domenica 17 febbraio 2013

The Economy of Thought

By: Gideon Tolkowsky

‘Mankind, born on this planet and spread over its entire surface, is coming gradually to form around its earthly matrix a single, major organic unity, enclosed upon itself; a simple, hyper-complex, hyper-centered, hyper-conscious arch-molecule. Is it not what is happening at the present time – the closing of this spherical, thinking circuit?’

Are these the words of a thick-glassed Internet guru, sounded from behind his flickering computer screen in a cubicle in some university computer lab? Or, do these words come from a defiant Internet entrepreneur, uttering them in the midst of his fledging venture’s Icarusian dive? Not quite. These prophetic words were written in 1945 by a French Jesuit priest. His name was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Teilhard de Chardin’s philosophical intuition, which was untrained by modern computer and communications technology, anticipated the birth of the Internet. His vision was spiritual. It was not technological, nor economic. But history has its strange ways with ideas. Teilhard de Chardin’s abstract notion was eventually transformed into a very tangible one, the Internet. The spiritual and the material blended and gave birth to a global web that has the capacity to serve not just as an information highway – a role commonly attributed to it, but, far more importantly – as a highway for thought; a highway for ideas. This, precisely, is the gargantuan economic promise of information technology.

Teilhard de Chardin was born in France in 1881. In parallel to qualifying for priesthood he developed keen interest in the natural sciences. After serving as stretcher-bearer in World War I’s infamous Verdun front, he was nominated Professor of Geology at the Catholic University in Paris. The future looked bright for this extremely talented disciple of Church and science. But his parallel pursuit of those two glorious revelations of heavenly inspiration spelled trouble for him.

In 1924 Teilhard de Chardin wrote a short essay in which he attempted to reconcile the Biblical account of creation and evolution with that of paleontology, the science of fossils. It was in the tales told by ancient fossils of Man and beast that he tried to identify a heavenly purpose, a master plan for the evolution of life on Earth. Just like Albert Einstein who refused to believe that God plays dice with the world, Teilhard de Chardin refused to accept that evolution is a random Darwinian play of mutations and natural selection. Evolution, so he deeply sensed, was a revelation of a purposeful grand plan.

Rome, however, was not impressed. Teilhard de Chardin was forced to leave Paris, which was considered much too pivotal a hub from where to allow a fountain of untraditional religious thought to irrigate Europe’s turbulent ideological soil. He was sent to exile, in China.

In China Teilhard de Chardin established himself as a prominent paleontologist. But it was also in the awe inspiring, Martian landscape of the Gobi Desert in which he excavated fossils, and in the enchanting, bustling alleys of Peking, that Teilhard de Chardin further pursued conciliation between science and Church. He was a paleontologist, a student of evolution of life on Earth. He sought insight into the future of humankind through extrapolation of past evolution – from the elementary building blocks of matter, to primitive life, all the way to intelligent life. He then posed the big question – what is next? What is the next evolutionary stage for an organism that has acquired the astonishing capability of thought? What is the cosmic meaning of thought? What role in the grand master plan does it play?

It was then that Teilhard de Chardin coined the term ‘noosphere’, which is derived from the Greek word for ‘thought’. He wrote: ‘All around us, tangibly and materially, the thinking envelope of the Earth – the noosphere – is adding to its internal fibers and tightening its network’. Creation, so he contemplated, had been unfolding in stages. First, from the abyss of nothingness Earth emerged. Then a gaseous atmosphere, the air we breathe, enveloped it. Next, a second envelope, that of rich and diverse life forms, encapsulated the Blue Planet. Now, said Teilhard de Chardin, it was time for a third layer, a layer of thought, of intelligence, to engulf Earth. The noosphere was the next evolutionary phase of Homo Sapiens. It would turn humanity from an eclectic collection of thinking cells into an integrative network of intelligent consciousness. But, insisted Teilhard de Chardin, not at the expense of individuality and self. It was all to be based on ‘sustenance and necessary reassurance for our power of will’.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin died in New York City in 1955. Like many other heroic attempts to bridge deeply rooted ideological chasms, his own attempt – to eliminate the dichotomy between Judeo-Christian views of creation and evolution and those of science – failed. The Church continued to discredit his ideas, as did the scientific establishment. Evidently, both these intellectual traditions often share the joy of classifying new ideas as heretic. But, some forty years later, in the mid-1990s, the noosphere materialized. It was called the World Wide Web.

Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘hyper-complex, hyper-centered, arch-molecule’ became a hyper-linked cyberspace. His ‘thinking envelope of the Earth’ with its ‘internal fibers’ became a dense communication network spread across the globe. And, at its very heart there stands the notion of the mobility of ideas.

