Table of Contents
A Major and Indisputable Fact, the Convergence of the Human
The human ‘species,’ like any other piece of living matter, has an organic tendency to multiply itself to the maximum. However, unlike what happens in a shoal of fish or a colony of bacteria (and for a number of reasons which will be apparent later), this multiplication does more than simply increase the number of elements that make up the population: in addition, it produces a system of ever more closely linked and more fully centred structures in the totality of the group that is in a state of expansion.
In itself, we should note, this phenomenon of concentration and organization is absolutely indisputable. It seems difficult in these days to deny that mankind, after having gradually covered the Earth with a loosely socialized living fabric, is now coming to knit itself together (racially, economically, and mentally) at a rapidly increasing speed. Before we attempt any explanation of the process, we must realize that the world of man is being irresistibly driven to form one single bloc. It is converging upon itself.
No one, I repeat, disputes this convergence because everyone is subject to it. On the other hand, it is an odd fact that no one seems to notice it (except to lament it); and no one seems to suspect that, beneath the complex of historical accidents into which the event may be reduced by analysis, a certain ‘force’ is undoubtedly at work: a force as primordial and general as nuclear forces or gravity, but one which tells us much more, perhaps, about the physical nature of the universe.
We have here the massive fact, which is nevertheless completely disregarded (precisely, it may be, because it is too vast and too obvious), of a gradual totalization of mankind on itself which nothing can stop. What I shall try to do here is to ensure that this fact is resolutely accepted and thought out, with all its implications, in the scientific setting of energetics and biology; and in doing so, I shall deal with the following points:
- The initial appearance (in the Pliocene) of the faculty of reflection.
- The collective acceleration (in modern man) of the process of reflection.
- Energy and reflection.
- The irreversibility of reflection.
Each of these successive steps will oblige us to take a more definitive line in relation to the scientific interpretation of the phenomenon of man. It is hardly necessary to say in so many words, so clearly does it emerge from the context of this essay, that I am speaking here purely as ‘a man of science.’ Our inquiry lies on the plane of ‘appearances’ and does not touch the transcendent problem of causality.
The Initial (Pliocene) Step of Reflection
For any clear-sighted modern observer, we have just seen, the ‘phenomenon of phenomena’ in nature is (or at least should be) the physical concentration and mental centration, now taking place, of mankind upon itself.
To this I must now add that, for any mind that has had even the least training in envisaging the past, this great modern affair of human convergence is simply the repercussion or continuation of another, much older, event (and just as much neglected, even though just as vast): this was the radical refashioning of life towards the end of the Tertiary period under the influence of ‘hominization.’
Let us try, then, consciously to realize that there is something extraordinary about a state of the world—the world of man—that can seem quite ‘natural’ to us because we are born into it, but which constitutes for the paleontologist a fundamental enigma.
Influenced by simplifying anatomical and phylogenic ideas, the layman has become accustomed to thinking of man as a more or less unbroken continuation of the Pliocene world. ‘Man: an animal who has been more successful, though in obedience to the same laws, as the rats and the elephants’—and that is the whole story.
Objectively and scientifically, however, we must form another and a very different conception, if we are to respect the facts.
Between the animal world of the Pliocene period (so exuberant and open in the variety and dispersal of its forms) and the human world which succeeds it (so astoundingly closed, structured, and so predominant over, or exclusive of, every other form of life)—between these two, whatever may have been said, there is not simply a difference of degree: there is a change of order or (if the world is preferred) of state. However rooted in the pre-human the noösphere may be, just as the pre-human itself is rooted in the pre-living, nevertheless, in virtue of its properties, its methods of invention, and its autonomy, it is undeniably a new envelope, sui generis, appearing on the ancient biosphere.
Before any attempt at explanation, it must be accepted as indisputable that ‘something’ happened in between those two successive planetary states (before and after the kingdom of man); that ‘something’ intervened in the general process of the vitalization of matter: something so subtle that at the very beginning its coming produced no apparent stir, and yet something so violently active, fundamentally, that after several hundreds of thousands of years the face of the Earth has been completely transformed by it.
What then, was that something, if not the birth of reflection?
