Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Human Evolution

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.

Human Entropy

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.

Human Progress

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.

Let’s Engage
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.

  1. Are you aware of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Have you read any of his books?
  2. In your view, has Evolution stopped with the development of Humans? Or, will life continue to evolve?
  3. Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue to fight endlessly and eventually obliterate themselves?
  4. Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?
  5. What are your own views of the future of humanity?
  6. Please add your own comments and views.

  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: https://goo.gl/f06LtO
  2. Teilhard de Chardin - Phenomenon of Man: http://goo.gl/CPRg3K
  3. Entropy: https://goo.gl/N5MHIl
  4. Ray Kurzweil: Age of Spiritual Machines: https://goo.gl/7wzhYT
  5. Extropy Institute: http://goo.gl/MAL5Wh
  6. Does evolution exhibit progress or purpose? http://goo.gl/c8cHV7
  7. Science and Reason: The Evolution Debate: http://goo.gl/OiBiMK
  8. What is consciousness? http://goo.gl/JOrCDs
  9. Theory and History of the Noosphere: http://goo.gl/n2FUA8
  10. Explore Noogenesis: http://goo.gl/F2NqgB
  11. Steven Pinker book, Better Angels of our Nature: http://goo.gl/BfEbdh

Jim Pinto
Carlsbad, CA.


  1. Jim,

    On your question of whether or not Man is still evolving... we are, but physically we are getting weaker as a species. Whenever a mother and or a baby are saved during a difficult childbirth that would have naturally resulted in the death of one or both, those characteristics are passed down and it slowly weakens our strength as a species. This principle applies to the medical procedures that allow women to get pregnant who would naturally have been barren, or that allow men to become fathers who naturally had been sterile. It also applies to any procedures or medicines that save the lives of people before the age of reproduction.

    I don't believe these things should be stopped, I just point out that in the developed world, we humans are physically becoming weaker. Evolution, or "the survival of the fittest", has been reversed.

  2. Merle :

    You have an excellent point. Yes, we are prolonging life, and saving lives that may not otherwise have been saved. Humanity's increasing compassion, benevolence and kindness is saving lives that would not be saved in an earlier society. It is arguable whether that is weakening society. Being "humane" cannot be weakening.

    In my view, Evolution generates more strength in human society, not weakness. Humans are not in the "survival" mode that was common in past centuries. Prolonging life by saving babies and increasing longevity surely has some positive effects. How many geniuses are being born, that previously may have simply died? How many people do significant things as they reach their 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's? In the past they would have died, or simply been written off.

    My own view is optimistic. Human intelligence, judgment, skills, inventiveness and other good traits will keep increasing, to generate a better life.

    Please read at least some extracts from Steven Pinker's book, "Better Angels of our Nature" which provides lots of evidence of improvements over past centuries.

  3. 1. Are you aware of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Have you read any
    of his books?

    No . But I wish I will.

    2. In your view, has Evolution stopped? Or, will humans continue
    to evolve?

    Humans need to continue evolving, the body needs constant adaptation , the eyes were receiving more light in the "actual" last 100 years than in the whole history of the humanity , our organism still spares and saves fat we don’t need, we eat refined food we are not prepared to process as sugar, cooked meat, etc. We introduce antibiotics to fight against our own defenses and expose ourselves to threats far more subtle and dangerous than in the past; I mean , you only need to hide from a tiger to be saved , but there is no place you can hide to avoid the flu, just to mention any.

    3. Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue
    to fight and eventually obliterate themselves?
    4. Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing
    Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?

    I have a lot of problems with questions 3 & 4 since answers may sound either politically correct ( that I am not ) or deadly pessimistic ( that I am not neither).

    If humans will evolve to a better future , sounds to me possible , but we may need to discuss how long and what will be the price to pay to accomplish this. My personal feeling is that the road to this is longer and the prices far more expensive than we can imagine.

