The Noosphere (Part I): Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision

A depiction of the Noosphere

A depiction of the Noosphere

One of the key concepts of Teilhard de Chardin’s philosophy is the noosphere, which Teilhard believes is the next phase of human evolution.  Today is the first of a three part series discussing the noosphere:

Part I:  Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision
Part II: Christian Concepts of the Noosphere
Part III: Future Evolution of the Noosphere

The term noosphere derives from the Greek νοῦς (nous “mind”) and σφαῖρα (sphaira “sphere”), and is related to the terms geosphere (inanimate matter) and biosphere (biological life).  Under Teilhard’s vision, God created the Big Bang, which created an evolutionary process starting with the energy of the Big Bang leading to increasing “complexification” to matter, to initial life forms, to human consciousness, to a collective human consciousness (the noophere).  The noosphere emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds. The noosphere has grown in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the Earth.  As humanity organizes itself in more complex social networks, the higher the noosphere will grow in awareness. Teilhard argued the noosphere is growing towards an even greater integration and unification, culminating in the Omega Point (or the Cosmic Christ, the second person of the Trinity).  

Ever since the Big Bang, our universe has gradually grown in complexity.  From an initial point of intensely concentrated and homogeneous matter, we see the formation and evolution of stars, galaxies, and planets as the primordial ball of plasma expanded, cooled, and formed structures of ever-increasing complexity. In the case of Earth, we also see the development of biological life with its even more complex forms of matter. These organic structures are actually containers of sorts-densely packed with information. The more information an object carries in a given volume, the more complex it is. A strand of DNA is not only smaller than a grain of sand, it is also considerably more complex because it contains more information than the silicon in the grain of sand.

The densest collection of complex information we know of thus far is the human being, and human activity gives rise to even greater complexity. Teilhard states that this reflective consciousness is “the specific effect of organized complexity,” and that it follows that some sort of intensification of human consciousness is the next step of human evolution.  In other words, a massive amount of information is building up within the relatively small confines of the planet Earth. This, Teilhard believed, will result in the blossoming of the noosphere into some form of super-consciousness, once the amount of information it contains reaches a critical density.

Teihard de Chardin first used the term noosphere in approximately 1927, but the intellectual concept was first developed during Teilhard’s service in the trenches of World War I.

The atmosphere of ‘the Front’: it was, I am quite sure, from having plunged into that atmosphere—from having been soaked in it for months and months on end—and precisely where it was at its most dense and heavily charged, that I ceased to notice any break (if not any difference) between ‘physical’ and ‘moral’, between natural’ and ‘artificial’. The ‘Human-million’, with its psychic temperature and its internal energy, became for me a magnitude as evolutionary, and therefore as biologically, real as a giant molecule of protein. I was later to be astonished on many occasions to find in my own circle that those who could not agree with me suffered from a complete inability to understand that precisely because the individual human being represents a corpuscular magnitude he must be subject to the same development as every other species of corpuscles in the World: that means that he must coalesce into physical relationships and groupings that belong to a higher order than his. It is, of course, quite impossible for him to apprehend these groupings directly as such . . . but there are many indications that enable him to recognize perfectly well their existence and the influences they exercise. . .  I have no doubt at all (as I said earlier) that it was the experience of the War that brought me this awareness and developed it in me as a sixth sense.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1980-07-23). Heart Of Matter (Kindle Locations 412-419). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

As we shall see in Part II, the concept of a universal connection of human consciousness is very old and forms the heart of the Christian tradition.  Teilhard’s contribution was to take this concept put place in within the scope of recent knowledge of the universe being a work in progress from the Big Bang, through the development of individual human consciousness, through the future convergence of collective human consciousness and unification with the Cosmic Christ or Omega Point.  As Teilhard described our current evolutionary state:

“[H]ow can we fail to see that the process of convergence from which we emerged, body and soul, is continuing to envelop us more closely than ever, to grip us, in the form of—under the folds of, we might say—a gigantic planetary contraction?

The irresistible ‘setting’ or cementing together of a thinking mass (Mankind) which is continually more compressed upon itself by the simultaneous multiplication and expansion of its individual elements: there is not one of us, surely, who is not almost agonizingly aware of this, in the very fibre of his being. This is one of the things that no one today would even try to deny: we can all see the fantastic anatomical structure of a vast phylum whose branches, instead of diverging as they normally do, are ceaselessly folding in upon one another ever more closely, like some monstrous inflorescence—like, indeed, an enormous flower folding-in upon itself; the literally global physiology of an organism in which production, nutrition, the machine, research, and the legacy of heredity are, beyond any doubt, building up to planetary dimensions; the increasing impossibility of the individual’s attaining economic and intellectual self-sufficiency”

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre (1980-07-23). Heart Of Matter (Kindle Locations 499-510). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

In Part II, we will examine how Christianity understands the spiritual Noosphere.

