Cyberspace and the Dream of Teilhard de Chardin
by John R. Mabry
Progressive Catholics have long cherished Teilhard de Chardin and his unique
and mystical vision, and for those of us who have only recently discovered
the New Cosmology, his discovery is as great an epiphany as the encountering
of Hildegard, Julian of Norwich, or any of the other mystics who testify
to Divine immanence. Teilhard was a man possessed of rare vision who was
capable of remythologizing his faith to fit the "facts" that
his scientific studies convinced him of. His was not a God "out there"
who disapproved of humans hypothesizing about or even tampering with the
Creation. His God was an organic entity who lived and breathed the life
and breath of the Creation, a Creator who was simultaneously giving birth
to and being born from the magnificent organism of the universe. His views
are profoundly Creation-centered, and are worthy of our present consideration
not only because his thought was ahead of its time, but because his predictions;which
seemed so unlikely in his own time;are coming to pass unnoticed beneath
our very noses.
Chardin was not a psychologist, nor even a philosopher in the usual sense.
He was a priest and mystic, but he was also a scientist, to whom the concept
of evolution held as much weight as scripture. "Evolution" is
the basis for Chardin's entire cosmology. Not, as Darwinian evolution would
have it, a random product, or the "survival of the fittest,"
but an evolution planned and guided by divine agency. "The magic word
'evo-lution' which haunted my thoughts like a tune," he writes, "was
to me like unsatisfied hunger, like a promise held out to me, like a summons
to be answered." Chardin's universe is one of continuous and interwoven
evolutionary threads, incorporating plants, animals, the planet, the cosmos,
and, most peculiar to him, not merely the physical and mental evolution
of humankind, but our spiritual ascent as well. Michael Murray in The Thought
of Teilhard de Chardin writes, "In Teilhard's hands the theory of
evolution, far from diminishing man by relating him to the apes, as so
many churchmen used to fear, actually re-establishes him at the moving
apex of time-space, well above the fixed central position which he lost
in the Copernican revolution." In Teilhard's estimation, humankind
is the crowning achievement of the universe, because it is in us, and as
far as we yet know, only in us, that the Creation has become self-aware.
Our eyes are the eyes through which the Earth finally beholds her own beauty,
and, just as importantly, knows that she beholds it. Human beings are not
above the Creation, but are themselves the Creation;that part of the Creation
that is self- conscious.
The evolutionary ascent of human beings occurs, according to Chardin's
theory, in two stages of what he calls "planetization." The first
stage is the "Go forth and multiply" stage, in which humanity
expanded, in both quantity (in the very number of persons), and in quality
(psychological and spiritual development). As Blanche Marie Gallagher,
B.V.M., explains in her introduction to her Meditations With Teilhard de
Chardin, "During the long period of expansion, physical and cultural
differences isolated the peoples of the Earth from each other as they spread
to fill the Earth. At the beginning of our present century, with most of
the habitable surface of the Earth occupied, the races began to converge.
Through technology, tangential energy becomes evident in the response of
the people across the Earth to each other; people are sharing their wars,
their coronations, their concerns. Thus the law of complexity-consciousness
We have reached the end of the expanding, or "diversity" stage,
and are now entering the contracting, or "unifying" stage. At
this point, Chardin's theory runs completely counter to Darwin's, in that
the success of humanity's evolution in the second stage will not be determined
by "survival of the fittest," but by our own capacity to converge
and unify. The most important initial evolutionary leap of the convergence
stage is the formation of what Chardin termed "the Noosphere."
It's formation, as Michael Murray explains, begins with "a global
network of trade, communications, accumulation, and exchange of knowledge,
cooperative research ...all go into the weaving of the material support
for a sphere of collective thought. In the field of science alone, no individual
knows more than a tiny fraction of the sum of scientific knowledge, and
each scientist is dependent not only for his education but for all his
subsequent work on the traditions and resources which are the collective
possession of an entire international society composed of the living and
the dead. Just as Earth once covered itself with a film of interdependent
living organisms which we call the biosphere, so mankind's combined achievements
are forming a global network of collective mind."
