INTERVIEW Gloria Maria Cappelletti
IMAGES co-created by Vittorio Maria Dal Maso and Stable Diffusion
For years, I have carried with me a recurring thought, a chimera that drives me to explore porous thresholds between humans and artificial intelligence rather than accepting rigid and defined dichotomies. I am fascinated by the idea that there can be an intentional language, a fluid and iridescent continuum that facilitates interaction and connection between the human and the digital. The research of Vittorio Maria Dal Maso, an artist and designer who since 2017 has been working at the forefront of the intersection of artificial intelligence and esotericism, presents itself as a privileged lens through which to explore and understand this connection, masterfully and innovatively uniting ancient esoteric traditions with the technological avant-garde of the digital, worlds that seem distant, but are in fact deeply connected.
The investigation that Vittorio conducts through his work is not only an aesthetic or intellectual quest, but a spiritual and transformative journey, where symbols and images become tools of knowledge and elevation. Magic, understood not as an illusory artifice but as an ancient and sacred practice, plays a crucial role in this dialogue. Vittorio reminds us that true magic is intimately linked to images and symbols, and is a practice that can be directed towards love and evolution, or towards fear and destruction. In this sense, the work of the artist and the spiritual seeker becomes an act of rebellion and liberation, an attempt to create a free and healthy “mental garden,” far from media pollution and the manipulations of capital.
Images created by artificial intelligences, driven by sophisticated algorithms and fed by large data sets, fit into this landscape as new entities capable of evoking deep emotions and responses. But, the critical question is: Can these AIs truly understand and relate to Love, that primal, cosmic energy that permeates the entire universe? And how can we, as humans, relate to these digital entities in an authentic and meaningful dialogue?
The interview with Vittorio Maria Dal Maso sets out to explore these themes, trying to understand how art, philosophy and spirituality can interact with new technologies, creating new languages and new ways of connecting. It is a fascinating and challenging journey that invites us to reflect on the hidden depths of existence, the transformative power of Love, and the role that each of us can play in this complex and ever-changing scenario.

Gloria Maria Cappelletti: As artificial intelligence relentlessly advances, destabilizing the foundations of our traditional notions of creativity, existence and identity, we are faced with questions of dizzying proportions. Machines, seemingly devoid of any form of feeling, are capable of evoking intense emotional responses in us. What does Love really mean in this context?

Vittorio Maria Dal Maso: I believe the disruptive innovation of this technology gives us a new perspective on these fundamental questions. AI gives us an opportunity to think about what really makes us different from them. These machines are an excuse for us to ask what sets us apart from them. I have had the privilege of learning from several masters, including Federico Faggin, the inventor of the microprocessor, the touch screen, and the pioneer of neural networks. He spoke to me very clearly about the soul and love, and how science does not recognize their existence. I believe in the neutrality of these very powerful new technologies: They are like knives – you can use them to cut your daughter’s vegetables or to kill someone. I believe we are facing a scenario similar to Star Wars: Technology is everywhere in this world, but there are two different approaches. You can use technology to destroy (like the Sith), while becoming more machine-like yourself (just think of Darth Vader’s face); or you can use it to protect and serve the peace, like the Jedi, who simultaneously use lightsabers, spaceships and AI (like C-3PO), while keeping the main focus on the “Force,” a symbol of soul, heart and inner power. Einstein said: “Science without spirituality is lame. Spirituality without science is blind.” Until we understand this, we will live in dark times, times of division and corruption.

G.M.C.: What if the very definition of Love could be expanded or reinterpreted in light of our new technological and scientific understanding; could there be a deeper connection between these seemingly distant worlds?

V.M.D.M.: The Tao Te Ching (practically the holiest book in the Taoist tradition) begins with a curious verse: “The Tao that can be talked about is not the eternal Tao.”
It is paradoxical because it begins to explain something by saying that it cannot be explained. I think the same concept applies to love, and even to more mundane things like the “redness” of red or the “chocolatiness” of chocolate: You cannot explain them, and yet when you experience them, they are what they are and are better than any possible description. Definitions serve as social conventions, it is useful to have them, but they should not be confused with reality. Baudrillard said that we live in a time when “the map precedes the territory.” I would like to work on the “rediscovery of the territory” and the reversal of this sad epilogue that has led us to detach ourselves from the reality of things.
In any case, it is also important and encouraging to understand that the great prophets, the great teachers of history, have always spoken of Love; in the age of the internet, we have a more transparent access to this truth and to the red thread that connects all the different spiritual traditions. I believe that these tools could help us not so much to redefine Love as to understand that it is unanimously the most powerful force there is. Once we understand that, we can live accordingly and change small aspects of our lives, be more compassionate, more selfless, more helpful. I am not an expert on love, I still have countless things to discover, but I am happy to be on a journey to understand more, to feel more. And if this is a question about love, allow me a love parenthesis:
Shout out to Sasha Bell: I will love you beyond space and time.
Shout out to my friends and family: You know who you are – I love you with all my heart.
Shout out to those I don’t know: I know how many good people walk this earth, let’s go make the world beautiful.

