In this century, the works of Teilhard de Chardin shine like a beacon of hope in a world increasingly characterized by apathy and despair. Teilhard de Chardin: realist and mystic, scientist and seer, paleontologist and priest. In the life and work of this remarkable man, the tools and methods of science were combined with the insights of spirituality to yield a perspective profound in its implications for the future of humankind.
More than forty years after the appearance of The Phenomenon of Man, the vision of Teilhard continues to stand as a vital and far-reaching influence on modern thought in almost every field of human endeavor.
The following program is based on Teilh ard de Chardin’s great masterwork and is tribute to its author.
Teilhard de Chardin’s masterwork, The Phenomenon of Man, focuses on one subject: man. Man as situated in an evolving universe. To understand man’s unique position in this incredibly vast cosmos, we will first look into the distant past of life’s origins, then trace the remarkable unfoldment of life to the present, and finally, try to discern its progress into the future.
At all times we will be looking at one continuous evolutionary process. The book is divided into four major sections, each covering a given span of cosmic time. First: pre-life. The universe and, in particular, our planet Earth as it existed before the appearance of life. An evolving, inorganic world consisting of elementary particles, atoms, minerals, and finally, mega-molecules. The vertical on the chart marks the birth of life, the critical threshold crossed by evolution with the appearance of the first cells.
Second: life itself. A time span in which there is a development from the first simple cell, through the more complex cells—superforms of life such as algae and fish, amphibia, reptiles, mammals—to ever more complex forms of biological life. The second vertical represents another critical threshold: that point in time when, with the first appearance of man, reflective thought is born.
Third: thought. The development of man from the earliest forms of pre-hominoids up to present-day man. The third vertical represents the twentieth century; today.
And finally, the future—or, as Teilhard so aptly calls it: survival. Do we reach the present after billions upon billions of years of evolution, and then suddenly stop evolving? Or, if evolution continues, what does the future hold for us? Do we or can we become extinct? Is there a future?
In this brief summary of The Phenomenon of Man, the various building blocks of cosmic evolution—the elementary particle, the atom, the inorganic molecule, the organic mega-molecule, the cell, and man will be represented by simple geometric symbols. The magenta dots will symbolize the dynamic interior aspect of all things, the ‘within’, or consciousness. The curved black line will represent the Law of Complexity, denoting the ever-increasing physical complexity of things in the long history of our universe. The curved magenta line will represent the rise of consciousness in the evolutionary process.
We now see before us a symbolic representation of space-time: the lower left representing the very simple forms in nature, the upper right: the very complex forms. From alpha to omega—a beginning and the end.
Before Life Came
To push any physical form in nature back in time is equivalent to reducing it to its simplest elements. Thus, when we attempt to trace man’s roots back into the dim, distant past of cosmic evolution, we find ourselves exploring with the physicists the very elemental units that form the fabric of our universe.
In reality, all matter is in a constant state of genesis. Our dynamic, evolving universe is a mass in transformation in which every part is enveloped in time, duration, and the process of becoming concentrated into ever higher forms. To better understand this vast evolutionary process, let us focus our attention on the very bottom layer.
Over a sufficient duration of time, these subatomic particles collect together, pack in, and condense until they reach a super-saturated state. Finally, with the addition of one more particle, there is a change of state into the world of the atom. This process of matter evolving into higher complexities is the fundamental action of evolution.
Thus far, we have looked at matter—the stuff of the universe—only from the ‘without’, viewing its evolution in terms of the Law of Increasing Complexity. The physicist and geologist might tell us that this is all there is to evolution. But the biophysicist and microbiologist, working on the border between physics and biology, have reason to wonder about the implications of the spontaneity exhibited by even the most primitive virus and bacteria. The botanist finds it more difficult to assume that plants do not have some kind of interiority—or ‘within’, to use Teilhard’s term. This same assumption becomes a gamble for the biologist studying the behavior of insects or the lower forms of life.
It seems futile to disregard the ‘within’ in the higher forms of life, and impossible to ignore it when we reach the level of man, in whom a certain interiority—or ‘within’—unquestionably exists. This ‘within’ cannot be ignored, since it forms the basis of all knowledge and is experienced by every man through direct intuition.
The consciousness in man has a cosmic extension and, as such, is surrounded by an aura of indefinite spatial and temporal extensions. That is, consciousness exists everywhere throughout space and time. We cannot deny that, deep within ourselves, an interior appears at the heart of beings. That is enough to leave Teilhard to suggest that, in one degree or another, this interior should assert itself as existing everywhere in nature from all time.
