A central goal of our project is to update Teilhard’s vision of the Noosphere with scientific discoveries that have been made since his death in 1955. Most of that will involve new knowledge from fields such as evolutionary biology, anthropology, human history, cultural evolution, and technology. However, Brian Swimme, an evolutionary cosmologist on the graduate faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies, brings his unique expertise to that pursuit.
Brian reminds us that it’s not only the life and human sciences that have advanced since Teilhard’s time. In his forward to a new edition of “The Human Phenomenon”, Brian writes of an experience when he was visiting New York, and decided to go to the Jesuit cemetery where Teilhard is buried. His memories of that occasion speak of advances in astronomy and cosmology that validate and update Teilhard’s conception of the deep human connection with the universe itself:
“I stood there reflecting on the bones a few feet below me in his grave, and suddenly found myself thinking of the expansion of the universe and of how much Teilhard would have loved learning what we now know about this fiery birth. Had the expansion been even slightly different the universe would not have blossomed forth with such beauty: a slower expansion would have ended in a massive black hole; a faster expansion would have quickly become cold hard dust. Even after many discussions at scientific conferences organized around this amazing discovery and others like it, we do not yet know what to make of all this so-called “fine tuning” in the universe. Some physicists are even weary of discussing the matter. Teilhard, on the other hand, would be thrilled. The universe is about something. Thirteen billion years ago it was about giving birth to an expanding elegance that could stabilize the baryons and knit together hydrogen and helium. Twelve billion years ago it was about giving birth to galactic structures capable of fashioning the complexities of matter necessary for organic life and intelligence. In each moment the universe is about something new, something that had been but a dream until this moment now when the necessary conditions have been created for a new and stunning transformation.”
That passage serves as a perfect introduction for Brian’s conversation with David Sloan Wilson. David, an evolutionary biologist, tends to look at life as a watershed moment in cosmological evolution, and states this early in their talk. Brian explains why he thinks the universe has been, in his terms,“ aiming at” life and human consciousness since its fiery birth. Brian makes a fascinating case for this idea in the conversation embedded below.
Summary of Interview
David begins the conversation by asking Brian about his history with Teilhard’s writings, but after the introduction, at 1:13 Brian starts with an allegory that illustrates the sense in which he thinks the “universe is a self-assembling creativity aiming at community”.
After a brief discussion of those ideas, David asks again for more biographical detail, and how Brian came to encounter Teilhard’s ideas.
At 8:02, Brian explains he was introduced to Teilhard originally in high school, where he was educated by Jesuits, and from the beginning he saw science and a Teilhardian vision as coming together as a whole.
At 10:45, David expresses his thoughts that teaching evolution as envisioned by Teilhard provides inspiration and meaning that conventional methods of teaching evolution may not.
At 12:18, Brian talks about his thrill at being part at this moment, when all of this new knowledge is coming together to transform humanity’s conception of itself, and explains it terms of paradigm-shifting transformations such as the Copernican Revolution. He launches into a more detailed discussion of the idea that from the beginning, the universe was aiming at bringing forth life. He explains different theories of why we live in a universe where life exists.
At 17:50, he relates this more directly to Teilhard and the Noosphere. He explains in more detail the difference between the idea of systems—whether cosmological, biological, or conscious humans—that are “aiming at” some end, but not purposeful in the sense we normally think of that term.
At 22:34, Brian explains why this cosmic view truly bridges the divide David sees between the living and non-living worlds.
At 24:44, David comments how Brian’s perspective is eye-opening for him, but he sees that there is no rigid barrier—since non-life did in fact give rise to life. He adds that he sees a powerful spiritual aspect to looking at life and the universe in this way.
At 26:18, David brings in a more pragmatic question—what tools do we have at our disposal for expanding cooperation to global scale, and actually building a fully functional Noosphere from where we are now? Brian answers in two ways. One major challenge is to expand our sense of identity to the planet at large, instead of the many subgroups which we see ourselves as part of. The other is to take advantage of the powerful new communication tools the Noosphere offers—which is central to the mission of Human Energy, and which he and David are employing as they speak.