Chapter 2: The Internet
and the Noosphere
The shaman seers of the Fourth World generally
that those who tenaciously cling to the past will fall into
mass insanity. The serpent power of the Aquarian Age is upon
The Kundalini of Gaia is about to awaken. No one can avoid
affected. Most human beings may go out of their minds; others
go beyond mind."
John Hogue (1)
In 1938, a Jesuit priest wrote
a book in which he postulated the existence of "a sphere
of thought" enveloping the Earth. (2)
This book, The Phenomenon of Man, wasn't published until the
late 1950s, after its author, Teilhard de Chardin, had died.
In it, he called this enveloping sphere of thought the noosphere
and described it as "a living tissue of consciousness"
enclosing the Earth and growing ever more dense. For several
years after the book's first English publication in 1959,
Teilhard's concept of a thinking membrane surrounding our
planet provoked significant controversy in both religious
and academic circles. Like many revolutionary ideas, however,
the concept of a noosphere was eventually passed over by most
mainstream thinkers and largely forgotten. Imagine my surprise
then when I discovered that I wasn't the only one who remembered
Teilhard's work and had begun thinking about the Internet
in terms of the noosphere.
Teilhard believed that because
of the spherical shape of the Earth, ideas will eventually
encounter other ideas resulting in a cultural convergence
of thought. This, he believed, would eventually lead to a
single, self-developing framework of pure mind. Teilhard used
the term "noosphere" (possibly first coined by Vladimir
to represent a sphere of mind encircling the Earth. As he
saw it, the noosphere encased what we call the biosphere,
or sphere of life. Within this framework, Teilhard saw the
ongoing evolution of the human species manifesting itself
as changes and advances in mind more than in body. In other
words, human evolution would henceforth take place mainly
in the noosphere.
As Sir Julian Huxley explained
in his introduction to the first English translation of The
Phenomenon of Man:
[Teilhard was] deeply concerned with establishing a global
unification of human awareness as a necessary prerequisite
for any real future progress of mankind.
Huxley goes on to say,
In Père Teilhard's view, the increase of human numbers
combined with the improvement of human communications has
fused all the parts of the noosphere together. . . . But
when it is confined to spreading out over the surface of
a sphere, idea will encounter idea, and the result will
be an organized web of thought, a noetic system operating
high tension, a piece of evolutionary machinery capable
of generating high psychosocial energy. (4)
This is a perfect description
of what is taking place on the World Wide Web. Huxley and
Teilhard would be amazed and delighted if they were alive today.
Many people involved with the
Internet and who are familiar with The Phenomenon of Man accept
as fact that the Internet and the noosphere are interrelated
in some way. If you are new to this concept, however, you
most likely have a few questions, such as:
- What is the noosphere?
- Is the Internet the mechanical infrastructure of the noosphere?
- Is "noosphere" another name for "Gaian
- If they are not one-and-the-same, how do they relate to
In the following discussion,
it is important to keep one essential fact foremost in your
mind: the Internet is not the noosphere. An Internet connection
is not required, for all of humanity is already an integral
part of the noosphere. This statement will become clear in
the following pages as we explore the deeply woven interconnections
of the mechanical Internet and the ethereal species-consciousness
we call the noosphere.
What is the Noosphere?
In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard
de Chardin observed that, from a historical point of view,
the "stuff" of this universe is becoming ever more
complex, that information is becoming ever more concentrated.
He further observed that, at least in this corner of the cosmos,
human beings are the most complex of all known forms found
in nature. From an evolutionary standpoint, he also saw that
changes taking place in the human species are occurring in
the domain of mind at a much faster rate than changes seem
to appear in our biology. (5)
For example, many users of cigarettes understand that their
smoking habit is unhealthy, yet their biological make-up continues
to crave the nicotine, which brings with it all of the carcinogens
found in cigarette smoke.
According to the Big Bang Theory,
our universe is becoming ever more complex as it continues
to cool. From an initial point of intensely concentrated and
homogeneous matter, we see the formation and evolution of
stars, galaxies, and planets as the primordial ball of plasma
expanded, cooled, and formed structures of ever-increasing
complexity. In the case of our own planet, we also see the
development of biological life with its even more complex
forms of matter. These organic structures are actually containers
of sorts-densely packed with information. The more information
an object carries in a given volume, the more complex it is.
