A Vision of the Future

"The crystallographer J. D. Bernal (1901-71) illustrates how Gnostic ideas infuse modern science. At one time ranked among Britain's most influential scientists… he was convinced that science could effect a shift in evolution in which human beings would cease to be biological organisms… Further in the future, he envisioned 'an erasure of individuality and mortality' in which human beings would cease to be distinct physical entities... 'consciousness itself might end or vanish in a humanity that has become completely etherealised, losing the close-knit organism, becoming masses of atoms in space communicating by radiation, and ultimately perhaps resolving itself entirely into light.'" -- John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette, pp. 14-15


  1. This is a very perverse misreading, which honestly sheds more light on Gray than on Bernal.

    Bernal's book The World, the Flesh, and the Devil: An Enquiry Into the Future of the Three Enemies of the Rational Soul (to which Gray is referring) is freely available online, very short, and incredibly good.

    Bernal's book is basically a thought exercise in what the long-term consequences of progress as an idea are. This most especially includes moral progress, without which Bernal did not think the levels of cooperation needed for other kinds of progress could be sustained.

    What Gray probably doesn't like about Bernal -- and I psychologize freely here -- is that Bernal (like Gray) doesn't think that human nature makes long-term progress possible, but that nature doesn't necessarily preclude altering human nature (in particular, reducing our propensity for self-delusion and selfish greed). Together this implies that if progress continues, human nature will be altered in various bio-technological ways. (Bernal does consider the idea that human biology is simply too complicated for humans to manipulate reliably, but in his view, this simply means that long-term progress is not possible, and so doesn't fit the hypothetical his book was intended to explore.)

    Bernal is both a materialist, and is analyzing the consequences of large-scale, widespread moral progress. He is making precisely the opposite presuppositions of the Gnostics, who were anti-materialist, dualist and elitist.

    1. Well, since most of this is quotes, I assume you me the labeling of Gnostic. I'm afraid you are wrong: the original Gnostics were anti the material world, but the Gnostic tendency is about perfection through knowledge and has nothing really to do with materialism/spiritualism.

  2. What the hell was Bernal smoking? I swear, some scientists have an odd predilection for the wonky.