The Phyletic Structure of the Human Group

January 1, 1951

In this heady yet lyrical scientific treatise, Teilhard de Chardin delves into the arc of human evolution. He traces humankind’s progression from primordial divergence to modern convergence, arguing we now stand at an equator where further global compression will compel our species to attain unimaginable new heights of consciousness. This cerebral work eloquently explores our place in the cosmos and destiny as thinking beings. Though penned in 1951, Teilhard’s insights into humanity’s collective journey still ring true.


The Human Zoological Problem

What an extraordinary spectacle is offered to the biologist1 by the human zoological group!

A million years ago, not a single man in the vastness of the continents. And today, man everywhere… man forming a mass: a compact, ubiquitous and subtotalised mass: a mass discordant with the rest of animal life and the seat of ‘organisational’ activities: a rugged mass, confused and almost indecipherable in its anatomy.

What is the significance of this enormous neo-formation that has suddenly and so recently burgeoned in our Biosphere? A simple monstrosity, or a normal and fertile superorganism?

To know what has happened (and to what we are exposed) on earth since the end of the Pliocene. To understand the secret nature of the ‘phenomenon of man.’

A vital question, indeed: not only from the point of view of speculation, in order to satisfy our vision; but from a practical point of view, also, to guide and (if possible) increase our power of action.

It becomes more and more necessary to us, in order to live, to understand man.

Now what does ‘understanding’ signify in terms of modern science except ‘integrating in the cosmic evolutionary,’ that is to say finding the law of birth and development of the object studied. And how can we recognize this genetic law except by analyzing the structure of the thing engendered?

Hence the idea of the present essay: ‘By dissection of the human group (present and past) to try and grasp the intimate process of its genesis—in such a way as to be able to insert ourselves and find our direction within it: intellectually and efficaciously—effectively and affectively.

All this, despite certain appearances, without ever losing touch with the facts, is the aim. Let us try to attain it.

Plan of Research

And that I shall say in the course of the following pages will be based on this figure, in which I have tried to express graphically the most probable interpretation of our present-day knowledge regarding the temporo-spatial distribution of human remains on the planet, from the origins to our own day.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Phyletic composition of the human group, on the hypothesis of a ‘scale’ structure.
H.Rh. Rhodesian man; H.Nd. Neanderthal man; H.St. Steinheim man; H.Sw. Swanscombe man; H.Pal. Palestine man; H.Scp. Saccopastore man; H.Sol. Solo river man; Sin. Sinanthropus; Pith. Pithecanthropi (and Meganthropus); Modj. Modjokerto man; H.cap. Homo Capensis (Broom, 1949); Austral. Australopithecines
NOTICE: 1. the composition of the Pithecanthropian leaf, considered here as giving the structural key to the whole system; and 2. the furling (or rolling) in on itself of the sapiens group under the effects of socialisation (‘inflorescence’). 1, 2, 3, 4, potential leaves (races), EE. ‘equatorial’ line separating in the ‘inflorescence’ a lower expansive zone from a higher compressive zone.
r, lower critical point of individual Reflexion: R, upper critical point (conjectural) of collective Reflexion. (see text)

On this diagram two major zones stand out at first glance, demanding to be considered separately.

One, lower and ramified: the stem, presenting, as we shall see, hardly any features that are not common to all phylogenesis.

The other, higher and contracting on itself: the inflorescence (sapiens humanity) characterized, by contrast (as I shall have to show), by certain properties special to the human group: properties not absolutely new, but born of the critical intensification of certain factors (notably forces of invention and socialisation) common to all organized matter.

On the stem, I will begin by studying successively: first the appearance; then the basic ramification. This will be the object of the first two parts of the present study.

After that, passing to the inflorescence, I will turn to and distinguish the three following natural phases: aggregation (by intra-phyletic convergence of the branches), planetisation (by super-compression of the system of convergent branches); and finally—by the use of conjecture and calculation—the terminal extinction (or extension?).

This in three other parts.


The Appearance of the Human Phylum (or The Mutation of Reflexion)

What immediately attracts the attention on an inspection of our master-diagram is that the ramified system represented by Figure 1 tends to vanish toward the base. Everything occurs as if the human stem had lost its peduncle. Apparently it sprang out of a void. A lacuna is discovered at the origin of the Noösphere.2

Well, paradoxical though the enterprise may be, let us try to grasp the significance of this ‘absence.’ The initial ‘blank’ into which the human phylum seems to us to vanish might seem at first view tiresome and sterile.

I should like to show that it is, on reflexion:

  1. Perfectly normal in its existence;
  2. Perfectly recognizable and definable in its nature;
  3. But, on the other hand, most exceptional in the importance of the changes which it sets in motion;
  4. This exceptional character being probably connected with the particularly sensitive region of the Biosphere in which the event lies.

Let us look successively and briefly at these four points—decisive for a correct interpretation of the structure of the human group.


At the base of the human phylum, the existence of a ‘blank’ is perfectly normal

One may say that the fundamental structural law (in a sense the sole law) in a universe in a state of evolution, is that everything is born, that is to say that everything appears in the function of an antecedent (and, yet we must add, in the case of life, more or less by way of addition).

Everything is born…

But with the following modifications and qualifications:

  1. First, and in one manner or another, every birth corresponds to a discontinuity or jump (quantum), of a nature and extent that varies with each case.
  2. Then, and in every case, this discontinuity of birth is followed by a zone of weakness (period of establishment, embryonic phase) during which the ‘thing born’ remains for a longer or shorter time particularly fragile.
  3. Finally, under the impact of Duration (absorbent effect of the past) the weak zone of birth thus created tends to grow faint and disappear with time from our experience: the extent and completeness of the disappearance being greatest when the weight of time accumulated above it is most considerable.

In virtue of this simple mechanism, it is inevitable that the ‘quanta of birth’ (like geological faults under the impact of prolonged erosion) very much increase in our eyes proportionately to their recession in the past—a growth that continues till these macroquanta are produced which history finds in every realm.

By action of time, the multiple processes composing evolution tend thus to be reduced to a laminated accumulation of ‘stabilized maxima.’

The whole phenomenon of the automatic stratification of a cosmos in a state of cosmogenesis!


‘Mutational’ nature of the human ‘blank peduncle’

The ‘quanta of birth’ as I have just said, may be of very different kinds.

In genetic biology, we know simple individual jumps (simple recombinations of genes by fertilisation) and true mutations (inner regroupings)—as by isomerism?—of certain genes).

In human history we see new states or new cultures succeed a social revolution, an invasion or an invention.

In individual or collective psychology, we know the appearance, growth and eventual triumph of an idea. Etc.

From this statement, let us turn to the particular case which concerns us (emergence in the Pliocene of the human zoological type). To what known variety of ‘quanta’ should we relate the ‘blank’ which we find at the base of the stem that bears us? To the crossing of an organic boundary, of course; but a boundary of what sort…?

The more one reflects on this question—that is to say the more one observes the rapid convergence, gradually revealed by palæontology, between the human phylum on the one hand (extended as deeply as possible towards its roots) and the anthropoid bundle on the other (traced as high as possible towards its most advanced end forms, the Australopithecines, for example)—the more convinced one is that, to leap from one to the other, the step to be taken (at a certain favourable moment) has not necessarily been greater, in size, than that ordinarily observed or stimulated, beneath our eyes, in animal or vegetable populations at present living.

