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Teilhard De Chardin - Omega Point: An Inquiry into Human Consciousness and the Evolution of Man
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2012-08-03 10:55:43
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“We are about to enter a ‘collective super consciousness,’ a higher civilization with character- istics which are definitely spiritual.”                                                                          

                                                                    --Teilhard De Chardin (in The Divine Milieu)

On July 26, 2012 a perceptive Ovi article by Martin LeFevre titled “Inquiry: the Glacier Within” ends with this urgent inquiry “So since the inner determines the outer, it’s very important to find out: Are the glaciers of darkness within melting or not? If they are, global warming would be halted, and the earth would restore its natural equilibrium. Many people are saying it’s already too late, but they’re wrong.”

In the comment section following this piece there is a short exchange where I point out Berkley’s philosophical insight that to be is to be perceived and that were we to disappear as a species the universe would go on with all its grandeur and beauty because there would still be an Observer. I also delineated there two major points of agreement with Mr. LeFevre on the issue of human consciousness, Western Enlightenment and rationality.

A third point of agreement could be that final assertion where Mr. LeFevre asserts that “they’re wrong.” I too think that those who think it is too late are wrong. Indeed not to think so is in effect to acknowledge that the ice is too strong to melt and consequently we are all doomed to extinction as a species. Serendipitously, on the same day Ovi published another article by David Sparenberg which deals in a poetical mode with the issue of human extinction.

There was however a philosopher who in the first half of the 20th century developed a whole philosophy of the evolution of Man and can provide us with an initial provisionary hopeful answer to Mr. LeFevre’s inquiry. I refer to Teilhard De Chardin (1881-1955). Some seven years ago, one of the first articles I contributed to Ovi was in fact on De Chardin. See: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/1812 for a perusing of the article. In it I point out among other things that De Chardin is the thinker/scientist who more than any other within modernity confronted the ongoing and open-ended process of evolution, which some positivists had seen as the final proof of the irrelevance of Man in the cosmos. He places Man right back into the center of the picture. He reaffirms value and quality within a positivistic science dedicated to quantifying and measuring and reducing Man to a mere function. He affirms that without Man God's face cannot be fully manifested in his evolving creation. For De Chardin Man is nothing short than the locus of the divine epiphany. For in Man the universe has become conscious of itself. And as a Jesuit priest that he was, he was certainly not talking about the god of Plato or Aristotle, the god of the philosophers, but more properly the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac.

In that article I also point out that De Chardin did not know Vico, but had he known him he would have welcomed his constant insistence that "self-knowledge" is not only the key to Man but also the key to nature; which is to say, knowledge of Man to himself, man narrating to himself his own story as he develops cosmologically and historically from the Big Bang to today. Man is his own history as Vico put it. Indeed Francis of Assisi had it right all along when he affirms that the sun is literally our brother (see his poem "The Canticle of Brother Sun" which is learned by every grammar school child in Italy and is none other than the cornerstone of post-medieval Italian humanism). To know Man and his historical evolution is to know everything. This is science that, unlike positivism, has not forgotten its humanistic roots.

The most important works of De Chardin are: Let me Explain, The Appearance of Man, The Divine Milieu, The Future of Man, How I Believe, The Making of a Mind,Man’s Place in Nature, The Phenomenon of Man, Science and Christ, The Vision of the Past, Building the Earth. Simply surveying those titles gives the reader an inkling of the horizon of De Chardin’s cultural anthropology.

In The Divine Milieu De Chardin announces that Man is presently at a crucial point of evolutionary change. He compares it to the point Man was at a million or so years ago when human consciousness broke through and Man ceased to be an ape. Here we hear echoes of Nietzsche's “Superman,” although Nietzsche misguidedly rejects Christianity as the religion of the weak. In any case, within the Christian tradition this can be defined as an "eschatological event." De Chardin prefers to call it "history about to face the transcendent." Transcendence and immanence seems to coalesce here. Here too we have unmistakable echoes of Vico's concept of Providence which encompasses at the same time both transcendence and immanence. They are not "either or" as rigorous Cartesian logic would dictate, but "both and." De Chardin would further declare that we are entering into the "planetization of mankind," as Man is now ready for "totalization" as a collective task; which is to say, the use of science and technology to humanize and spiritualize matter, thus preparing it for the advent of Christ. This is of course what Christendom has traditionally called "The Parousia." In more secular terms we now talk of "globalization." Obviously this “New Man” is gambling all on the future, albeit De Chardin does not consider its advent deterministic but a mere option. It is intriguing that the word for faith in Hebrew literally means "hope in the future." This is indeed a novantiqua scheme encompassing the yesterday and the tomorrow, the old and the new.