Many of today’s scientists prefer to disregard the important inner aspect of man’s consciousness. For them it is an isolated—and hence, unimportant—phenomenon in nature. But is this logical? Would it not be more logical and more in keeping with the consistency of our universe to suggest that, in all matter, there is an inner aspect paralleling the exterior complexity and intimately interwoven with it?
For Teilhard, the ‘within’ (or consciousness) is a term to indicate, in its fullest sense, every kind of psychism. From the most rudimentary form of interiority imaginable to the complex phenomenon of reflective thought which we perceive in man.
Obviously, the consciousness of elemental matter and the consciousness of man are not on the same level. For just as there is an evolution of the exterior aspect of complexity, there is also a continual evolution of consciousness. In the less complex forms of nature, this evolution of the ‘within’ represents the emergence of a continually increasing power to respond, and perhaps can be best expressed in terms of spontaneity, or freedom.
To understand the nature of energy in its relation to the ‘within’ and ‘without’ of things, Teilhard divides the one fundamental energy of each particular element into two components. First, the external aspect of energy which links each element with all other elements of the same complexity, such as atom to atom, mineral to mineral, or molecule to molecule. This is the tangential component. However, there is an internal aspect of energy which links center to center in a way that draws the elements onward toward ever greater complexity and consciousness. This is the radial component.
In the earliest stages of evolution, subatomic particles are drawn together by the tangential component of their energy so that, in time, each particle with its own particular center of consciousness intermingles and combines with other, like particles until—under the influence of the radial component of their energy—there begins a process of transformation. And with this sudden change of state, a new form of reality appears: the atom.
True, this operation is very costly when viewed from the ‘without,’ because every time something new is created, something is finally burned in its creation. There is an irrecoverable loss on the physical level.1 But in reality, this apparent loss manifests itself as a much richer consciousness, or ‘within.’ The tangential (or physical) aspect of energy has been directly transformed into the radial (or spiritual) aspect, which becomes the foundation for a higher consciousness.
A similar change of state occurs when atoms converge to form the world of the inorganic molecule, giving it a far richer interior. Another transformation occurs when the inorganic molecules combine in the formation of organic molecules. Again, there is an increase of the ‘within,’ which is manifested in a greater spontaneity. These organic molecules gather together, ultimately evolving into the first living cells. And with the cell there is a tremendous increase of the ‘within.’
In an evolutionary world, matter is continually being converted into spirit because they are the two essential aspects of the same basic reality. The Law of Increasing Complexity must then be expanded into the Law of Increasing Complexity-Consciousness, for with every step up the ladder of physical complexity, we find a corresponding increase of the ‘within,’ or consciousness.
In adding the dimension of time to our picture of the universe, we see that we can no longer speak of a static cosmos. Rather, we are now dealing with a cosmogenesis—that is, an evolving universe. And we can speak of its history in terms of an evolutionary monism, and not the more traditional dualism [Alternatively, Buddhist dualism] of classic thought, which draws a sharp line between matter and spirit. In an evolutionary monism, the evolving universe gradually shifts its emphasis from the exterior to the interior so that ever-higher levels of consciousness emerge from the growing complexity of the world’s exterior face.
The universe will not find its stability and final end in its decomposition. The universe is not held together from below, as the laws of entropy imply. But if the universe holds together at all, it is from above. Something is not only drawing our universe toward ever greater complexity, but also toward ever greater consciousness.
So far, we have been skimming over the diffuse and unlimited layers in which the stuff of the universe is deployed on an apparently insignificant event: a tiny cosmic birth in one corner of our vast universe. It occurred some several billion years ago when a fragment of matter that was composed of particularly stable atoms detached itself from the surface of the sun. At just the right distance from the mother star to receive moderate radiation, this fragment—containing a certain mass of elementary consciousness—begins to roll itself up to condense, to take shape. Matter is no longer able to spread out and diffuse at will. Instead, it coils up within the closed volume of a sphere. Yet, this cosmic event holds far-reaching consequences, for within its globe is contained the future of man.
So now, we will restrict our further examination of cosmic evolution to this tiny planet, for it is the only place in the universe where we are able, so far, to study the evolution of matter to its ultimate phases. Let us, then, look at our Earth in its early stages: so new, yet charged with latent powers as it balances in the abysses of the past.