Under this head, what would be remarkable or strange in the phenomenon of man considered at its source would not be its actual mechanism—a simple chromosomic mutation!—but the formidable consequences resulting from this elementary leap. Let us firmly adopt this line of thought, and try to follow it to the end, to see where it leads us.


‘Explosive’ effects of human mutation

In the general morphogenesis of living forms, modern biology has adopted the habit of separating the phenomena of micro-, macro-, and mega-evolution: the first covering cases of mutations experimentally followed or obtained in the laboratory (formation of races and sub-species); and the two others (appearance of general orders, branches) being provisionally left without precise explanation.

It is curious to note how a breach (and perhaps a decisive breach) is opened in this distinction by careful analysis of the phenomenon of man.

On the one hand, in fact—as I said at the beginning—despite its slight anatomical distance from them, the human group actually behaves, in relation to the rest of the primates (or even the rest of life!) like an absolutely new zoological division.

On the other hand—as we have just seen—as for the basis of this new division or department, no decisive reason appears to exist for supposing it to be anything else but a simple regrouping of genes.

In other words, in the case of man, we seem to have an example of mega-evolution governed by chromosomic play of a perfectly normal type.

How can we help saying that, in this affair, ‘mutation’ reveals itself as en ‘equivocal’ phenomenon, capable, according to the circumstances (just like a match!) of setting off sometimes a micro-, and sometimes a macro- or mega-evolution.

Let us now take another step forward. let us now try to guess, in the form of a coherent theory, what may have happened in the Pliocene to give the ‘hominizing’ mutation its very evident explosive character of mega-mutation (if I may be allowed to coin this new word).

How could so small an event have been capable of biologically renewing the face of the earth…?


Critical position and nature of the human mega-mutation

A: Preliminary observation: vitalisation and cerebration

As I shall have to repeat more than once in the course of the argument that follows, life is apparently nothing but the privileged exaggeration of a fundamental cosmic tendency (as fundamental as entropy or gravitation) which may be called the ‘Law of complexity/consciousness,’ and which can be expressed as follows:

Left long enough to itself, under the prolonged and universal play of chance, matter manifests the property of arranging itself in more and more complex groupings, and at the same time in ever-deepening layers of consciousness; this double and combined movement of physical unfolding and psychic interiorisation (or centration) once started, continuing, accelerating and growing to its utmost extent.’

This tendency towards complexity-consciousness (leading to the formation of more and more astronomically complicated corpuscles) is easily recognizable o the atomic plane, and it is confirmed on the molecular. But it is patently on the plane of life that it is revealed in all its clarity—and all its additiveness; and here it can, at the same time, be translated into a convenient and simplified formula: the tendency to cerebration.

In the growing perfection and cephalisation of the nervous system, we seem really to have a concrete and precise parameter which allows us to follow, through the jungle of living forms, the absolute and effective variation of cosmic corpuscularity.

B: The qualitative structure of the Biosphere

Figure 2
Figure 2: Hypothetical development of an axial zone C of maximum cerebration at the centre of a rising and divergent bundle of living forms.
RR. Critical surface of ‘reflexion’ crossed at H by the human strand (phylum)
Divergent at the base, above the point of emergence, the ray even converges on itself (cf. Figure 1.)
a, b, c three phases in the development

So, by using this ‘parameter’ of cerebration, we discover in the mass of vitalized terrestrial matter the particular structure schematized in Figure 2.

Starting from the initial monocellular protein ‘mycelium’ which we must suppose, in all cases, to be at the base of the general operation of planetary vitalisation, a thick sheaf of pluri-cellular types springs up (everyone is in agreement on this point) in the general direction of some growth of complexity and consciousness: each strand of the sheaf, that is to say each species, representing a particular solution to the problem of life.

Now the important thing to observe from the point of view of cerebration, is that (contrary to an idea often presented as the sole scientific one), this sheaf, far from being homogeneous, becomes differentiated with time. As the geological ages pass, a perfectly distinct zone of neural intensification and centralisation (vertebrates, mammals, primates, anthropoids) takes shape among the numerous fibres that compose it.

A sort of organo-psychic anticline of arrangement and indetermination rises little by little right in the middle of the biosphere (Figure 2b).

And it is precisely there—I mean at the summit of this anticline of complexity/consciousness—that (towards the end of the Tertiary)—lies the famous hominizing mutation whose revolutionary effects attract our attention.

What more do we need, in fact, than this coincidence to begin to see clearly into this great event?

C: The break-through of reflexion

For reasons that seem to me wrong or obscure, we habitually continue to contrast as irreconcilables, the two phenomena of mutation and orthogenesis (this word being taken in its etymological and general sense as ‘directed evolution’): as if there were the least contradiction between the play of chance and the existence, in the object submitted to chance, of certain fundamental orientations or preferences!

Is it not, on the contrary, by the association of the two mechanisms that we act throughout our ordinary life? And is it not this interplay that lets us hope to attach to the ‘genetic quantum of mutation’ the long scale of values required by the strongly hierarchic differentiation of the Biosphere—and more especially by the great leap of hominisation?

As we have just seen, an orthogenesis reaches its highest point among the anthropoids which is not simply the micro-genesis of a particular phylum (horses, elephants…), but coincides with the mga-orthogenesis of the whole Biosphere (principal axis of cerebration).

In these circumstances does it not become comprehensible that a slight variation of a neuro-cerebral order might have been able to start the explosion, the combustion that we observe as having taken place on earth in the course of the Pliocene? One zoological fibre (the human fibre) alone (as a result of a privileged and long prepared position) succeeds in piercing the critical surface separating the simple psychic from the reflective psychic; and all the pressure of life pours through the breach at last effected into a new realm.

Could not this be the secret of the phenomenon of man?

D: Conclusion: Congenital characteristics of the human phylum

If the preceeding considerations have any value (that is to say if it is true that humanity represents a bursting of life into the reflective zone, as the result of a coincidence between chromosomic mutation and cerebral orthogenesis) then the human group, studied in its ‘blank of birth,’ appears as if endowed by its original structure with the following three major properties:

  1. First, issuing from the biosphere by way of normal speciation, it proclaims itself a true phylum—within which we must expect to find the general characteristics of every phylum: phyletic dispersion and ramification in particular.
  2. But at the same time, and to the extent that it develops without competitors in a biologically new space, completely free (realm of reflective life—or life of second sort) the phylum has a natural tendency, not only to become the leading shoot on the summit of the tree of life, but also to spread widely as a sheet over the entire planet.
  3. This by the unfolding of certain inner possibilities (simply those of reflexion) which cannot fail to endow it, after a certain given moment, with a quite particular mode of behavior.3

It is exactly this that a more searching examination of what I have called the stem and the inflorescence of the human zoological group is about to reveal to us in successive stages.


The Basic Ramification of the Human Group

Pre-sapiens phase


Introduction—Presumed Characteristics of the Peduncle of the Human Stem
(deduced form the general distribution of the Pliocene Anthropoids)

As a consequence of the ‘blank’ inevitably found by science at the origin of every zoological branch, we have as yet only a confused idea of the dimensions and structure of the phyla at their birth. At the outset of speciation, of course, we begin to notice a statistical play of large numbers taking place, and effect ‘of populations.’ But of the number and variety of individuals engaged in the operation we know almost nothing: the section and morphological complexity of the phyletic peduncles being apparently capable of variation within very wide limits, according to the species under consideration.

