals and the planet into (private) property— and well, this is the backstory of today’s economy.

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a
The body says: I am a fiesta.”

Walking Words – Eduardo Galeano

During my teens, I developed strong complexes about my physical apparatus and self-worth. My adolescence was an ocean of self and body-hatred, disguised as OCD, overachievement and a general lack of joy. This faded out when I hit a crisis point in my twenties. Then I decided that from now on I was going to live in this body and merge with nature. I told my mind to just be a humble servant to my heart’s wishes, as silent as its whispers would be. By allowing the mess that I was to break open, I started to understand that my past had inspired a perspective on reality that had excluded both my body and other cultures, as well as the more-than-human world. I started to look for the alternative, the relational, the eco-entangled, the organic, the interconnected, the spiritual, the lived, the true, the inclusive, the embodied. I asked, ‘How have my stories become rigid? My perceptions, limiting and exclusive? How am I not seeing my privileges or recognizing my place in the whole?’ And as this process unfolded, I started to look for a kind friend to help me on this quest—an archetype of this more-than-human world that I aspired to merge with. Perhaps it could be an animal, a soft animal that would shadow my changing plotline with grace. Then came the day that this friend appeared: the octopus. This juicy, entangled being. It seemed to have everything I aspired to have: moving with such grace, embodying soft strength, being so, so fluid. And then suddenly the octopus appeared everywhere in the public arena—it even won an Oscar! So, when Baltan shared with me the graphic design for this workshop, I was hardly surprised to see an octopus. Apparently, the octopus inspires many people today. And in the context of imagining No-Body’s Economy, it did not fail to enchant me, again. Let me tell you a little bit about the octopus to explain why. A long, long time ago, there was a being the size of a leech or a flatworm (there’s some uncertainty about this) in the ocean. This slimy creature was the final ancestor we share with our friend, the octopus. Then and there, life forked in two. One fork directed its belly to the ocean and let its brain and body merge and operate as one integrated system. This became the octopus. The other fork led to us, human animals. We stood up, our heads facing the skies. We forgot about our oceanic origins, our bodymind entanglement. Our quest, for one reason or another, became one of mind. One of intelligence. The octopus stayed reciprocal. She is still inseparable from the ocean. We, water bags on land, became the wave. ‘Look at me,’ we said. ‘I am a special wave.’ ‘No, look at me, I am more special, because I’m higher...’ We forgot that we are, in fact, inseparable from the ocean, as it is our primordial mother. Fast forward to now. Scientists observe that even from a Newtonian definition of consciousness, it has developed in these alien 8-armed creatures (Godfrey-Smith, 2016). This is interesting because octopuses have so little in common with humans, evolution-wise. They have developed eyes, limbs and brains via a separate route, with very different ancestors than humans, and they seem to have come by impressive cognitive functioning and empathy. Everyone who has seen the documentary My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, 2020) knows this. Now, I am not a Newtonian scientist. Nor do I necessarily buy the whole package of Darwinian evolutionary theory. I am someone who was trained scientifically to then open up to other lenses of perception, because I had to in order to survive. Today, I am listening to what my body and heart have to tell me about my origins. I became someone who is intrigued by the unseen worlds, the mystery, the principles of nature, the shamanistic and indigenous traditions and the practices for healing and conscious evolution they offer. I am humbled by the thousands of years of wisdom contained within these lineages, as they have shifted my perception. Not through intellectual understanding, but through lived experience, I can no longer say that consciousness is created by the brain. My lived experience is more in tune with the pan-psychic theory of consciousness, first proposed in Philip Goff (The Case For Panpsychism, 2017). H proposes that the entire cosmos is self-aware. What I am fascinated with is that the octopus and the human are so similar and yet so far apart. I guess I see a story of hope in this—that eventually, we humans will return to the octopus to be inspired by it, to recognize it as our kin, and to feel that we too were once entangled with the ocean. That pure consciousness is the ocean that we all still swim in. Or rather, club in.

Because what emerged during this three-day workshop was an experience of clubbing in Etheria. We imagined No-Body’s Economy full of ethereal transactions in an ocean of data—stay with me, because this clubbing scene is not your ordinary one. You are no-body here, you are made of sound. You are an orb of frequencies, just surfing the ‘learning universe’ that acts like a giant brain (F. Vazza and A. Feleti, 2020). You don’t know how you came here, but you know that if you wanted to know, you could find out, because you have made a thousand copies of yourself and can backtrack those copies to the day that you uploaded yourself to this digital Utopia. You had a death experience, with the only exception that you knew what kind of heaven you would walk into. You walked out of your body, just like that, into seeming ethereal eternity. You now find yourself in this club, where playful learning, growing, merging and relating is going on. There is no death here and no tension. It is just a play between orbs in an ocean of data. Transactions of frequencies, exchanges of sound, that is all that goes on here. It is like having sex with code, wherein you can only feel through artificial sensors. You like this ‘new normality, but sometimes miss the old normal. Then you rent a body for a few hours. You experience nature not through your body, but through other hardware: a robot, a cyborg flower, a connected tree. You are now No-Body: you can be everyone and everywhere, forever.

