Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Monograph: Reflections on Societal Development and the presence of a superintending influence

Reflections on Societal Development and the presence of a superintending influence: A look at the work of some 20th Century Thinkers
One of the most nagging under-articulated questions of our time is whether or not there is a “sense of direction” to the events in the world. Are the wars, disasters, and human suffering played out nightly in the world and local news mere artifacts of random interventions? Are they somehow connected to a movement of society that will become more focused over time resulting in: chaos or increasing order? Will they simply continue, as they seem to be, random, without pattern or direction and occurring at the whim of individuals and nations? Banter at social gatherings and structured debates both seek to discern an outcome to these questions. Unfortunately, there seems to be no contemporary voice that speaks loudly enough to answer these questions. However, there is a mid-twentieth century voice that offers insight and hope—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
The chaos answer, with increasing levels of patterns – either positive or negative for society, demonstrates that there appears to be forces acting on the outcome which are outside the normally conceived models of advancement. For instance, looking at the world through the lens of emerging technology would show that there is definitely a sense of direction to technology. It is making the world a different, more interconnected, place. Information is flowing faster and in ways unheard of several decades ago. Whether this is positive or not remains a question for future historians to answer. The now classic example of this interconnectedness is the world-wide proliferation of the Tiananmen Square photo showing the young Chinese male standing in front of, and stopping, an army tank. Once released on the internet, the photo quickly became an icon for resistance to governmental crack downs against citizens. The photo was sent from person to person and by the time it became a mainstay for network news, it was already an icon across the internet. Dissemination of information is no longer limited to a few select and self-anointed sources, as it was merely two decades ago. Rather anyone can be a news source on “Ziddeo”, “Youtube”, or “Myspace”. As a result, many nations, including Communist China, the source of the Tiananmen incident, are attempting to control use and content of the internet.
In this example, there is clearly a direction to the use of technology and that direction seems, at this point, positive for the world in general. However, there is also a negative side to this example. American society has deemed the creation, proliferation, and possession of “child pornography” to not be in the interest of its citizenry. Thus, activities related to child pornography are punishable by imprisonment. The internet makes creation, proliferation, and possession of child pornography relatively easy and anonymous until somehow, generally accidentally, identified. Additionally, since the internet reaches around the globe and not all nations are as aggressive as the United States of America about removing child pornography from the internet many providers of pornography are outside the legal reaches of the USA government. These purveyors of pornography would agree, based on their income levels, that the internet is a good thing, while the governmental bodies of the USA would consider the direction of this activity a negative use of technology. Many citizens against child pornography would also consider the use of the internet and its associated creative distributive capability related to child pornography a negative direction of technology.
An Historic View
Star Trek culture
Historically an aspect of the direction of technology has not to do with distribution of information, or linking of the population in a global network, but rather the creation of models of interconnectedness which reach beyond our current planetary existence. For instance, the worldwide phenomena of the television series Star Trek, and offshoot franchises, developed by Gene Rodenberry and the associated movies and books, have created a mindset where the earth is simply one portion of a greater collection of inhabited planets. Beings on these other planets have the same foibles as humans. Yet working together everyone is able to overcome their distrust of each other and move to a perspective which allows for peace and cooperation aimed at building a common future filled with promise. Even enemies of long standing become partners for the future in the television series, books, and movies. Consequently, the hidden message in this very popular series is: there is a hidden direction to technology, but not merely technology but history also, and that direction is positive for humanity. The popular movie series Star Wars created by Steven Spielberg, also shares this sense. Even when evil seemingly wins and holds the upper hand, good will win-out and restore the drive for an upward direction to “humanity”. However, it must be noted that in both Star Trek and Star Wars, technology has become subservient and is used to support either good or evil, both natures of “humanity”. Technology, in these scenarios, is neutral and the human condition is changing – getting better, driven by the will to not merely survive but to make a world where growth and fulfillment is possible for all participants.
Star Wars and Star Trek both represent multi-billion dollar empires of television, movies, books, conventions, and toys. Yet, what allowed them to develop such a powerful presence in the world? Both series have been translated into many languages and even appealed to other cultures despite their essentially western origins. In a television program called, “How William Shatner changed the world”, former Star Trek ship’s captain Kirk (William Shatner) details how the props on Star Trek inspired technologists and scientists to create new inventions. For example, the IPod was a direct result of Star Trek inspiring, according to the inventor, a new way of storing data for computers to use. This allowed small devices, using fractal based compression, to store huge amounts of information in ways it had not previously been able to do. Shatner also describes how the original series offered hope for the future to the viewers. It was an extremely “optimistic” program. The follow-on series of Star Trek reflected more of the contemporary culture and as a consequence, the owners of the series, Paramount, “pulled the plug” after Star Trek Enterprise and will not revise the series, according to Shatner. The negative aspects of space and technology were not well met by society and viewership continually slipped from the original highs offered by the “Trekees” during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Star Trek and Star Wars apparently tapped a perceived direction to the human condition based on hope for a better future and when that hope was not reflected in the material support waivered and left.
Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin (1859/1979) traces the history of evolution through various authors who apparently believed there was a direction to evolution. His preliminary chapter entitled “An Historical Sketch” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 53ff) begins with “Some few naturalists, on the other hand, have believed that species undergo modification, and that the existing forma of life are the descendants by true generation of pre-existing forms. Passing over allusion to the subject in the classical writers…”, he begins the sketch with a discussion of [then] modern writers. In his first footnote Darwin refers to Aristotle’s observation that rain does not fall to make corn grow, anymore than too much rain falls to spoil a farmer’s crop. These are coincidental relationships. Here (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 53) Darwin credits a Mr. Clair Grece for pointing out Aristotle’s observation to him. And Mr. Grece asked Darwin what might limit the body from having an accidental relationship with itself or the environment.
Darwin begins his discussion with LaMarck, rejected by most scientist in the early and mid-1900s, but coming into his own through the contemporary work of biologists, and LaMarck’s observation that change in the organic (and inorganic) world is “the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 54). Darwin may have been a man of science, but it is clear at this point, that he has more than just information that he is documenting. Indeed, one of Darwin’s goals was to remove the authority of the church from having the final say in the discussion of science. To help accomplish this he cites Rev. Baden Powell as one of the naturalists who was looking for an explanation of species development beyond the scope of divine intervention for each item in the geological and paleontological record (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 62). In his mind appeal to religious authority of any type, in his time the Bible, was not sufficient to demonstrate an answer to questions of science. Patricia Horan, writing in the Foreward to this edition, notes of Darwin’s contribution, “Natural selection’ had been in the air, waiting to be born” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. viii). She sees Darwin as a sort of mid-wife overseeing the birth and yet she sees something more to his work. He “slid into place the last piece of an enormous puzzle on which some other wonderful minds had played” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. viii). Thus, in her mind Darwin took on the role of both father (completing the egg which was awaiting completion) and mid-wife (supporting the birth) to the evolutionary movement.
But Darwin does not stop at this observation that it is law and not miraculous intervention which changes organic forms. He continues and suggests “all the forms of life thus tend to progress” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p.54). This could be considered the first “shot” in Darwin’s assault on miraculous intervention. He is choosing to reference a man who has already claimed in several published accounts that humanity is descended from other species, just like all the other species (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 54). There is little room for equivocation in this volley. Darwin has set himself a huge task; not only to defend LaMarck’s work, but to add to the demonstration of that perspective and bring something new to the discussion.
Still Darwin adds another agenda to the discussion. He goes even further than LaMarck. Darwin must show that there is not only evidence that humanity is descended from another species, but also that there is a parallel system at work. And it is this idea of a parallel system that Patricia Horan describes as the missing piece of the puzzle. In one sense Darwin is acknowledging the obvious, to the current generations, but not to the generations of his time steeped, as they were, in western theological explanations. (The phrase “western theological explanations” is used because on the other side of the globe, the Hindu and Buddhist perspectives have long accepted that non-miraculous change is a natural part of the process of movement and change in life and among plants and animals. Consequently, discussions of the impact of Darwin’s theory are generally framed in a western context, as does this one.)
As a part of building a context for his own conclusions, Darwin references Professor Grant (1826) that “species are descended from other species, and that they become improved in the course of modification. (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 56). Although this idea may not be controversial in contemporary times, it may well have been the case 150 years ago. Professor Grant’s perspective requires not only the acceptance of a broad ranging theory of species’ inter-relationships, as reflected in the current ecological movement, but also the acceptance of a view that there is a movement of improvement inherent in the changes of the species. Throughout the writings, Darwin builds upon this concept until in the final chapter he adds substantially to this concept when he declares, “all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection” (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 459).