In the case of the human stem, two principal fact may, however, serve to guide our guesses on this subject.

  1. First, the serious, mutating zone in which initial hominisation took place (that is to say on which the ‘step’ of reflexion occurred) is surely coextensive with the anthropoid patch which progressively appeared in Africa and Asia south of the Himalayas in the course of the upper Tertiary, by the intensification and concentration of cerebration among the group of primates in the tropical and subtropical zones of the Old World.4
  2. Then the comparative study of living forms and fossils suggests that on that vast palæo-tropical area of evolution the anthropoid population, continues though it was from the Cape of Good Hope to Malaysia,5


Primary Structure of the Human Stem
(deduced from the study of the Pithecanthropians)

Despite the remarkable progress achieved by palæoanthropology in the last fifty years, it might seem that the Pleistocene men we know are still too few for any reasonably exact design of the basic human stem to emerge from their anatomical and geographical distribution.

I should like to oppose this too widespread impression by showing that all we have to do is carefully interpret this little group of Pithecanthropians (very well known and very well placed) and we immediately have a perfectly clear genetic structure for the whole human phylum.

  1. Let us first recall the facts, as they appear to us at present (Figure 1).

Thanks to the efforts of the Geological Survey of Bandung (and more especially of Dr. von Koenigswald), at least three different Pithecanthropians are today identified in the lower (trinil), or even basal Quaternary (Djetis) of Java: Pithecanthropus erectus (Dubois’ species, found again, in a much finer specimen, in 1935), Pithecanthropus robustus (1938), Meganthropus palæojavaniens6 (1942), and perhaps yet a fourth form. These, added to Gigantopithecus (isolated teeth) of southern China and to the Sinanthropus of Peking represents, on the edges of the Pacific, a half-dozen closely associated characteristic forms.

But this is not all. In Java (Ngandong, also on the River Solo), but in certainly much younger beds (30 meter terrace, cutting into the Trinil folds) ten skulls of an ‘extraordinary being’ have been found in situ (the strangest of the fossil men, as Dr. Weidenreich has put it) Homo soloensis, a ‘reinforced’7 Pithecanthropian whose existence and position at the end of the series8 confer, as I shall explain, an unmistakable character on the whole group, they form the ‘dot on the i.’

Let us look at this carefully.

  1. Interpretation.

Since the discovery of Sinanthropus in China, and of new specimens of Pithecanthropus in Java, no one doubts any more (as they still did in 1920!) that the Pithecanthropians are hominians. But obscurely the idea appears still to drag on among prehistorians that they form a sort of main root of the whole human group, from which all the rest must have sprung: a conception reflected in the term pre-hominians often applied to them.

Now unless I am much mistaken this term is defective in two ways. Firstly, because psychologically speaking (and to judge by Sinanthropus’ degree of culture) the Pithecanthropians were already fully human.

And secondly, because for all sorts of reasons, they should be placed not on the line of the principal axis of hominisation but on the margin of it, under the name, if you like, of ’para-hominids.’

How can we seriously reflect on the group’s morphological composition, indeed, and on its chronological distribution, without recognizing the signs, or rather features, of a complete little zoological unit, more or less self-contained?

This plurality of contiguous forms, accompanied by their ‘giants’…

This anatomical homogeneity, considered as a whole…

This concentration on the eastern edge of Asia…

And finally this termination in an almost recent form (H. soloensis) so perfectly unadaptive that it is impossible to see anything for it but extinction.

Do not all these indications, together, clearly point to an autonomous and isolated layer, forming a sort of short bough, sub-independent and marginal, like the external revetment of the principal mass of hominized anthropoids?

In this case, the exceptional interest of the Pithecanthropians, I venture to say, is not the ‘primitiveness’ of their osteological characteristics but our luck (still unique in palæanthropology!) in possessing their ‘scale’ still recognizably complete—and thanks to this unique ‘scale,’ the power of defining, at its origin, the law of formation of the whole human stem.

  1. Generalisation of interpretation.

For, after all, just as a palæobotanist finding in a stratum a dismembered and crushed vegetable organism in which he recognizes a scale, knows that the other debris of his fossil must be treated as ‘elements of a cone;’ so if my interpretation of the Pithecanthropians is correct, all the other human fossils that we know must find their place in a system of the scale type. Like the simple substances of chemistry, which can only be arranged in a periodic system…. No long straight lines: but a series of short overlapping laminations.

It is in virtue of this key, therefore, that I have tried to group on my diagram (Figure 1) the principal types of fossil man at present known. And it must be admitted that, if not decisive, the solution is certainly satisfactory. It works. For it leads to a feasible distribution; which is moreover fruitful in the lines of research that it suggests.

Three major scales, for example, can be observed in this figure, and the problem is to complete their pattern:

First the African, ending with the enigmatic figure of Rhodesian man;

Another the West Asian, leading to the (particularly adaptive) Palestine men;

And lastly, the third, European, culminating in H. neanderthalensis; the last lamination, more plentiful in our collections than the other two, manifesting, as its end draws near, the same ‘accentuation of extinction’ that is so well marked in H. soloensis, in the case of the Pithecanthropians: the man of Monte Circeo distinctly exaggerating the Neanderthaloid characteristics of the (more ancient) man of Saccopastore.

And, in addition (a remarkable confirmation!) just before the appearance of the hominians, properly so-called, what scale could be better defined than that of the Australopithecines (that attempt at man!) in which by an astonishing return to the Pithecanthropine scale, a rich series of anatomically contiguous forms, also accompanied by their giants, develops almost on the spot, right through the Pliocene in South Africa and ends by dying there!


Humanity, a True Phylum, and a Complete Phylum

I cannot say to what extent the interpretations here suggested of a human group forming genetically a ‘scaled system’ is particularly original. But what I can affirm, from all my palæontological experience, is that it corresponds exactly to what we could have expected in the beginning.

For, after all, what we find here in the case of man is quite simply the general pattern of speciation recognizable in all the other animal groups—taking into account that we know them better!

Whether it is the Oligocene Cynodon, or the Pontian mustelidae, or the Pliocene siphnes (I mention only three species or families that I know well), always, after the ‘initial blank,’ there is the same bundle bristling with enveloping branches.

And is this not also just the same genealogical scheme which, in historical or proto-historical times, holds good for the birth and development of civilisations?

What can we conclude from this coincidence but that, studied in its basic connexions, the Noösphere behaves like a normal protuberance of the Biosphere? At the beginning of this study, I recalled those features in the physiognomy of our adult humanity that fit badly into a general system.

As often happens in zoology, it is the study of the embryonic stages that here, once again, has saved us from our quandary.

Whatever extraordinary characteristics there may be about its ‘inflorescence’ (to the study of which we must now turn), the human group, taken at that depth, obeys the fundamental laws of speciation. Studied in its ‘stem,’ it reveals itself as a true phylum, endowed with the autonomous power of ramification and divergence: a complete phylum, in which can be distinguished successive verticils of anatomically and geographically marginal forms, probably framing (see below) a specially adaptive kernel of inner fibres.

