Prose Header


by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 2: The Growth of the Noosphere

It was silent for a moment while the young man struggled to recover his self-confidence. A light breeze kicked up the sand in front of the house.
— Alfred Bester

Yvonne Stenstål was satisfied with her looks. She had spent most of the morning this Thursday getting them straight. With the assistance of costly ointments, developed through cruel animal experiments, and sundry coloring paraphernalia, she had painted a passable mug. She was in a cheerful mood.

For once, her husband had promised to tear himself away, and they would spend the weekend at their summer cottage in Mälarhusen. They had not been there during the summer, just because he, Erik, had so many things to do at his office. She thought that his employees could run the business, but he wanted to be the one in charge.

Their childlessness had left its marks. Her women friends were all preoccupied by their children and had no spare time for socializing. And when they met, she felt left out. She had no children to talk about. To be sure, Kristina was childless as well, but they did not have much in common. And in some strange way, Kristina seemed to be involved with the other women friends’ children in a way she, Yvonne, could not be involved.

Not least because of her loneliness, Yvonne Stenstål looked forward to the weekend. She and Erik would be together, have dinner in private, dinner they would have made together, exactly as they did in former times, before business wolfed him down. Maybe they would broil codfish, eating outdoors if the weather permitted. It was of course a wicked shame that the summerhouse, which had cost a few millions to make habitable, was almost always empty.

The house was not as lavishly fitted out as some of the neighbors’ structures, which looked like haciendas with tall white walls, but it had all the modern conveniences one could expect: a swimming pool; a colossal parabolic antenna; two bathrooms — to stay in them was like a dream — a giant TV in the lounge, where the walls were adorned with artwork she had picked out herself as she went on buying sprees at vernissages all over the province of Skåne.

Her only consolation was her home computer, which was connected to the Internet, and the church, of course. Erik said that religion was her hobby. She did get him to come with her to mass once every other year, but he refused to go to confession.

“I’m a lousy Catholic. I think the pope is an asshole. He won’t permit abortions and female priests.”

Yvonne shivered when he talked like that. It was on the verge of blasphemy. Anyhow, now she looked forward to the weekend. To kill time, she thought she might go to Lund and attend a lecture by a Jesuit from Switzerland.

Yvonne Stenkål logged out, locked the latch and went to her car. She hoped that the Swiss Jesuit spoke English, for her German was not what she needed it to be. Her Italian and French were equally bad. Not to mention Romansch, Lombard, Schwyzerdütsch and other gibberish the Swiss people larded their speech with. But to her surprise it turned out that the amiable Pater Hieronymous was fluent in Swedish.

”Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I was country-bred in Ronneby and town-bred in Kalmar, where I passed the “studentexamen”. That’s why I speak Swedish. I am a Swede. Today I’ll talk about the growth of the noosphere.”

He looked at the twelve people who had found their way to the lecture room. It was as if he expected some kind of reaction. When there was none, he continued: “Do you know what the noosphere is?”

There was a slight movement and several people shook their heads.

“It’s good that you don’t know. Many years ago — in the beginning of the 1940’s — a brother belonging to my monastic order wrote a book titled The Phenomenon of Man. It was written before the Internet spread all over the world through the means of an increasingly tight infrastructure of cables, wires, radio waves, satellites, computers, servers and so on.

“The author was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He was a distinguished palaeontologist and geologist and, as you know, a theologian. In his book, he tells us how we humans evolve increasingly to resemble God and ultimately will be fused with God at what he calls the Omega point.”

Pater Hieronymous paused to see what effect his description had on his audience. But he faced a congregation that had the ability to conceal their thoughts. There was not one face that expressed either surprise or indignation, or even enthusiasm. An observer could easily discern that this made him insecure.

“That the human being would become fused into God in a Darwinian way was a little too difficult to digest at the Vatican,” Pater Hieronymous expanded.

There was nervousness in his face and something forced in his performance. A small bead of perspiration oozed forth on his forehead. Would he lose the thread and his self-control? Would he be able to establish contact with his small audience?

He braced himself. “There were those within the leadership of the Papal States who thought that they faced something that looked like a theological, not to say a credological meltdown. A threat not only to the Christian faith in its Catholic version but to Christianity as such. It may be stretching a point in these days when the Catholic Church no longer considers Hell to be a physical place. The new signs are that Hell, rather, represents a state without God.”