Reflection—that psychological quality found in a being which not only knows but knows that it knows: I am quite sure that we do not sufficiently realize in our minds how amply—simply by the power it give us of intellectually embracing the world, of foreseeing the future and even, up to a point, of controlling our own evolution—reflection by itself is sufficient to explain the sudden lead over all the rest of life achieved by the human.
There is a further, and even more important fact to which we pay too little attention—how naturally, in virtue of its genesis, this property (characteristic of a matter that has been taken to its maximum of arranged complexity) emerges from the most axial depths of the process—not (as well still thought in Darwin’s time) the zoological but the cosmic process of what we call evolution.1
In science, two things are henceforth beyond discussion.
First, in virtue of some initial (and, because ‘initial,’ inexplicable) disposition of the Weltstoff, matter coalesces or crystallizes (this is as a result of chances that are brought into play by the fantastic multiplicity and fantastic agitation of the particles into which it condenses); but, what is more, it also tends to organize itself ‘centrically’ in the form of ever larger and more complex particles.
And secondly, under the influence of this increasing organization and in step with it, this same matter becomes interiorized (here we meet the phenomena of consciousness) with an intensity that increases, in the higher living beings, with the development of the nervous system.
Supposing we arrange this series of observed facts in a continuous sequence: let us, that is, having allowed its full value to the evolutionary law of complexity-consciousness, study the rise throughout the geological ages, in conformity with this universal trend,2 of the Earth’s ‘psychic temperature.’ And, in conclusion, let us see how at the term of this rise, thought, properly so called, suddenly bursts in, to dominate and transform everything on the surface of the Earth.
Confronted with this whole body of experience, I do not see that it is possible, scientifically, to avoid the following conclusion:
Towards the end of the Tertiary period, at one particularly cerebralized point of the biosphere, and in virtue of a general maturing of the latter, one of the countless organo-psychic rays (at once divergent and proceeding by tentative gropings) which make up the living world, succeeded, by the play of chances preferentially selected and accumulated, in crossing the surface-boundary which separates the reflective from the irreflective.3
We cannot yet say to what sudden (and perhaps infinitesimal) shift in the arrangement of the neurons this psychological revolution may well have corresponded.
But we can no longer be blind to the biological and dynamic value of the event.
Man is not simply a new species of animal (as we are still too often told). He represents, he initiates, a new species of life.
And this means that if we are to picture to ourselves the true dimensions of the human, we must conceive it as so rich and so capable of expansion as by itself alone to fill an “evolutionary space” at least as large as that occupied by the whole of the pre-human.
Thus the initial (Pliocene) hominization of life is the critical point—not simply terminal (and marking an ending) but initial (and introducing a rebound)—through which, as I shall now try to show, the cosmic wave of arrangement and interiorization gets off to a fresh start in a direction that we can accurately determine: and it is with that cosmic wave that henceforth the idea of evolution is identified in our minds.
Continuations and Acceleration in Modern Man of the Cosmic Process of Reflection
One of the most pernicious illusions developed in the heart of man during the course of history is the pseudo-evidence of his completeness and fixity. Today, we have just come to realize that the atoms themselves, in their turn, are in motion, drawn, after life and after the stars, into a generalized evolutionary scheme: and yet even now one can still find good minds (even among philosophers and scientists) to maintain that even if everything around us in the universe, from the infinitesimal to the immense, is in motion, nevertheless we ourselves, at any rate, are always the same—because we are stabilized once and for all.
This alleged ‘perennial’ dogma of human invariance fades into contemptible insignificance, if only we realize the genetical relationship that connects the two elements or terms which emerge from what we have been saying:
- Of a collective convergence (now taking place) of mankind upon itself,
- Which succeeds a reflection (which took place in the past) of the living individual upon himself.
Placed side by side, we shall find, the two events have but a single explanation and a single possible significance.
It is because man reflected as an individual in the past that today he can no longer prevent himself from converging technico-socially upon himself. And again, it is because he is converging, irresistibly and collectively, upon himself that he is forced to reflect ever more profoundly upon himself and upon all his fellow-men at the same time.
In other words, a convergent mankind is identical with an ultra-reflective mankind: and, conversely, an ultra-reflective mankind is identical with a convergent mankind.
