Table of Contents
Note on the Notion of ‘Cosmic Drift’
For some time there has been much talk among astrophysicists of an accelerated movement, in all directions around us, of the galaxies—a movement that is evidence of a general expansion of the universe.
Whatever fate may tomorrow await this attractive theory, one fact is now permanently established, and it is in a way more important than any particular hypothesis of the geometric configuration of the world. It is that in the course of the twentieth century science has gone beyond the simple notions of structures, of pressures, and of cycles, and finally awoken to the idea that there are certain general processes that, dynamically or genetically, affect the totality of the universe.
‘An exploding universe’ is a common expression nowadays, and a frequent subject of speculation: and it is used with the full realization that in doing so we are not leaving the field of facts and experience.
Why not, then—and with even more justification, I would say—‘a universe which, under the influence of an ever more advanced organic arrangement, concentrates and reflects psychologically upon itself’?
What I propose briefly to set out here, are the objective proofs and the subjective consequences of such a movement, which is no longer merely one of spatial expansion for the stuff of the cosmos but of psychogenic concentration: and this I shall do by dealing in turn with each of the three following points:
- The positive evidence for an organo-psychic convergence of the world upon itself.
- The vital necessity for us immediately to make up our minds about the reality of such a movement of convergence.
- The main lines of attack that will enable us once and for all to verify the existence of the phenomenon and determine its behaviour.
The Evidence for an Organo-Psychic Convergence of the Universe Upon Itself
If we are to understand the nature and realize the probability of the particular movement of cosmic concentration referred to in this essay, we must first (and this is all we need to do) come to an agreement on two points. It is only rarely, as yet, that these are directly taken into consideration, but I believe that we must say that they are now due for a discussion and a decision of the scientific order. The first concerns the position of the human in relation to the rest of the living; and the second defines the significance of the social within the human.
a. Direct life and reflective life
Modern science has made us familiar with the idea that certain sudden radical changes inevitably occur in the course of every development, provided it be carried far enough and constantly in the same direction. When matter has reached certain extreme levels of transformation, then an extremely small modification in its arrangement (or in the conditions that govern the arrangement) allow it suddenly to modify its properties or even to change its state.
This notion of critical thresholds is commonly accepted today in physics, in chemistry, and in genetics.
The time, surely, has come for us to make use of it in order to reconstruct the entire fabric of anthropology on a new and solid foundation.
By pure ‘anatomical’ routine man is still, inexplicably, regarded by the majority of biologists as a mere filament (or sub-filament) in the fascicle of zoological forms: a ‘sub-family’ (no more than a few lines) in Dr. G. G. Simpson’s monumental catalogue of genera; an utterly insignificant leaflet on the impressive tree of life that illustrates Lucien Cuénot’s scientific testament.
And yet, as a matter of sound science, is it not time for us to recognize that such a view is certainly mistaken?
Studied in his skeleton, it is true, man undoubtedly appears to be closely derived from the large primates; but this in no way prevents him from, in other respects, displaying certain powers which oblige us (if we wish to systematize the facts correctly) to place him in a distinct category, completely separate from the rest of life.
It is an amazing thing—in less than a million years the human ‘species’ has succeeded in covering the earth: and not only spatially—on this surface that is now completely encircled mankind has completed the construction of a close network of planetary links, so successfully that a special envelope now stretches over the old biosphere. Every day this new integument grows in strength; it can be clearly recognized and distinguished in every quarter; it is provided with its own system of internal connexions and communications—and for this I have for a long time proposed the name of noösphere.
If one really wishes to accord to this extraordinary event the place it is entitled to in nature, I can, for my part, see no other interpretation of it than this.
About a thousand million years ago—at the beginning, that is, of the pre-Cambrian era—a ‘mutation’ (whose exact nature is not clear to us) without any doubt vitalized at certain points the film of proteinic substances which (we must presume) was spread over the surface of the juvenile earth. And from this particular transformation there emerged the whole of the biosphere.