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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21 Responses to The Noosphere (Part I): Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision

  1. claire46 says:

    What I take from Teilhard’s noosphere, the Big Bang, and all that ensues, is our inter-relatedness, our interconnection, our interdependence and the great importance of each one of our decisions, actions and thoughts. Are we helping our world toward the Omega Point or slowing down the process…
    Thank you again for all that you offer us here.

    • Well said Claire. Part of my personal growing up is realizing that every action or non-action of mine affects others. As my prayer life becomes richer and I gradually let go of my ego-self, I am starting to better able to listen and respond to God’s call. I am even able to appreciate God’s humor in the subtle and not-so-subtle ways he tells me to “get over myself” 🙂

  2. Erik Andrulis says:

    Ooo, love Teilhard’s noosphere concept – as that is what exists right now. The mind sphere within all things, surrounding all things, and as all things – not the least of which is the internet. Looking forward to the next two parts. And the Omega Point is the point where I – that is, the entire Universe of people and things that I am unify in Me. An interesting concept, that, as I am already One to begin with. Quite the Paradox I am.

    • Humanity is a paradox! Yes, I am very intrigued by the concept of the noosphere (hence one of the reasons for my fascinating with Teilhard de Chardin). We truly live in an interesting time.

  3. ptero9 says:

    Hi Sir William, I just saw Part II and am catching up here with Part I. Very tasty stuff. From contemplating what Erik has written, I have been thinking of consciousness as some primary source that enlivens all things. When taking on different life forms, it finds both limitations which paradoxically creates expansions through relationships to other life forms and through the process of evolution. Not sure if that makes any sense because it is just an intuition. But, when I watch my cats with this in mind, I see them differently now. I see that they are perhaps, like me, containers, or forms of consciousness, limited by the physical form, “cat” as I am limited by the form, “human.”
    Thank you for posting this series…! 🙂

    • Hi Debra:

      I am glad you enjoy. I largely agree with your summary that there is a primary source of consciousness that inhibits all living organisms but during this lifetime are limited by their current forms. Christians believe that this source stems from the Creator, but yet is different from the Creator, similar to a ray of sunshine is different than the sun. I believe Teilhard de Chardin lays it out well in that there is an evolutionary progression from simple to complex and at various points there are significant evolutionary leaps. For example, the first spiritual humans (which may be distinct from the first genetic homo sapiens) were likely created ~50,000 – 100,000 years ago and crossed a significant ontological barrier from its predecessors. Similarly, humanity is continuing to evolve (individually and collectively) towards an Omega Point, which Christians call God.

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  5. Reblogged this on gigglinginthegutter and commented:
    Really worth the read !

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  8. E.D. says:

    will be back tomorrow to read. Lovely quotes. thanks. eve 🙂

  9. E.D. says:

    Reblogged this on Children Of Light. and commented:
    Well written and thoroughly enjoyable.

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  12. archecotech says:

    This was a truly interesting post for me, I’ve never heard of the Noosphere before today. But it does resonate with me. Please let me explain how my understanding came to me. Back in 2009 I had the opportunity to serve on a short term missions trip to the Crow Agency in Montana. How this relates is that on the very first day of my arrival I was offered to sleep in a tepee which was quite an experience. It was in this tepee that I had a vision that until now just didn’t make any sense to me. My vision was as follows:

    In my vision the entire sky was a shimmering color of lavender which was pulsing, each pulse grew with intensity (I sensed it was like a blanket), what even more fascinating was that there were these seemingly pulsing points of light which were set in a grid like pattern, from my minds perspective these points of light were pulsing not in rhythm with the other but in a opposing rhythm. Then something very curious started to happen. These points of lights started falling from the heavens and as they fell, they turned into different symbols that I came to understand were the different native American Indian tribes. When they landed on the ground they began to praise the heavens and the pulsing grew at a more rapid pace. It was here my vision ended.

    I’m convinced now what I saw was the noosphere. Thank you for bringing enlightenment to something that has always perplexed me.

  13. Perhaps it was with a reawakening to Teilhard de Chardin that began here – awakening memories of reading his books decades ago… but I find I am coming again to read de Chardin and much work that sprung up of late. I see you have changed your habit. I too use wordpress less. I am using facebook far more these days. I’ll be checking in with you occasionally though. ~Eric

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