The central sphere is the barysphere—the hot metallic core of the Earth—in which only the simplest forms of dissociated matter can exist. The surface of the barysphere cools to form a thin, rocky skin: the lithosphere. This is the crust of the Earth; womb of inorganic evolution, the world of minerals and crystals. The hydrosphere comprises the fluid layers of our Earth, in whose temperate zone water, ammonia, and carbon dioxide combine and group themselves in long chains around the carbon atom, forming ever-larger and more complex combinations. This is the world of the mega-molecule.
The involution of matter, which formed the spheres of the Earth, causes pressure to build up on the various layers of complexity. This pressure brings about a competition for limited space. Thus it is, for reasons of survival, that matter on this planet has continually changed into higher and higher forms, ever more complex physically, and much more complex spiritually.
So, as we continue gazing into the abysses of the past, we can see the color changing. From age to age it increases in intensity. Something is about to burst out upon the early Earth, and this something is life.
Now, picture the infant Earth a thousand million years ago: covered by a layer of water, volcanoes erupting, and the forming of land masses and continents. The world is ripe and fertile for the advent of the cell. To modern observers it might have seemed completely inanimate. Yet, upon closer examination we would see the infinitesimal smallness and innumerable number of these sub-life, mega-molecular forms. Life, as it emerges from inorganic matter, is dripping with molecularity.
We have a sort of super-saturated solution, with the Earth in a state of biological super-tension. Yet, the climb to life is a slow, deliberate process. For, only after immense duration—when the conditions are just right—then, suddenly, life in cellular form is born. The delicate physical and psychical structure which complexity-consciousness had taken up to this point has changed state to better survive the crushing competition of its earlier forms. And it is important to remember that these changes occur on all levels of complexity for reasons of survival.
So we have seen the elemental stuff of the universe transformed into atoms, and atoms into inorganic molecules and mega-molecules, and finally, into cells. Life as we know it was born.
Life advances by mass exertions of multitudes flung into action without apparent plan. The individual unit seems to count for little in the process. Let’s look at life as it expands from a single cell.
First, the living particle is wrenched from itself. Secondly, it is caught up in an aggregate greater than itself—that is, it is lost in number. Thirdly, it is absorbed in collectivity. And finally, it stretches out in ‘becoming,’ transformed into something greater than itself. This dramatic and perpetual opposition—between the many born out of the one and the one constantly being born out of the many—runs right through evolution.
Millions of forms jostling, shoving, devouring one another, fighting for elbow room, and the best and the largest living space. Survival of the fittest by natural selection and groping as a solution to survival. Yet, it would be a mistake to see this movement as mere chance. Groping is directed chance.
On the large scale, life may seem to be entangled in utter confusion. Or it might be considered a continuous wave from a single centered origin. But no: life branches. That is, it ramifies. It is arranged in tiers: classes, orders, families, genera, species. So life, as it advances, splits into natural living bundles, called phyla. Each phylum is elastic and is a collective reality. It can be as small and simple as a single species, or as vast and complex as a sub-kingdom.
The Tree of Life is a well-defined structural reality. Each member is traceable down to a common origin. Let us see how—like a living tree—it develops and flourishes. Life—in its totality, from the very first stages of its evolution—is one single and gigantic organism laboriously rooted in the abysses of the immeasurable past. Let’s watch our tree of life as it grows.
There are three major branches on this tree. One leads to the plant kingdom, another leads to the insect world, and the third is the vertebrate branch. Below these three major branches is a tangled complex of non-skeletal animals and primitive one-celled creatures of the primeval slime.
As we center our attention on this branch we shall see it is the only one that leads directly to our target: man. Let’s follow this branch through its earliest evolution among the proto-chordates into the world of primitive fish. And out of this, a new stem: that which leads to the mammal world.
Life crawls out of the waters to breathe air and live on land. Such a transition must have taken place when certain forms of life—in order to survive the overcrowded seas—went through a process of mutation and became amphibian more than 200 million years ago. Then, from the amphibia, the reptiles, birds, and the mammals. Each layer shown represents approximately 50 million years. At the very top a poor, tiny lobe will appear: a belated offshoot on the tree of life. In it, man will finally make its appearance on the scene some two to three million years ago—a mere split-second in the total evolution of things.
Looking at this Tree of Life, we may well receive an initial shock. The sort of shock we get when an astronomer speaks of our solar system as a simple star, and of our stars as a Milky Way, and all of our Milky Way as a mere atom among other galaxies. So, under the efforts of our analysis, life sheds its husk. From top to bottom, from the biggest to the smallest, each newly discovered form finds its natural place on the tree of life.