So: it is, I believe, by analogy with this primitive revolution of planetary chemism that we must judge the great phenomenon which intervened towards the end of the Tertiary (through neuro-psychic mutation) in the most highly cerebralized areas of the biosphere. By this I mean the transition to a form of reflective activity.
A generation of investigators in the nineteenth century devoted themselves to the indispensable task of disinterring the animal roots of mankind—in order genetically to connect the human to the general evolution of matter. Today, however, with this preliminary work of connecting the two completed, it is the physical nature of the ‘hominization leap’ which is becoming the important aspect of the problem. From this latter point of view, then, it is no longer enough (indeed it would henceforth be anti-scientific and illogical) to continue to treat man as a mere compartment inside the animal kingdom. Physico-biologically, in virtue of his planetary situation, man transcends classic systematics, because he belongs to another level, another form, another species of life in the universe.
With hominization, it is indeed, at a distance of some six hundred million years, a second vitalization (a super-vitalization) of the cosmic stuff that was effected on earth. And since that time, in man and through man, it is evolution itself that gets off to a fresh start, rebounding upon itself.
However, if we are to understand this correctly, we shall have to take another look, from a new angle, at the true nature of the phenomenon, all around us, of socialization and its effects.
b. The individual and society
Practically all of us, again under the influence of ‘anatomical’ preconceptions, live with the impression (and some scientists even develop, as a principle, the conviction) that the human individual is not organically affected by the multiple links that act upon him from all sides to associate him ‘symbiotically’ with his fellows. For more than twenty thousand years, we now know, there has been no appreciable change in the shape of his cranium; his elementary instincts have remained the same. Is not this a conclusive proof that civilization and culture produce in us no more than temporary and superficial modifications, from which primitive man would emerge unchanged if, by chance, the forces of collectivity were to slacken their grip on him?
‘In nature, socialization is not a process that belongs to specifically evolutionary substance; biologically speaking, it is the individual who is everything; and, in man, the individual has for a long time been permanently stabilized as he now is.’
This is a proposition that we now hear and read almost everywhere—not only in literature but even in the most scientific of writings.
Has it, however, ever occurred to us that, reasoning in this way (if they were able to reason), the various atoms which make up a molecule of protein (or the various particles of protein united in a cell) would have to decide that this molecule or this cell had no specifically ‘corpuscular’ value: their argument being that, within the system, carbon is still apparently made of carbon, hydrogen of hydrogen, and so on?
In order to estimate the degree of organicity attained by an arrangement in the universe, we must now realize, it is not directly the variation of the constituent elements that we have to consider—nor even the rigidity of the links that ensure the permanence of the system. it is the irreversible appearance or growth, within the assembly, of certain fundamental properties, of which the most significant, in the organic series, is the gradual emergence of the effects of indetermination and preferential choice. In conformity with this rule, we must regard as possessing organic value in the living (whether we are concerned with a virus or with man) every arrangement whose result is to cause a rise in the ‘psychic temperature’—or, if the phrase is preferred, to increase the interiority—of the group in which the arrangement is found.
We cannot, therefore, fail to see that of all the living things we know, none is more really, more intensely, living than the noösphere.
Earlier, I said that what explains the human biological revolution is the organo-psychic threshold of reflection.
Is it not, then, precisely reflection which is now, as a result of the countless forces of socialization, freely and continuously rising to the surface of the earth? It is no longer the simple isolated reflection of an individual upon himself, but the conjugate and combined reflection of innumerable elements, adjusting and mutually reinforcing their activities, and so gradually forming one vast mirror—a mirror in which the universe might one day reflect itself and so fall into shape.
Collectivization may seem to us, in the detail of its manifestations, commonplace and superficial and tedious; however true that may be, it is ultimately, if I am right, nothing but, and nothing less than, the final form assumed by biological evolution in order to prolong itself in a reflective medium.
Let us accept this idea that there is in the forces of socialization a value that is specifically biological or even biological at a higher level; and let us connect it with the other idea, set out earlier, of a difference of order (or of nature) between the simply living and the reflective living.