Ideas are a most powerful force that shapes our world, second only to the raw forces of nature. It is the free flow of ideas, this virtual wind that blows within the noosphere, that constantly shapes the face of our planet. It is this very same free flow of ideas that also constitutes the greatest economic opportunity since the discovery of the Americas. The ability of new, diverse ideas to be born within different cultures, often after very short pregnancy periods, and their ability to spread faster than wind, to cross-pollinate and to breed new ideas – ever more colorful, ingenious, and intriguing – this precisely is the real revolution of our age. It is the fast differentiation of ideas that is being enabled by technology that represents, among other social shifts, a major economic revolution. New ideas create new markets, and new markets call for new products.

Teilhard de Chardin’s spiritual heritage, his vision of Homo Sapiens’ next evolutionary stage, is materializing in front of our eyes. It is abstract just as much as it is tangible. Among its many social implications is that which represents a new paradigm for capitalism – the economy of thought.

                                                                                                  April 2001

The author is Founding Partner of Veritas Venture Partners, a venture capital firm with offices in Atlanta and in Israel.


David Grumett

Teilhard’s de Chardin’s theology of evolution

                                                             In France in the opening years of the twentieth century, religious life entered dark times. The government of the Third Republic, not content with the existing separation of church and state and post-Revolutionary secular constitution, banned all Christian education in the country. This prohibition hit the Jesuits and other religious communities particularly hard, because to gain new members they depended on a lengthy programme of formation delivered by their own clergy.
Teilhard and other leading Jesuits of his generation therefore crossed the English Channel to complete their education. Several centres were opened on the south coast of England, the largest being in Hastings, where Teilhard studied from 1908 to 1912. This period was important not only in providing a comparatively tranquil setting for spiritual contemplation, but for the vistas it opened onto what would become his other great passion: paleontology. In scientific terms this was the genetics of its age, with the recovery of the fossil record of biological history enabling human origins and connectedness with the rest of the created order to be understood as never before.
Teilhard had developed a fascination with matter much earlier during his childhood in the Auvergne amidst its spectacular extinct volcanoes. Looking back, however, he regarded this near obsession with hard, solid matter as misguided. While excavating the Sussex cliffs, he began to see the wider importance of matter not as the ultimate constituent of human life but as pointing to a deeper spiritual reality: the evolution of life and the emergence of human life as processes directed by God.
Teilhard also encountered matter spiritually in the Church’s sacraments. During his time in Hastings, the eucharist became increasingly central to his spirituality: he was ordained priest, wrote a dissertation on the eucharist and received the sacrament every day. At the altar, he consumed Christ’s body and blood. Yet he would soon see the bread and wine of the eucharist as continuous with the rest of created matter. In the Mass, the portion of bread and chalice of wine offered and consecrated represented for him the whole of matter continually formed and transformed by human activity. Moreover, he regarded this everyday transformative activity as priestly because, just like eucharistic consecration, it involved human co-operation in God’s creative action. In his spiritual classic The Divine Milieu, Teilhard wrote that in action, ‘I adhere to the creative power of God; I coincide with it; I become not only its instrument but its living extension. And as there is nothing more personal in beings than their will, I merge myself, in a sense, through my heart, with the very heart of God.’ He saw these words as applicable not only to himself but to all human beings.
The eucharist also presented a solution to his problem of how to value matter spiritually, rather than as just brute, hard, formless stuff. Drawing on the work of some earlier scholars, he came to see Christ’s presence in the substance of the eucharist as exemplifying his presence in all created substances, sustaining them and constituting them into something far greater than raw matter. He thus regarded substance as spiritually formed matter.
What does all this mean for a theology of the body? Teilhard has sometimes been read as a pantheist, believing that God is everywhere in the natural world but does not subsist outside that world. This is untrue, however, and it would be equally simplistic to infer that Teilhard regarded the world as God’s body. He certainly recovered an ancient sense of the whole world as a place infused with God’s action and of all matter as enfolded in a single cosmic order. But he understood that the ordering of matter was possible only as the result of a cause existing outside the observable natural world, and that God could only be present in that world if ultimately subsisting beyond it.
This view of the nature of God’s involvement in the world brings us naturally to the focus of Teilhard’s Christian faith: the person of Christ. Devotion to Christ’s life and especially his Passion was central to Teilhard’s Jesuit and Ignatian spirituality, enabling him to see God at work in the world even when humanity was grievously diminished through pain and suffering. He had no easy explanations for the apparently meaningless and purposeless suffering intrinsic to human bodily existence, but in The Divine Milieu wrote movingly about how this is transfigured by God and provides a means by which God may enter, in Christ’s bodily suffering, into the heart of humankind. God ‘must, in some way or other, make room for himself, hollowing us out and emptying us, if he is finally to penetrate into us’, and at death is ‘painfully parting the fibres of my being to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away’ within himself.