This addition is by no means insubstantial or trivial. It forms the entire framework for the theory of evolution. Without this component, there can be no inherent meaning attached to the changing of species. These changes would appear and disappear without any discernible reason and projections into some future world without the evolutionary hypothesis would be impossible. This situation would mean that the world is random and not to be comprehended or understood – effectively meaningless, a charge often levied, falsely, against Darwin who maintains that “Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification (1859/1979, p. 69). For a world coming out of the enlightenment with all of the hope for man’s reasoning capability and in the midst of the industrial revolution where it was perceived that technology and thinking could add to the comfort and enjoyment of humanity in the present and into the future, the forward progress of humanity would mean a better, more peaceful world. This attitude underlies the reasoning process of even the most creative and forward thinking of theorists who are linked through the culturally bound reasoning processes they identify in their culture.
Anthropocentrism is often difficult to see when looking back at history, and unfortunately it is nearly impossible to see when it is part of the writer’s world. This seems to be what happened with the assumption by Darwin that the purpose of evolution is to lead the species to perfection by weeding out the weaker – less adaptive – species and replacing them with species that are more suitable for the present environment. In fact, he declares, “Recent forms are generally looked at as being, in some vague sense, higher than ancient and extinct forms” (1859/1979, p. 448). In this model the newly emerging species are seen not as merely more adaptive to the evolving environment, but somehow as Darwin continues, “and they are in so far higher as the later and more improved forms have conquered the older and less improved organic beings in the struggle for life” (1859/1979, p. 448). The underpinnings of the cultural anthropocentrism of his era are clearly visible in his writings. Just as in the case of a new machine replacing an older outdated machine, e.g., the computer has replaced the electric typewriter, so did Darwin see the process related to the species. In Darwin’s model evolution has a direction and a purpose which is independent of the “struggle for life” which he references in the previous sentence.
The term “struggle for life” does not really imply any sense of direction to the change, only one of adaptability to the existing and evolving environment. There is no improved, improving, or higher meaning attached to the adaptation. Whichever species displaces the other species is not better or improved, only more adaptive to the environment. Herein lies the challenge, how can a non-directional environment create a milieu in which a linked process develops a directional fixation which follows it for eons through a random process. In a purely rational sense the non-directional environment which creates variations in species through a linked process cannot give direction to the linked process which is merely responding to the non-directional changes. The sense of direction leading to more improved species must be derivatives of some over-riding or guiding cause. The movement towards perfection cannot then be a consequence of natural selection alone, as Darwin admits. Rather, it must be the consequence of greater process, something clearly beyond the organic. Therefore, the non-organic processes must be operating under a direction which then gives rise to the direction referenced in Darwin and exemplified by the movement towards perfection which is a joint relationship between the organic and the inorganic.
This creates a major challenge because it supposes that there is a relationship between evolution on the organic level and events happening in the non-organic realm, some super-ordinating activity. To bridge this statement is the function of “uniformitarianism” – the belief that changes occur in the natural world in a slow and relatively predictable manner. Uniformitarianism in the earth and the non-organic realm provides the model which allows changes in the organic realm to be reactive and effective to the shifts in the world around it (Darwin, 1859/1979, p.210, 452). Slightly earlier in his writing Darwin declares the importance of uniformitarianism without labeling it as such when he states, “they have changed in the manner which my theory requires, for they have changed slowly and in a graduated manner” (1859/1979, p. 440). His observation leads to reflecting on the question: How can the species evolve towards perfection, unless this gradual change is somehow linked to the movement towards perfection. It is an essential component of the overall foundation upon which evolution is built. But it holds another relationship with evolution as well. Thus the conclusion is that evolution, as explained by Darwin, holds as a corollary, that the world outside the organic realm must be moving towards some objective of perfection. If the universe is not moving towards some sense of perfection, through subtle and constant change, then evolution cannot be moving towards the perfection that Darwin ascribes to evolution (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 459). There is a strong inter-relationship between the intentions of evolution a function for Darwin of organic life forms and the intentions of the non-organic world. But how can the non-organic existing outside natural selection, at least as propounded by evolutionary theory, have a sense of direction particularly given the second law of thermodynamics which is held, in scientific thinking, to govern the inorganic realm just as evolution governs the organic realm?
On the organic side of the equation Darwin refers to “Natural Selection” as the vehicle, operating over the eons, to bring about changes in the species. (1859/1979, p. 443). In his view older species are replaced by improved versions (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 444), not merely more adaptive ones. Hence the anthropocentrism of his work is made visible even in the discussion of natural selection. However, this need not negate the theory, but rather demonstrates the indelible mark culture makes upon the writings of even the leading thinkers of a theory. As a result of the inter-relationship of the processes of evolution, natural selection, and uniformitarianism (as applied to the natural realm), once given the “breathing of life into some one primordial form” (1859/1979, p. 455) the reader must conclude that the Darwinian concepts require the existence of an over-riding sense of direction to the material universe ultimately leading to perfection of the species.
