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Bewildering Stories

Where Are You in the Noosphere?

by Don Webb

In Bertil Falk’s Infranet, “The Growth of the Noosphere,” the character Father Hieronymous summarizes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere:

“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.”

The idea that the noosphere would eventually reunite mankind with God at the “Omega point” would certainly have come as a shock to Teilhard’s collateral ancestor, Voltaire. And even though Teilhard had anticipated Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of evolution as proceeding in steps by “punctuated equilibrium,” the latter-day paleontologist was equally perturbed:

“The fact is that the foremost Darwinist of our times, Stephen Jay Gould, has attacked the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin [as] unscientific. But there are Darwinists who appreciate the mental acumen of Teilhard de Chardin. Unfortunately, they do not have the same status as Gould.”

Thus, Gould, ever the rigorous scientist, did not accept Teilhard’s mysticism. Perhaps both of them were missing a bet.

Let’s consider some well-known findings from the 20th century. For example: A photon takes about 2.5+ million years to get from Andromeda to us. But for the photon, the trip is instantaneous. It’s everywhere at once as a “wave” until we observe it, whereupon it “collapses” into a particle.

And yet none of us “owns” photons; they continue to propagate in wave form until someone else — or something else — observes them, and so on, ad infinitum. The concept of ubiquity in Teilhard’s noosphere was, in its own way, quite ahead of its time, and it’s hard to get more mystical than today’s physics.

Coincidentally, something happened in the past week that caused me to view Teilhard’s “noosphere” in a very practical light. One of our review readers is updating her CV to apply for work as a proofreader, and I’ve enthusiastically agreed to recommend her on request. But her CV needs a rather odd bit of information...

Her career counselor says it’s okay to mention her experience at Bewildering Stories, but she needs to cite the website’s physical location. Where is it, exactly?

Good question. Is it in our publisher Jerry Wright’s mailbox? In mine? Yours? On a server? I have no idea where the server is located. And what does it matter to anyone but the staff at Arvixie? And if the data weren’t there, couldn’t it be relocated somewhere else? The real answer is: “All of the above.”

I had to laugh. I said I understood — and I gave her my coordinates — but I also said the counselor’s advice struck me as quaint. A website is not like a bricks-and-mortar publishing house, which has a street address and postal code; it’s like a photon. It resides on the Internet everywhere at once — until you access the site. Then — poof! — there it is, resolved on your screen in glorious quantum particles. And the same goes for the next visitor.

Language, writing and technology obviously enhance the noosphere by increasing our connections to it. But we’re not “creating” it in any real sense; we’ve always been living in it. Teilhard could easily have stood his own idea on its head: we’re not progressing toward the Omega point; it’s already here, and it’s everywhere at once.

Rather, it’s our understanding of the noosphere that’s evolving. And Gould himself has played a part in that evolution, even though he, like Voltaire, may be spinning like a turbine in his grave at the thought.

Copyright © 2012 by Don Webb

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