How does this sound to you? Would you want to club here? How would you cope with this playful learning? Would you miss the tension and the friction? Would you miss death? Take a minute to really feel this— as if you were to tell me! Then, if you ask me if I would want to club  here, it would totally depend on the point of departure.  Here it is worthwhile to explain that there are two routes into Etheria: the transhuman route that Reon explored and the posthuman route. The transhuman route is departing from a bodymind split, a dualistic lens: man over nature, mind over body, you know the deal. From this worldview, it is hard to cope with death, because death means that all of you dies, as you don’t have a soul, or anima. You feel that your agency does not lie in relationships, but in your ‘I’, your individuality. Even aging is hard, because it deteriorates your Darwinian ability to ‘survive as the fittest.’ No surprise that from a transhuman perspective, such a club could be perceived as heaven. But if I would have come here as a transhuman, I would feel like I would have fled reality. Fled duality. Fled polarity. And I wonder if my happiness
would ever feel real.

Then, there is a post-human route into Etheria, a route departing from an eco-entangled, relational perspective. This Etheria is a quantum universe, an ecology. The term ecology was first coined by zoologist Ernst Haeckel to explain the relationships between animals and both their organic and inorganic environments. Eco reminds us that each future world arrives from a past ecology, a network of relationships between animals, bacteria, soil, souls and stories. An Eco-Etherian honours rootedness and anchoring in the ground below our feet whilst exploring the ethereal multidimensional cosmos. An Eco-Etherian sees ‘as above, so below’, knowing that the giant learning disembodied quantum brain behaves similar to a mycelium network deep down under, in the soil of Earth. In Eco-Etheria, the trajectories of Gaia and Etheria unite, body and mind merge and start to behave like the entangled bodymind of the octopus, with us humans being tentacularly linked and intertwined with all that is. An Eco-Etherian would not want to need technology to enter the futureal club. They would transcend their body by first incarnating fully in it. They are on a quest to become a somanaut, someone who navigates the inner space of the bodymind, which is primordial, raw and earthly, as well as endless, ethereal and eternal. To me, that latter route seems more interesting, and what I noticed in my group is quite similar.

My group was tasked with imagining a disembodied economy. But none of the people in my group was a big proponent of pursuing a future of control and fear- based economic systems based on Newtonian, reductionist, Cartesian thinking. They wanted to explore this future for other reasons. For reasons that are more posthuman than transhuman. We placed ourselves next to nature and wanted to dream up an ethereal economy in the benefit of all beings. As a group, we asked: If we would let go of the body, what is left of us? Are we even human? Are there even species relationships to take care of if we would not have bodies to distinguish us? Does this mean we can design an ethereal economy for the benefit of all? What would a world without death be? If there would be no death, would life be worth living? This latter question took pole position in my takeaways from this workshop. I did, by imagining ourselves as No-Body, become less scared of death. I now see even more, that I am the ocean, that I am the web of eco-entangled relationships. I am code. I am data. I am connected to you all in love. I thus choose to create my ethereal world from the inside-out and birth an Eco-Etheria. I am choosing to not upload myself into some artificially created Cloud to escape from anything. Thank you.

You know, if we surrender to death, to the rollercoaster ride of emotion, then life starts to give off its flavour. If we upload ourselves into Etheria, we may end up living frictionless, but if we never surrendered to death, the fear will keep chasing us, even if we would not  have a body. If we could just see the beauty in death first, face the fears associated with it, we may come to learn we are the wave, in the ocean. And, after death, we return to the ocean, again and again and again. Then, if we really allow ourselves to live and design from that perspective, sometimes failing and fearing, expanding and contracting, through trial and error and by embracing emotions of scarcity, an economy of true abundance may appear. The idea of scarcity and death will slowly leave the stage of importance if they are embraced. An economy in tune with source code fails to be an ego-nomy—it is in the benefit of all, and it is abundant. The octopus metaphor does not fail to uphold itself here, either. In My Octopus Teacher, we can all see that when the female octoprotagonist meets her mate after about two years of adventure, she retreats in a cave to hatch the eggs, then stops eating. In the weeks that follow, she slowly dissolves Her skin turns white. She surrenders to death. But she also brings new life. Millions of eggs hatch and her job is done. She then floats out of the nest, barely alive. After all this hard work, giving life to life, she becomes food for the sharks. She again becomes the ocean. She returns home. She then engages in the dance of Shiva, called Tandava, the dance between creation and destruction, between birth and death. And maybe one day she reincarnates into a different set of relationships, a new ecology that is different in shape and form, perhaps even as No-Body in an Eco-Ethereal club—who knows?

‘The river of life is flowing.
Jump in, at the risk of drowning,
at the risk of really living!’

Jeff Foster

︎︎︎Download Co-emerging Futures report by Reon Brand

About the author

Lisanne Buik is a speculative artist and futures designer operating at the intersection of ecology, technology, spirituality and somatics. In her speculative installations, films, lectures and publications she combines emerging science with ancient wisdom to explore the shift from the age of the machine to a new age of symbiosis between living systems, the human bodymind, and technology.

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March 2022

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