Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Noösphere

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French priest and paleoanthropologist in the early twentieth century. He believed and wrote about a predestined arc of evolution that would eventually lead to the “omega” endpoint, nothing less than Jesus Christ. His works were not published until after his death, but were read by millions. I doubt that anyone really understood what he meant—Sir Peter Medawar referred to his work as a “bouquet of aphorism”—and so his views, never taken seriously by scientists, have been largely forgotten by everyone else.

Along with the rest of Teilhard’s ideas, the concept of the “noösphere” has fallen into obscurity. This would be, in Teilhardian terms, the epitome of evolution, in which a worldwide network of consciousness would form.

But guess what. That particular part happened. We call it the internet. And it really did result from evolution—cultural evolution. Technological improvement has been a major product of human cultural evolution for thousands of years. Along came computers, and eventually a way for computers to communicate with one another, and therefore for users to communicate with one another. You can now tap into the thoughts of the world—including many that you would just as soon not know about. The noösphere exists.

I want to briefly mention my surprised enjoyment of one particular aspect of the internet: Facebook. There are many friends with whom I lost contact over the last forty years—some from high school, some from undergrad days, some from grad school. How to find them again? It would take an immense amount of searching back in the old days. To get the address of one particular friend, I wrote to a church I knew that person had attended. I got back an envelope with the address written on a scrap of paper, and nothing else. I felt like I was involved in some kind of hard-boiled private-dick novel. I felt almost criminal.

But nowadays you can search for people by name on FB. If you get several matches, you can look for the one that has recognizable biographical information, and a photo that may look like your friend plus forty years. If you don’t know a woman’s married name, too bad, but many of them want their old friends to find them, and use their birth name as a middle name. I must have found at least fifty friends on FB whom I would otherwise never have had contact with again.

Perry Mason would probably not need the Paul Drake Detective Agency any more. He could just have Gertie search online. Thanks, Pierre.

And while the noösphere isn’t quite the Christic endpoint of evolution as Teilhard imagined it, it is perhaps the most important thing in the world today.

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