The spontaneous arrangement of overlapping relationships—subspecies and races, larger species and genera, biotas and, to end with, the whole assemblage—forming one single, gigantic biota, rooted like a single stem, steeped in the depths of the mega-molecular world: the living Tree of Life. What more do we need to be convinced that all this has grown?
Yet, to locate the area that shows outstanding growth of the ‘within,’ let us look at the huge stem on the left of the tree: the chordate branch. This includes all those species that have developed a spinal cord. Here we find, from layer to layer, massive leaps in consciousness. There is a tendency, in time, for a development toward ever more cerebralized forms—meaning, from form to form, from age to age, the nerve ganglions begin to concentrate, they become localized, and finally grow forward into the head. So we see consciousness developing and concentrating in upon itself through the perfecting of ever-better nervous systems and the formation and development of a brain.
From the dinosaurs—whose small brain was little more than a string of lobes on the spinal nervous system, reminding us of the amphibians and fishes lower down—we pass into the stage above: the mammals. Here, the average brain is much larger than in any of the other vertebrates. The brain, then, is the sign and measure of consciousness, for it is continually perfecting itself with time. The further back in time science establishes the origins of primitive animals, the smaller are their brains, the simpler their nervous systems.
This, then, is our guide through the labyrinth of living creatures. Evolution has ordained that the mammals and their successors provide the dominant branch on the tree of life. And to its leading shoot, the primates, belongs the honor of bridging the eras of life and thought—the furthest extension of consciousness. Why the primates? Because in them, evolution went straight to work on the brain, neglecting everything else.
In one well-marked region at the heart of the mammals, where the most powerful brains ever made by nature are to be found, they become red-hot. And right at the heart of that glow burns a point of incandescence. We must not lose sight of that line, crimsoned by the dawn. After millions of years rising below the horizon, a flame bursts forth at a strictly localized point. Thought is born: a primate becomes reflective.
Reflection is, as the word indicates, the power acquired by a consciousness to turn in upon itself, to know that one knows. The being who is the object of his own reflection becomes, in a flash, able to raise himself into another sphere. In reality, another world is born. All the activities of inner life, shown here, are nothing else than the effervescence of the newly-formed consciousness as it explodes onto itself. Admittedly, the animal knows. But it does not know that it knows. Consequently, it is denied access to a whole domain of reality in which we, as men, can move freely.
We are separated by a chasm, or a threshold, which the animal has not crossed. Because we are reflective, we are not only different, but quite other. It is, in fact, a change of state. From the moment we regard evolution primarily as a transformation of the ‘within,’ we see that instinct manifests itself as a variable dimension. From branch to branch, we have seen how nervous systems follow the great Law of Complexity-Consciousness and that the psychical temperature in the cellular world has been rising for more than 500 million years. Finally, with the primates, the psychical make-ups seem to reach the borders of intelligence.
From the cell to man, as from the atom to the cell, a single process—a constant increase of the ‘within’—continues without interruption, and always in the same direction: forward. After the atom, the cell. And now, at last, we have the individual human person. These, then, are the building blocks of the universe. From now onward, it is not merely animated grains which the pressure of evolution pumps up the main stem of the living tree of life, but grains of thought. In other words, the cell has become someone.
The birth of reflective thought marks a critical transformation: a mutation from zero to everything. But that birth could be compared with the emergence of a fetus from the womb. The newborn baby must still undergo continual growth and change before it becomes a mature, complete human. So it is with man. The creature that first issued across the threshold of reflective thought was not yet complete, but rather a sort of pre-man.
Man came silently into the world. As a matter of fact, when we first catch indisputable sight of him, we find him sprawling all over the old world: from the Cape of Good Hope to Peking. Without a doubt, he had already evolved a sophisticated mode of communication; perhaps even some sort of speech. He lives in groups, uses fire, and fashions primitive stone tools. Pre-man—or first man—is and can only be a crowd, and his infancy extends over thousands and thousands of years. Well, let’s look, now, at some examples of pre-man.
The Australopithecine group—in which at least one form, the famous Homo habilis, discovered by Dr. Leaky—is classified within the family of man. Notice the small cranial capacity, the lack of chin, the heavy jaws requiring thick maxillary muscles, the heavy orbital ridges above the eyes.
Next, the Pithecanthropus, which includes Java and Peking Man. Notice the remarkably increased size of the cranium. Notice, also, that the face is becoming more vertical, the jaws less pronounced. Still the heavy orbital ridge, the eyes close together.
Then the Neanderthal man. Again, the sizable jump in the cranial capacity, the jaws moving to a more vertical position. And finally, we come to true man: Cro Magnon. Here, the brain is much more concentrated, or centered, on itself. In fact, when we compare this last gentleman with ourselves, his brain is so perfect that, since that time, there seems to have been no measurable change.
