Science of the Noosphere

This section of the HEP website validates Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the Noosphere from a modern scientific perspective. Here is how Teilhard described the concept 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.”

Teilhard’s writing on the Noosphere reflects the fact that he was both a respected scientist and a Jesuit priest. As a priest, his writing has an uplifting quality that causes him to be widely read and beloved to this day. As a scientist, he was largely forgotten by evolutionary biologists during the 2nd half of the 20th century. This is in part because evolutionary biology became narrowly centered on genetic evolution during a period called the Modern Synthesis. According to the Modern Synthesis, evolution has no purpose. Organisms simply vary and the immediate environment does the selecting. And the Modern Synthesis had little to say about human cognition or cultural evolution, which are central to Teilhard’s concept of the Noosphere.

More recent developments in evolutionary science are now much more favorable to Teilhard’s point of view. Darwinian evolution is now defined as any process that combines the three ingredients of variation, selection, and replication. This includes personal and cultural evolution in addition to genetic evolution. And the expanding scale of human society, which is undeniable, is now being understood in formal evolutionary terms much as Teilhard envisioned. Looking forward, we can indeed anticipate a global superorganism made possible by technology, although this is by no means inevitable, as Teilhard also acknowledged.

In short, while no historical figure can fully anticipate the path of scientific inquiry, Teilhard was far ahead of his time and deserves to be read for his scientific insights in addition to his uplifting message that we are moving and can consciously evolve a better world for ourselves and the rest of life on earth.

The Science of the Noosphere will restore Teilhard’s status as a scientist and the legitimacy of the major tenets of his thought through scientific publications and a series of interviews and workshops with leading experts. The project is led by David Sloan Wilson and Alan Honick, in collaboration with other scientists associated with HEP. David is a major contributor to the more general formulation of Darwinism mentioned above and Alan is a documentary filmmaker who has become thoroughly steeped in the topic. Together, their interviews will bring the Noosphere to life as a modern scientific concept for a large audience.

A good place to start this journey is David’s recent article that sets the stage for our project: Reintroducing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to Modern Evolutionary Science. It provides a good grounding for the conversations that are posted below. Each of the conversations provides insight into the Science of the Noosphere. Each of the images is a button that takes you to that page.