Some striking elements of Teilhard’s understanding of Christ require further comment. Later nineteenth-century theology had tended to emphasise Christ’s human nature at the expense of his divine nature. This had been taken to an extreme in various modernist writings that portrayed Christ as a mere human being no different from anyone else. Teilhard compensated for this by developing the insights of some of his teachers and fellow students at Hastings into the cosmic dimension of Christ’s work. Christ was not simply the carpenter of Galilee, but in the terms of Paul’s letter to the Colossians the ‘image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’, creator and sustainer of all things and the source of their consistency.
Teilhard saw Christ as exercising this guiding influence over the cosmos most powerfully via the mechanism of evolution. Schooled in the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, he was sympathetic to the idea that different types of cause co-operate in the world to form a texture or harmony of causes. Although Teilhard broadly accepted Darwin’s theory of natural selection, this more ancient metaphysics suggested to him that evolution was not entirely a product of random mutations and struggles for survival, but a convergent progression of the world towards an ever greater unity in Christ. He tested this hypothesis by digging up fossils, and concluded that it provided a reasonable explanation for the evolutionary changes these revealed, as well as the similarities identifiable between different branches of evolution. Teilhard even experimented with the idea of Christ as exhibiting a third ‘cosmic’ nature distinct from his human and divine natures, but quickly realised that Christ’s cosmic activity could only be due to the perfect fusion, without confusion, of his divine and human natures rather than to the action of some additional nature. Christ’s human nature provided his anchor point within the world, while his divine nature allowed him to act in the world without being confined by it.
In evolution, Teilhard saw Christ as presenting himself to the world as its Omega point: its plan, fulfilment and final end. In an important description contained in a later ‘Outline of a Dialectic of Spirit’, he explained how Christ as Omega binds together three distinct centres of evolutionary attraction: the natural end of the world, its supernatural but still immanent spiritual end, and its transcendent, triune and divine centre. This Trinitarian understanding of how humans experience reality complements his strongly Christocentric vision.
Teilhard thus presented the human body as both an active body and a passive body, but in any case as a body dependent on the body of Christ present in the eucharist and by extension in the whole created order. What did this mean for his faith? Many of Teilhard’s supporters and detractors have sought to align him with a New Age spirituality that refutes traditional Christian claims or at best dilutes them. In fact, he mostly accepted those claims, seeking to demonstrate their significance for the twentieth century and thereby intensify their true meaning. He accepted that religious faith was a human creation: Christian belief had been formulated and passed on by the Church through many centuries of word and action. Nevertheless, he firmly believed that faith was more than a human creation, pointing to an inalienably transcendent reality without which Christ would not ever have been sent into the world to inaugurate the Church’s historic witness in word and sacrament. Teilhard also believed in a supremely creative, human-centred Christian faith, but remained convinced that divine action was implicated in all human creativity worthy of the name.
His view of the nature and function of Christian narrative is daring by current postmodern standards. Rather than seeing narrative’s primary function as being to describe individual human lives and then to reach outwards to connect with narratives of other human lives, he depicts a panoramic sweep stretching from the origin of the world to its final consummation. Narrative is primarily cosmic for Teilhard, with individual lives and experiences subsumed into a much larger story. This is especially clear in his wedding addresses, where the love that the couple feel for each other is given permanency and consistency by the love of Christ beyond them, ahead of them and above them, drawing them outwards from mutual self-absorption into an even greater reality. This is part of a spirituality in which the ultimate truth is Christ.
Although Teilhard spent many yearsin China, he never accepted that all religions offered equivalent manifestations of a single overarching spiritual reality. He saw in Christianity particular features uniquely apposite to modern embodied reality, especially its incarnational fusion of spiritual and material principles and the linear narrative it unfolds of a series of events leading up to the birth, life and death of Christ and continuing beyond them. In his evolutionary theology, Teilhard understood humanity and the whole of nature as combining incarnationally these two principles in a linear historical progression guided by Christ.
This daring reappropriation of themes from secular, non-Christian speculation reminds us of how, in the New Testament, Paul used some of his letters to wrest cosmic imagery from the dominant pagan religion to put it to the service of Christianity. In the present day, the power of popular Gnosticism such as The Da Vinci Code shows that Christianity needs to do more to recover its own unique cosmological narrative in ways that inspire people’s imagination and respond to their metaphysical questions. It also needs confidently to refute popular misinterpretations of modern science with its own alternative metaphysics, negotiating the plains on which armies of atheist scientists and philosophers currently clash with creationists. Teilhard has a lot to offer both these projects.

