Birth and Zoological Structure of the Noosphere

Excerpts from Chapter 10

  • “But at the human level a radical change, seemingly due to the spiritual phenomenon of Reflection, overtook this law of development. It is generally accepted that what distinguishes man psychologically from other living creatures is the power acquired by his consciousness of turning in upon itself. The animal knows, it has been said; but only man, among animals, knows that he knows. This faculty has given birth to a host of new attributes in men—freedom of choice, foresight, the ability to plan and to construct, and many others. So much is clear to everyone. But what has perhaps not been sufficiently noted is that, still by virtue of this power of Reflection, living hominized elements become capable (indeed are under an irresistible compulsion) of drawing close to one another, of communicating, finally of uniting. The centers of consciousness, acquiring autonomy as they emerge into the sphere of reflection, tend to escape from their own phylum, which granulates into a line of individuals. Instead they pass tangentially into a field of attraction which forces one toward another, fiber to fiber, phylum to phylum: with the result that the entire system of zoological radiations which in the ordinary course would have culminated in a knot and a fanning out of new divergent lines, now tends to fold in upon itself. In time, with the reflexion of the individual upon himself, there comes an inflexion, then a clustering together of the living shoots, soon to be followed (because of the biological advantage which the group gains by its greater cohesion) by the spread of the living complex thus constituted over the whole surface of the globe.”

  • “Viewed in this aspect, entirely borne out by experience, the collective human organism which the economists so hazily envisage emerges decisively from the mists of speculation to take its place and assume the brilliance of a clearly defined star of the first magnitude in the zoological sky. Until this point was reached Nature, in her generalized effort of “complexification,” to which I shall return later, had failed for lack of suitable material to achieve any grouping of individuals outside the family structure (the termitary, the ant hill, the hive). With man, thanks to the extraordinary agglutinative property of thought, she has at last been able to achieve, throughout an entire living group, a total synthesis of which the process is still clearly apparent, if we trouble to look, in the “scaled” structure of the modern human world. Anthropologists, sociologists and historians have long noted, without being very well able to account for it, the enveloping and concretionary nature of the innumerable ethnic and cultural layers whose growth, expansion and rhythmic overlapping endow humanity with its present aspect of extreme variety in unity. This “bulbary” appearance becomes instantly and luminously clear if, as suggested above, we regard the human group, in zoological terms, as simply a normal sheaf of phyla in which, owing to the emergence of a powerful field of attraction, the fundamental divergent tendency of the evolutionary radiations is overcome by a stronger force inducing them to converge. In present-day mankind, within (as I call it) the Noosphere, we are for the first time able to contemplate, at the very top of the evolutionary tree, the result that can be produced by a synthesis not merely of individuals but of entire zoological shoots.”

  • “Thus we find ourselves in the presence, in actual possession, of the superorganism we have been seeking, of whose existence we were intuitively aware. The collective mankind which the sociologists needed for the furtherance of their speculations and formulations now appears scientifically defined, manifesting itself in its proper time and place, like an object entirely new and yet awaited in the sky of life. It remains for us to observe the world by the light it sheds, which throws into astonishing relief the great ensemble of everyday phenomena with which we have always lived, without perceiving their reality, their immediacy or their vastness.”

Excerpts from Science of the Noosphere Conversations


In this short clip, Terry Deacon explains how the strong interdependence that evolved in early human groups was a consequence of the ability to communicate symbolically, and gave rise to the Noosphere early in our species’ history.

Segment 1 Transcript


Evolutionary biologist Peter Richerson and psychologist Lesley Newson, coauthors of “A Story of Us”, discuss the social and ecological factors that led early humans to become super-cooperative, to evolve culturally as well as biologically, and how they began to use tools.

Segment 2 Transcript


Entomologist Deborah Gordon discusses the concepts of organism and superorganism in relationship to her work with ant colonies — how this “family structure” in a much simpler but highly cooperative species enables collective decision-making and version of a group mind.

Segment 3 Transcript


Psychologists Garriy Shteynberg and Jim Coan discuss a variety of factors that characterize human sociality, such as transactive memory and a collective self, aspects of our affinity for groups. David comments that the discussion shows the “amazing continuity between what we think of now as the Noosphere at some large scale (goes) all the way back to the origin of human consciousness.”

Segment 4 Transcript


Cosmologist Brian Thomas Swimme discusses his theory that “the universe is a self-assembling creativity aiming at community”, and relates this idea to the formation of the Noosphere.

Segment 5 Transcript