The term “noosphere” was coined by the French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Here is how he described it in Chapter 10 of his collection of essays, The Future of Man:
“…a particular biological entity such as has never before existed on earth—the growth, outside and above the biosphere, of an added planetary layer, an envelope of thinking substance, to which, for the sake of convenience and symmetry, I have given the name of the Noosphere.”
Human Energy initiated this project, Science of the Noosphere, to conduct research that would place the ideas described in Chapter 10 — titled “The Formation of the Noosphere: A Plausible Biological Interpretation of Human History” — on solid scientific ground. You can find an excellent illustrated explanation of the noosphere’s central ideas on another part of this site.
Teilhard foresaw — even in an age when computers were rare, still filling large rooms, and television was in its infancy — that electronic information and communication technologies would inevitably merge, bringing humanity together in collective consciousness. He envisioned a superorganism, consisting of human culture and technology, that encircled the planet in a sphere of thought, as described here:
“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.”
Science of the Noosphere is an effort to “observe the world by the light it sheds” — based on scientific research and real world events that have taken place in the 75 years since Teilhard wrote his essay. The scientists, historians, psychologists, economists, and philosophers who participate in these conversations each bring their own perspectives to bear on “the great ensemble of everyday phenomena with which we’ve always lived.”
Teilhard regarded his purely scientific worldview as a metamorphosis of the Christian religion, capable of evolving a harmonious society at the global scale. This gave his writing an uplifting quality that causes him to be widely read and beloved to this day. He has largely been forgotten by scientists, however, even though he was highly respected as a scientist during his day.
That’s a shame, because many of Teilhard’s predictions about the future of humanity are coming to pass. The time has come to place his concept of the Noosphere on a modern scientific foundation.
The project is directed by David Sloan Wilson, one of the foremost living evolutionary scientists who, like Teilhard, includes all aspects of humanity in addition to the biological world as within his scientific purview. He is collaborating on the project with filmmaker Alan Honick. The research being conducting under Science of the Noosphere will serve as the basis for a documentary film, currently in development.
In this series of video conversations, Wilson interviews some of the world’s greatest scientists and intellectuals on the full arc of Teilhard’s vision, including:
- The formation of the universe.
- The origin of life.
- Major transitions in the scale of biological organisms.
- The origin of humans.
- Increase in the scale of societies in human history, leading up to the present.
- The future of humanity in the Internet Age.
All of this can be understood from an evolutionary perspective, as Teilhard was among the first to appreciate. Each conversation is available as a video recording and print transcript.
In addition to the series of conversations, Wilson has written a review article titled “Reintroducing Teilhard de Chardin to Modern Evolutionary Science”, which will be published with commentaries in the academic journal Religion, Brain, and Behavior. A preprint of the article is available here. Thanks to the Science of the Noosphere project, the concept of the Noosphere can be placed firmly on a modern scientific foundation.
We have also created a report on our project’s findings. It features selected segments of the conversations as they relate to sections of Chapter 10 — the birth, anatomy, physiology, stages, and future of the noosphere. Just click the button below to access that report.
There are 24 conversations in the Science of the Noosphere series, on separate pages that can be viewed by clicking the buttons below. Each page has an introduction that explains the context of the conversation and its relationship to the Science of the Noosphere. Beneath that introductory text is the video of the conversation, and beneath the video is a link to a PDF file of the full transcript.
1. Major Evolutionary Transitions
2. Origin of Life
3. Origin of Multicellularity
4. Cancer, Cheating, and Cell Communication
5. Insect Superorganisms
6. Human Origins
7. Indigenous Views of Society
8. Human Groups as Organisms
9. Origins of Democracy in Classical Greece
10. Expanding Scale of Human Society
11. Coevolution of Humans and Technology
12. Noopolitik and Realpolitik
13. Teilhard and the Noosphere
14. The Global Brain
15. Smart Cities
16. A Brain of Brains
17. The Global Commons
18. Collective Consciousness
19. Evolution of Technology
20. Collective Consciousness and the Web
21. Risks and Benefits of AI
22. Wikipedia as Superorganism
23. Cosmological Evolution
24. Envisioning the Future Through Story