A strand of DNA is not only smaller than a grain of sand,
it is also considerably more complex because it contains more
information than the silicon in the grain of sand.
The densest collection of complex
information we know of thus far is the human being, and human
activity gives rise to even greater complexity. If Teilhard
is correct in asserting that reflective consciousness is "the
specific effect of organized complexity," it follows
that some sort of intensification of human consciousness is
at least possible within the laws of biological evolution.
If consciousness does expand as complexity increases, how
will this expansion or intensification of mind become manifest?
Will the noosphere, this "envelope of thinking substance,"
as Teilhard called it, one day become so complex and full of
information that it evolves into a higher form of consciousness
in its own right? Perhaps. What Teilhard foretold was an awakening
of the noosphere as the result of:
- An overall increase in knowledge, and
- The increasing psychosocial pressure on the surface of
the planet due to the explosion in human population.
In other words, a massive amount
of information is building up within the relatively small
confines of the planet Earth. This, Teilhard believed, will
result in the blossoming of the noosphere into some form of
super-consciousness, once the amount of information it contains
reaches a critical density.
To illustrate this phenomenon,
Teilhard suggested we consider our current understanding of
the atom. It goes without saying that no one person could
have possibly developed the complete body of knowledge we
now have about the atom. He further suggests that this is
not a mere accretion of information, but rather a synthesis
of information that erects "as though it were a vault
above our heads, a domain of interwoven consciousness."
Nuclear physicists and mathematicians are not the only ones
who are a part of this interwoven consciousness; also included
is every child, woman, and man on the planet who has any knowledge
of the atom. Awareness of the smallest tidbit of information
about the atom is all that is required for the mind containing
that awareness to become joined in the noospheric web of thoughts
about particle physics.
Just as hypertext
documents on the World Wide Web are interconnected, information
in the noosphere may be conceived to be structured as webs
of thought. Seemingly unrelated information becomes interconnected
when two or more of these webs of information intersect in
individual minds. The moment our species attains the ability
to tap into the complete body of human-created information
at will is the point at which Teilhard hypothesizes the collective
consciousness of the noosphere becomes an aware entity of
some sort in its own right. As he says:
. . . and the noosphere tends to constitute a single closed
system in which each element sees, feels, desires and suffers
for itself the same things as all the others at the same
We are faced with a harmonised
[sic] collectivity of consciousness equivalent to a sort
of super-consciousness. The idea is that of the earth not
only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought, but
becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to
form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of
thought on the sidereal scale, the plurality of individual
reflections grouping themselves together and reinforcing
one another in the act of a single unanimous reflection.
In other words, it is the moment
in time when the entire human species acquires super-psychic
abilities. Speculation as to what this may mean and how it
might come about is the subject of following chapters.
It isn't just in the sciences
where these webs of thought are forming. For those of us fortunate
enough to travel throughout the world, it is clear that the
interchange of customs and ideas is taking place more frequently
than at any other time. Discerning world travelers can see
a beautiful tapestry of global awareness being woven through
the interactions of diverse cultures. Exchanges ranging from
the casual-like a London taxi driver telling a Japanese passenger
about a recent Australian vacation-to the more complex-as
with business meetings hosted by multi-national corporations-continue
to make new connections in our psychic web, the noosphere.
These connections are now being made at an ever-increasing
rate, thanks to the Internet.
Another way to think of the
noosphere is to see it as Sir Julian Huxley did, "the
union of the whole human species into a simple inter-thinking
group based on a single self-developing framework of thought."
This, in Teilhard's view, is nothing less than a collective
human organism. It may take a giant leap of faith for some
readers to "consider inter-thinking humanity as a new
type of organism whose destiny it is to realize new possibilities
for evolving life on this planet," (7)
as Huxley suggests in his introduction to The Phenomenon of
Man. However, if we can believe without personally seeing
it demonstrated, that a nanoassembler can actually build things
one atom at a time, or if we can believe that humans now have
the ability to alter the structure of specific genes, is it
that much more difficult to accept the existence of the noosphere?
Is the Internet the Mechanical
Infrastructure of the Noosphere?