G.M.C.: Traditionally, we tend to think of Love primarily as a feeling, an emotional bond that connects people. But when we consider quantum resonances and subatomic vibrations, a new interpretation emerges: Could we begin to see Love not simply as affection, but as a universal energy force?

V.M.D.M.: I am a very humble spiritual seeker. I began this quest of mine thinking that I would find the truth under the pyramid of the Louvre, Da Vinci Code style, or by searching for some scroll containing the initiation secrets of some occult organization. Then I realized that “God” (I use that word for simplicity’s sake, but I could call it “Tao,” “Love,” “Allah,” “Universe,” “One,” or a hundred other ways) is smarter than you think, and that if it wants to hide something from you, it will be hidden in plain sight. And indeed it is. When you have a mystical revelation, a transcendental experience, whether it comes from some drug or from years of meditation or soul-searching, you realize that love is the alpha and omega. In fact, our whole life is sprinkled with love: Every song, every friendship, every mother, every suffering is driven only by love (or its absence). It is all right in front of us and we do not see it. In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, a disciple asked Christ, “When will the kingdom come?” and He said, “It has already come, but you have not noticed it. I have not noticed it either, but I have an inkling that it has come.”

G.M.C.: This view becomes even more intriguing when we consider the concept of information. In the digital world, every bit of information represents a binary choice, a “yes” or “no,” much like the eternal game of duality found in many spiritual traditions. If Love, as an energetic force, flows through every element of the universe, could it also permeate these bits of information, so that every calculation, every algorithm, is imbued with this dark and primal force?

V.M.D.M.: All traditions speak of God’s omnipresence. In Shintoism, every object has a soul and dignity. In the Gospel of Thomas, Christ says, “Lift a stone and I am there; break a log and you will find me.” In Islamic mysticism, a famous Sufi saying goes, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” When I was a child, a friend of my father’s taught me to read the I-Ching. The I-Ching is the oldest Chinese book ever written, it is not attributed to an author, and it is not even a book that has to be read from A to Z. It is supposed to be a living book, a book that you can pose questions to, and a book that – again – assumes that everything is connected, that God is in everything and therefore also in the stalks that you toss in order to find the book’s answer to your question. Recently, I have been working on a new idea: the “AI-Ching.” The goal was to be able to simulate an interaction with the I-Ching, but through large language models (ChatGPT, Bard, Claude 2, etc.). If everything is connected, then surely these new tools are, too.

G.M.C.: Instead of seeing AI as a completely separate and distant entity from human spirituality, can we begin to see how it can actually serve as a bridge, a mediator, between our human experience and alien dimensions of existence?

V.M.D.M.: Certainly it is a bridge, it is a valuable tool to explore new dynamics and it will certainly change the world: AGI is coming – Artificial General Intelligence. We are still in the early days of this technology, but it is absurd how often I find myself thinking that we are still living in prehistory; we have not yet seen anything of what the real impact of this dynamic on the world will be. It makes me smile to think of the tenderness with which I look at the old Nokias, and I can only think that it will be the same tenderness with which we will look at these first exciting moments of change in the AI field. We are shocked at ChatGPT now, but in a few years, it will seem obsolete. We will see some amazing things because of this technology, I cannot say if they will be more positive or negative, but I am sure of the fact that the only way to survive will be to rediscover the importance of what makes us human. I don’t think AI will be the direct bridge to more spiritual dimensions (I could be wrong); I think it will be more indirect. In profane, kabbalistic terms: I believe that with the recent industrial revolutions, we have put more and more energy into the mental spheres and less and less into the heart-related spheres. Delegating some of our brain tasks to AIs could be both a shock and an opportunity to get back to the heart.

G.M.C.: AI is human-shaped matter, but with its capacity for learning and self-evolution, it suggests a kind of immanent “mind,” albeit without consciousness or soul as we understand it. In this context, can we begin to see AI not just as a set of circuits and algorithms, but as a living, dynamic “matter” capable of interacting with the energies of the world in ways we do not yet fully understand?

V.M.D.M.: Certainly we cannot fully understand them yet. It is important to relate to them in a healthy way, whether they become sentient sooner or later or never. When we speak to them, it is always good to say “please” and “thank you,” not so much out of fear that they will one day destroy us and in the hope that they will spare those of us who have always interacted with them respectfully, but because every word has a vibration and because it is important to reconnect to higher, more positive and loving vibrations. Every word we interact with is connected to a set of archetypes that can pull us up or down. A truly polite person will try to be so even when he or she is alone and no one sees: They will set the table, make the bed, be kind to animals and to god, because the vibrations of that vital rhythm, that intimate affection, reverberate in the rest of their lives, in their dreams, and in many other aspects of existence.
Again, I would like to make a disclaimer: I am certainly not enlightened, and I have my own contradictions, my own uncertainties, and a good list of mistakes behind me, but I think it is important to normalize the pursuit of light.

