The noosphere is a philosophical concept developed and popularized by the French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky. Vernadsky defined the noosphere as the new state of the biosphere and described as the planetary "sphere of reason". The noosphere represents the highest stage of biospheric development, its defining factor being the development of humankind's rational activities.
The word is derived from the Greek νόος ("mind", "reason") and σφαῖρα ("sphere"), in lexical analogy to "atmosphere" and "biosphere". The concept, however, cannot be accredited to a single author. The founding authors Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed two related but starkly different concepts, the former being grounded in the geological sciences and the latter, in theology. Both conceptions of the noosphere share the common thesis that together human reason and the scientific thought has and will continue to create the next evolutionary geological layer. This geological layer is part of the evolutionary chain. Second generation authors, predominantly of Russian origin, have further developed the Vernadskian concept, creating the related concepts: noocenosis and noocenology.
The term noosphere was first used in the publications of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 in his Cosmogenesis. Vernadsky was most likely introduced to the term by a common acquaintance, Édouard Le Roy, during a stay in Paris. Some sources claim Édouard Le Roy actually first proposed the term. Vernadsky himself wrote that he was first introduced to the concept by Le Roy in his 1927 lectures at the College of France, and that Le Roy had emphasized a mutual exploration of the concept with Teilhard de Chardin. According to Vernadsky's own letters, he took Le Roy’s ideas on the noosphere from Le Roys article "Les origines humaines et l’evolution de l’intelligence", part III: "La noosphere et l’hominisation", before reworking the concept within his own field, biogeochemistry. The historian Bailes concludes that Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin were mutual influences on each other, as Teilhard de Chardin also attended the Vernadsky's lectures on biogeochemistry, before creating the concept of the noosphere.
An account stated that Le Roy and Teilhard was not aware of the concept of biosphere in their noosphere concept and that it was Vernadsky who introduced them to this notion, which gave their conceptualization a grounding on natural sciences. Both Teilhard de Chardin and Vernadsky base their conceptions of the noosphere on the term 'biosphere', developed by Edward Suess in 1875. Despite the differing backgrounds, approaches and focuses of Teilhard and Vernadsky, they have a few fundamental themes in common. Both scientists overstepped the boundaries of natural science and attempted to create all-embracing theoretical constructions founded in philosophy, social sciences and authorized interpretations of the evolutionary theory. Moreover, both thinkers were convinced of the teleological character of evolution. They also argued that human activity becomes a geological power and that the manner by which it is directed can influence the environment. There are, however, fundamental differences in the two conceptions.
In the theory of Vernadsky, the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life). Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere. In contrast to the conceptions of the Gaia theorists, or the promoters of cyberspace, Vernadsky's noosphere emerges at the point where humankind, through the mastery of nuclear processes, begins to create resources through the transmutation of elements. It is also currently being researched as part of the Global Consciousness Project.
Teilhard perceived a directionality in evolution along an axis of increasing Complexity/Consciousness. For Teilhard, the noosphere is the sphere of thought encircling the earth that has emerged through evolution as a consequence of this growth in complexity / consciousness. The noosphere is therefore as much part of nature as the barysphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. As a result, Teilhard sees the "social phenomenon [as] the culmination of and not the attenuation of the biological phenomenon." These social phenomena are part of the noosphere and include, for example, legal, educational, religious, research, industrial and technological systems. In this sense, the noosphere emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds. The noosphere thus grows in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the earth. Teilhard argued the noosphere evolves towards ever greater personalisation, individuation and unification of its elements. He saw the Christian notion of love as being the principal driver of noogenesis. Evolution would culminate in the Omega Point—an apex of thought/consciousness—which he identified with the eschatological return of Christ.
One of the original aspects of the noosphere concept deals with evolution. Henri Bergson, with his L'évolution créatrice (1907), was one of the first to propose evolution is "creative" and cannot necessarily be explained solely by Darwinian natural selection. L'évolution créatrice is upheld, according to Bergson, by a constant vital force which animates life and fundamentally connects mind and body, an idea opposing the dualism of René Descartes. In 1923, C. Lloyd Morgan took this work further, elaborating on an "emergent evolution" which could explain increasing complexity (including the evolution of mind). Morgan found many of the most interesting changes in living things have been largely discontinuous with past evolution. Therefore, these living things did not necessarily evolve through a gradual process of natural selection. Rather, he posited, the process of evolution experiences jumps in complexity (such as the emergence of a self-reflective universe, or noosphere), in a sort of qualitative punctuated equilibrium. Finally, the complexification of human cultures, particularly language, facilitated a quickening of evolution in which cultural evolution occurs more rapidly than biological evolution. Recent understanding of human ecosystems and of human impact on the biosphere have led to a link between the notion of sustainability with the "co-evolution" and harmonization of cultural and biological evolution.
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