And this is why we have the right in what follows to treat it not as an inexplicable monstrosity but, on the contrary, as the normal (and illuminating) product of an effect of ultra-differentiation, connected with the more and more intensely ‘reflective’ centre, in which, since H. sapiens, anthropogenesis has been operating.


The Phyletic Concentration (or In-Furling) of the Human Group Emission, Accumulation, Expansion and (Initial) Collective Reflexion of Homo Sapiens

It might seem to the palæontologist that anthropology loses much of its interest and attraction on the approach of the upper Quaternary. Anatomically, osteology has no more to hang on to in the human fossils of that age than a few vague and evanescent indications, chiefly of statistical value. Characteristics become more modern and confused. As if, on reaching the sapiens stage, from the zoological point of view, man formed only a group that had reached the tide-mark, at which no more than a few morphological shades of difference troubled the surface….

Well, just the opposite, I should say (provided only that one decides to move from the zoology of the individual to that of the group). There is nothing more attractive and instructive to the biologist than the emergence, in the course of the last glaciation, of a human type finally and definitely established, on the basis of which the true organic edifice of the Noösphere can at last begin to be built.

The appearance of Homo sapiens—not the end of hominisation, as I shall try to prove, but the real and actual beginning of true hominisation, or as one might say quite simply, a second hominisation:

  1. This being marked at its base by a well characterized crisis of emergence;
  2. Birth crisis leading to a radical change in the phyletic economy of the group;
  3. Change leading in its turn to a complete biological supremacy of the group in relation to the rest of life;
  4. And accompanied by a rapid increase on earth of the psychic effects of socialisation.

Let us study these different points in succession.


The Emergence of Homo Sapiens

As a result of the (completely normal) presence of a large ‘birth-blank,’ we cannot know how deep in the Pleistocene the group sapiens extends. As always, its roots escape us. But what is clear is that its emergence, towards the end of the Quaternary, in the midst of the Neanderthaloid complex, has zoologically sensational features, in that it represents the arrival on the scene of a definitely modern type, introduced (or brought into the light) by a movement which one can describe as at once delayed, axial and (in its way) for the second time explosive.

A: Delayed

Anatomically speaking, H. sapiens is certainly a very evolved form. Compare him with the pre- or para-hominians of the lower Pleistocene whom we possess or can guess at; and clearly a long series of small directed mutations must have broken the line to shorten his face, bring forward his chin, fold and raise his brainpan and his brain. However revolutionary the basic human mutation may have been (see XChapter I, Part 3) we cannot conceive that it could have brought a Pliocene anthropoid skull to this point and all at once. Phyletically Homo sapiens is very much in advance of the Pithecanthropians, for example—that is to say very far above them on the stem. And what is more, we must add, he shows himself as particularly central—or axial in relation to them.

B: Axial

Geographically, first of all, in so far as its group very probably originated and matured in the inmost (Central African?) zones of the Pliocene field of hominisation. But, also, morphologically axial owing to the fact that the advance which characterizes it (flattening of the face, concentration of the skull…) reveals a direct advance in cerebration. One step more, straight along the main axis of vitalisation.

And all this, I would add, in an obviously explosive manner; to judge by a very clear speeding up of the phyletic ramification around the point of emergence. Steinheim man, Swanscombe man, the Palestine men (perhaps); so many close scales forming a tight verticil and very close together, like the sepals beneath the calix of a flower.

Here, of course, no quick rush following the explosion of a well-placed mutational charge; but rather a general fermentation in the stem, at a given time and place.

Let us try and see what factors influenced it. And, therefore, following our method, let us try to make out the structure of the newly formed system.


The Intraphyletic Convergence of Homo sapiens

Despite the undeniable sameness of its general colouring, examined closely, the sapiens group reveals itself as much more complex, zoologically speaking, than one would at first believe.

On the one side, indeed—despite the ‘blank’ that conceals its initial composition—everything points to the fact that at the beginning it formed a bundle in varied scales, of which the great races of today (White, Yellow, Black…) probably represent the remains much simplified by ‘clarification’ and ultra-differentiation. And on the other side (which men generally refuse to see!) there appears to be no doubt that in the almost indecipherable web of cultures, nations, states, etc., constantly being woven around us, we must see an organic system of perfectly ‘natural’ unities, issuing biologically from the normal play of chromosomes in an exceptionally ‘psychised’ milieu.

For these two reasons it would be wrong, I think, to consider the remarkable morphological homogeneity of Homo sapiens as in any way due to a relaxation, at the heart of the phylum, of the forces of speciation. On the contrary, these forces (see chapter 4) probably continue to function (if not intensify!) there with time—as befits a group forming not a secondary branch, but the phyletic arrowhead.

Far otherwise, all the facts can be explained by admitting that, on the level of H. sapiens, as a result of interbreeding of distant stocks9, and through the extreme intensification of the bio-psychical forces of socialisation, an absolutely revolutionary phenomenon is being produced; that of a phylum in which (for the first time in the planetary history of life) as a growing result of cerebration and reflexion, convergence triumphs over divergence in the machinery of phylogenesis.

As a result of this change of rule, in fact, we understand for the first time why, in our present human society, the old and new phyletic subdivisions can no longer separate: as if the powers of ramification have lost the strength to push the cleavage in the zoological unities beyond the point of ‘race’ or ‘sub-species.’

But, better still, we see why modern ‘human unities’ now only mix and bunch ever more tightly together; to form, as a whole, a zoological system of a completely new type, to which it is simply impossible to apply any of the terms in use in vegetable or animal systems;—since these various terms have been created to describe a hierarchy among phyletic derivations, while here (in the case of H. sapiens) we are faced with an in-furling on itself of a phylum that is active as a whole.


The Planetary Expansion of Homo Sapiens

A moment’s reflexion on the enormous biological superiority (compactness and penetrative power) conferred by such an infurling on the animal group affected by ‘intra-phyletic convergence’ is enough to show how at the level of H. sapiens, a sudden leap took place in the planetary expansion of the human group.

Of course, even in the course of its pre-sapiens phases, fossil humanity seems to have manifested a truly remarkable power of geographical expansion. The early Palæolithic with its bifacial tools covers all Africa, spills over western and southern Europe; and from southern Asia (entirely occupied) spreads up the Pacific coasts—with a special lithic character belonging to the Pithecanthropians—as far as the 40th parallel.

All this, however, does not carry it basically very much beyond the limits of the old Pliocene ‘anthropoid patch’…

But after that, what a brusque and rapid change!

Like a sort of pan-continental wave, the Upper Palæolithic suddenly spreads with a break of continuity over the ‘coup de poing’ sites of the Old World. It covers them entirely and overflows into the Palaearctic zones of Eurasia and the Australian zones of the Pacific. And finally, profiting by the slightest fissures (the Behring isthmus…) it penetrates America (in no great density, of course, but from north to south and from end to end), and succeeds in filling its vast expanses in a space of perhaps no more than ten thousand years.

According to all the evidence, it is with H. sapiens, and from the moment of his phyletic concentration, that humanity acquired the full expansive force which permitted it to pierce and definitely cover the Biosphere. This particular form of convergence followed by expansion results in

  1. An almost immeasurable increase of the sapiens bundle, properly so-called;
  2. Then, an acceleration in the fall of the last Neanderthaloid scales still clinging to the stem: final disappearance of the Pithecanthropians, Neanderthal men, Rhodesian man…10
  3. And this (as we shall yet see) without causing—quite the contrary!—during this extension and purification, the least halt in the general advance of hominisation.