If we do so, we shall experience the thrill of seeing that, in a direction for which we have never as yet had a name, and in which hitherto everything could appear completely immobile, it is now the whole universe that thus suddenly becomes animate and begins to get under way.
c. A new movement of the universe in relation to itself: the cosmic drift of complexity-consciousness
What, at this moment, most paralyses any advance in our vision of the world, is the habit we have formed (as being the less demanding of effort) of regarding life as something protean in its manifestations: something that can be indefinitely diversified to correspond to the multiple phyla of zoology, but which does not for all that change its nature. More the colorful blossoming of a firework display than the ascent of a rocket: more an explosion than a trajectory—it is as such (because this seems to us more simple) that we would like, maybe, to see evolution.
If I am right, however, it is precisely this stationary, if not static, view that is radically transformed by the discovery of an exact parameter (I mean the rise of reflection) which allows us to distinguish and estimate, in terms of absolute value, a certain drift inherent in life.
This is what I mean: if we use as abscissae the length in years of geological periods, as now determined for us by the study of radio-active bodies, and then approximately plot as ordinates a certain number of representative points in biogenesis, such as
- The planetary origins of life
- The appearance of the tetrapods
- The appearance of mammals
- The critical point of hominization
- And finally (at the level of Homo sapiens) the starting point of the true noösphere
—and if, when we have done that, we draw the curve of planetary ‘vitalization’ as a function of time
—we cannot fail to see that, beneath the disconcerting multiplicity of the morphological branches continually developed within the biosphere by speciation, a fundamental trend is unmistakably manifested around us by the phenomenon of man: a trend that displays the twofold character of
- first, drawing us, at a speed that increases so rapidly as to become explosive, towards closely linked states of complexity and consciousness,
- and secondly, of indicating, under the continued influence of planetary synthesis, the existence ahead of us of some critical and final point of ultra-hominization, corresponding to a complete reflection of the noösphere upon itself.
Moreover, I may add, we cannot fail to suspect, when we look at the graph we have produced, that by using the evidence of a particular case we can distinguish in the hominization of matter on the surface of the earth, a certain fundamental law that affects the entire world.
We no longer have in the universe nothing but that heartbreaking entropy, inexorably reducing things (as we are still constantly being told) to their most elementary and most stable forms: but, emerging through and above this rain of ashes, we see a sort of cosmic vortex within which the stuff of the world, by the preferential use of chances, twists and coils upon itself ever more tightly in more complex and more fully centered assemblies.
A world that is in equilibrium upon instability, because it is in movement: and a world whose dynamic consistence is increasing in exact proportion with the complexity of its arrangements, because it is converging upon itself in as many sidereal points as there ever have been, as there are now, and as there ever will be, thinking planets. [Curator’s emphasis]
The Vital Necessity, For Our Generation, of Immediately Making Up Its mind About the Reality of a Cosmic Movement of Convergence
In the course of the sixteenth century, man found himself obliged to admit that the earth, far from being the immobile centre of the universe, revolved around the sun. The new thesis was no doubt clumsily expressed, since, as much in the mind of Galileo as in that of his opponents, ‘the heavenly bodies’ were thought of as moving in an absolute space. Nevertheless, it was truly revolutionary inasmuch as, as a result of the blow dealt to geocentrism, the notion of the cosmos began, both psychologically and logically, to vanish and make way for a view of the universe that was expressed in terms of cosmogenesis.
We can now see what happened. In Galileo’s time, a decision had at all costs to be made (for all the persisting vagueness of contemporary scientific concepts) for or against a spatial revolution of the earth in the firmament. For a moment, the whole of the future of human thought (and activity) hung upon the answer to this question.
Nearly five centuries later, but in an even more critical way, we are, it seems to me, in the same situation now, according to whether we agree or refuse to recognize in the phenomenon of man the evidence of what I have just called a drift in which the universe converges upon itself.
Let me explain the reason for this.
It is unmistakably apparent (as all of us can see) that at this moment we are irretrievably involved in a rapidly accelerating process of human totalization. Under the combined force of the multiplication (in numbers) and expansion (in radius of influence) of human individuals on the surface of the globe, the noösphere has for the last century shown signs of a sudden organic compression upon itself and compenetration. This is without any doubt the most massive and the most central of the events the earth has experienced in our day.
