Wayfarer of Mind: a Review of Teilhard De Chardin’s The Phenomenon Of Man.

 

De Chardin is in a unique place in the world of speculative physics and metaphysics. As a catholic priest and scientist, De Chardin is a foundational thinker for what would later be the new age movement. His magnum opus takes the Nietzschean task presented by Zarathustra, being the sentiment that “man shall be overcome” into an evolutionary and spiritual direction[1]. The novel concept in the work is what he calls the “Noosphere”, an invisible but acutely felt stratosphere, it is a layer of thinking, a collective consciousness that embodies the next stage in human evolution. Coming from the Greek root word for “mind”, it is the convergence of organized collective thought, and while a seemingly metaphysical concept, De Chardin views the Noosphere as a natural phenomenon surrounding the earth[2]. The reason why De Chardin views the Noosphere as a naturalistic entity is due to both mind and matter, or what he labels the Within and the Without having the same origins and evolving in the same manner, towards greater complexity and connectivity. In the natural world, the plurality of all things evolves simultaneously, and so does consciousness, both caught up in an open system of energy and interconnectedness. Essentially De Chardin pre-empts the “quantum view” of reality more scientifically inclined new age thinkers adopted much later. Here we can also see the influence of De Chardon’s unique scientific thinking on Deleuze and Guattari, especially in regards to the evolution of molecules that evolve along the phylum, opening greater channels of connections and eventually granulate and accelerate into new forms and arrangements of matter[3]. Following this line of thinking, De Chardin proposes a Christianised version of non-dualism, recognizing the essential symbiosis in the body of the within and the without, mind and matter, positing that there is an inner power, a spiritual energy and dynamism that pervades the whole universe which drives matter and consciousness towards greater heights of complexity, organized arrangements and centricity, one that culminates in an evolution of consciousness along with the evolution of the material[4].

Drawing upon the Christian notion of redemption and Logos, the divine “word” or psyche, De Chardin posits that the evolution of matter and consciousness will culminate into what he terms the Omega Point, where evolution does not follow a gradual and liner path, but rather whole bursts of rapid change and novelty is interjected into the sum global environment and mental landscape. All the layers of consciousness that have build up in a sedentary fashion in the Noosphere will fuse and be consumed into each other, thus creating a sum-total hyper consciousness, where the universe will achieve a level of conscious thought that resembles the present forms of consciousness we have now. Being itself will attain the highest degree of consciousness, one that will be acutely personal, yet universal in scope, where the egoic individual consciousness present in current humanity will be dissolved into a greater form of awareness and collective thinking[5]. For De Chardin, the cellular model of growth and change is replicated at the macro-cosmic level and the inner-psychic level of development, as quoted: “Beneath the pulsations of geo-chemistry, of geo-tectonic and of geo-biology, we have detected one and the same fundamental process, always recognizable-the one which was given material form in the first cells and was continued in the construction of nervous systems. We saw geogenesis promoted to biogenesis, which turned out in the end to be nothing less psychogenesis.[6]“.

the interconnectedness of all things leads to one line of flight towards a singularity moment, therefore the Omega Point is what positions De Chardin’s work inside the realm of post-humanism and trans-humanism; De Chardin not only collapses the distinction between the interiority of psyche and the exteriority of matter or physical processes, but also human subjectivity and sociality collapses into this cosmic evolutionary path. Humanity will evolve beyond current social arrangements, and the human subject will become one with a new mode of existence that involves greater intelligence, self-awareness of the environment and love for fellow human beings. It is not to say that nations, religions and individual identities will be erased in an end of history or in a final political arrangement, but our awareness of the other will be deepened post- Omega point. De Chardin views the Christian concept of love as the primary force driving the growth and eventual singularity of the Noosphere, and to this point (evoking the likes of Plato and Emerson) De Chardin views love as the primary drive of all animals and earthly processes, the natural dynamism that compels beings to have an affinity with other beings, an energy that we will fully realize after the transformation of our subjectivity and consciousness[7]. What De Chardin sees as the inevitable outcome of psychogenesis, driven by the force of universal love, is the advent of what many have labeled “Christ consciousness”, where humanity will develop to see the cosmic body of Christ and divinity in all things. What De Chardin is advocating is a radically new form of spirituality, where soul or mind, and creation or matter are one in the same, and is propelled towards the same divine Christ-like transformation, hence both humanity, matter and the universe as a whole, engaged simultaneously in this ongoing process of overcoming to the end point of being transformed into a higher state of being and consciousness[8].

