Something is afoot in the universe, something that looks like gestation and birth. In other words, a plan, a purpose to it all.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955, was a French idealist, philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist.(1)
I first picked up Teilhard de Chardin’s best-known book, The Phenomenon of Man, some thirty years ago. (2) It had been highly recommended by my eldest brother, who was something of a philosopher and theologian. It was difficult to read; the sentences were long, with too many difficult words and parenthetical phrases that interrupted the flow. Now and again I’d try to read more, but it was always difficult and I’d put it back on the shelf with the intent of trying again, sooner or later.
These days I only read books on my iPad Kindle. What I like most is that you have only to touch a word and the dictionary meaning pops up. I remembered Teilhard and put Phenomenon on my Kindle – and voilà! I suppose too that I was more mentally ready than before to digest his ideas.
I must tell you, I resonated with what I was reading. This time I plowed more easily through the long-winded arguments and complicated phraseology. I was more motivated to dig in patiently to understand the concepts. I went back to re-read some chapters so that I could more clearly understand.
Much of Teilhard’s writing was done during and after World War 2; but he was far ahead of his time - he was discussing the fast-moving burst of ideas and technological acceleration that is so evident today with the Internet!
Somewhere in the middle of Phenomenon, I came across a concept that thrilled me! Here is the extract: "rising upstream against the flow of entropy; to provide evolution with a direction, a line of advance and critical points".
More than a century ago physicists observed that the fraction of unusable energy (entropy) is constantly increasing; and they found in this a mathematical expression of the irreversibility of the cosmos. (3) Entropy is defined as the lack of order, or gradual decline into disorder in the physical universe.
I had considered the idea of a parallel concept of Intelligence Entropy several decades ago. My premise was that the humanity’s spirit was increasing to offset the decline of physical energy. I had never seen this discussed anywhere. I was ecstatic!
I emailed Ray Kurzweil, the noted futurist, whom I had met at a Stanford University seminar. His book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, was instrumental in the development of my own avocation as a Futurist. (4)
I asked Ray about positive entropy relating to the human spirit. Ray wrote back with a reference to Extropy, the principle that life will expand indefinitely and in an orderly, progressive way throughout the entire universe by the means of human intelligence and technology. I went to an Extropy Institute seminar and met some super-intelligent people; but the organization fizzled out in 2006. (5) My ideas about positive entropy didn’t develop further.
Resonating with Teilhard’s reference to reverse entropy, I moved to his collection of speeches and essays titled, Future of Man. (6) I found more.
Entropy finds its counterpart in a current moving in the opposite sense, positive and constructive: the ascent of the Universe toward zones of increasing intelligence and psychic energy. Entropy and life, backward and forward: two complementary expressions of the arrow of time. It should be noted that I am paraphrasing most of Teilhard’s quotes, for simpler reading.
The living, burning question of Evolution: Is it still moving? (7) Mankind is divided into two irrevocably opposed camps – one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming, "We are moving," and the other, without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining, "Nothing changes. We are not moving at all."
The question of whether the Universe is still developing becomes a matter of deciding whether the human spirit is still in the process of evolution. Teilhard replies unhesitatingly, "Yes, it is!" The nature of Man is still in the full flood of change. A vast evolutionary process is in ceaseless operation around us and it is situated within the sphere of collective consciousness.
What are the differences between people today, and the earliest humans? In what respects are today’s humans superior and more advanced? The great superiority that humans have acquired and which will be enhanced by following generations is in the realm of self-knowledge, the growing consciousness of humanity’s place and responsibility in the Universe – part of vast and continuing processes.
With continual wars, and now terrorism, many people are skeptical (some call it "realism") about (7) Teilhard’s optimism. Some simply mistrust anything that looks like faith in the future.
The basic questions remains: Is humanity still evolving? Are humans going forward, or backwards, or simply in a circle? Teilhard shows in this book, and I for one am an enthusiastic believer, that however bitter the disillusionment with human goodness, there are stronger scientific reasons than ever before for believing that humanity is really progressing.
