Thursday, August 11, 2005

Teilhard de Chardin and the Noosphere

De Chardin was a Jesuit Priest and a paleontologist/biologist. He was born in 1885 and died in 1955. He spent his life attempting to rationalize his religious beliefs and his acceptance of evolution. Unfortunately he was censored by the church and not allowed to publish or teach about his thoughts for most of his life.


He saw the earth as having three spheres - geosphere, biosphere and the noosphere. He posited that the earth evolved through the geosphere to the biosphere and predicted that it would be moving to the noosphere long before anyone else thought about the Gaia hypotheses or before the Internet.


Rev. Phillip J. Cunningham writes (http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1997/mar/cunning.html):

In the seeming myriad of entities around us, Teilhard perceives a unity: "My starting point is the fundamental initial fact that each one of us is perforce linked by all the material, organic and psychic strands of his being to all that surrounds him." Moreover, that unity reaches back in time and continues into the future: "If we look far enough back in the depths of time, the disordered anthill of living beings suddenly, for an informed observer, arranges itself in long files that make their way by various paths towards greater consciousness."


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In 1925, Teilhard wrote in an essay entitled Hominization: "And this amounts to imagining, in one way or another, above the animal biosphere human sphere, a sphere of reflection, of conscious invention, of conscious souls (the noosphere, if you will)" It was a neologism employing the Greek word noos for "mind."


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Teilhard maintains that evolution has a definite direction, an "Ariadne's Thread" as he calls it. That "thread" is the increasing complexity of living beings, the focus of which is their nervous systems, more precisely, their brains. Following the growth in "cerebralization" we are led to the mammals and, among them, the anthropoids. The complexity of their brains is paralleled by the complexity of their socialized behaviour. Recent studies of the great apes has only increased our appreciation of their remarkable acuity. Yet, though we are not a radical departure physically or genetically from these marvelous creatures, we nevertheless transcend them in some essential manner.


And just what is the source of this transcendence? For Teilhard, it is "thought" or "reflection." He describes it as "the power acquired by a consciousness to turn it upon itself, to take possession of itself as of an object endowed with its own particular consistence and value: no longer merely to know, but to know oneself; no longer merely to know but to know that one knows."


Now the same question rises which confronted us in discussing biogenesis: Does noogenesis have a direction? In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard posits: "In truth, a neo-humanity has been germinating round the Mediterranean for the last six thousand years" He thought that a "new layer of the noosphere" would soon be formed. "The proof of this lies in the fact that from one end of the world to the other, all peoples, to remain human or to become more so, are inexorably led to formulate the hopes and problems of the modern earth in the very same terms in which the West has formulated them." Teilhard was convinced that the shape of the noosphere's future would be determined by those developments he saw taking place in the Europe and the U.S.


It was his opinion: "We are, at this very moment, passing through a change of age. Beneath a change of age lies a change of thought." That hidden change would at first influence only a few but it would continue to expand. "I know of no more moving story nor any more revealing of the biological reality of a noogenesis than that of intelligence struggling step by step from the beginning to overcome the illusion of proximity." Humanity had lived (and many still did) in a narrow world, unaware of the true dimensions of time and space. Moreover these dimension bore no relationship to each other. Now a new realization arose: "Time and space are organically joined again so as to weave, together, the stuff of the universe." What brought this transformation about?


Teilhard attributes it to the rise of an evolutionary point of view:

"Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, as systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow."

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Teilhard was convinced that geogenesis moved in the direction of an ever increasing conscious that brought about a biogenesis that evolved in the same direction. The process then led to the advent of though/reflection. However, the process did not cease there. "Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself. The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself." The direction then was toward such a growth in consciousness.


Teilhard was also convinced that a further and even more profound change had taken place. On the one hand we could see humanity simply swept along in a evolutionary stream into the future over which he had no control. Or, we could see that an evolution conscious of itself could also direct itself. "Not only do we read in our slightest acts the secrets of [evolutions] proceedings; but for an elementary part we hold it in our hands, responsible for its past to its future." Noogenesis moves ever more clearly toward self-direction; it is now something we determine.

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It was Teilhard's conviction that should humanity lose hope for the future, the hope of transcending the barriers to human unity and peace, noogenesis would cease. "Between these two alternatives of absolute optimism or absolute pessimism, there is no middle way because by its very nature progress is all or nothing." Yet, does not evolution itself offer hope. It has gone from geogenesis to biogenesis and has entered up noogenesis. Will it now be frustrated at this stage and fail to evolve further into the future? Teilhard clings to hope, "there is for us, in the future, under some form or another, a least collective, not only survival but also super-life." In 1950, Teilhard made what was a final attempt to get his observations published. He wrote a short work, Man's Place in Nature, which summarized what he felt was his scientific position.

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Crucial to the process of human evolution, i.e. to progress is, in Teilhard's view, scientific research. In the past such investigations were isolated, sometimes no more than the hobbies of individuals. "Today we find the reverse: research students are numbered in the hundreds of thousands-soon to be millions-and they are no longer distributed superficially and at random over the globe, but are functionally linked together in a vast organic system that will remain in the future indispensable to the life of the community." One can't but think of today's "Internet," yet this was written forty-six years ago.


Anodea Judith writes (http://www.gaiamind.com/Teilhard.html):


...he suggested that the Earth in its evolutionary unfolding, was growing a new organ of consciousness, called the noosphere. The noosphere is analogous on a planetary level to the evolution of the cerebral cortex in humans. The noosphere is a "planetary thinking network" -- an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary communication. At the time of his writing, computers of any merit were the size of a city block, and the Internet was, if anything, an element of speculative science fiction. Yet this evolution is indeed coming to pass, and with a rapidity, that in Gaia time, is but a mere passage of seconds. In these precious moments, the planet is developing her cerebral cortex, and emerging into self-conscious awakening. We are indeed approaching the Omega point that Teilhard de Chardin was so excited about

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"It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. . . . Humanity. . . is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?"


And, the Noosphere web site comments (http://noosphere.cc/):


The Noosphere Website monitors and aims to inspire the transition of mankind from the secondary into the tertiary evolutionary stage. Whereas the secondary stage is characterized by an organization, based upon power (of the Rulers over the Multitude) exerted by military, monetary and/or moral coercion, the tertiary stage is organized by intellectual and factual cooperation of conscious and creative individuals, aiming at developing constructive systems where the largest number of individuals are healthy and happy. From their intellectual integration and Peer to Peer cooperation, the Noosphere is emerging.


Is the innovation commons a step in the direction envisioned by de Chardin?

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