Pater Hieronymous had recovered his composure. He took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead.

“But when the new ideas of Teilhard de Chardin reached the leadership of the church,” the Jesuit continued, “the reaction was immediate, and he had to be accept that his book would be set aside. He even had to go into exile.

“After his death in 1955 at the age of 74, the book was printed, and it was published in Swedish in 1961, translated by Karin Stolpe with a preface by Ivar Harrie. In his book, Teilhard de Chardin brought together the apparently incompatible movements of Christianity and Darwinism into a hypothetical religious philosophy about man’s evolution to a superman, who is fused together with God in Omega.

“According to Teilhard de Chardin, Jesus Christ was the first superhuman result of this evolutionary development and therefore a divine superman, an övermänniska. Not an Übermensch like the one the Nazis preached but rather a good superman like the Superman Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created.”

Pater Hieronymous cleared his throat. “However, in 1999, there was a new translation in English by Sarah Appleton-Weber, who translated the original Le Phénomène humain in a more accurate way: The Human Phenomenon.”

Some listeners began to fidget and Pater Hieronymous understood that they wanted if not exactly action, so at least less lack of action.

He said desperately: ”I may be popularizing too much, but in any case Teilhard de Chardin understood Jesus Christ to have already reached the evolutionary terminal point in God. The conception “noosphere” is an integrated and integrating part of his theory.

“Noos” is Greek and means ‘thought’, ‘mind’. The suffix “-sphere” specifies that this is a phenomenon of the same character as the atmosphere, stratosphere, aquasphere, etc. Teilhard de Chardin has a name for the growth of the noosphere. He calls it noogenesis.”

Yvonne Stenstål noticed that the young man, who was standing there with a clerical collar like an iron collar around his neck, had a wart near the ear not far from the temple. He could at the most be thirty-two or thirty-three, maybe younger. His eyes were sharp and suggested intelligence. The fellow probably held a doctor’s degree in religious philosophy or some related subject or perhaps some special field. There was dandruff on the shoulders of his dark jacket. Again, the Jesuit looked at his audience and asked: “Do you understand so far?”

Individual nods and general silence indicated that the listeners so far caught on. Or were they rather trying to digest the indigestible preparation they had been served?

“Well,” said the Jesuit. ”This is how Teilhard de Chardin described the noosphere according to the translation of Sarah Appleton-Weber.”

He took out a book, took away a bookmark representing Ignatius of Loyola and read: “From having recognized and isolated the new era of noogenesis in the history of evolution, we are obliged correlatively to distinguish among the majestic assemblage of telluric sheets a support proportional to the operation; another membrane: the advances of a circle of fire around the spark made by the first reflective consciousness.”

He paused and continued reading: “The point of ignition has expanded. The fire has spread from place to place. Finally it has covered the whole planet with incandescence. Only one interpretation and one name are on the scale of this great phenomenon. Just as extensive but even more and more coherent still, as we will see, than all the preceding layers, it truly is a new layer, the ‘thinking layer’ that after having germinated at the close of the Tertiary, since that time has been spreading out on top of the plant and animal world. Over and beyond the biosphere there is a noosphere.”

There he stopped.

“Teilhard de Chardin simply means that the condensation of billions of thinking psyches has grown into a more and more complex infrastructure and that this growth has been organic and follows the physical laws that Charles Darwin discovered. Evolution comes about by leaps. Condensations happen that suddenly explode into something new.

“The brain becomes more and more complex. Language comes into existence. Symbols are created. The hand gets its proper structure and becomes a condition for tool-making. Stone axes. Bows. We have seen how this evolution found manual expression at the beginning of time, when the brain reached the stage when human beings began to use their hands’ ability to grab hold of things.

“Then followed mechanics. During the past thousands of years, technology and engineering have made unprecedented progress. In the 20th century we have left the mechanical stage of development more and more behind us and experienced the electronic and analogous phase in this development.

“Implacably, we are today at express speed on our way into the digital era with all that this implies of increasingly compact condensation of human psyches. I am talking about the global web, the great network, the Internet.”

Yvonne Stenstål, who had been listening to this message with great attention, began to restructure her opinion about the Jesuit. He was probably a computer whiz kid, one of those nörds, whatever that was, who spent the greater part of their adult life in front of a screen, perhaps occupied with penetrating the secret servers and computer banks of the Pentagon or — why not? — the Vatican.