To comprehend the truly cosmic scale of the phenomenon of man, we had to trace its roots through life back to when the Earth first concentrated in upon itself. But if we wish to understand the specific nature of man, and divine his secret, we have no other means than to observe what reflection has already provided and what it announces ahead.
From his cradle in South Africa, man fans out into China and Java, and into Europe. Finally, he slowly encompasses the sphere which we call Earth by moving across the islands of the Pacific and down across the then-existing land bridge into North and South America.
In this process of human evolution some groups—isolated from the main body of mankind like the Mayan center—became extinct. Others, like the Polynesian center, were too dispersed on the dust of distant islands where they radiated in a vacuum. Early China lacked both the inclination and the impetus for deep renovation. Although an incredibly refined civilization, it remained essentially neolithic well into the nineteenth century. While China multiplied its gropings and discoveries, it made little effort (until recent times) to build up a science of practical physics; a technology. India chose the route of metaphysics only—as a people, it is said—to become stalemated there. With its historic emphasis on passivity and detachment in the past, India has seemed to lack the capacity to animate and direct the main thrust of evolution. Perhaps the time now dawns when the contribution of its genius will enrich the whole human race.
So our attention is drawn to the more Western zones of the world—to the Euphrates, the Nile, the Mediterranean—where an exceptional concurrence of places and people was, in the course of a few thousand years, to produce that happy blend thanks to which reason could be harnessed to facts, and religion to action.
Without losing any of its essential upward thrust, mankind has continued to move ahead in its convergence with the pivotal axis flowing through the Mediterranean civilizations. Next, we have the most dynamic and decisive period in history to date, for in the rise of the West there is a development of technology. A necessary but not final phase in man’s evolution.
So mankind slowly became outlined and linked up. Slender and granular as this first membrane might have been, a sphere of thought—there and then—began to close in upon itself and to encircle the Earth.
In Book One we witnessed the initial formation of the barysphere of infant Earth: the hot core, composed of simple particles. Next, the structuring of a rocky lithosphere: an envelope of minerals. Then, as the Earth, through time, continued to cool down, the development of a hydrosphere and atmosphere. And within that envelope is the biosphere in which life evolved. And from this envelope of living things a glow ripples outward from the first spark of conscious reflection. The point of ignition grows larger, the fire spreads in ever-widening circles until, finally, the whole planet is covered with incandescence. It is a new layer; the thinking layer. Teilhard suggests a name for this grand phenomenon: the noösphere. In other words, above and transcending the biosphere there is the noösphere: the sphere of the mind. And so we have another, added, planetary layer: an envelope of thinking substance. A sort of living, growing organism of collective human thought.
The greatest revelation open to science and to religion today is to perceive that everything precious, active, and progressive—originally contained in that tiny cosmic fragment from which our world emerged—is now concentrated in a crowning noösphere. A spherical Earth gets a new skin. Better still, it finds itself.
A Reflective Planet
We are, at this very moment, passing through a change of age. Life is taking a step, a decisive step, in us and in our environment. After many centuries, the hour has finally come, characterized by the birth pangs inevitable in another change of state. There were those first men who witnessed our origin. There are the others who will witness the great scenes of the end. To us, in our brief span of life, falls the honor and good fortune of coinciding with a critical transformation of the noösphere.
In these confused and restless zones in which present blends with future in a world of upheaval, we face all the grandeur—the unprecedented grandeur—of the phenomenon of man. Let us look carefully and try to understand the particular form of mind which is coming to birth in the womb of the Earth today.
From the dawn of his existence millions of years ago, man has been looking at himself and his world as somehow divorced from himself. Yet, he has only just begun to take a scientific view of his own significance in the physical world. We should not be surprised at this slow awakening, for man to discover man, he has had to gradually acquire a whole series of senses.
Let’s take a closer look at modern man who, less than 500 years ago, conceived of the Earth as flat and the heavens as a vast ceiling with holes pierced through for the stars. Gradually, man became aware that he did not live on a flat surface, but rather on a sphere. Still, he did not fully understand, for he conceived this Earth that he lived on to be the center of the universe, with everything in the heavens revolving around him.
But man was in for a shock. With the coming of Galileo, this ancient geocentric view exploded, and he discovered the boundless expansions of an unlimited cosmos. The Earth was seen to be a mere speck of sidereal dust.