The Rise of Civilisation in Homo Sapiens

It is, as I suggested above, as a sort of exaggeration, in a ‘reflective’ setting, of the bio-psychical forces of socialisation (common to all living substances) that the reversal of divergence into convergence in human phylogenesis can best be explained or translated into terms of our experience.

I will not try to recount once more the marvelous story of the rise of the human socialisation (that is to say civilisation) from the moment when H. sapiens, having achieved (principally by way of agriculture) stable groupings in considerable clusters, really began to establish a permanent network of thinking centres on earth. A complicated and unsteady process, but a statistically irreversible play of interinfluences, fusions and conquests, which produced rival cultural patches of increasing extent. A continuous series of advances and retirements leading to a positive effect; like the up-and-down of the waves when the tide is rising on the beach.

I could not pursue this analysis in detail without obscuring the broad lines of the pattern that is my purpose to trace.

It is of essential importance to my subject, on the other hand, to expose the profound physical significance of the remarkable association, clearly observable in the sapiens group, between the three phenomena of intra-phyletic convergence, planetary expansion and, lastly, the growth of civilisation: the chief characteristics of the higher phase (inflorescence) of hominisation. What do we find in this occurrence… simple coincidence or causal relationship?

To solve the question, let us look a little more closely at the phenomenon ‘civilisation,’ and analyze its nature. Two conjoint elements can be recognized at a glance: an economic-social arrangement (material element), on the one hand; and, correlatively with it, a certain intensification of human thought (pscyhic element) on the other. This is incontrovertible.

Now is not this just the shaft of light that we need?

For no exact scientific reason, but simply as a result of impression and routine, we have formed the habit of separating the psychic from the material, as if they belonged to two different worlds, the arrangement of individuals and the arrangement of cells; only the latter being regarded as organic and natural, in contrast to the former, which is relegated to the domain of the moral or artificial. Society (human society especially) is a matter for historians and jurists rather than biologists. Is not that what we too often think?

Overcoming and despising this vulgar illusion, let us try, more simply, the opposite road. That is to say, let us extend quite plainly to groupings between individuals the viewpoint that we have already found valid (Chapter I, Part 4) for all known corpuscular groupings, from atoms and molecules to cellular constructions inclusive. In other words, let us decide that the multiple factors (ecological, physiological, psychic…) combining to assemble and firmly unite living beings in general (and human beings more especially) are merely the extension and expression on this level of the forces of complexity/consciousness, always working, as we have said, to construct (as far back as possible and everywhere possible in the universe), in opposition to entropy, corpuscular combinations of an ever higher order.

Does not everything in the phenomenon Homo sapiens then become clear and explicable?

For from this point of view, the rise of civilisation is nothing but the organo-psychical aspect adopted by a colossal biological operation never before attempted in nature: the independent arrangement, not only (as in the insects, for example) of a simple family group, but of a vast group of living groups: I mean, of a whole phylum (and a phylum of planetary extension).

With H. sapiens it is the axial vitalisation of matter arriving under the veil of socialisation at a new stage; not simply the reflexion of an individual on himself, but millions of reflexions seeking and reinforcing one another. The dawn of a collective reflexion. The emergence of reflexion into the collective state…

An extraordinarily simple vision, indeed. And yet extraordinarily fertile. Since, by its light, not only is the human past made plain, but (and this is what I now wish to prove) our present takes shape, and even the future of our race is, to a certain extent, revealed.


The Phyletic Compression of Sapiens and the Self-Rebounding of Evolution


Present Situation of the Human Group:
‘Crossing the Equator’ and Intensification of Convergence

Let us imagine an impulse normally penetrating a sphere by its south pole, and spreading in the direction of the north pole inside this sphere.

In the development of the wave thus engendered, there is evidently room to consider two principal phases: one of expansion (from the south pole to the equator); the other of compression (from the equator to the north pole): the two phases both developing in a curved field, that is to say converging.

I can find nothing better than this geometrical image to express and explain the biological and phyletic state of the human world around us, as I see it, at this moment.

For some thirty thousand years, the convergent expansion of the ‘tied bundle’ sapiens continued to take place in a more or less free are: under pressure, no doubt, but slight pressure; the group finding enough empty spaces for the unfolding of the Noösphere above the Biosphere to take place, on the whole, under circumstances of decompression.

But now for some time, under our very eyes, a great double phenomenon has been taking shape: I mean an assumption of general contact within itself of the whole human mass, with no trace of a slowing down of evolution.

Assumption of general contact—In the course of its ‘historical’ periods, as I have already observed, the development of humanity has operated through the appearance, multiplication and extension of a scattering of semi-independent ‘cultural patches’ on the continental surface. And up to the most recent times one can say that between these different patches there still lay some free tracts or at least loose articulations. But now, by a generalised peripheral fusion, the system has suddenly become one. Economically and spiritually speaking, the age of civilisations has ended, and that of one civilisation is beginning.

All this, as I went on to say, without apparent relaxation of the impulse of hominisation considered as a whole.

Let us consider this important point a little more closely. Theoretically one might wonder whether, on reaching a certain degree of saturation (that is to say of coalescence between its elements) a living mass would not react (out of self-regulation) by reducing its power of internal multiplication and ramification.

Now the facts—at least in the case of man—clearly answer this suggestion in the negative. Never (startling statistics vouch for the fact) has humanity, in all its divisions, been more prolific than today. Never, moreover, has the field of action (in other words, ‘the volume’) of each of its elements been greater: so great, in fact, that every individual is already virtually in the position of being able to act instantaneously on the whole of the Noösphere. And never, either (to judge by a certain culturo-racial ferment in what I have called above the ‘natural human unities’), has the impulse of speciation been secretly stronger.11

Having now everywhere entered into close geographical contact with itself, the ‘sheet’ sapiens, far from diminishing, seems to be increasing (almost explosively so) its coefficient of internal expansion.

We can only say that, by a sudden reversal of the old situation, humanity sees a rapidly mounting and irreversible régime of supercompression beginning.

‘The equator’ has been reached; henceforth, around and before us, planetary living-space is contracting.

After the stage of ‘expansive’ convergence the phase of compressive convergence is now announced for human phylogenesis.

A priori, that is to say by the working of the mechanism here presented and accepted for bio- and anthropogenesis, what new effects should we expect to follow under the new régime?

On an earlier page (Chapter I, Part 4) I felt justified in reducing the whole mechanism of cosmic vitalisation to what I called the law of ‘complexity/consciousness.’ But this was only an abbreviated and condensed expression. It needs no more than a moment’s reflexion to see that matter could only grow in complexity (under the favourable play of chance) if the adaptable elements were previously brought close together.

‘Compression/complexity/consciousness’ or further, if one prefers it:


Such actually is the three (or four) term formula, really capable of expressing the process of Biogenesis along its complete chain.

Only under pressure (and as the pressure increases) does vitalised matter react, in order to survive, by ultra-organising:12 such is the general primary condition of the cosmic tendency towards Improbability.