The above preamble leads directly to De Chardin’s “Omega Point,” as a way of explaining the marvelous possibilities still open to humankind which De Chardin sees as heading for an exciting convergence of systems,  that point where the coalescence of consciousness will lead us to a new state of peace and planetary unity. Long before ecology was fashionable, he saw this unity as being based intrinsically upon the spirit of the Earth: "The Age of Nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the Earth."  

Teilhard de Chardin passed away a full ten years before James Lovelock ever proposed the "Gaia Hypothesis" which suggests that the Earth is actually a living being, a colossal biological super-system. Yet Chardin's writings clearly reflect the sense of the Earth as having its own autonomous personality, and being the prime center and director of our future -- a strange attractor, if you will -- that will be the guiding force for the synthesis of humankind.
In Building the Earth De Chardin writes that "The phrase 'Sense of the Earth' should be understood to mean the passionate concern for our common destiny which draws the thinking part of life ever further onward... We have reached a crossroads in human evolution where the only road which leads forward is towards a common passion. . . To continue to place our hopes in a social order achieved by external violence would simply amount to our giving up all hope of carrying the Spirit of the Earth to its limits."

To this end, he suggested that the Earth in its evolutionary unfolding, was growing a new organ of consciousness, called the noosphere. The noosphere is analogous on a planetary external  level to the evolution of the cerebral cortex in humans. The noosphere is a "planetary thinking network" -- an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary communication. At the time of his writing, computers of any merit were the size of a city block, and the Internet was, if anything, an element of speculative science fiction. Yet this evolution is indeed coming to pass, and with a rapidity, that in Gaia time, is but a mere passage of seconds. In these precious moments, the planet is developing her cerebral cortex, and emerging into self-conscious awakening. We are indeed approaching the Omega point that Teilhard de Chardin was so excited about.

This convergence however, though it was predicted to occur through a global information network, was not a convergence of merely minds or bodies -- but of heart. "It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. . . . Humanity. . . is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?" That is to say that the iceberg within may indeed be melting after all, and it is not too late for human kind; or to put it another way, the conspiracy of hope is alive and well.

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Murray Hunter2012-08-03 12:21:52
Perhaps human consciousness is evolving from a physical/earthy based awareness based more upon our tactile senses & feelings to a virtual based consciousness more orientated towards sight stimulii and emotion. Gen Y & Z may be losing their empathy with the physical environment around them and replacing this with a virtual type of empathy via persona, alter ego type avatars that are able to face uncertainty better than the person inside. The virtual consciousness is a shield against these metaphoric glaciers and thus dont exist as any perceived threat as the virtual community is one big defence mechanism where news and shock is virtually sanitized for protection. This will bring whole sets of new values, beliefs, assumptions, & indeed aspirations of the emerging generations, so different from the generations that have gone by. Darwin called it evolution.

Emanuel Paparella2012-08-03 15:04:35
Indeed, professor Hunter, Darwin called it evolution but the real philosophical issue underlying the present crisis of human kind is predicated on how we conceive of evolution. Is it a deterministic phenomenon as most science is, devoid of freedom and human cooperation or do we remain free to choose our destiny as a species? I think that is what De Chardin was driving at when he reminded us that the convergence he called Omega Point had to go beyond being a union of intellects; it had to be one a union of hearts,for once we have destroyed our humanity in the name of a superior "enlightened" viewpoint, the game is pretty much over. The only silver lining then would be to remember with Berkeley that to be is to be perceived and even if, despite evolution, we disappear as a species, the universe will remain in all its mystery, beauty and grandeur.

Emanuel Paparella2012-08-03 18:11:28

A footnote: De Chardin is a philosopher of cultural anthropology very much aware that Janus-like human beings can project a future only by attending to the past and what has made us what we are presently; they need to envision the novantiqua. It is indeed possible to drive a car without a rear view mirror but it can also be dangerous. When Henry Ford says “history is bunk” he is revealing that an attitude that is typical of his times and those have been fashioned by particular events in history. In present literary-historicist terminology which begins with Vico, goes through Hegel all the way to Croce and Gadamer, this is called hermeneutics, the constant reinterpretation of past events in the light of the present and the future. For anybody wandering what hermeneutics might be you may wish to peruse the following linked article. http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/8267

Your new Ovi book!2012-08-07 19:24:55
Emanuel, good day & warm greetings. Congratulations on your recently published OVI book. Just learned of it this morning and look forward to reader. Best wishes in friendship with respect & appreciation. -David

Student2012-08-28 10:30:49
My understanding is that "De Chardin" is more commonly (and properly) referred to as "Teilhard"

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