Since she was not unfamiliar with the opportunities and prospects of the Internet, she could not refrain from asking a question. “No doubt that Internet is very good,” she said, “but one cannot call Internet a noos... a sphere... or whatever you said?”

“A noosphere,” Pater Hieronymous said and smiled encouragingly. “In the periodical Kreativ Information they talk about a global network that — I quote — ‘can grow organically — that is, it can be more intelligent than a brain’ and that is just another way of saying what Teilhard de Chardin anticipated.

“Unfortunately, he never experienced the global web and Internet. It has strengthened the arguments for his hypothesis of course. Well.”

He cleared his throat again. And for the first time there was a hint that he questioned the degree of reality of the Chardinian message. He reduced the statements to a theory that had to go through a purgatory of trial and error, which was a scientific demand, but was, however, beyond the possibilities of faith.

“But the lady is right in a sense,” he continued. “The Internet is in itself of course not the noosphere. The Internet and the global web are rather a function of, a tool or a medium for, or the very catalyst that facilitates this new evolutionary leap when billions of human psyches form lumps in a world-embracing net that coalesces the mental structure of mankind.”

“As long as it doesn’t collapse into a black hole,” Yvonne Stenstål murmured to herself.

“Excuse me!” said another listener. “But does Pater Hieronymous really believe that we will melt together as a kind of superbeings with God?”

“No, I’m certainly not convinced of that,” he admitted, “but there is no getting away from the fact that Teilhard de Chardin has been proven right when it comes to his presumption about a developing noosphere.” Then he added: “Even though it has been condensed much faster and as a much more complex structure than he thought would happen.”

He paused, filled up a glass of Ramlösa and continued: “You do not have to be a cardinal in Rome to assume a sceptical attitude to the religiously anthropological idea of life that Teilhard de Chardin embraced. The fact that the noosphere exists and has been around for a long time and that it now takes a new explosive leap forward does not necessarily mean that we are melting together with God. That conception is just his opinion, at least for the time being. The question will surely be answered at the Last Day. I do not think that we, as good Christians or even as bad atheists, can accelerate this process. Is there an atheist in the house?”

An older, stooping man, who had been delivered to the meeting by the transportation service for disabled people and had entered the room by means of a wheelchair, began to speak. “I belong to the tribe of the infidels,” he said, “but I’m for Darwin. What do the Darwinists say about this? They should be happy that a Christian takes Darwin seriously.”

“The fact is that the foremost Darwinist of our times, Stephen Jay Gould, has attacked the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin with a fury and a frenzy that seems almost desperate. According to Gould, Teilhard de Chardin is unscientific. But there are Darwinists who appreciate the mental acumen of Teilhard de Chardin. Unfortunately, they do not have the same status as Gould.”

Now the discussion was on. A young woman with rings in her ears, bobbed hair, jet-black eyebrows and nails painted with peacock got to her feet.

“Does it mean that Teilhard de Chardin is dismissed in theological as well as scientific contexts?”

“I’m afraid so,” Hieronymous said. “His ideas have been marginalized and pushed aside, but there are societies supporting research into his ideas. New Age people have joined the train and that is positive. However, ” — and here the Jesuit seemed to recall something — “the Pope has said that Darwinism does not clash with the Christian faith.”

The continued debate did not come up with much more, but after the meeting some people formed a short line. They wanted to talk with Pater Hieronymous. Yvonne Stenstål was last in line. She bided her time, glancing through a magazine someone had left on a chair. When it was her turn, she asked the Jesuit to come over for lunch the following week. He accepted the invitation with a slight nod.

Yvonne Stenstål was definitely inspired when she drove home to Malmö with the windscreen wipers at full speed, for it was raining not cats and dogs but cows and sea serpents. When Erik came home at around eleven o’clock at night and told her that he unfortunately could not spend the weekend with her, she was for once not disappointed but rather relieved.

Before she went to bed, she had spent two hours studying pages about Teilhard de Chardin and his noosphere on the Internet. Erik’s excuse meant that she could go to the town library and borrow The Human Phenomenon. She fell asleep as a light night breeze caressed the sand outside the house.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2000 by Bertil Falk

Proceed to Challenge 498...

Table of Contents

Home Page