This being assumed, and by the fact of what I have just called the human wave’s ‘crossing of the equator,’ here is the most actively adaptable cosmic substance we know (Homo sapiens) subjected henceforth to a geometrically increasing planetary super-compression.

What can we conclude from this situation but that very far from finding itself (as we too often hear said) at a dead point, humankind can only be (and this in virtue of the most certain and fundamental laws of biogenesis) at a live point, that is to say as regards to anthropogenesis, at a point of acceleration?

And is not this exactly what leaps at once to the eye a posteriori provided that one observes the extraordinary symptoms of supervitalisation multiplying at this very moment in the human mass around us, as a sequel to the intensification of phyletic convergence due to the sudden and essentially modern rise in planetary compression?

Let us enumerate and rapidly analyse the chief of these effects in three successive stages.


Super-Vitalisation of the Group Sapiens by Phyletic Compression

A: Planetisation of Technology and Explosive Release of Free Reflective Energy

Whether one welcomes or deplores it, nothing is more surely and exactly characteristic of modern times than the irresistible invasion of the human world by technology. Mechanism invading like a tide all the places of the earth and all forms of social activity.

Mechanism rapidly overflowing the limits of the individual, provincial and national work, to rise to the dimensions of a planetary operation.

Mechanism, just recently passing the stage of taking control and multiplying mechanical efforts to assume the same functions in the mental domain. All the beginnings of cybernetics with its prodigious possibilities of automatic combination and communication!

As might have been expected (by virtue of the general mechanism of biogenesis) it is by a jump in the ‘arrangement’ of matter that the thrust of life released and sustained by the modern supercompression of the Noösphere first expresses itself.

And, as might also have been expected, it is by a correlative leap in the quantity (if not immediately in the quality) of disposable reflective energy that this progress of the Organic around us is doubled (or supported).

Progressively saved by the machine from the anxieties that bound his hands and mind to material toil, relieved of a large part of his work and compelled to an ever-increasing speed of action by the devices which his intelligence cannot help ceaselessly creating and perfecting, man is about to find himself abruptly plunged into idleness. This is the situation. From a scientific point of view, what is to be done?

Appalled by the extraordinary spectacle of a planet faced by the disquieting spectre of approaching worklessness, and producing an enormous mass of unused activities, some theorists would try to stop or at least slow up what appears to be a dangerous and unhealthy wastage.

An impossible plan. An effort even against nature. For if the thesis advanced in these pages has the least validity, the particular action required of us by biology in face of the modern economic crisis is not (and in no case could it be) to prevent the release of these activities, but on the contrary to assure by suitable measures an easy flow and correct transformation for a sap that is rising under the pressure of the most irresistible power in the universe: that is to say a drift of matter towards an order that will allow it an ever increasing interiorisation.

B: Transformation of free human energy into cerebral energy

Like many other things in nature, psychic energy freely released by modern noöspherical compression appears in a raw state. I mean that in its chief part (that furnished by the ‘working class,’ assisted in its mechanical labours by machine-techniques and automatism) it may seem at first sight difficult to use. How can a man pass quickly from manual labor to work with his head and his heart…? All the question of ‘leisure.’

This is no place to attack and discuss, even from a strictly biological angle, the delicate—and nevertheless vital—problem put to our generation by the rise and education of the masses.

On the other hand what seems to me essential to point out because it is already implicit in the march of observable facts, is the general direction in which the operation is tending inevitably to develop.

At hours of crisis and discouragement, we are tempted to think that the best thing a man can or ever will do with his free powers is to amuse himself and cultivate his garden; or perhaps principally to make war: war the great open sore (could one not say?) which drains the overflow of energy engendered by anthropogenesis.

This is what the so-called ‘realists’ repeat all around us. But really, if one can only see it, is not something quite different happening? For, unmistakably, it is becoming more evident every day that the transformation of human energy is not tending towards the form of rest nor the form of war, but with all its natural weight towards a third form: the form of research [“directed consciousness” —Curator].

Research, which is stimulated and favoured equally by war and peace, each in its own way. Research which, once undertaken, goes forward like a rocket, fed and accelerated by the logic and stimulus of its own success.

Research, a handful of amateurs only two centuries ago…. And today a whole advance guard for humanity.

Research: in other words, the human group led irresistibly, by the very play of its fusion and combination, to think always further, always faster, always more unitedly.

What is the significance of this astounding and indisputable phenomenon? None other than this:

In the course of the first phase, as we have seen (that of initial hominisation) life reflected on itself, in the human element, so as to form ‘the elementary grain of thought!’

Later, in the course of a second phase (that of hominisation continued by civilisation under a régime of expansion) a whole network of reflective fibres, still slack and diffuse, set out to cover the face of the earth.

And now, in the third phase (that of hominisation prolonged under pressure), the network itself shows signs of rolling up on itself—or, as one might say, of planetising itself.

On the horizon, a collection of the whole of humanity, reflecting on itself.

Now, can we fail to recognise in the enormous and incredibly complicated system of modern technico-social mechanisation the authentic and direct continuation of the biological action and process of cerebration?

Yes, ever and again, cerebration, the main axis of zoological evolution, in the form of collective research. But this time a cerebration carried by extreme compression, to the level of the Noösphere. And, what is still more remarkable, a cerebration henceforth endowed with the entirely new power of foreseeing and planning its own developments.

Let us end on this important point.

C: Appearance in the human milieu of a régime of self-evolution

Although one cannot consider it as having ever behaved in a purely passive manner13 towards the forces of vitalisation, th Biosphere seems, up to the Pliocene, to have been led rather than leading in the world’s history of evolution. And for a long time after the initial crisis of hominisation too the apparent progress of things does not seem to have appreciably changed.

The reason is that, to modify the old state of affairs, it was not enough for the cosmic material, as a first step, to become reflectively conscious of itself by hominising in the individual. It is quite clear that more was necessary, as a second step: individual man, by force of reflexion, became at the same time explicitly conscious, both of the general evolutionary tendency of which he forms (in the field of our experience) the extreme point, and of the power conferred on him of influencing or even guiding this current.

For, as we now see, it is only in the ‘social compressive phase’ with the support, almost compulsorily provided, of all minds in a single planetary effort, that this new threshold can be crossed.

We see it, I say, and prove it every moment by our very attitude. For it is only just today that, armed with all our sciences, we are beginning to grow familiar with a universe in a state of ‘cosmogenesis’—and, more remarkable still, with the idea that, at its most vital point, the future of this cosmogenesis may be in our hands.

At last, under the pressure of accumulated facts, the new truth manages despite everything to affect our habitual vision of things. Nothing proves (let us decide to recognise the fact!) that biology, following the same methods of prolongation in the cellular field, may not achieve tomorrow what physics is already achieving before our eyes in the nuclear field. Because of the great mass of factors that condition it, anthropogenesis is assuredly dependent on sidereal, planetary and biospherical energies, the workings of which we shall never know. But is its most axial and most active germ—that is to say the progress of the nervous system (individual and collective)—is it not on the point of falling under the extended beam of our inventive power?

Following the convergent paths of genetics, biochemistry, endocrinology, cerebrology and the new psychology, man, associated with all other men, feels that the hour is approaching when, forced by his own destiny, he will succeed in putting his finger on the most basic springs of his own organic development.