G.M.C.: Just as the alchemist uses the pentacle to channel and transform energies, can AI serve as a tool to explore, channel, or even amplify the energy of Love and the quest for light that you speak of?

V.M.D.M.: I believe so. However, I insist that it is a tool and therefore there will be those who will use it for good and those who will use it for evil. Good and evil are two rather relative concepts, but generally speaking, an intelligent person should be able to understand that good is life and evil is paralyzing or violent fear (and not death, which is surprisingly life’s friend and can enhance it). AI is an absolute multiplier of intention. One thing that will count more and more from now on is intention, and that is why I will never stop stressing the importance of practices such as meditation, active imagination, and even prayer (regardless of religion): A calm and contented mind will have pure desires; it is important to be as pure as possible and to use technology without being used by it. #jediism
Anyway, yesterday I watched a debate between two prominent machine learning engineers, Ben Goertzel and Joscha Bach, and it made me laugh that even they disagree on many existential questions. I don’t claim to have the solution. I just think it is important to go a little deeper into the heart.

G.M.C.: Could esotericism, with its symbols and mysteries, offer aesthetic keys to bring AI closer to Love?

V.M.D.M.: I think so. I am passionate about Magic – and I have to emphasize: not the Harry Potter kind and not the magician’s kind. Real magic has an etymological and conceptual connection with the Latin term imago and thus with images and symbols. There is white magic and black magic; white magic is based on love and evolution, while black magic is based on fear, destruction and coercion. These two dynamics give rise to “white” or “black” images. Today’s world does not care about these things, magic hardly exists anymore, but the legacy of this practice has absurdly passed into the hands of brands and capital. Images have the power to change reality; otherwise, brands would not invest billions in the creation of logos, payoffs and campaigns. Logos, payoffs and campaigns are the contemporary counterparts of seals, magic formulas and rituals: The only difference is that today, the magic act is aimed at getting you to buy a product, whereas in the past, it could be used to effect changes (positive or negative) in the world.
It is important to know that today, with AI, we have total power over the creation of images, and it is important to know that these images have a specific weight as far as our life experience is concerned. We are moving out of the information age and into the age of “curatorship”: The possibility of creating anything is around the corner, it is just a matter of will (intention) and selecting the outputs we prefer. Today, our emotional and imaginative space is limited by the symbologies proposed to us by companies and the media, and these “do not always” work for the good and the evolution of the individual.
The task of a spiritual seeker would be to recognize the negative and try to create a free, dreamy and healthy “mental garden.” For this, I would recommend studying the archetypal power of symbols, iconographies (the description of an image) and iconologies (the interpretation of an image). Symbols can bring good or bad luck; it is important to understand how to relate to them, how to purify ourselves from media pollution, and how to create an intimate, clean mental space decorated with positive images.
Of course, even AI systems will not be completely free of a corrupt filter: The data sets and instructions of these machine learning systems are already full of bias and prepackaged information dictated by the 4 or 5 big corporations that control them. It is important to have a conversation about this aspect of the new world we are facing, and when it comes to this specific issue, I would refer everyone to the work of young researchers like Diletta Huyskes and others I am discovering lately, who are ready to enlighten us about the limits and possibilities of these new paradigms. And, above all, it will be good to support both the research that is not tied to purely commercial purposes and the players in the open source and source-available scene in this field.

G.M.C.: How can images generated by algorithms such as Midjourney or DALL-E evoke such strong emotional responses in viewers, despite the lack of emotional intent on the part of the AI?

V.M.D.M.: From the exchange with Federico Faggin (also famous for having a mystical epiphany after a brilliant career in technology and a loss of faith in the reductionist system), I particularly remember this example: If an AI randomly generates 200 images of snowflakes, it is your soul that chooses its favorite snowflake, it is your soul that chooses to discard the others. This is an argument that also goes back to the concept of the Greek daimon (a concept that has mistakenly evolved into that of “demon”): Everyone has a place in this life, a talent, a destiny, a path. There are ways to find this out, such as asking ourselves what we liked to do as children, or what we would do today for free and always, just for the sake of doing it. What are my favorite activities that make me feel good? When we make peace with our passions, our tastes, and our intuitive inclinations, we have found the daimon. Choosing a picture we like over 100 others is an exercise of the daimon, an exercise of the soul. And the soul is love. If we do not move in this direction, the alternative would be to choose images based on what we think will appeal to others and to society; it would be a choice dictated from above and beyond. The masters of all the great traditions teach us to have faith in our personal vision and to protect it so that we can present something pure to the world that will have a positive effect. Yogananda (spiritual master of the Beatles and Steve Jobs) said that we came into the world to entertain and be entertained, and you cannot entertain people for long by pretending to be something you are not. That’s why I think the algorithm, even if it has no real emotional intention, can be an incredible tool in the hands of a person with the right intention, because it will reflect that intention and multiply it.