March 1997

Root Page of Article: Teilhard de Chardin and the Noosphere, by Rev. Phillip J. Cunningham, C.S.P.

Origins of Civilization

As he did in Phenomenon, Teilhard affirms that civilization "is ultimately, simply zoological 'specialization' extended to an animal group (man) in which one particular influence (the psychic) suddenly begins to assume a predominant part in the ramification of the phylum. From this point of view the formation of tribes, nations, empires, and finally of the modern state, is simply a prolongation of the mechanism which produced animal species." (1973, p. 87) Noogenesis is truly an evolutionary process.

Nevertheless, Teilhard was aware that when one applies the evolutionary paradigm to noogenesis there are a significance differences. "First among these is that, since the older chromosomic heredity is now partnered by an 'educational,' extra-individual, heredity, the preservation and accumulation of the acquired suddenly assumes an importance in biogenesis of the first order." We now have Lamarkian (inheritance of acquired characteristics) and Darwinian evolutions combined.

Not unrelated, certainly, to this "educational" heredity is an evolutionary phenomenon unique to noogenesis, "the confluence of branches" (p. 89) After an initial phase of ramification, one species alone, homo sapiens, survives. Civilizations now seems to be on the same path. At first, there was ramification giving rise to some twenty-one distinct civilizations, largely isolated from one another. Like animal species most are extinct or vestigial. Still there remained and remains resistance to the homogenization of culture. Indeed, there seems to be a growing effort to preserve a plurality of cultures.

Yet, in Teilhard's view this resistance is yielding to crucial forces. One he speaks of is "ethnic compression the mainspring or initial motive force of the whole phenomena." (p. 97) In brief, "the human population is coming close to saturation point on the closed surface of our planet." Under such pressure, one would expect some sort of rearrangement, some change in structures. These, Teilhard believed, could be seen in the new "economico-technical organization" of the planet, the industrial revolution being an earlier example. Incidentally, since compression is the "motive force" we would expect such transitions to generate a certain amount of violence. "It is not, in itself, surprising that a rise in 'psychic temperature' should automatically accompany a better social arrangement." (p. 98)

As in Phenomenon, Teilhard turns his attention to what is to come. The ever more complex social arrangements produced by the above compression signals as well a change in human consciousness; the noosphere evolves. "This super-compression, in turn, automatically a super-organization, and that again a super-'consciousisation': that, in turn, is followed by super-super compression, and so the process continues." (p. 99) A multiplicity of stages in noogenesis lie before us. ^

Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact