Anatomy of the Noosphere


Excerpts from Chapter 10


  • Once the exceptional, but fundamentally biological, nature of the collective human complex is accepted, nothing prevents us (provided we take into account the modifications which have occurred in the dimensions in which we are working) from treating as authentic organs the diverse social organisms which have gradually evolved in the course of the history of the human race.

  • The apparatus of heredity: “Separate the newborn child from human society,” you may say, “and you will see how weak he is!” But surely it is clear that this act of isolation is precisely what must not be done, and indeed cannot be done. From the moment when, as I have said, the phyletic strands began to reach toward one another, weaving the first outlines of the Noosphere, a new matrix, coextensive with the whole human group, was formed about the newly born human child—a matrix out of which he cannot be wrenched without incurring mutilation in the most physical core of his biological being. Traditions of every kind, hoarded and manifested in gesture and language, in schools, libraries, museums, bodies of law and religion, philosophy and science—everything that accumulates, arranges itself, recurs and adds to itself, becoming the collective memory of the human race—all this we may see as no more than an outer garment, an epiphenomenon precariously superimposed upon all the other edifices of Nature (the only truly organic ones, as it may appear): but it is precisely this optical illusion which we have to overcome if our realism is to reach to the heart of the matter.”

  • The mechanical apparatus: “The fact was noted long ago: what has enabled man zoologically to emerge and triumph upon earth, is that he has avoided the anatomical mechanization of his body. In all other animals we find a tendency, irresistible and clearly apparent, for the living creature to convert into tools, its own limbs, its teeth and even its face. We see paws turned into pincers, paws equipped with hooves for running, burrowing paws and muzzles, winged paws, beaks, tusks and so on—innumerable adaptations giving birth to as many phyla, and each ending in a blind alley of specialization. On this dangerous slope leading to organic imprisonment Man alone has pulled up in time. Having arrived at the tetrapod stage he contrived to stay there without further reducing the versatility of his limbs. Possessing hands as well as intelligence, and being able, in consequence, to devise artificial instruments and multiply them indefinitely without becoming somatically involved, he has succeeded, while increasing and boundlessly extending his mechanical efficiency, in preserving intact his freedom of choice and power of reason.

  • The cerebral apparatus. “Between the human brain, with its milliards of interconnected nerve cells, and the apparatus of social thought, with its millions of individuals thinking collectively, there is an evident kinship which biologists of the stature of Julian Huxley have not hesitated to examine and expand on critical lines. On the one hand we have a single brain, formed of nervous nuclei, and on the other a Brain of brains. It is true that between these two organic complexes a major difference exists. Whereas in the case of the individual brain thought emerges from a system of nonthinking nervous fibers, in the case of the collective brain each separate unit is in itself an autonomous center of reflection. If the comparison is to be a just one we must, at every point of resemblance, take this difference into account. But when all allowance is made the fact remains that the analogies between the two systems are so numerous, and so compelling, that reason forbids us to regard the parallel as either purely superficial or a mere matter of chance. Let us take a rapid glance at the structure and functioning of what might be termed the “cerebroid” organ of the Noosphere.”


Excerpts from Science of the Noosphere Conversations


David Sloan Wilson asks Francis Heylighen about the sense in which the elements of an organism contribute to the functioning of that organism as a whole, and Francis explains methods of coordination among agents within a system.

Segment 1 Transcript


Gregory Stock, author of “Metaman”, explains the role of technology in his own vision of the global superorganism that he first described in his 1993 book.

Segment 2 Transcript


Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson, authors of “A Story of Us”, a book about human origins, discuss cultural evolution, collective consciousness, and the view that human groups are a “problem-solving collective via the creation of culture.”

Segment 3 Transcript


Entomologist Deborah Gordon explores Teilhard’s concept of individual humans as the “neurons” of a global “Brain of brains”, by analogy with the collective behavior of individual ants as members of a colony.

Segment 4 Transcript


Francis Heylighen and David Sloan Wilson discuss the evolution and nature of the Noosphere from its origins to its current manifestations in the Internet Age.

Segment 5 Transcript


High level Wikipedia editor Anne Clin, who’s user name is Risker, discusses the unifying vision of providing accurate information to humanity that motivates Wikipedia editors around the world to contribute their time to this remarkable knowledge enterprise, which is tantamount to a lobe of the global brain.

Segment 6 Transcript