I understand that lately the new concept coined by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has gained some popularity, and it's definition (according to Wikipedia) is:

The noosphere is the sphere of human thought. The word derives from the Greek νοῦς and σφαῖρα, in lexical analogy to "atmosphere" and "biosphere". It was introduced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 in his Cosmogenesis.

Now I understand that it is considered an "evolutionary" step (?), but I don't quite understand the meaning and uses it has to offer.

[note - I had no clue which tags to use for this.]

  • Compare it to the Platonic world of ideas (or forms) and to the world 3 of Popper. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 14 '18 at 12:09
  • To Chardin it was a means of more holistic talk about natural science and connecting it to "spiritual" metaphysics/cosmology, not unlike the mystical absolute of German romantics but, especially in Vernadsky's hands, less far-fetched and more in tune with the actual science. The Gaia hypothesis, the more recent framework for constructing holistic ecological models, was inspired in part by the noosphere talk. – Conifold Feb 15 '18 at 0:51
  • Like his whole life deChardin was a fraud. He borrowed everything from the East. If you want to read about his early frauds, read Stephen Jay Gould's book "Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History". The Chapters entitled 'The Piltdown Conspiracy' and 'A Reply to Critics' and 'Our Natural Place'. He was sent to the East because of his involvement in the Piltdown fraud. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 15 '18 at 8:07
  • It seems to have a very loose parallel to the Anthropocene. – Mozibur Ullah Feb 15 '18 at 9:47

The concept of the noosphere is basically that of a sphere of mind or thought that emerged in the course of evolution in the last 50,000. The idea was put together in the 1920s by Edouard Le Roy, Teilhard de Chardin and Vladimir Vernadski but it is principally associated with Chardin, who did most to elaborate and develop it.

I have my doubts about the value of Chardin's work but the following extract from T. A. Goudge, 'Salvaging the "Noosphere"', Mind, New Series, Vol. 71, No. 284 (Oct., 1962), 543 may make things a little clearer. I think its explains the nature of the noosphere (supposing it to exist) fairly clearly - far more clearly in fact than Chardin does himself :

 The background of my proposal is the following. It can be
 accepted as a historical fact that one species of animal on the earth,
 Homo sapiens, has outstripped all others in the magnitude of the
 changes which have occurred in its way of life during the last 50,000
 years. The changes are usually said to constitute the process of
 cultural evolution. It is also a fact that there exists at present no
 comprehensive explanatory theory of that process. The best we
 have are a few clues about some of the causal factors (e.g. tool-using,
 tool-making, communication by speech and language, etc.) which
 determined the course of human evolution from the Paleolithic
 period onward.

 Under these circumstances it is desirable to have available a
 number of theoretical models in the light of which explanatory
 hypotheses can be formulated. This is a familiar state of affairs in
 the natural sciences when they are in a formative stage, as the
 sciences of man certainly are. Now it seems to me that the concept
 of the noosphere, freed from the mystical associations of The Pheno
 menon of Man and given a certain degree of precision, might serve
 as a useful model for anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists
 who undertake to theorize about cultural evolution.
 What does the model amount to ? Briefly, it is built on the
 classical representation in geology of the earth as a sequence of
 concentric, spherical shells or envelopes-barysphere, lithosphere,
 hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. The last of these, introduced 
 by the geologist Suess, was designed to represent the envelope
 of organic matter which originated and spread around the globe
 during the Pre-Cambrian era. What Teilhard proposes is that we
 regard the process of cultural evolution as having generated another
 planetary envelope, distinct from but superimposed on the biosphere,
 a " sheet of humanized and socialized matter " which he calls the
 "noosphere". The title seems reasonably apt since the noosphere
 is exclusively the product of Homo sapiens, and embraces not only
 technological but also intellectual and social creations. Viewed
 historically, the noosphere is the ensemble composed of evolving man
 and his various cultures.

This does not explain the functionality of the concept of the noosphere. I think the concept was intended to do two things. First, to emphasise that interacting human intelligence and culture have reached the stage where the biosphere is largely or significantly under their control. The 'noosphere' refers to this human superimposition on the biosphere. Secondly, to suggest the need for the noosphere to self-regulate in order to control its impact, increasingly harmful and dangerous, on the biosphere. We see here a clear pointer to the social and ethical imperative that drives what we now call environmentalism. It cannot be said that anything like effective self-regulation is even on the horizon.

  • Ok, but still, what is the philosophical meaning of it? Is it just a theory to explain the evolution steps differently? – Yechiam Weiss Feb 14 '18 at 10:36

In his commentary on the "noosphere" (Please read my comment on the original question above), Stephen Jay Gould writes in his book Hens Teeth and Horse's Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History:

And so, evolution labored for billions of years, produced perhaps a hundred million species of plants, bugs, and worms, along the way, all to achieve, through the agency of consciousness, the union of spirit with God in splendid concentration at the Omega Point. All previous life existed for us and for what we could become. Like the floating fetus that embodies the promise of futurity at the close of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we (or rather our thickening spirit layer, soaring upward) are the heirs and purpose of all previous life. This is the anthropocentric vision with a vengeance.

What can one say to such a scheme? Would it be too literal and mean spirited to argue that it seems to fail at its only points of testable contact with the fossil record? Few paleontologists can discern any general, much less inevitable, trend to increasing braininess in the history of life. Most animals species are inssects, mites, copepods, nematodes, mollusks, and their cousins, and I, at least, can see no pervasive trend among them toward the denomination of matter and spirit. And the evolutionary tree does look more to me like a complexly wandering and ramifying bush than a bundle of parallel twigs growing upward in a definite direction. Of course, I realize that Teilhard used the term evolution in a metaphysical sense to identify the laws of cosmic progress, not in our usual sense to specify the mechanics of organic change (which Teilhard recognized and studied, but called transformisme). Teilhard's technical works in paleontology are sound and solid [excerpting his involvement in Piltdown], but they deal with transformisme and exist in a world of discourse quite separate from his anthropocentric vision of cosmic evolution.

Perhaps the problem with all these visions--zoocentric as well as anthropocentric--is out penchant for building comprehensive and all-encompassing systems in the first place. maybe they just don't work. Maybe they must be defeated by the inherent complexity either by working up from other animals (zoocentric) or down from humans (anthropocentric) when humans are so special, for better or for worse? We are but a tiny twig on a tree that includes at least a million species of animals, but our consciousness--a natural product of evolution integrated with bodily frame of no special merit--has transformed the surface of out planet. Gaze upon the land from an airplane window. Has any other species ever left so many visible signs of its relentless presence?

We live in an essential and unresolvable tension between our unity with nature and our dangerous uniqueness. Systems that attempt to place and make sense of us by focusing exclusively either on our uniqueness or the unity are doomed to failure, But we must not stop asking and questing because the answers are complex and ambiguous. We can do no better than to follow Linnaeus's advice, embodied in his description of Homo Sapiens within his system. He described other species by the numbers of their fingers and toes, their size and color. For us, in place of anatomy, he simply wrote the Socratic injunction: Know thyself.

It has been many decades since I read deChardin's book The Phenomena of Man. What struck me most at the time was how much his whole theory seemed to be a rewrite of the early 20th century Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo, yet he gave no credit to him but presented his theory as his own. A few decades later when I read Gould's book and the sections on deChardin's involvement in the Piltdown scandal, I wasn't surprised.

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