"The idea," writes Chardin, "is that of the Earth not only
covered by myriads of grains of thought, but enclosed in a single thinking
envelope so as to form a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale,
the plurality of individual reflections grouping themselves together and
reinforcing one another in the act of a single unanimous reflection."
One hesitates to invoke the terms "group-mind" or "hive
mentality," but they are, perhaps, leaps made by far less developed
creatures than we that presage our own ascent. We know that such a thing
can and does exist in a variety of species, especially ants, migratory
birds, and others. We also know the evidence regarding the "hundredth
monkey" (once a learned behavior is taught to a significant portion
of a population ;in this famous example, of monkeys;the behavior becomes
instinctual even for those completely isolated from the community which
acquired the behavior). If C.G. Jung has given us the notion of the "collective
unconscious," Chardin, then, speaks of the "collective conscious."
Chardin waxes poetic (as he often does) when he describes it: "Noosphere
...the living membrane which is stretched like a film over the lustrous
surface of the star which holds us. An ultimate envelope taking on its
own individuality and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura.
This envelope was not only conscious, but thinking...the Very Soul of the
Earth." Not only are our bodies the stuff of the Earth's body, but
our minds are the consciousness of this being, the Earth. We have supposed
that we are individuals, yet we "are dust, and to dust ye shall return."
We have supposed our minds are our own, that even if the Earth is conscious
of herself in us, she is conscious of being many little selves; but perhaps,
as theorists in the field of transpersonal psychology suggest, we are mistaken.
Chardin, in fact, argues that it must be so, that "what we are aware
of is only the nucleus which is ourselves. The interaction of souls would
be incomprehensible if some Aura' did not extend from one to the other,
something proper to each one and common to all." Chardin believes,
too, that this consciousness is not only psychological, but of the greatest
spiritual importance, as well. "Nothing is precious," he says,
"except that part of you which is in other people, and that part of
others which is in you. Up there, on high, everything is one."
The Noosphere is a fascinating and intriguing idea, one that many of us
desperately want, on some level, to be true. But as we have been describing
it thus far, it seems little more than science fiction. How is it that
such an awesome phenomenon could possibly come to be? Amazingly, Teilhard
predicts the evolution of a machine that hardly even existed in his time
beyond being a glorified abacus: the computer. "Here I am thinking,"
he writes in Man's Place in Nature, "of those astonishing electronic
machines (the starting-point and hope of the young science of cybernetics),
by which our mental capacity to calculate and combine is reinforced and
multiplied by a process and to a degree that herald as astonishing advances
in this direction as those that optical science has already produced for
our power of vision." Teilhard's vision of what computers would do
for us is twofold. First, computers will achieve the completion of our
brains, in that there would be the instantaneous retrieval of information
around the globe. Second, computers will improve our brains by facilitating
processes more quickly than our own resources can achieve them.
It is also interesting that Chardin predicts the use of the prefix "cyber"
in regards to the computer/human matrix, since "cyber" is all
the rage in computering circles. In fact, what can be seen as the progenitor
of Teilhard's Noosphere is now being termed "Cyberspace" by the
computer press, in reference to that mystical field of inter-connecting
computer pathways wherein all of the exchanges are made. As Michael Benedikt
describes it in his Collected Abstracts from the First Conference on Cyberspace,
"Cyberspace is a globally networked, computer-sustained, computer-accessed,
and computer-generated, multi-dimensional, artificial, or Virtual' reality.
In this world, onto which every computer screen is a window, actual, geographical
distance is irrelevant. Objects seen or heard are neither physical nor,
necessarily, presentations of physical objects, but are rather;in form,
character, and action;made up of data, of pure information. This information
is derived in part from the operation of the natural, physical world, but
is derived primarily from the immense traffic of symbolic information,
images, sounds, and people, that constitute human enterprise in science,
art, business, and culture."