From this point of view, and as though by magic, what seemed the most completely stabilized thing in nature—man—is suddenly seen to be the most mobile thing in the world—because it has been launched into a new compartment of the universe (‘the domain of reflection’) in which everything is still free and everything still has to be created.
A completely new space, lying open ahead.
And yet, at the same time, a space which is structurally limited in the future by the maximum state (or degree) of reflection that is theoretically attainable by the human planetary quantum when, through convergence, it has reached the biological term of its totalization.
Once we have woken up to this twofold realization, our first reaction is one of astonishment that so evident an ordering of the universe should have gone so long unnoticed. An extremely simple historical reason then becomes obvious to our minds, which explains and justifies this sort of blindness. The reason is as follows.
Although mankind has been potentially converging upon itself ever since its origins (in virtue of the reflective quality of its very stuff), nevertheless it was inevitable that it should go through a long ‘distracting’ period of spatial expansion before becoming conscious of its underlying unity: that period of the time mankind needed for invading and occupying the Earth.
Just (as I have said elsewhere) as a vibration which penetrates a sphere through one of its poles, so the human wave (even though propagating itself in a ‘curved’ medium) was obliged at first to spread out and diversify, rather than coalesce. Now, it is from this phase of expansion and dispersion (which includes the whole of the Palaeolithc, the whole of the Neolithic, the whole of history) that we are now in process of emerging. In us, and around us, under the continued influence of hominization, the wave has just crossed the equator and suddenly entered into another hemisphere; and there, if it is to continue its advance, it must necessarily force itself into closer contact in a new climate.
In a mankind that has reached saturation point on the planet, a neo-socialization of compression is coming to replace the palaeo-socialization of expansion whose various vicissitudes fill—often so uselessly—our history books.4
This is, indeed, a massive event. For, in step withthe gaining of preponderance by the phenomena of convergence in anthropogenesis, it is collective reflection that is beginning to grow vertically in the noösphere, while at the same time there rises over our horizon the hitherto hidden pole of a unification, both organic and mental, into which we are henceforth ‘falling’ at a constantly accelerating speed.
It seems to me inevitable that in the near future our scientific attention must be continually more attracted, even fascinated, by this extreme evolutionary point of our ‘forward dive’: the more so that it seems possible here and now to distinguish, as we shall be seeing, some of its essential characteristics or fundamental properties.
However, before we embark on this nice question of the upper limits of the phenomenon of man, I must first explain how, from the point of view I am adopting, we meet and how we can solve the problem in energetics presented by a reconciliation of the inexorable laws of thermodynamics with the appearance and development on Earth of reflection.
Reflection and Energy
What still makes contact between physics and biology impossible and in consequence delays the incorporation of the latter in the former inside a generalized physics is ultimately a problem of energy.
On the one hand, we have in physics a matter which slides irresistibly, following the line of least resistance, in the direction of the most probable forms of distribution. And on the other hand, we have in biology the same matter, drifting (no less irresistibly but in this case in a sort of ‘greater effort for survival’)5 towards ever more improbable, because ever more complex, forms of arrangement.
In order to solve this fundamental contradiction between physical entropy and biological ‘orthogenesis’ the nineteenth century vitalists had tried to develop the notion of certain (measurable) forces peculiar to organic substances: a position that was soon to become untenable, both experimentally and theoretically, inasmuch as it involved the co-existence of two independent energetics in the same universe: one for what was called inert matter, and the other for vitalized matter.
In our own day the too few scientists who have the courage to face the problem squarely6 seem to be looking for a way out of their difficulties, and a compensation for them, by emphasizing the fact that life, when studied right down to its ultimate strands, is seen experientially to obey the laws of thermodynamics; and, moreover, that this same life represents quantitatively only an insignificant event in the totality of the universe.
Surely, however, this answer evades the very basis of the problem while at the same time improperly minimizing its data.
It is undeniable, indeed, that life occupies an incredibly small volume of time and space in the field of our experience. It is undeniable, too, that it is born and develops in the very heart of the flood of entropy, precisely as an eddy—as the effect of a counter-current.
If, on the other hand, we do no more than study the case of the earth, we cannot dismiss this further series of evident facts:
- First, that the eddies of life within entropy appear as soon as and wherever the chances allow it (the planetary birth of life).
