The psychotech age

Cristian Ispir
2 min readDec 11, 2023

The ancient Greeks had a word for it: techne.

They understood techne as a form of skill or craftsmanship, encompassing both practical and theoretical knowledge. It extended beyond mere technical proficiency, including art, science, and any disciplined, systematic activity. Aristotle, for instance, distinguished between episteme (knowledge) and techne, emphasizing the latter’s focus on creating and doing. This holistic approach embraced various fields, reflecting a comprehensive understanding of skills and knowledge in ancient Greek society.

It is a generous understanding of techne as technological knowledge and application, but not as generous as our anthropological and cognitive scientific understanding, one that focuses on extending the capabilities of the human individual and human groups. Technology is not just about tools, but tools that allow a person or a society to achieve things that cannot be otherwise achieved.

And in all the talk about technology, one thing is usually missing or seriously understated: the importance of psychotechnologies.

Many cognitive scientists define psychotechnologies as a collectively created and standardized method for organizing, manipulating, and improving information processing, easily assimilated into human cognition, and applicable across various domains. Crucially, it significantly expands and enhances cognition reliably and broadly, with high generalizability among individuals.

The best example of a psychotech is literacy and numeracy. Also, every world religion consists of a set of psychotechnologies designed to help a group find solutions to problems that individual human beings cannot. Ritual, prayer, meditation, are all classic examples of psychotechnologies in action.

As heirs of the Enlightenment, we tend to de-emphasize and often dismiss the psychotech of religion in favour of mechanical and material technologies, like the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, modern medicine and the Internet. But more fundamentally than these, it is psychtechnologies that have historically enabled the former. Without literacy and numeracy, without the psychotools of communal worship, debate, voting and conflict resolution there wouldn’t be a basis on which to enable and achieve the wins of the modern age.