Now that life has placed us in this critical situation, how are we going to react to the test?
So long as we adhere to the cautious traditional concept and continue to say that mankind has come to a dead end, the compression and the consequent concretion of the human mass can be seen by us only as a ridiculous constraint or even evil: as ridiculous, in truth, as cramming passengers into a railway carriage. That is why we are so often horrified, or terrified, by the modern world: a machine for destroying the individual or mechanizing him.
If, on the other hand, as suggested by the indications mentioned above of a collective rise of reflection on earth, we admit that the hyper-socialization from which we are suffering is nothing but an ultra-vitalization (by ultra-arrangement) of the human mass which is forced gradually to shift its position in a convergent universe—we shall react quite differently.
In that case, while the process loses none of its peril or unpleasantness, it is completely transfigured. It takes on a meaning. And we see how we can effectively collaborate in its success.
I must, however, emphasize that if this is to come about, we must make up our minds and get down to work, quickly, immediately.
For, if it is really true that an ultra-human can be distinguished ahead of us, to be attained by ultra-evolution, it is equally true that this ultra-evolution, operating henceforth in a reflective medium, can only be (at least in its most seminal and central axis) an auto- or self-evolution: in other words, it must be a consciously and passionately willed deliberate act. If the totalization of the noösphere is to be biologically successful, it cannot be simply instinctive and passive. It looks to us for an active and immediate collaboration, for a vigorous drive, based on conviction and hope. For evolution will not mark time.
Do we see or do we not see, admit or refuse to admit, that as an effect of complexification and arrangement life is coming to rise more and more rapidly on earth, within a convergent universe? That is the precise point upon which mankind is obliged to divide itself (as, indeed, we can see for ourselves it is actually doing) into two irreconcilably conflicting blocs.
And, we can confidently predict, only that portion of mankind which has made the correct choice will survive—and super-live.
Some Lines of Attack that Allow Us Further to Verify the Reality of the Phenomenon
In order to verify the hypothesis of an explosive cosmos, the physicists have recently brought into operation a giant telescope, designed to reveal the existence of ever more distant galaxies and allow us to study their behaviour.
If the preceding considerations are correct, surely the most urgent task confronting the genius of man at this moment is to conceive and undertake the construction of another ‘Palomar’—but this one would be designed to bring out not an expansion of the universe in space but a psychogenic concentration of the universe upon itself: and this by magnification and analysis of the phenomenon of man.
It is a story, this time, not of a sufficiently large mirror and sufficiently sensitive photographic plates: it is a matter of bringing together a large enough number of minds that are sufficiently open and in tune with influences of the cosmic order to perceive, record and amplify a movement of the noösphere in relation to itself.
Such an enterprise, it is evident, can profitably be undertaken only after a very considerable preliminary work of discussion and tentative inquiry conducted by expert physicists and biologists.
Even so, it would seem possible here and now to enumerate some main lines along which the problem may be attacked.
- From what I have already said, the ideal method of scientifically establishing the phenomenon of a convergence of the universe would be to be able, by some technique, at every moment to measure directly the psychic charge (or temperature) of mankind—in other words, the degree or gradient of its reflection upon itself. This is an operation that is as yet hardly conceivable, but will not, perhaps, baffle the physics of tomorrow. Meanwhile, using a more descriptive method, may there not really be a way, for a scientifically alert observer, of detecting around us the signs of an ultra-evolution (we might say ‘a wind of reflection’) in a whole series of psychic phenomena, still incompletely identified and yet patient of statistical study? For example, the general rise, at this very moment, in the most advanced areas of human thought, of a certain distress—or, on the contrary, of a certain excited anticipation—both specifically connected with the gradual awakening in us of the consciousness that the universe is not only in movement but is carrying us with it?