- Secondly, once these eddies have appeared, they grow more pronounced in their manifestations as intensely as they possibly can (the planetary reflection of life).
- Finally, the phenomenon of the vitalization of large molecules, which we find so astonishing, is itself no more than the continuation of the moleculization of atoms, and ultimately of the atomization of energy—that is, of a process that affects, and defines, the universe in the totality of its substance and history.
In fact, if we are graphically to express the energetic situation of the universe as it is presented objectively to our experience, it would appear that we must envisage a system (Figure 1) in which, running at right angles to the axis OX of increasing entropy, a second axis OY expresses a remarkable fact: that, in order to pass entropically from an initial state of ‘tension’ to a final state of ‘release of tension,’ cosmic energy is obliged, in its totality, to follow a curve which runs through the complex (atomization, moleculization, vitalization, reflection). Along this curve it develops arrangement before it ultimately discards its arrangement in conformity with the laws of less effort and greater probability.7
This means that in order to incorporate life (and, in a more general way, all the phenomena of corpusculization) a general energetics must necessarily be built up not on the single axis of entropy, but on two conjugate axes, one of greater probability, and the other of greater complexity.8
The whole problem, then, depends upon deciding:
- On the one hand, whether the ascent of the curve abc along OY, towards the more complex, is or is not a mere momentary by-effect of the general downward trend of the world in the direction OX towards greater probabilities.
- And on the other hand (if the answer has to be negative) whether, when the curve in question has reached its highest point b of maximum arrangement9 it does in fact again descend integrally towards the axis OX; or whether, on the contrary, when it reaches that point b it does not undergo some specific transformation.
At first sight, this group of related questions would appear to be impatient of experimental handling, and to depend upon each individual’s intellectual preferences—or his philosophy.
I hope to show here that they are open to a scientific attack, provided that we are alive to the ‘demand for irreversibility’ that is inherent in the very nature of the evolutionary phenomenon of reflection.
The Irreversibility of Reflection
From the foregoing analysis of energetics, it emerges that in any case the evolutionary complexification and arrangement of matter (or, which comes to the same thing, the interiorization, followed by the reflection, of energy) appear to us experientially as a cosmic process just as determined, in its own way, as the entropy on which they are grafted. Along the axis OY, it is just as though as a result of the controlled play of chances10 the elementary indetermination of the physicists necessarily accumulated and expanded within special structures (progressively larger and more fully living particles) until it ultimately assumed the form of ‘reflective choice.’ And, once that peak has been attained, we cannot say (very much the opposite, in fact) that determinism tends to disappear from the rest of the operation. However ‘free’ man feels (or believes) himself to be, he cannot escape the need (at once economic and mental) which forces him individually and collectively, to reflect—and therefore to reflect himself—ever more and more. Because he has once begun to think, because he thinks, it is now to some extent impossible for him to stop thinking continually more and more.
While this is true, it does not, even so, prevent the generating movement of our curve abc (Figure 1) from being profoundly modified, starting from its initial point of hominization, in the form or nature of the inevitability with which it continues.
For in man, while evolution becomes both self-conscious and (at least in its main axis) self-operative, at the same time it automatically develops the power to foresee its own future.
This is all that is needed to disclose, over and above the questions of structures and processes which were hitherto sufficient to cover the economy of nature, the formidable problem of the impetus of evolution:11 here we have a new type of biological problem which is silently making itself felt in our hearts as a preliminary to predominating tomorrow over the other more general problem (itself also becoming more important in our world) of at last building up an energetics of man.
We must try to understand this important event correctly, starting with a particular, and particularly obvious, case.
In the domain of large industrial enterprises (than which few could be less idealistic) the theoreticians of productivity have finally come to appreciate that the production of a factory is functionally dependent on the enthusiasm the workers bring into the execution of their work. Similarly, then, and on a scale whose gravity and scope is incomparably higher, we are obliged to recognize that, from the moment when mankind begins to appear to our experience not as a state that is reached but as a work that has to be done—one whose completion depends ultimately on the ingenuity and tenacity with which we pursue it—from that moment we must recognize that the future of man depends much more on a certain passion for hard work than on a certain wealth of material resources.