To us it may seem incredible that man—indeed as late as the eighteenth century—felt perfectly at ease in a cubic space where the stars turned around the Earth for less than 6,000 years. In a cosmic atmosphere which would suffocate most of us from the first moment, eighteenth century man breathed without any inconvenience. Between him and us—in the short span of only 200 years—what, then, has happened?
Through the invention of the telescope, awareness of spatial immensity becomes possible. And so man kicked out one wall of his tight little world. And to balance it, the infinitesimal springs into view through the lens of the microscope. After the walls of space, it is the floor of time which is the next to give. Through the gradual discovery of evolution, man slowly becomes aware of the measureless abysses of the past. And conversely, through man’s awareness of the infinite future, the ceiling of time will expand.
Yet, in these first stages of man’s awakening to the immensities of the cosmos, space and time—however vast—were treated as two great containers; quite separate one from the other. It was only late in the nineteenth century that the light dawned at last, revealing the process of evolution: that all objects are born from their growing together, from a common beginning. Hence, all things are related to each other, regardless of their complexity. Thus it is that both space and time are organically joined again so as to weave together the stuff of the universe. The landscape lights up and yields its secrets.
Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself. He sees. That is the point we have reached, and how we perceive things today. Step by step, from the early Earth onward, we have followed upward the great Law of Complexity-Consciousness. Now that we have reached the peak, we can turn around, look downward, and take in the pattern of the whole. The harmony is perfect. From top to bottom, from our souls and including our souls, the lines stretch in both directions: untwisted and unbroken.
Man is not the center of the universe—as once we assumed in our simplicity—but something much more wonderful. He is the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last born, the freshest, the most complex, the most subtle of all successive layers of life.
Now, it is impossible to find one’s self in a fundamentally new environment without experiencing the inner terrors of a metamorphosis. Our mind is dazzled when it emerges from its dark prison, awed to find itself suddenly at the top of a tower where it suffers from giddiness and disorientation. The whole psychology of modern uneasiness is linked with the sudden confrontation with spacetime.
Human anxiety is as old as man himself. Yet, we must admit that the men of today are more uneasy than at any other moment of history. Conscious or not, suppressed anguish—a fundamental anguish of being—despite our smiles, strikes in the depths of our hearts and is the undertone of all our conversations. What threatens us? What is lacking?
Space. This is the most tangible, and thus the most frightening aspect. The malady of spacetime manifests itself by a feeling of futility, of being crushed by the enormities of the cosmos. Time, sometimes having the effect of an abyss on those few who are able to see it, and at other times the despairing effect of stability and monotony. Events that follow one another in a circle; vague pathways which intertwine, leading nowhere. The bewildering number of all that has been, is, and will be necessary to fill time and space. The effort, for instance, of trying conscientiously to find our proper place among a thousand million men, or even in a crowd.
Tomorrow? But who can guarantee us a tomorrow anyway? And without the reasonable assurance that tomorrow exists, can mankind really go on living and striving for a better world? Sickness of the dead end: the anguish of feeling shut in. Teilhard contends that that is precisely the ill that causes our disquiet. What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it, and around it, of evolution. And Teilhard now adds that what disconcerts the modern world at its very roots is not being sure that there is an outcome, a suitable outcome to that evolution. After the long series of transformations leading to man, will evolution lead to complete obliteration? No. Man will never take a step in a direction he knows to be blocked.
Either nature is closed to our demands of futurity, in which case thought—the fruit of millions of years of effort—is stifled; stillborn in a self-abortive, absurd universe, or else an opening exists: an opening of the supersoul above our souls. But in that case, the way out—if we are to agree to embark upon it—must open out freely onto limitless spiritual spaces in a universe to which we can entrust ourselves without hesitation.
We are confronted accordingly with two directions, and only two. Having gone so far, what are the minimal requirements to be fulfilled before we can say that the way ahead of us is open? First: that there is—for us, in the future, under some form or another—not only the possibility and hope of a survival on Earth, but also of a superior form of existence. Secondly, to imagine, discover, and reach this super-life, we have only to walk in the direction in which the lines passed by evolution take on their maximum coherence—in other words, where consciousness is at its greatest.
To bring us into existence, the world has from the beginning juggled miraculously with too many improbabilities for there to be any risk whatever in committing ourselves further, and following it right to the end. If the world undertook the task in the first place, it is because it can finish it following the same methods and with the same infallibility with which it began. Man must come to realize that he carries the world’s fortune within himself and that a limitless future stretches before him in which he cannot flounder. The last analysis, the best guarantee that a thing should happen, is that it appears to us as vitally necessary.