- In the absence of, or marginal to, these direct but as yet ill-explored proofs of a human drift towards some ultra-human, a vast field of indirect verification leading to the same result is indisputably open to us; it lies in the direction of a deeper analysis of the structure of the noösphere. One of the first tasks of the commission appointed to bring out and keep under observation the symptoms of a psychogenic convergence of the universe, would certainly be to design and forward the construction of certain characteristic curves (cf. above), which would express in terms of absolute value the chronological division of the levels crossed by life in order to become hominized, and by mankind in order to become planetized: a curve of speication (or cerebration); a curve of expansion; a curve of population; a curve of planetary compression, etc. There can be little doubt but that such graphs would make abundantly clear to everyone the evidence of a process, at once qualitative and quantitative, of cosmic arrangement, whose explosive behaviour rules out the hypothesis that the movement into which we are born is now slowing down, and still less coming to a halt.
- In consequence, we might say that at this moment, as in the time of Galileo, what we most urgently need in order to appreciate the convergence of the universe is much less new facts (there are enough and even embarrassingly more than enough of these in every quarter) than a new way of looking at the facts and accepting them.
A new way of seeing, combined with a new way of acting—that is what we need.
From this we can draw but one conclusion, that the speculative effort of the new Palomar of which we are now dreaming cannot be conceived apart from an accompanying practical effort to readjust, within a universe that is recognized as convergent, the whole range of human values.
The admission that we have emerged from and are enveloped in a universal flux of centrifying complexification does not, indeed, have as its sole consequence the introduction of more meaning and coherence into the total fabric of our present experience than any former way of looking at things. More than any other, this new view, we must add, gives an orientation and an unlooked-for excitement to our need to act, at the very moment when we were beginning to be in two minds about the future.
We must recognize, then, the vital importance of a collective quest of discovery and invention no longer inspired solely by a vague delight in knowledge and power, but by the duty and the clearly-defined hope gaining control (and so making use) of the fundamental driving forces of evolution.
And with this, the urgent need for a generalized eugenics (radical no less than individual) directed, beyond all concern with economic or nutritional problems, towards a biological maturing of the human type and of the biosphere.
Simultaneously, too, the necessity of drawing up as soon as possible the main lines of spiritual energetics devoted to the study of the conditions under which the human zest for auto-evolution and ultra-evolution—which at the moment is dissipated in any number of different forms of faith and love—may be in a position to form a compact group, to safeguard itself and to intensify—to meet the requirements, and through the influence of, the new regime we have just entered: that of a world in a reflective state of self-transformation.
Here we have a complete programme: in it, a momentary initial effort definitively to establish in men’s minds the appreciation of a convergence of the universe, is gradually transformed into another and more constructive task, one that is capable of almost indefinite possible developments: it is the practical effort of industriously furthering this convergence, in our terrestrial sector, until it attains the term or centre (whatever it may be) of its fulfillment.
Which is based, as we know, on the still arguable idea that the reddening of the galaxies in proportion to their distance is due to their own movement—and not simply to a fatigue (or ageing) of light. [By ‘reddening’ Père Teilhard means the shift of spectrum lines towards red. (Ed.)] ↩
We could even say, if we confined ourselves to the second and more rapid phase of the phenomenon, in less than twenty thousand years of the expansion of Homo sapiens. ↩
The animal, it would seem, only knows: while man ‘knows that he knows.’ It is a case, as it has sometimes been described, of ‘consciousness squared.’ ↩
We shall call such a form of arrangement ‘psychogenic.’↩
Exponential in form. ↩
The convergence of man. ↩
A convergence of the cosmos. ↩
Whether mono-centrically or poly-centrically, it is impossible to say. ↩
A state, let me add, that is totalized but not totalitarian. ↩
This means, as a start, simply a working-party, made up of selected technical experts, which would produce a clear statement of the facts and provide a more or less official introduction into science the problem of a shifting of mankind in relation to itself. ↩
Or ‘psychodynamics,’ on the analogy of ‘thermodynamics.’ ↩
Sexual attraction; religious forces; the sense of man, based now not on the notion of a common origin (a centre of divergence) but on the idea of some consummation lying ahead. ↩
This centre of complete reflection coinciding with what mysticism has since all time called the revelation of God. ↩