The high degree of psychic development (reflection, thought) places humans dramatically above all other conscious beings known to us. The basic characteristic of humans, the root of all human perfections, is the gift of consciousness. (8)
In the last few decades, neuroscientists have begun to attack the problem of understanding consciousness, to discover specific neurons or behaviors that are linked to conscious experiences.
Only man, among animals, not only knows; he knows that he knows. He reflects. This faculty has given birth to many new human attributes – freedom of choice, foresight, the ability to plan and to construct, and many others.
There is a clear indication of greater consciousness emerging in the world. According to Teilhard, this is an irresistible human compulsion. He is convinced that throughout the world today, humans are appearing who have begun to reason, to act with this awareness. They are conscious of one another; they recognize each other whenever their paths cross. They know that tomorrow, rejecting old concepts, divisions and forms, the whole world will see what they see and think as they do.
From the first awakening of his reflective consciousness, humans have been possessed by the urge to invent and discover. But until recently, this profound need remained latent, diffused and unorganized in the human mass. In past generations, only a few individuals were true seekers, generally isolated and very rare.
Evolution had direction – along an axis of increasing complexity and consciousness. A sphere of thought encircles the earth, emerging through evolution as the growth of consciousness. The human social phenomenon is the culmination of the biological phenomenon, the growth above the biosphere, emerging through the interaction of human minds. Teilhard terms this the Noosphere. (9)
As humans populate the earth, the noosphere grows in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself. This evolves towards ever-greater personalization, individuation and unification.
It is common experience that individuals within teams feel enhanced, enriched and liberated. True union, the union of heart and spirit, does not enslave, does not neutralize individuals; it super personalizes them.
As the planet becomes more and more populated, imagine humans awakening to a sense of universal solidarity based on their profound community, evolutionary in its nature and purpose. The nightmares of brutalization and mechanization, which are conjured up to terrify and prevent advance, are dispelled. It is not harshness or hatred but a new kind of love, not yet experienced, which humans must learn to look for.
A more advanced form of spontaneity and spiritual energy will accompany each succeeding stage of material concentration and differentiation. The outflowing flood of Entropy equaled and offset by the rising tide of what Teilhard calls Noogenesis. A natural evolutionary process utilizes the enormous surplus of brainpower in an ever-advancing world. (10)
In his 2011 book, Better Angels of our Nature, author Steven Pinker bring up evidence to support Teilhard’s contention. He shows that violence in the world has been diminishing for millennia and humanity may be living in the most peaceful time in its existence.(11)
For most of history, war and brutality were common. But today, all forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. Pinker explores the essence of human nature, and explains how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. The book’s title is from the ending of President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
Teilhard saw the love of humanity as the principal driver of noogenesis. Evolution would culminate in an apex of thought and consciousness. It must be remembered that Teilhard was a Jesuit priest; he identified the culmination of evolution with the Omega Point – the theology concerned with the final destiny of humankind.
Please provide your own feedback, comments and suggestions. Share our discussion by responding to these questions directly via the blog. If you prefer, send me an email and I’ll insert your comments.
- Are you aware of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Have you read any of his books?
- In your view, has Evolution stopped with the development of Humans? Or, will life continue to evolve?
- Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue to fight endlessly and eventually obliterate themselves?
- Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?
- What are your own views of the future of humanity?
- Please add your own comments and views.
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: https://goo.gl/f06LtO
- Teilhard de Chardin - Phenomenon of Man: http://goo.gl/CPRg3K
- Entropy: https://goo.gl/N5MHIl
- Ray Kurzweil: Age of Spiritual Machines: https://goo.gl/7wzhYT
- Extropy Institute: http://goo.gl/MAL5Wh
- Does evolution exhibit progress or purpose? http://goo.gl/c8cHV7
- Science and Reason: The Evolution Debate: http://goo.gl/OiBiMK
- What is consciousness? http://goo.gl/JOrCDs
- Theory and History of the Noosphere: http://goo.gl/n2FUA8
- Explore Noogenesis: http://goo.gl/F2NqgB
- Steven Pinker book, Better Angels of our Nature: http://goo.gl/BfEbdh