De Chardin’s synthesis of modern bio/physics science with Christian mysticism crosses into many themes of post humanism besides the total evolutionary shift of being into a higher state. For instance, De Chardin pre-empts certain aspects of environmentalist philosophy, specifically the Gaian earth hypothesis by Lovelock and others, where organic, sentient and inorganic elements in the earth interlace in a symbiotic relationship to further the perpetuation of life on the planet. To De Chardin, the earth organism achieves a form of consciousness and is taken up in the integral evolutionary project of the Noosphere, it is the earth transforming into a self-regulating organism, and since to De Chardin no form of life can evolve without its precedent other stages and manifestations, so too is everything evolving all at once, within the same bursts of novelty and complexity[9]. This thinking has many ramified points to interaction with our relationality towards the environment, non-human animals and our own density on planet earth; De Chardin sees the Omega Point as higher personified and personalized character, for the Universe in His view is not merely a conserver and preserver of mechanical and material energy, but of fluid and dynamic persons. Our Personhood is integral in the makeup of the evolving Universe, the Logos which orders and escapes entropy and that is driven towards a super-structural state of wholeness[10]. This is also a Taoist or a Vedantic view of the nature of reality as well, but through a Christian Framework, since the full realization of the eventual Christogenesis is integrating our self with the trans-historical and self-conscious new mode of thought which includes the same awareness among all living and non-living forms, converging form a vast array of separate branches and communities to one “noosystem” and a singular pool or fount of consciousness and higher thought[11].

Hence, we return to De Chardin’s influence on the new-age movements of the 1960s and revival in the 1990s and on the realm of aesthetics and cybernetics. . No one thinker in the new age has been so inspired by the Noosphere and the Omega Point then ethno-botanist and psychonautical philosopher Terence McKenna; McKenna proposes the idea of what he calls “timewave” zero, or the theory that through a random number calculation, he could map out the “ebb and flow” of the universe towards a singularity point, or what he calls the arrival of “the transcendental object at the end of history”. The Universe follows patterns of novelty and conservation, and novelty often comes about in bursts akin to a Kuhnian paradigm shift, where the whole set of present reality is shifted into a new plane. The complexification process will reach a peak where, per McKenna, advances in technology, ecological healing, and human relations will excel to such a point that the present evolution of progress in the last hundred years will be accelerated to where a year of progress will equal that of the last hundred[12]. This is of course an appropriation and modification of De Chardin’s ideas, especially since De Chardin himself also saw the human invention of mass technology and availability of media as contributing to the accelerated pace of reaching full global consciousness, since we have the ability to reach out to every corner of the planet and perhaps one day beyond our planetary terrain. This is also felt in the domain of art, as a number of artists coming out of the new-age have tired to articulate these ideas in a visual, audio and virtual manner, with computer technology and traditional artistic mediums, such as the piece “cosmic Christ” by visionary/fantastical realist painter Alex Gray, which depicts a cacophony of natural and human imagery, past events, ecological disaster, religions iconography, etc. within small individual portals that connect to make up the figure of a Christ-shaped entity basking in the cosmos with ubiquitous eyes placed in every frame and section, symbolizing the all-seeing divine eye of Christ and artistic inspiration[13].

There are some possible criticisms of De Chardin’s thinking besides the most obvious and frequent criticism of his work, that he was betraying his scientific thinking and entering the realm of pseudoscience and speculative metaphysics. Some other criticisms of his magnum opus are His propensity to rely on overtly subjective lines of thinking that are easily appropriated by the utopian idealism of new-age thinking. De Chardin takes it as a given that the non-duality of nature and the human psyche fits nicely within a single evolutionary path, without keeping mind to difference or proportionality in terms of who is on the path towards Christ Consciousness relative to others. Eschatological thinking also falls into the same traps of historic and evolutionary determinism as a dialectic or Hegelian end of history thesis does, not accounting for the shifts of chaotic dispersion or events of novelty that can diverge from the path towards the Noosphere. Furthermore, despite the usual criticism of the Gaian hypothesis and its relative lack of easily replicable observability, De Chardin has the further complication of managing ecological destruction in his version of accelerated psychic and physical evolution. How is it we can manage ecological crisis effectively at our present stage of consciousness and evolution? If we cannot recognize what we will become post-omega point, if we achieve a level of thinking so crystalline and sublime that we will bask in Godhood, how can we mitigate the things that prevent it in the here and now? De Chardin seems to think it will sort itself out eventually with the advent of the Omega point, taking a leap of faith that our further evolution will entail an end to the exploitation of nature and the mass waste economy. At times exhilarating an interesting, and deeply profound, De Chardin’s work can be incorporated into the post-humanist canon, but it does not come without some flaws and over-simplifications.

[1] De Chardin,  Teilhard. The Phenomenon Of Man. Int. Huxley, Julian (New York: Harper And Row Perennial Library, 1955): 13.

[2] Ibid, 15.

[3] Ibid, 43-49.

[4] Ibid, 62-66.

[5] Ibid, 257-259.

[6] Ibid, 181.

[7] Ibid, 205-207, 264-268.

[8] De Chardin, Teilhard. The Divine Milieu. (New York: Harper and Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1957): 140-145.

[9] De Chardin, “Phenomenon of Man”, 78-79, 86-87.

[10] Ibid, 271-272, 298.

[11] Ibid, 19-20.

[12] Mckenna, Terence. The Transcendental Object At The End Of Time. Doc. Directed by: Bergmann, Peter. Alchemical Strategy Production Co,.2014.

[13] Gray, Alex. “Cosmic Christ”. (New York: Oil on carved wood panel. 1999-2000, Progress Of The Soul Collection).

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