Dr David Grumett is Research Fellow in Theology in the University of Exeter. He is author of Teilhard de Chardin: Theology, Humanity and Cosmos (Peeters, 2005) and a booklet Religious Experience in the Vision of Teilhard de Chardin (Lampeter: Religious Experience Research Centre, 2006). For further details of his work, see

« La vision systémique chez Teilhard de Chardin »

A.       Daleux

Le Père Teilhard de Chardin ( 1881 – 1955), jésuite et paléontologue, propose une vision cosmique originale dont bien des aspects préfigurent l’approche systémique du réel. Pourtant, celle-ci ne prendra corps que plus d’une décennie après sa mort. Comme en d’autres domaines, il a fait là oeuvre de précurseur. Ce que confirme Basarab Nicolescu qui fait état « …d’autres visions systémiques du monde, comme par exemple celle développée par Teilhard de Chardin »1 On peut lire également chez Joël de Rosnay : « …l’approche teilhardienne intègre la durée, les niveaux d’organisation, la complexité et les interdépendances. Elle est systémique plutôt qu’analytique »2

1)          Une vision dynamique du monde

Contrairement au monde statique de la physique classique newtonienne, dominante jusqu’au début du XXeme siècle, le monde selon Teilhard repose sur une trame dynamique, le feutrage de forces en interaction qui, par leurs échanges, engendrent ce qui nous apparaît comme un monde d’objets statiques. La vision teilhardienne s’apparente ainsi à celle d’Edgar Morin dont le monde repose sur des boucles de rétroaction : « En deçà de la boucle, rien : non pas le néant, mais l’inconcevable et l’inconnaissable. En deçà de la boucle, pas d’essence, pas de substance, même pas de réel : le réel se produit à travers la boucle des interactions…(…) Ici s’opère un grand changement de base. Il n’y a plus d’entité de départ pour la connaissance : le réel, la matière, l’esprit, l’objet, l’ordre, etc. Il y a un jeu circulaire qui génère ces entités, lesquelles apparaissent comme autant de moments d’une production. » 3
Il n’est pas question d’opérer un amalgame concordiste entre la vision d’un monde de dynamismes, d’Edgar Morin, qui reste purement physique, et celle de Teilhard entièrement basée sur la spiritualité. Mais, tout comme Morin, il transforme la perception habituelle d’un monde statique, composé d’objets solides s’influençant mutuellement, en un monde de dynamismes. C’est ainsi que notre cosmos se transforme en une cosmogénèse, un monde en marche dont la Création, toujours en cours, prend pour nous la forme d’une évolution. " Jadis tout paraissait fixe et solide; maintenant tout se met à glisser sous nos pieds dans l'univers: les montagnes, les continents, la Vie, et jusqu'à la matière même. Non plus, si on le regarde d'assez haut, le Monde qui tourne en rond: mais un nouveau Monde qui change peu à peu de couleur, de forme, et même de conscience. Non plus le Cosmos, mais la cosmogénèse » 4 Cette perspective de dynamismes en interaction, fondement de l’approche systémique, se retrouve à tous les niveaux de l’oeuvre de Teilhard.
C’est ainsi que le dualisme, qui considérait l’esprit et la matière comme deux substances distinctes, voire opposées, devient le monisme d’une substance unique mais biface, l’Esprit- Matière, qui présente sa face matérielle à nos organes sensoriels et sa face spirituelle à notre vision intérieure, dans la méditation ou la simple réflexion approfondie. L’évolution spiritualisante de l’étoffe cosmique d’Esprit/Matière consiste dès lors, selon une perspective dynamique, en l’effacement progressif de l’aspect matériel du monde, au profit de l’émergence de son aspect spirituel.
Comme le dit Teilhard, "... du point de vue phénoménal où systématiquement je me confine, Matière et Esprit ne se présentent pas comme des "choses", des "natures", mais comme de simples variables conjuguées, dont il s'agit de déterminer, non l'essence secrète, mais la
1 Basarab Nicolescu : Nous, la particule et le monde p.115 -1985
2 Joël de Rosnay Les chemins de la vie p 155 - 1983
3 Edgar Morin : La nature de la nature p 381 – 382 -1977
4 Teilhard de Chardin : La vision du passé p 337 (Toutes références Teilhard du Seuil = première édition)