Collective Consciousness and the Web

← Science of the Noosphere Main Page

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Francis Heylighen collaborated with Shima Beigi on a research paper about the noosphere’s response to the global crisis. The paper is titled Collective Consciousness Supported by the Web: Healthy or Toxic? A full text PDF of the paper can be downloaded here. Francis and Shima are both based at the Center Leo Apostel (CLEA) for transdisciplinary studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University of Brussels).

CLEA is part of an international effort initiated, funded, and directed by Human Energy to provide a scientific foundation for a theory of the noosphere. Their research builds on the related concepts of the Global Brain and the distributed intelligence of the Internet. In addition, CLEA is working with HEP to develop an integrated, meaningful, science-based worldview called the Third Story.

In the paper, they look at the online conversation around the COVID-19 pandemic to examine how collective consciousness is functioning today. The paper’s abstract:

“We define the noosphere as the conscious level of the web, where global conversations are being held about collective challenges. To understand its dynamics, we review three neuroscientific theories of consciousness: information integration, adaptive resonance, and global workspace. These suggest that conscious thoughts are characterized by a “resonant”, self-maintaining pattern of circulating information. This pattern should be sufficiently stable to be examined and dependably stored, yet sufficiently plastic to adapt to new input. The self-organizing dynamics of ideas circulating on the web, however, may settle in an attractor that is too resistant to accommodate new information. This results in a closed, toxic form of collective consciousness exemplified by conspiracy theories. We review the global discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic to illustrate healthy and unhealthy forms of noospheric consciousness. We then argue for the need to promote the healthy form via the modeling of the dynamics of idea prop agation and the dissemination of narratives promoting open conversation.”

Teilhard used analogy to envision the noosphere’s anatomy. Since all organisms have fundamental functional needs at every level of life’s hierarchy—from microorganisms to multicellular animals, and superorganisms such as social insect colonies as well.

For example, Teilhard wrote that it’s “legitimate to talk in the sphere of economics of the existence and development of a circulatory or a nutritional system applicable to Mankind as a whole.” In October 2021, we’re experiencing how appropriate that analogy is. Our economic circulatory system of global trade is experiencing arteriosclerosis as transportation routes become blocked and supply chains are drying up.

The noosphere’s current circulatory problems are of course secondary symptoms caused by COVID-19. The pandemic rapidly and radically altered supply and demand for numerous economic goods. Even as the pandemic itself begins to recede, those secondary symptoms are growing worse.

Whereas the functioning of the human immune system is mediated by biological processes that have been coevolving with our bodies for millions of years, the noospheric immune system — its ability to coordinate global response to the the pandemic — is mediated by the emerging global brain of the World Wide Web—a relatively recent technological innovation whose ability to coordinate collective action at global scale is imperfect at best.

In this conversation, Francis and Shima discuss the noosphere’s response to the pandemic and theories of collective consciousness more generally with Science of the Noosphere’s David Sloan Wilson.

Francis Heylighen and Shima Beigi Transcript