Quoting Teilhard de Chardin:
Only in support of hope, there are rational invitations to an act of faith.
Have we the right to hesitate?
Have you ever wondered what would have become of humanity if it had been free to spread indefinitely on a limitless surface? Perhaps nothing at all when we think of the extreme importance of the forces of compression that are brought about by the spherical shape of the Earth. The geometrical limitation of a planet, closed like a giant molecule upon itself. This limited surface of the Earth causes a pressure buildup as population densities increase. Under this pressure, the human elements infiltrate more and more into each other, their minds mutually stimulated by proximity. So, each person extends, little by little, the radius of his influence upon the Earth.
Mankind, forced to develop in a confined area, has now found itself subjected to an intense pressure. This pressure—combined with the nature of our thinking souls to coalesce—causes the radial energies of consciousness to concentrate toward a sort of super-consciousness. The final unification of our planet is the natural culmination of a cosmic process of organization which has never deviated since those remote ages when our Earth was young. Mankind has cosmic roots.
But how do we specifically define mankind? What are its deeper meanings? Rational man has existed on this Earth some two million years. And yet, in the course of only a few generations, all kinds of economic and cultural links have been forged around us, and now they are multiplying at a rapidly increasing rate. Today, it is the whole world which is needed to nourish each one of us. The Earth is not only becoming covered by innumerable grains of thought, but it is becoming encased in a single thinking envelope which forms a single, huge grain of thought. All of the individual particles of reflective thought grouping themselves together and reinforcing each other in a single, unanimous reflection. Mankind: a sort of collective human organism that is now forming a layer of thinking substance of planetary dimensions. A noösphere that develops and intertwines its fibers to reinforce all men in the living unity of one single tissue.
The noösphere comprises a single closed system in which each thinking element experiences for itself the same thing as all others. Mega-synthesis: the sum total of all human beings. And so we see that no restricted group of men can evolve and grow, except in cooperation with all other men. What more do we need to be convinced of the error hidden in the depths of any doctrine of isolation?
The outcome of the world, the gates to the future, the entry into the super-human: these are not thrown open to a privileged few, nor one chosen people to the exclusion of all others. Rather, they will be opened to an advance of all together in a direction in which all together can unite and find completion in a spiritual renewal of the Earth. Man can hope for no evolutionary future except in association with all other men. What is the result of human works if not to create in and through each of us a supremely original center in which the universe uniquely reflects itself? And these centers are our very selves and personalities. Resonance to the All: an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. Are we not experiencing the preliminary symptoms of a still higher state? A deep harmony between two realities that seek each other?
Let us sum up the situation thus far. Twentieth-century man has evolved from the stuff of the universe—as we have seen—but has not yet completed his evolutionary process. He is, therefore, moving forward to some critical new point ahead. Teilhard calls this the hyper-personal. Yet, how can a super-consciousness be associated with the collective all? The utter disproportion of the two seems to us, at first sight, almost laughable. How can the person and the All possibly be one and the same? But let us take a second look.
We have seen and admitted that spacetime is divergent as seen from the present standpoint of science. That is to say, when looked at only from the ‘without.’ However, when we take the ‘within’ into account, we see that the enormous layers of evolution must converge somewhere ahead to what Teilhard calls Omega—or, more correctly, a Point Omega. And this Omega Point fuses and consumes all these layers completely in itself.
What lies beyond the Omega Point is, then, essentially beyond time and space altogether. Omega is a distinct center, a super-consciousness radiating to and through a system of centers. It is a grouping in which the personalization of the All and the personalizations of the human elements simultaneously, and without merging, attain their maximum potential under the influence of a supremely autonomous focus of union.
Thus it is that space and time become truly humanized—or, more correctly: super-humanized. The more other they become in the process of uniting, the more they discover themselves as Self. Since they are steeped in Omega, these centers of consciousness can become whole only by super-centralizing themselves; the very seat of our consciousness. And that is the essence which Omega, to be truly Omega, must reclaim. Yet, to communicate itself, ego must exist by continually abandoning itself, or the gift will fade away.
But where has it been written that “he who loses his soul shall save it?” It is only through this apparent sacrifice that we can achieve the high peak of personality we had thought we must renounce. The convergence of a conscious universe would be inconceivable if it did not reassemble in itself all individual centers of human consciousness as well as all the consciousness throughout all nature. And at the end of the process, each individual human consciousness still remains conscious of itself. Furthermore—and it is crucial that we understand this point—each consciousness becomes even more itself (and thus more clearly distinct from others) the nearer it gets to all the others at the Omega Point.