As I have often written (and as, it would be no exaggeration to say, everyone can see), the mankind of tomorrow, though standing on mountains of iron, of coal, of uranium, of wheat, would do no more than ‘tick over,’ if, by some mischance,12 there should be a weakening of its zest not simply for subsisting and surviving but for super-living.
If it is not to fall short of its natural maximum of convergence and reflection (and the attainment of this requires of us that we pursue it with all our strength) hominized evolution must henceforth include in its determinism, over and above the economic vis a tergo (or ‘push’) the ‘pull’13 of some powerful magnetic force, psychic in nature.
There, bluntly expressed in terms of relentless forces, we have the present energetic situation of the human mass.
But then—in what direction are we to look for, in what form are we to conceive, and by what general conditions are we to define the object or objective that is capable of arousing and fostering the magnetic pull which has become essential for the realization of our evolutionary possibilities?
In this connexion, two things (at the least) seem to me to be clearly dictated by an elementary psychological analysis: they both concern the nature of the mysterious point b, the peak of the cosmic curve of ‘evolutionary arrangement’ as represented diagrammatically in our Figure 1.
1. First of all, now that man has (by reflection) become conscious of the future towards which the convergence of the noösphere is drawing him, he must, if he is not to feel a radical distaste of action, be able to say to himself this: that when he arrives at b, he is going, in some way, to escape the re-descent, towards the unarranged and the more probable, of the eddy of improbability within which he appeared and for whose ascent he now finds himself responsible. If it is not to smother itself, evolution, now that it has become reflective, cannot be conceived as proceeding within a ‘cyclic or closed universe’: it is incompatible with the hypothesis of a total death.14
2. Secondly, if man is not simply to be rescued from his disgust at the prospect of exerting his active powers to the maximum but is to be given a positive zest for so doing (as he must be),15 then, again, now that he has developed the sense of his ultra-evolution, he must be able to hope that if he does ultimately escape this re-descent he will do so not just as a survivor from a catastrophe but as the victor in a battle: in other words, that he will do so in a fulfillment of—as a paroxysmal climax to—all that he holds at the heart of his being of what is most essential, that is, most ‘reflective.’
These two conditions are satisfied simultaneously if the peak of the curve corresponds not only to a culminating point in which ‘the differential disappears’ but also (1) to a point of bifurcation and inflexion, from which a branch bd (Figure 2) breaks away, rising exponentially, or (2), which comes to the same thing, corresponds to a higher critical point of planetary reflection beyond which we can distinguish nothing more,16, but beyond which, also, we can say that the universe still continues, though with other dimensions that we are as yet unable to represent.
Thus, as I promised, recognition of the irreversible character of reflection enables us to some degree to fill out the picture we can give ourselves of the relationship between life and entropy.
Broadly speaking, it is perfectly true to say that life appears in the universe simply as an effect of the play of probabilities.
Ultimately, however, it becomes clear that if the same life is studied in its ‘reflective’ form, it must, in order to be able to function, be conscious of its power to make the play of probabilities serve its own purposes, thereby escaping from the death towards which it would have been driven by a blind determinism.
From this point of view, it is now absolutely impossible to regard reflective psychism, within the cosmos, as a mere transitory superstructure. When life has become self-conscious, it manifests itself to our experience as self-evolving: but, further, it must necessarily be self-consistent, this essential self-consistence itself being, in its turn, explicable in two ways:
- either because it is born exclusively from the confluence of reflective particles reflecting on one another,
- or (and more probably) because it calls for and discloses the existence of a supreme centre—not simply potential, but real—of cosmic convergence.
Summary, or Conclusion
The substance of the various considerations presented above may be reduced to the following points.
- Taken in its origin in each human element, reflection (or the transition, for a being, from the conscious to the self-conscious state) corresponds to a critical point separating the two species of life from one another.
- Once reflective life has been initiated elementarily within individuals (continuing the movement of non-reflective life and transposing it into a new domain) it never ceases to diversify and intensify, following a collective process which is closely linked to the technico-cultural convergence of man.
