Documentary Intertext: André Singer’s and J. Stephen Lansing’s The Goddess and the Computer 1988

  • Daniel White


The two faces of Janus emerge in this chapter to invoke the perspectives of the arts and the sciences, C. P. Snow’s two cultures, reconnected in a renewed hybrid persona. The “Goddess” is the mythological narrative of Bali that is wedded here to the “Computer” inscribed in the cybernetic analysis of the human-ecological system. In the present film, they come to a meeting of the minds, embodied in “priests and programmers,” as Stephen Lansing describes their union, working together to create sustainable agriculture. The wider perspective that their meeting implies is mirrored in Roy Rappaport’s landmark work in the functional human ecology of the Maring people of New Guinea. Here, he found and demonstrated functionally, as Bateson surmised about Balinese and Iatmul, the ritual system was coupled with ecological and social systems to produce a form of adaptation in dynamic equilibrium, a relative steady state, with its biotic and social environments. The escalating curves of symmetrical schismogenesis that have so haunted Euro-American civilization and now threaten it with collapse are curtailed by religious ritual in traditional Bali and New Guinea. That the Western escalations of conflict are augmented by modern technology, which to date is still not being effectively tempered by information techniques or the humane ministrations of the arts and humanities, makes the fruitful meeting of the goddess and computer here significant and timely. It depicts a peaceable hybrid identity not unlike the Buddhist persona of Dōgen in dialogue with the self-thinking thought of Aristotle and Hegel, or the logos of Heraclitus: a conversation of distinctive value for audiences in the Anthropocene.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel White
    • 1
  1. 1.Honors CollegeFlorida Atlantic UniversityJupiterUSA

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