    5. What are your own views of the future of humanity?

    As said before , we have a very long road to run, full of uncertainties and challenges we will never be prepared to tackle; one solution leads to an another problem, as solutions for human problems (unfortunately we always talk about technological solutions) normally go against nature.

    6. Please add your own comments.

    It is good to have the chance to discuss this ; I look forward reading lot of comments that disagree with mine.

  4. Teilhard is one of my favorite philosophers/theologians. Thanks for bringing up.

    The Laws of Thermodynamics only apply to a closed system. What if there exists and open system of which the closed universe is just a part? This would be the part where God exists. After all, God exists outside the universe--of necessity because God created it.

    Let that idea ferment for a while ;-)

    1. Gary :

      With my atheist friends, my primary argument explaining God is: "Who caused the Big Bang?"

      You bring up an interesting idea about the Universe being part of a larger system.

      Please read my 2014, "Creation Allegory":
      which explains why God created the Universe.

      I'll appreciate your further comments on that.

  5. 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?
    All life is evolving, moving towards the Light,
    towards Buddhahood, towards Christhood

    Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue to fight endlessly and eventually obliterate themselves?
    No, this is contrary to moving towards the Light

    Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?
    Very optimistic. Despite what we see, humanity
    is far less brutal than even 100 years ago.

    What are your own views of the future of humanity?
    We are becoming more conscious each day. All life
    is becoming more conscious. Every time we look at
    a flower with intention, the flower draws us towards the Light and we draw the flower towards the Light.

    Please add your own comments and views.
    Humanity is now in the lead. If we fail and destroy
    our species, another will take our place. It might
    take 500,000 years. Just a drop in the bucket of
    time as our Earth is over 4 billion years and the known Universe is over 13 billion years.

  6. Jim, I believe "humanity" is evolving in a positive direction. We continue to build on our technology and social progression to a better future.

    I don't believe the same is true for humans. You mention:
    ---"Human intelligence, judgment, skills, inventiveness"

    According to science of evolution, the following is true:

    For humans to evolve to higher intelligence, the majority of babies must be born to parents of above average intelligence. For humans to evolve to higher judgement, the majority of babies must be born to parents of above average judgement. For humans to evolve to higher skills, the majority of babies must be born to parents of above average skills. For humans to evolve to higher inventiveness, the majority of babies must be born to parents of above average inventiveness.

    None of these requirements are being met, as a result humans are not evolving in a positive direction. However, "humanity" is still improving as a result of our social evolution.

  7. I was always taught that the only static systems are dead ones, so yes, humans and humanity will continue to co-evolve with...

  8. 1. Are you aware of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin? Have you read any of his books?

    Have read his 3 philosophical books:
    "The Future of Man"
    "The Phenomenon of Man"
    "The Divine Mileau"

    2. In your view, has Evolution stopped? Or, will humans continue to evolve?

    There are a number of studies that have been published over the last few years demonstrating the evolution is still at work. Since evolutionary change occurs very slowly, one needs many generations to see noticeable changes. However, there are recent studies that demonstrate genetic changes. For example:

    "The findings, detailed online today (April 30) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, add to accumulating evidence of our continued evolution. For instance, past research has suggested the human brain has been shrinking over the past 5,000 years. Another study of an island population in Quebec found a genetic push toward a younger age at first reproduction and larger families."

    With a little research, one can understand in what ways biological evolution is still taking place.

    3. Is your view of the Future negative? Will humans continue to fight and eventually obliterate themselves?

    I have a positive view of the future. I see humans continuing their development as discussed in Kurzweil, gradually increasing their life span, and some day spreading throughout the universe.

    4. Is your view of the Future positive? Will there be increasing Cooperation, Peace and Harmony?

    Yes, I believe so. Read the book, "The Better Angels of our Nature."

    5. What are your own views of the future of humanity?

    In a few words, human beings will gradually overthrow irrational beliefs and learn to live rational lives. There will be many ups and down on this road. But the future is a bright as it was in Galt's Gulch.