Designs on Transcendence: Sketches of a TX Machine

Mark Blythe, Elizabeth Buie

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the vast number of people who use technology as a part of their spiritual practice, there is little research on the subject in studies of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Although HCI takes the idea of user experience very seriously, the field gives almost no consideration to experiences with technology that might be described as spiritual or transcendent. This monograph reviews the work that HCI has produced in this area, but also draws on related research in psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, digital religion, psychopharmacology, and neuroscience. The literature indicates that transcendent experiences can be facilitated physically (through natural environments, architecture, art, music), chemically (with psychedelic compounds such as psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and mescaline), and also digitally (in virtual reality, meditation apps, and research prototypes). Many terms recur in the literature on transcendence describing it as - ineffable, intense, ephemeral, paradoxical and sometimes sacred; mystical transcendent experiences are characterized by unity, epiphany, and an altered perception of time and space; common emotional responses include ecstasy, tranquility, gratitude, awe, and reverence. Such experiences are similar across religious and cultural backgrounds but interpretations vary according to world view. Studies record benefits of transcendent experiences, such as substance use recovery and improved mental health. We explore the themes in the literature through an illustrated design fiction depicting a near-future conference on transcendent experience (TX) research. This is an extended and illustrated speculation around brain-computer interfaces that might evoke transcendent experiences. The monograph ends with a manifesto calling for a radically interdisciplinary field that would bridge cultural divides and move beyond models of health and well-being to establish new forums and venues for TX research.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBoston
PublisherNow Publishers Inc
Number of pages131
ISBN (Electronic)9781680838473
ISBN (Print)9781680838466
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2021

Publication series

NameFoundations and Trends® in Human–Computer Interaction
PublisherNow Publishers Inc.
ISSN (Print)1551-3955
ISSN (Electronic)1551-3963


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