- At the term of this process of ultra-reflection (operating on a limited planetary ‘quantum’) a pole of maximum convergence can be distinguished. As a result of the demands for irreversibility which are inherent in reflective life, this pole cannot be regarded as a transitory state (or ‘flash’), but must be seen as a higher critical point (of reflection) beyond which the evolutionary curve of complexity-consciousness emerges, so far as our experience is concerned, from space and time.
- Ultimately then, from the point of view of energetics, it is just as though the universe continued its development not just along a single axis but along two conjugate axes: one (entropy) of greater probability—the other (life) of greater complexity. Consciousness (in conformity with the requirements of thermodynamics) develops throughout as a function of entropy, but ultimately escapes ‘dis-organization,’ as a specific effect of reflection, either as a separate energy ‘of the second species’ or as an interiorized fraction of the common energy.
- This amounts to saying that in order completely to cover the evolutionary economy of the universe (including life) a third principle, the principle of the reflection of energy, must be added to and associated with the two that are already accepted, the principles of the conservation and of the dissipation of energy.
In the nineteenth century the theory of evolution (‘transformism’) was simply a problem of animal speciation. Today it extends to the general problem of ‘the corpusculization of energy’ throughout time, from the atomic elements up to the individual man, including (this is the whole point of my thesis) ‘planetized’ mankind. ↩
A trend that in some mysterious way is inseparable, as we shall see later, from the entropy of the physicists. ↩
And not ‘intelligence from instinct’ as the great Bergson said, and thus, simply by locating the dividing line in the wrong place, robbed the human stock of its value as the ‘leading shoot’ at the head of evolution. For reflection (the essence of hominization) does more than generate ratiocinative reason, by introducing a sort of dichotomy which impoverishes the being concerned: it recasts and transforms animal psychism in its entirety. What, in fact, is man’s creative intuition if not an example of reflective instinct?
On the biological and historical mechanism of the biosphere’s transition into the noösphere (a phenomenon which presupposes that life, when taken to its natural limits, reflects itself), cf. Teilhard de Chardin, ‘La Structure phylétique du Groupe humain,’ Annales de Paléontologie, 1951; Eng. trans. in The Appearance of Man, Collins, London, and Harper and Row, New York, 1965, pp. 132–171 ↩
The transition, I say advisedly, from a dispersed to a compressed phase of reflection, and not ‘from a state of instinctive culture to one of intellectual civilization,’ as recently suggested by Roderick Seidenberg in Post-historical Man (University of Carolina Press, 1950). ↩
This ‘greater effort to live (or even to super-live)’ being produced, moreover, economically, that is by the least demanding methods and the most direct roads. ↩
Cf., for example, Harold F. Blum, Time’s Arrow and Evolution, Princeton University Press, 1951, and Joseph Needham, Time, the Refreshing River, Fernhill, New York, and Allen and Unwin, London, 1943. ↩
In classical thermodynamics this final state was conceived as a homogeneous distribution of the most simple molecules, which were considered as permanent. In modern physics, in which molecules and atoms are divisible, I must confess that I do not know in what form the theoreticians envisage totally entropized energy. ↩
The axis OY of increasing complexity being precisely (if defined by its higher values) an axis of reflection. ↩
This highest point b corresponds, on earth, to the higher pole of collective reflection we recognized earlier as the normal termination of the phenomenon of human convergence. ↩
A play of chances, one might say, which are selected by a sort of polarity or preference inherent (like a sort of higher gravity) in the Weltstoff itself. ↩
What would be called in English ‘the evolutive drive.’ ↩
Should one add, per impossibile? ↩
[Translator's note] Teilhard uses the English words. ↩
To establish on solid scientific foundations the reality and the requirements of the first property of the reflective Weltstoff (a property that since all time has been ‘sensed’ by the philosophies and religions of immortality) should be the concern and task of a ‘constructive psycho-analysis’ devoted now to the study not simply of the disorders of human psychism but of its fundamental driving forces. ↩
I recognize that here I am introducing a postulate: that, in virtue of its construction, the universe cannot disappoint the consciousness it engenders. But I maintain that if this postulate (‘of the maximum activance of the conscious by the real’) is not accepted, the world automatically comes to a halt. ↩
Because we then find ourselves outside time and space. ↩