Teilhard imagined a stage of evolution characterized by a complex membrane of information enveloping the globe and fueled by human consciousness. It sounds a little off-the-wall, until you think about the Net, that vast electronic web encircling the Earth, running point to point through a nervelike constellation of wires. We live in an intertwined world of telephone lines, wireless satellite-based transmissions, and dedicated computer circuits that allow us to travel electronically from Des Moines to Delhi in the blink of an eye.
Teilhard saw the Net coming more than half a century before it arrived. He believed this vast thinking membrane would ultimately coalesce into "the living unity of a single tissue" containing our collective thoughts and experiences. In his magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard wrote, "Is this not like some great body which is being born - with its limbs, its nervous system, its perceptive organs, its memory - the body in fact of that great living Thing which had to come to fulfill the ambitions aroused in the reflective being by the newly acquired consciousness?"
"What Teilhard was saying here can easily be summed up in a few words," says John Perry Barlow. "The point of all evolution up to this stage is the creation of a collective organism of Mind."
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We have reached the end of the expanding, or "diversity" stage, and are now entering the contracting, or "unifying" stage. At this point, Chardin's theory runs completely counter to Darwin's, in that the success of humanity's evolution in the second stage will not be determined by "survival of the fittest," but by our own capacity to converge and unify. The most important initial evolutionary leap of the convergence stage is the formation of what Chardin termed "the Noosphere." It's formation, as Michael Murray explains, begins with "a global network of trade, communications, accumulation, and exchange of knowledge, cooperative research ...all go into the weaving of the material support for a sphere of collective thought. In the field of science alone, no individual knows more than a tiny fraction of the sum of scientific knowledge, and each scientist is dependent not only for his education but for all his subsequent work on the traditions and resources which are the collective possession of an entire international society composed of the living and the dead. Just as Earth once covered itself with a film of interdependent living organisms which we call the biosphere, so mankind's combined achievements are forming a global network of collective mind."
"The idea," writes Chardin, "is that of the Earth not only covered by myriads of grains of thought, but enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form 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." One hesitates to invoke the terms "group-mind" or "hive mentality," but they are, perhaps, leaps made by far less developed creatures than we that presage our own ascent. We know that such a thing can and does exist in a variety of species, especially ants, migratory birds, and others. We also know the evidence regarding the "hundredth monkey" (once a learned behavior is taught to a significant portion of a population ;in this famous example, of monkeys;the behavior becomes instinctual even for those completely isolated from the community which acquired the behavior). If C.G. Jung has given us the notion of the "collective unconscious," Chardin, then, speaks of the "collective conscious."
Chardin waxes poetic (as he often does) when he describes it: "Noosphere ...the living membrane which is stretched like a film over the lustrous surface of the star which holds us. An ultimate envelope taking on its own individuality and gradually detaching itself like a luminous aura. This envelope was not only conscious, but thinking...the Very Soul of the Earth." Not only are our bodies the stuff of the Earth's body, but our minds are the consciousness of this being, the Earth. We have supposed that we are individuals, yet we "are dust, and to dust ye shall return." We have supposed our minds are our own, that even if the Earth is conscious of herself in us, she is conscious of being many little selves; but perhaps, as theorists in the field of transpersonal psychology suggest, we are mistaken. Chardin, in fact, argues that it must be so, that "what we are aware of is only the nucleus which is ourselves. The interaction of souls would be incomprehensible if some Aura' did not extend from one to the other, something proper to each one and common to all." Chardin believes, too, that this consciousness is not only psychological, but of the greatest spiritual importance, as well. "Nothing is precious," he says, "except that part of you which is in other people, and that part of others which is in you. Up there, on high, everything is one."