Volume 4, Issue 1 
May 2009

Understanding and Applying the Theosophy of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed Toward Achieving Geoethical Nanotechnology

Allison M. Ward

This article was submitted to Terasem’s Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology by Allison M. Ward, a futurist and student in Psychology, Human Anatomy, and Physiology.

Ms. Ward expresses an insightful analogy between the Octavia Butler books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, and geoethical nanotechnology; addressing pressing concerns within the present technological revolution. 

Blind Eyes to Technological Advancement

As technology is accelerating exponentially in power and decreasing exponentially in price-performance, it is projected that a Singularity is near. A Singularity is “a point in the future (often set at or around 2030 A.D.) beyond which overwhelming technical changes (especially the development of superhuman artificial intelligence) make reliable predictions impossible.”[1]

Current technology and ethical structure are said by many futurists to be, at present, significantly ill equipped to govern impending technological advancements. As these progressions accelerate, most individuals remain oblivious to the approaching transformation. Should society continue in this fashion, with disregard to the need for imminent ethical, legal, defensive reform, an unprecedented peril may lie ahead.

Insight into the implications of what could transpire within a society if preemptive measures are not taken is contained within the Octavia Butler books, Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents.

The protagonist in these books, Lauren Olamina, is faced with the decay of a collapsed civilization, which she wishes to change. The theosophy developed by Lauren, called Earthseed, contains positive aspects of a technological era that could help guide ethical regulatory policies during construction while introducing them to the masses.

Future Technology

Nanotechnology is one of the technologies predicted to vastly change life as we recognize it today. Nanotechnology is the precision building of an object on a nanometer scale (one billionth of a meter), building things from the bottom up by manipulation of individual molecules. “Nanotechnology not only will allow making many high-quality products at very low cost, but will also allow the building of nanofactories at the same low cost and at the same rapid speed. It represents a manufacturing system which will be able to make more manufacturing systems—factories that can build factories—rapidly, cheaply, and cleanly.”[2] Nanotechnology also has the potential to change modern medicine. Medical nanotechnology will be able to annihilate disease and reconstruct the human body atom by atom to be far more adaptive and malleable. “It is a revolutionary, transformative, powerful, and potentially very dangerous—or beneficial—technology.”[3]

Paramount to nanotechnology is the lack of public awareness and preparedness for its revolutionary impact. There is great power that comes with the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level. This power must be managed however; lack of a recognized definition and distinctions between the significantly diverse fields of nanotechnology complicates the developing of well-organized, authoritative policies. Although this seems extremely complicated, standards must soon be established and implemented!

Geoethical Nanotechnology and Developing Organizations

A current construct to develop the legal basis and secure system for nanotechnology is called geoethical nanotechnology. This approach aims to develop and implement a globally regulated framework of the machines capable of assembling molecules and to detect destructive uses of nanotechnology thus creating technology that can alter seemingly unavoidable cataclysmic events. One example of geoethical nanotechnology would be billions of tiny nano-devices that have the ability to prevent a hurricane or tornado. Another example would be setting up global diagnostic tools to rapidly identify the existence of unknown protein or nucleic acid sequences threatening vast numbers of human lives. There are endless benefits to further the development of nanotechnology however; we must initiate a global incentive to expedite the introduction of nanotechnology to the world and begin establishing appropriate and effective policies.

Organizations have already been developed to supply information to the public, helping to bring awareness to this rapidly approaching technological revolution.

Terasem Movement, Inc.


Terasem Movement and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) offer a multitude of online information about geoethical nanotechnology, as well as workshops focused on bringing efforts and ideas together. These organizations need understanding and support to succeed. It is the duty of those who know and care about our future to shine the light for others to see.

Relating the Theosophy of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed to Geoethical Nanotechnology

The books Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents maintain the theosophy that God may be achieved through special individual relations, and that the outcome of the world is directly related to our current actions, or inactions. This correlates with geoethical nanotechnology in that the abilities of atomic manipulation may bring God-like qualities into existence. Failure to act upon, create, and expand these technologies will not produce these outcomes and will halt society from shaping a God-like state.

The two books collectively tell the story of a young woman named Lauren Olamina who compiles a journal of ideas and parables entitled, Earthseed. Lauren writes about what or who God is, and how to achieve a God-like world. Her basic beliefs are that God is Change, and human life will take root amongst the stars. Her all-encompassing description of why she developed Earthseed is: “Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all.”[4]

The first and main parable, reiterated throughout the book, is:

"All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change,
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
Is Change." [5]

This sets the tone of the book, in which everything around Lauren continually changes.

The plot within these books is that the existing society has crumbled into an apocalyptic state. People are desperate, consistently defending themselves from the predatory nature of the people scrounging to stay alive. They are poor people, lacking employment and stability.

Lauren, the protagonist, lives within a small, walled-in community functioning together in an attempt to keep the vulture-like anarchists out. Lauren, unlike other people, does not accept the Baptist religion of the community, so she begins to develop her own theosophy of life, Earthseed. She also differs from others as a result of her hyper empathy; feeling other’s pain and pleasure. Lauren alone recognizes the perilous outcome that lies ahead. Taking a few precautionary measures, such as packing a safety bag with things like seeds, money, and maps of the surrounding country, Lauren braces herself for the worst.

Shortly thereafter, drug-crazed people destroy Lauren’s small community, killing almost everyone she knows and loves. Forced to move on and look for a brighter future, she travels north with her only two friends that survived the massacre.

She begins telling her fellow travelers her ideas about Earthseed, bringing them comfort and reassuring a sense of community.

After the treacherous journey up the west coast, they reach the land and start to put Laurens theosophy into action. Discussing her writings nightly, the group is comforted by the common belief that things always change, and that they will support each other through that change.

Unfortunately, negativity from the government towards anyone who isn’t Christian turns violent. ACORN, Lauren's community, is overthrown by Christian Activists who torture and rape them, take their children, and enslave community members with no hope of release.

Fortunately, after seventeen months of enslavement, a landslide knocks out the power to the collar devices the Christian activists used to restrain the members. They kill all of the activists and burn ACORN to the ground, cleansing it of the immoral corruption that had taken it over.

The community breaks apart and spreads into different directions hoping to not be recognized. The society slowly begins to resent the Christian government it elected to help solve its problems, recognizing it as having caused its problems and ultimate destruction. Lauren reestablishes Earthseed which continues to grow. In her final stages of life, she gets to see some of the Earthseed members travel to space to live in the first space habitat; Earthseed had taken root.


Next Page


1. "Singularity." New Oxford Dictionary. 11th ed. 2008.

2. Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. "What is Nanotechnology?." Exponential Proliferation. 2008. CRN. 11, March. 2009 <http://www.crnano.org/whatis.htm>.

3. Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. "What is Nanotechnology?." Exponential Proliferation. 2008. CRN. 11, March. 2009 <http://www.crnano.org/whatis.htm>.

4. Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. Page 1. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1993.

5. Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. Page 3. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1993.



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