Dr. Michael A. Aquino once posed a central question of Setian philosophy to me. Rephrased from memory, it was something like: ‘Why is it that Earth has only one species which has the self-aware consciousness to create civilization, symbolic systems, and other complex manifestations? Why not two or more? What would it be like if there was more than one species?’
In this email exchange Dr. Aquino did acknowledge research into ape and dolphin communication, which perhaps has significance for Lilith Aquino’s Utterance of Arkte. I pose this as a philosophical, existential dilemma, and not as a position of species infallibility.
Within the Temple of Set, Dr. Aquino and others referred to this self-aware consciousness as the Gift of Set. Category 17 of the TS Reading List explored this in more detail, in the following categories.
(1) Illustrative and Descriptive approaches of: (a) evolutionary change in species, and (b) the evolutionary potential of individual self-aware consciousness. For the early cohort of Setians, the alien Overlords in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End (#17A) and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation 2001: A Space Odyssey (#F17A) were evocative. The British Quatermass series (#F17B) was also influential for suggesting that superstitions
about the Prince of Darkness superstitions was a designation of this evolutionary change at group and societal levels (see the discussion in Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces). Several other Reading List categories such as the historical Prince of Darkness imagery (#3), H.P. Lovecraft (#7), the vampire and werewolf as phenomenological models of consciousness (#8), and space exploration (#22) provided other illustrative, resonant examples.
This imagery also acts as a screening mechanism: it resonates with some people as spooky, and scares others. Perhaps one reason is that these are potential ‘images of the future’ (Fred Polak) that have historical baggage from past religious controversies (#3, #4, #6). A second reason is that terms such as ‘Gift of Set’ and ‘non-natural’ have led to definitional confusion outside the Temple. A third reason is that illustrative and descriptive approaches will act as self-propagative memes across different communication vectors and cultures.
(2) Causal and Explanatory theories of: (a) evolutionary change in species, and (b) the conditions under which individual self-aware consciousness might occur. Aquino first conceived this whilst in the Church of Satan, and developed its conceptualisation further in the Temple of Set. The 1970s was a period in which orthodox Darwinian approaches were under attack from several fronts: anomalies in the historical record such as megaliths and dolmens (#17B; #5), the anomaly of human self-consciousness as differentiated from artificial intelligence (#17H; #15), the emergence of new theories such as neo-Lamarckian genetic memory, Stephen Jay Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibria’, and Rene Thom’s ‘catastrophism’ (#17E), and the limits of theories to explain the causal mechanisms by which this could occur, except via epigenetic and neurobiological selection pressures, posited as buffers from a collective unconsciousness or quantum-level objective mind (#17C; #19C). Such theories reflected the times. Later, Richard Dawkins (#16O) would counterclaim that Darwinian evolutionary theorists had no problems in answering some of the anomalies posited in these times, like the human eye.
In their search for answers, Setians considered a range of different factors. Dr. Aquino considered Robert O. Becker’s thesis that the electromagnetic field may have affected human brain evolution, potentially during the Wuerm glaciations in Europe (#17F). James Lewis added the broad view of deep history (#17G). Pat Hardy added Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes, sociobiology and game theory (#16O). Many other theories were explored in the Scroll of Setand individual Pylon and Element papers.
Much of the Temple of Set’s knowledge base came from human consciousness research (#19), which although it began as a Lakatosian research programme, led to some wild conjectures throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. Novelty, little comparative theory-building, poor research designs, and the politicization of research were all factors. The personal computer, the Internet, and social networking has largely replaced this period in the media’s coverage and public attention.
During Don Webb’s tenure as High Priest, individual Setians also discussed the theories of Gerald Edelman, Gregory Bateson, Douglas Hofstadter, and intelligence augmentation; the Extropian and Transhumanist schools of philosophy; and the popularizations by Stephen Mithuen and Terence Deacon of current research in the evolution of culture, mind and species. In part, this may have been driven by the wish to update the Temple’s ‘currency’ of knowledge, and the personal interest/expertise of Pat Hardy and Ronald L. Barrett in these areas.
(3) Theories of: (a) Individual Action and (b) Change. The first category of theories provided Setians with illustrative models of species evolution. The second category tentatively suggested explanations of why this had occurred, and posited some initial causal mechanisms. What to do with this evolutionary potential? The Church of Satan and Dr. Aquino’s Wewelsburg Working had emphasized the stressfulness of individual change (#17D). Anthropological and neurobiological research programmes highlighted that evolutionary strategies acted as constraints on individuals (#17I, #16P). Films such as Forbidden Planet(#F19A) and John Lilly’s floatation tank experiments (#19N, #F19B) highlighted both the promise and the individual perils of quasi-experimental methods.
During Webb’s tenure the Temple adopted Polish-American psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ research as a model for individual meaning-making and willed change. Webb added Alfred Bester’s science fiction novel The Stars, My Destination(#17K) as a fictional, illustrative model of how self-limits could be overcome. That they could be overcome did not mean that individuals were always successful in doing so.
Its public records suggest that the Temple of Set has mainly pursued aesthetic and illustrative, research, and, in some cases quasi-experimental approaches to the knowledge domain hinted at in the above philosophical dilemma. The predominant approaches in the Temple’s public writings include personal and group Workings, theory-building research, and to integrate exploratory methods from other Schools, such as Uspenskii’s psychological interpretation of early Gurdjieff (#19B, #19C), Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kun Do (#19D), or Aleister Crowley’s methods (#9), amongst many others.
The tradition of Working analyses and commentaries, similar to the ‘secret autobiographies’ in Tibetan Buddhism, provides more phenomenological and thick description of this, and attempts at exploratory theory-testing in the context of individual Setians’ research programmes.
Dr. Aquino’s 1997 introduction to the Onyx Tablet, which provides justification for the Priesthood and the Temple of Set’s existence, is most explicit on the Temple’s guardianship role: ‘If most of that humanity is not yet ready to confront its evolutionary potential, the requisite tools may at least be developed and safeguarded against a time when society may rise from its self-imposed imprisonment to grasp them.’
Just what ‘evolutionary potential’ this might be at a species level, how it might be best ‘confronted’, what the ‘requisite tools’ are, and how they are optimally ‘developed and safeguarded’ remains to be articulated in full detail – at least publicly.