What can we say but that, in the long run, when it reaches its higher and final phase of extreme compression a new form of evolution will become possible and begin for terrestrial reflexion after the era of passive evolutions: the era of self-evolution, opening in the direction of some ultra-humanity for organised matter.

Without losing touch with the facts, let us now gaze at this new horizon, and through the thick mists, following the axis of advance, try to distinguish something ahead.


The Ending of the Human Phylum: Senescence or Paroxysm? Extinction or Transformation?

Considered in what we have called its present ‘inflorescence,’ the human ‘species’ definitely appears to our observation as a singular organic form, formed by in-furling or coiling (under compression and in a reflective milieu) of multiple fibres, old and new, constantly engendered by the normal play of the forces of multiplication and ramification proper to every living substance. A true phylum, but one converging on itself by the double effect of coreflexion and planetary pressure; and consequently a phylum passing from the normal régime of passive evolution to that of self-guided evolution: such, by analysis of its phyletic structure, the biologist realises the nature of the human group to be.

A well defined zoological group, therefore.

But at the same time, a group still young, and even, apparently, in full crisis of growth.

Faced with such a situation, it is inevitable that with all proper prudence we should seek to extend the movement in our thoughts. Not out of simple curiosity, but from a vital need and duty; the duty of foreseeing the future, in so far as possible, in order to face and prepare for it; and a need (an essential need to which we will return!) to know something about what awaits us at the end of the adventure.

In this effort of calculation, it would of course be vain and childish to introduce the unforeseeable and unimaginable modalities of the ‘ultra-human’ towards which we are drifting. Following the age (decidedly past) of civilisations, for example, what tomorrow will be the new forms of antagonism and the new periodic aspects of growth on the surface of an earth economically, culturally and politically united? Or again, under the prolonged morphogenic action of the new powers acquired by biology, what psychoanatomical state are we to suppose the human brain will reach in a million years…? Exciting for the mind, no doubt, but still beyond the reach of science to seek an exact answer.

On the other hand, I repeat, nothing forbids—indeed everything urges—us to try to prolong the curve of hominisation into time, following the essential constants, in order to decide (as a rough approximation) towards what general type of future the irresistible play of the terrestrial forces of vitalisation is taking us.

Right at the beginning of his study, the analysis of the human phylum, taken at its most distant origins, brought us into the presence of an initial ‘blank’ at which, for various concordant reasons, we found ourselves led to postulate a privileged mutation: the individual step of reflexion.

Now, pushed to the extreme limit of the present, the inspection of the same phylum confronts us with another lacuna, placed symmetrically to it: the ‘upper blank’ at the antipodes of the ‘lower blank.’

After the mystery of the first beginning, the mystery of the end.

What death, or what transformation, is hidden in this impenetrable space?

If only, as in the case of the stars, we were lucky enough to be able to photograph by their ‘psychic’ light a series of vitalised orbs caught at various stages in their evolution, this question of the ultimate future in store for our little thinking world would no doubt have a direct and simple answer.

But since, unfortunately, like a zoologist who has only one example (and immature at that) of an animal form, we are always confined to the single case of our earth as the only ‘noösphere’ observable in the universe. So we are compelled to resort to an indirect method of estimating the probable falling point of our trajectory.

Let us try. And to do so let us make a double attack, that is to say consider and solve two linked alternatives.

  1. Senescence or paroxysm?
  2. And if paroxysm, paroxysm of extinction or of transformation? How scientifically (that is to say in conformity with the most general laws of biogenesis) should we most properly imagine the natural end of a living planet?


Senescence or Paroxysm?

The first thought to strike anyone trying to imagine the ultimate future of humanity is certainly that of a general enfeeblement of the race. For if, in a universe dominated (as is said) by cycle, not only individuals but the species themselves wear out and die, how and why should we hope ourselves (under the pretext that we are reflective and at present leading), to escape the common law?

Always and everywhere in the world, rise is followed by decline. Therefore, past the zenith towards which we are still moving, for us also, irremediably, some day, senescence…

That is what instinctively14 we all tend at heart to think.

Now, if we examine our question most closely, nothing is less clear than this alleged evidence.

For (and even admitting—which is not yet certain—that in the course of geological time species have really disappeared from internal exhaustion)15 this rule has only been observed (and for good reason) in the case of lateral branches, and not on the main axis (or leading shoot) of the tree of life. Now nothing proves (quite the contrary) that conditions are the same in the two cases.

On the one hand, indeed, in the case of the leading shoot (represented, we have agreed, cf. Chapter 1, Part 4, Section D, by the human phylum) the common competition of species with the rest of the Biosphere is found almost non-existent while adaptability to surroundings seems practically infinite.

And on the other hand—an even more significant fact—following this same leading shoot, the phyletic mechanism, we have observed, radically changes its nature. For decisive planetary and psychic reasons, it changes from divergent to convergent. Now how are we to extend the idea of loosening and weakening—how are we to apply the notion of growing old—to a convergence?

The more deeply one goes into this situation the more convinced one is that in the case of the terrestrial Noösphere as in that of atoms, stars or continents, certain basic drifts (the true kernel of the phenomenon) are hidden beneath the veil of those cyclical movements particularly studied by science so far; drifts incapable of not progressing always in the same direction and always further—that is to say of not reaching some specific moment of explosion, maturation or transformation.

This urges us to look, finally, in the direction not of senescence but of a ‘paroxysm,’ if we want to reach a scientifically reasoned idea by the only way of ending conceivable for our hominised phylum. But what kind of paroxysm?


Extinction or Transformation?

Here once more, at the simple word ‘paroxysm’ our imagination tends to leap to the most convenient analogy: that of the rocket that explodes blindingly on reaching full height, having sown behind it a trail of sparks. Living planets ending their evolution rather like Novæ; in a great light that goes out. Why not? Now here once more it is not, I think, in the most immediately probable sense that we must decide the second alternative presented to our attention.

But first, I must call the attention of biologists to a remarkable feature of the auto-evolutionary régime begun, as we have seen, in the heart of the terrestrial Noösphere by the entry of human socialisation into a compressive phase. I wish to point to the gradual replacement of external pressure by internal attraction (push by pull) as the ‘motive force’ of evolution.

Up to a point (see Chapter 4, Part 2, Section C) for life to climb it was enough, roughly speaking, for it to be at once pursued and fed. After this (that is to say once it became, in the form of modern man, the director of its own progress) it grows abundantly clear that nothing can oblige it to move unless it wants to, or even passionately wants to do so. I have often said and I repeat: on mounds of wheat, coal, iron, uranium—under any sort of demographic pressure you like—the man of tomorrow will lie down and sleep if he ever loses his taste for the ultra-human. And not just any sort of taste but a strong and deeply rooted taste; a taste constantly growing with the increase in his powers of vision and action; a taste, in other words, capable of becoming paroxysmal on the approach of the final paroxysm that he is charged to prepare.

And now after this statement I ask: Could there by chance be a condition which the universe must absolutely fulfil in order that (in seeking and piercing point at least) humanity, now conscious of its self-evolutionary power and duty, may feel constantly growing within it the ardour necessary for discovery and creation?