The form most of these exchanges take is the computer "bulletin board."
On this, any person with the simplest of computers and a modem can call
a central, master computer with which literally any number of other users
may be linked. Once connected, a person may receive or distribute messages
on any given topic to one or a million people. As John Barlow describes
it, "In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it,
one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You
can see what your neighbors are saying (or recently said), but not what
either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are
continuous and discussions range on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation
schedules." ("Trouble in Cyberspace," The Humanist Sept/Oct
The extent of these data expressways is staggering. There are literally
thousands of individual bulletin boards around the world, and nearly all
of them are linked by one incredible, global network, the Internet. Sounding
like some sinister creation of an Ian Fleming villain, the Internet links
more than 8,000 separate bulletin boards and networks, accommodating ten
million people around the world. As Jon Katz notes in Rolling Stone, "Nobody
can even calculate how much information is on it, what its boundaries are
or who will eventually control it. It contains entire scientific and academic
archives, complex networks from aeronautics and African wildlife to the
CIA World Factbook. Companies share data between different offices, and
hundred of libraries in dozens of countries are putting their catalogs
on it. ("Bulletin Boards: News from Cyberspace," Rolling Stone,
April 15, 1993)
Those who study such things predict that the users of Internet are likely
to double each year. Vinton Cerf, designer of the Internet system, says
that by the year 2000, there will be more than 100 million users. "This
kind of reaching out from anywhere in the world," he says in Katz'
article, "has got to change the way we think about our world. It will
become critical for everyone to be connected. Anyone who isn't will essentially
be isolated from the world." And perhaps, in Darwinian terms, be selected
out of the emerging node of evolution.
In light of developments such as computer bulletin boards and "super-
information highways" like the Internet, Teilhard's fantastic notions
don't seem so fantastic. He is, it turns out, the unsung prophet of our
collective future. It is time that we begin to look forward to what these
developments are going to mean to us personally, developmentally. Chardin
says that "Humankind is now caught up, as though in a train of gears,
at the heart of a continually accelerating vortex of self-totalization."
We need to consider how the inevitable changes in our nature are going
to affect us as individuals, spiritually, psychologically, and pathologically.
One advantage, though, to facing what is happening to us is that we can
stop "groping about" in the dark, and take conscious control
of our evolution to speed it on its way.
We are, therefore, in the latter twentieth century, at the threshold of
another great leap in evolution, the contraction and unification of the
human species, the construction of the Noosphere, the focusing of our psychic
energies. "The powers that we have released," Chardin states
in Human Energy, "could not possibly be absorbed by the narrow system
of individual or national units which the architects of the human Earth
have hitherto used. The age of nations has passed. Now unless we wish to
perish we must shake off our old prejudices and build the Earth."
(Italics mine.) How we accomplish this is by correcting our errant perception
of reality as being made up of separate units. Chardin insists that "to
love is to discover and complete one's self in someone other than oneself,
an act impossible of general realization on Earth so long as each can see
in the neighbor no more than a closed fragment following its own course
through the world. It is precisely this state of isolation that will end
if we begin to discover in each other not merely the elements of one and
the same thing, but of a single Spirit in search of Itself."
The result of such a realization is the Noosphere, towards which we are
moving even now, via our cybernetic interconnections, know it or not, like
it or not, want it or not. As our consciousness of unity progresses, the
standard of morality will eventually not be placed on the maintenance of
private property, but upon the health of the Whole, which will become more
and more perceptible to us as Noogenesis unfolds. Chardin himself admits
that "these perspectives will appear absurd to those who don't see
that life is, from its origins, groping, adventurous, and dangerous. But
these perspectives will grow, like an irresistible idea on the horizon
of new generations." Indeed, it seems less and less absurd as this
very process unfolds before us.
John R. Mabry is a doctoral student at the California Institute of Integral
Studies and former managing editor of Creation Spirituality magazine.
The previous article appeared in Creation Spirituality Magazine,
Summer 1994 issue (this text was downloaded from America Online)
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