Like many of my colleagues,
I view the Internet and the noosphere as inseparable, yet
not the same. More precisely, I see the Internet playing the
role that Teilhard termed "the mechanical apparatus"
of the noosphere. The following is from a paper he wrote in
To an increasing extent every machine comes into being
as a function of every other machine; and, again to an increasing
extent, all the machines on earth, taken together, tend
to form a single, vast, organized mechanism. Necessarily
following the inflexive tendency of the zoological phyla,
the mechanical phyla in their turn curve inward in the case
of man, thus accelerating and multiplying their own growth
and forming a single gigantic network girdling the earth.
And the basis, the inventive core of this vast apparatus,
what is it if not the thinking-centre of the noosphere?
Today you can purchase and
rent cars that have satellite navigation systems which monitor
the auto's movements. This information is transmitted over
a communications network to companies that provide emergency
roadside assistance. Thus, today's cars are actually connected
to communications networks. In turn, some of these automobile
monitoring networks are managed as Virtual
Private Networks, otherwise known as VPNs, which use
technology with the Internet for their backbone
. It is now clear that the automobile is on its way to becoming
a small part of a much larger machine that uses the Internet
for its nervous system. This is only one example of where
we are headed. Soon we will see many of our everyday household
appliances and other devices Internet-enabled. Your pager
will be synchronized with your daily activity planner so it
automatically shifts to quiet mode during times you are scheduled
to be in meetings. Your refrigerator will be connected to
its manufacturer's service network through which it will be
routinely checked for worn-out parts. Within a few years,
there will be millions of people around the globe who will
be immersed in the continuous computer environments now being
designed for the "personal electronic companions"
that are about to enter the market. (9)
All of these examples point to the fact that we seem to be
building a single, complexly interconnected, global-sized
machine of some sort.
What then is the relationship
of this immense machine to the noosphere? In Teilhard's words:
faber came into being the first rudimentary tool
was born as an appendage of the human body. Today the tool
has been transformed into a mechanized envelope (coherent
within itself and immensely varied) appertaining to all
mankind. From being somatic it has become 'noospheric.'
And just as the individual at the outset was enabled by
the tool to preserve and develop his first, elemental psychic
potentialities, so today the noosphere, disgorging the machine
from its innermost organic recesses, is capable of, and
in process of, developing a brain of its own. (10)
Can you see how the Internet
has been "disgorged," or come out of, "the
innermost organic recesses" of the noosphere? What are
the innermost organic resources of the noosphere if not humankind?
Is it not we humans who are building the Internet? Could it
be that the Internet is the noosphere's "brain of its
own" he refers to? Teilhard goes on to say:
But in addition to its protective
role, how can we fail to see the machine as playing a constructive
part in the creation of a truly collective consciousness?
It is not merely a matter of the machine which liberates,
relieving both individual and collective thought of the
trammels which hinder its progress, but also of the machine
which creates, helping to assemble, and to concentrate in
the form of an ever more deeply penetrating organism, all
the reflective elements upon earth. [Emphasis added] (11)
By "reflective elements"
Teilhard means individual human beings. In other words, he
sees the mechanical infrastructure of the noosphere as "helping
to assemble, and to concentrate" the collective consciousness
of the human species. Again, keep in mind that the Internet
is not the noosphere. It is merely an infrastructure that
is now available for the noosphere to use. Teilhard continues
his speculations about the form this mechanical infrastructure
I am thinking, of course, in the first place of the extraordinary
network of radio and television communications which, perhaps
anticipating the direct inter-communication of brains through
the mysterious power of telepathy, already link us all in
a sort of 'etherized' universal consciousness.
But I am also thinking of the insidious growth of those
astonishing electronic computers . . . (12)
If, as Teilhard theorized:
- There is an envelope of thinking substance surrounding
the Earth, and
- This thinking substance requires a mechanical infrastructure
to support the universal impulse toward increasing complexity,
- The mechanical framework for this sphere of thought, the
noosphere, just may be the ever-evolving Internet.
Does this mean that there is a parallel between our association
of brain/mind and the association of Internet/noosphere? If
we commonly understand the brain/mind combination to compose
an individual human being, then what can we say about the
Internet/noosphere combination? What kind of "being"
will this combination give rise to?