Yes, I should answer. Yes indeed, there is such a condition, a condition necessary, if not sufficient, for the active survival of a reflective substance: and this is for the world to be so constructed that thought, which was born from it by evolution, shall have the right to consider itself irreversible in its essential conquests. Without being able to prove it dialectically, of course (for one has only rough evidence)16 I definitely perceive that if the universe before us were to show itself tomorrow, from the scientific point of view, so closed and stagnant that the whole psychic superstructure developed in it during thousands of years was destined one day to disintegrate, without trace—I clearly perceive, I say, that in a universe thus hermetically sealed I (and everyone with me) would feel myself physically asphyxiated.

Which amounts to saying that by its very nature a régime of auto-evolution, since it requires an unlimited hope of survival in order to function, is structurally irreconcilable with the possibility of a total (or even substantial) reversal of hominisation.

And for this reason, as I said at the beginning, the easy solution of a human phylogenesis ending suddenly, like a lightning-flash in the night, is positively excluded as biologically unviable.

Not a paroxysm of extinction therefore. But by process of elimination,17 under one form or another a paroxysm of transformation—that is to say a critical transformation. Such is, finally, the only scientifically conceivable form for the ultimate phase of the vitalising process in which we are at present engaged.

In the initial blank of our origins was hidden, as we recalled some pages back, a critical point of individual reflexion.

Well, symmetrically, would there not be a second critical point of reflexion and cerebration (not only an individual but a ‘noöspherical’ one), which is hidden but towards which we are actively drifting, and which lies at the tip of the ‘final blank’ of human ‘inflorescence?’ A critical point18 beyond which we would be unable to distinguish anything as a phenomenon since, by the very fact that it forms a threshold of irreversibility, it coincides19 with an emergence from the structures and dimensions of evolution.20

For myself, I cannot scientifically imagine any other conclusion for the phenomenon of man.

A strange vision, no doubt, this vision of a universe in which each thinking planet would represent, at its term, by concentration of its Noösphere, a point of penetration and escape from the temporo-spatial envelope of things.

But from the moment we try resolutely to see humanity not as a superficial modality of the Biosphere but a superior and extreme form adopted, evolutionarily, by the World-Stuff, how can we avoid perspectives of this vast scale?

On the cosmic scale (as all modern physics teaches us) only the fantastic has a chance of being true.


  1. And naturally to the physicist also, confronted with the problem of conceiving a cosmic stuff capable of passing (by way of corpuscular evolution) from the hydrogen state to the human. But that is another story!

  2. By this word I mean the ‘thinking’ layer formed by the spreading of the zoological human group above (and discontinuously with) the Biosphere.

  3. Convergence (as we shall see) of the phylum on itself; and simultaneous appearance of the forces of self-evolution.

  4. In the present state of our knowledge, the history of the primates can broadly be traced as follows:

    Lower Eocene. Appearance of three small forms (tarsioids and lemuroids) in northern America and western Europe. Nothing yet known (lack of suitable deposits?) in Africa or Asia.

    Middle and upper Eocene. Notable increase of size and probable extension of group (passage to South America and southern Asia).

    Oligocene. Great reshaping with breaks of continuity. Establishment of Platyrrhines in South America. The group disappears in North America and Europe. Appearance of important centre of development (autochthonous? or derivative?) in Africa: the first anthropoids (‘pre-anthropoids’) appear in the Fayum. The first Miocene. Maximum expansion of anthropoids (Dryopithecidæ, etc.) outside Africa: southern Europe; southern Asia.

    Pliocene. Reduction and concentration of the ‘anthropoid patch’ to Africa (entire), Asia, south of the Himalayas, and Indonesia.

  5. Abundance of Dryopithecidæ in the Siwaliks. And abundance also (up to the lower Pleistocene) of orang-utans in southern China and Indo-China.

    It is interesting to note in passing that this kind of distribution (both widespread and divided) provides the exact optimum for mutating material; since it provides not only added chances of mutation (chances multiplied by the general extent of the group) but, in addition, an added chance of preservation and multiplication for mutated individuals (since they are protected by partition).

    But, what is more (and this directly affects our subject), it is equally clear that this composition of the Pliocene anthropoid patch suggests also an exceptional morphological complexity in its mutated portion: the various small differences in the multiple sub-groups having a chance to find themselves represented in the hominized fraction.

    So, a rather wide and loose peduncle—a peduncle relatively polymorphose anatomically, and strongly differentiated according to the variations in its geographical co-ordinates: so, to judge by the state of the Biosphere just before the leap of hominisation, we may suppose the human phylum to have looked in its original blank state.

    And so, it seems, it actually must have been; otherwise we cannot satisfactorily explain the distribution of the most ancient human fossils now known, just above the missing peduncle.

  6. Giant form, known by a very pronounced mandible: P3 uniradiculate, noncutting; symphysis straighter than in P. robustus. According to von Koenigswald’s latest ideas, P. robustus is an adult form of Modjokerto man, and of the age of Djetis (Villefranchian?) as is also Meganthropus.

  7. Brain considerably larger than in Pithecanthropus; but cranial characteristics (thickness of occipital, structure of auricular region, etc.) still exaggerated.

  8. H. soloensis was probably a contemporary of our Aurignacians…

  9. cf. cases of hybridisation among different species of orchids, reported by Professor Magrou.

  10. This shedding of the scales continuing into historic times, to affect the outermost leaves of the sapiens group: the Tasmanians, for example.

  11. At a first approximation, A. Cailleux (C.R.S. de la Société géologique de France, 1950, p. 222) estimates that the number of species doubles within the Biosphere in 80 million years. In this geometrical progression there certainly lies the principle of a biological impulse of a speical type, different from the simple impulse of the ‘demographic’ type.

  12. On an indefinite or indefinitely extensible planteary surface, life would no doubt have remained stationary, supposing that it had ever been born.

  13. In a cosmic matter completely indifferent to complexity and consciousness, one cannot conceive that the play of chance would have the least power to set going and sustain the slightest movement of ‘corpusculation’ and ‘cerebration.’

  14. And this in the hypothesis (both the most probable and the most favourable) that no stellar catastrophe will arrive during the relatively brief time (some millions of years at the most) required for the complete biological cycle of human evolution.

  15. And not by the simple play of competition with neighbouring species, or failure to adapt to new ecological conditions. Not to speak of species (particularly numerous, it seems, in the lower groups) becoming almost immortal by virtue of immobility.

  16. Evidence to be verified by every one individually, until, as I am convinced, the statistical resultant finally adds up to an explicit ‘universal agreement.’

  17. I will not consider here the hypothesis of a transplanetary emigration of future humanity; on the one hand, because the operation does not seem to me biologically probable; and also because (imagined even under the most favourable conditions, conditions in which the ‘emigrants’ could bring the very essence of the psychic treasures accumulated by planetary hominisation) such a migration would merely retard the problem of a paroxysm, and that of total death.

  18. Not of fusion, of course, but of mutual reinforcement, for the elementary reflexions engaged in the operation.

  19. Just like the primitive atom postulated by an expanding universe, but in a reverse sense and at the opposite pole of Space-Time.

  20. An emergence whose distance in the future (reckoned in millions of years) we cannot yet guess; since the speed of phylogenesis in the realm of ‘inflorescence’ (case of Homo sapiens) is probably quite different, and much greater than in the case of the divergent branches whose longevity is only beginning to become measurable by the methods of modern palæontology.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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