For us to discover the key to our survival, it now becomes imperative that we identify, harness, and develop those energies of the noösphere which are of an intercentric nature—that is, center-to-center or soul-to-soul, not just mind-to-mind.
This brings us to the problem of love, which Teilhard defines as cosmic energy. Love, the affinity of being with being, is not peculiar to man. It is a universal property of all life and thus embraces all forms of organized matter. If there were no internal tendency to unite, even at a rudimentary level—as, for example, the attraction of atom to atom, molecule to molecule, or cell to cell—love could not appear at a higher level within us. Recognizing the presence of love in ourselves, we must—as we did with consciousness—presume its presence in everything that is.
The forces of love drive the fragments of the universe to seek each other so that the world may come into being. If this is so, love—in all its subtle varieties—is radial energy. Thus, Omega—by partially immersing itself into the heart of each element—draws the universe into psychical convergence to itself. Teilhard says that “love is the fundamental impulse of life,” or, to put it another way, love is the only natural medium in which the upward course of evolution can proceed.
It is through love and within love that we must search for our deepest Self, in the life-giving coming-together of humankind. Love is the free and imaginative outflowing of the spirit over all unexplored paths. It links those who love in bonds that unite but do not destroy, causing them to discover in their mutual contact an exaltation capable of stirring—in the very core of their being—all that they possess of uniqueness and of creative power. Love alone can unite living beings so as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone joins them by what is deepest in themselves. All we need is to imagine our ability to love developing until it embraces the totality of men and of the Earth.
Yet, is it not really impossible to love everything and everyone? Well, Teilhard tells us that this is not as preposterous as it first seems, for it is achievable—but only through cosmic love. Not only is a universal (or cosmic) love psychologically possible, it constitutes the only complete and final way in which we are capable of loving.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.
This is the greatest commandment. It comes first. But the second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Or, to paraphrase: love each other, recognizing the same God who is being born in each one of you. These words, uttered some 2,000 years ago, now begin to unveil themselves as the indispensable structural law of what we call evolution. Hence, they enter the scientific field of cosmic energy and its essential laws.
We have seen that the rise of consciousness has been dependent on the physical Earth. Because the Omega Point transcends both time and space, evolution cannot reach fulfillment on Earth except through a point of dissociation. And yet, ahead of us we now see that there is a psychical center which is gathering together the final surge of consciousness. Thus, we are introduced to what Teilhard says is an inevitable and fantastic event now starting to take form. An event which comes closer with each passing day: the end of all life on our Earth, the death of the physical planet, the final stage of the phenomenon of man. Catastrophic end of the world. Sidereal cataclysm through cosmic mishap. Onslaughts of microbes, counter-evolution, sterility, nuclear war—or slow death in our Earthly prison; a long, drawn-out senility. Each of these represents a perfectly plausible way of coming to an end.
Teilhard further states emphatically, however, that—on the basis of all we know from evolution—we have nothing whatsoever to fear from any premature accident or failure. We have higher reasons for being certain that they will not occur.
The presence of reflection in the universe would be incomprehensible if the infinite and the infinitesimal did not conspire to nourish and sustain to the very end the consciousness that has arisen between the two. How, then, could man come to an end before his biologically appointed hour, or deteriorate, unless the world aborts itself? Thus, we conclude that man will attain the goal, however improbable it might appear to us.
Mankind has extraordinary possibilities ahead of it. Since crossing the threshold of reflection, we have entered a completely new phase of evolution. Thanks to the powerful capacity of reflective thought to gather together and combine, into one conscious effort, all the individual human particles. We are faced with a sort of collective exaltation: human vibrations resonating by the million. An entire layer of consciousness bringing pressure to bear simultaneously on the future and on the whole storehouse of a million years of thought. Have we ever attempted to realize what such magnitudes represent? When—under this increasing psychical tension on the surface of the Earth—enough elements have been grouped together, evolution will reach such intensity and such quality that the whole of mankind will be compelled to reflect upon itself at a single point. In other words, the movement will forsake its earthly foothold so as to pivot itself on its transcendent center. This will be the termination and the fulfillment of the spirit of the Earth.
The end of the world, the total internal introversion upon itself of the noösphere that has simultaneously attained the furthest limit of its complexity and consciousness in an ecstasy utterly transcending the entire length, breadth, and depth of the visible universe. The end of the world, the upset of equilibrium, releasing the mind from its material matrix so that, fulfilled at long last, it will center itself thereafter with all its weight in God: Omega.