Bruce Lipton
Cellular biologist Bruce Lipton (2005, p. 197) describes evolution as, “the story of ascension to higher awareness”. In fact, Lipton maintains that Darwin did not deny the existence of God, rather he “implied that chance, not divine intervention, was responsible for the character of life on Earth” (2005, p. 22) This view also carries with it a sense of direction and an implicit statement that there is something “moving” evolutionary output towards some future state. However, in the organic realm Lipton saw this “something” as cooperation rather than the Darwinian competition (2005, p. 25). Philosopher Daniel Dennett agrees with this idea of cooperation. Dennett maintains, “Ideas that encourage people to act together in groups … will spread more effectively as a result of this groupishness than ideas that do a less effective job of uniting their hosts into armies” (2006, p. 185). Thus, in the realm of idea transmittal, as a manifestation of culture, the spreading of ideas, those items which carry information about the world, the self, and the community, works best in a cooperative arena. Perhaps Dennett’s observation has its’ roots in the cellular hypothesis of Lipton?
This cooperation activity is so important to Lipton that he asserts “you are in truth a cooperative community of approximately 50 trillion single-celled citizens … human beings are simply the consequence of ‘collective amoebic consciousness’” (2005, p. 27). As a cellular biologist, Lipton links the definition of evolution to changes in the cellular “magical” membrane surface area, which contains “the mechanisms by which your body translates environmental signals into behavior” (2005, p. 76) as it manifests in the form of fractal geometry which gives it the ability to repeat patterns already found or newly developing in nature (2005, p. 197). Lipton sees evolution as series of repeating patterns (2005, p. 195). Thus, Lipton’s model shows, as does Darwin, that on the material level, there is a sense of direction implied to evolution. A direction that uses previously established patterns already found in nature. This model of fractal geometry is important to Lipton’s concept. He adds, “Evolution’s repetitive, fractal patterns allow us to predict that humans will figure out how to expand their consciousness in order to climb another run of the evolutionary ladder” (2005, p. 198).
Lipton describes what seems to be a force moving humanity forward in some type of disciplined manner when he uses the phrase “to climb another rung of the evolutionary ladder”. The imagery he creates with the ladder analogy is one of an intentional upward, and using a developmental model decidedly more desirable, striving producing a better view of the world, an ability to “look down” on the existing structures, a continuous path with little variation requiring an intentional exertion. But it does not answer what causes the forward movement, the drive to climb the ladder. And the question becomes even more intriguing by realizing that he views the human being as being “machines made out of protein, by definition we are made in the image of the environment, that environment being the Universe, or to many God” (2005, p. 188).
He sees a strong causal link between the environment and the human beings’ development. This same link appeared in the discussion of the Darwinian concepts. There is a tight-knit relationship between what is happening in the material world and the concept of evolution. As the universe changes so do human beings change. However, the relationship does not stop here. Lipton, too, implies that there must be a direction to the material world or the analogy of the evolutionary ladder would not make sense. Pushing an analogy too far is never a good idea. Lipton, like others, uses the term to indicate an upward, and better, movement of humanity into a non-foreseeable, but definitely arriving future.
Alvin and Heidi Toffler
The Third Wave
Alvin and Heidi Toffler also see the future approaching. “Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time” (1995, p.19). As with the other authors there exists a sense of direction in the statement about the oncoming future. And along with the sense of direction is the statement that human beings will be responsible for how the “leap forward” actually plays out. In fact, the Tofflers’ see humanity racing into “an alien future”, (1993, p. 3), one which is substantially different from today but non-the-less directionally bound. This restructuring arises despite the current “sense of frustration and confusion which characterizes politics and government virtually everywhere in the industrial world” (1995, p. 16). So widespread is this lack of clarity about the future that former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who wrote the forward to Tofflers’ work, sees the industrial world in turmoil. With his far-reaching view of the world, engendered by his leadership of the USA House of Representatives, Gingrich would certainly have access to the broad picture of the oncoming future. He would be aware of global events and activities which would be missed by most people in the western world. He describes the extent of this confusion in the following language: “Politicians, columnists and academics all seem confused by the scale of change” … The agony of the past is outweighing the promise of the future” (Toffler, 1995, p. 13). The confluence of factors is not creating a trivial change, or a minor alteration of the current world. Indeed, Mr. Gingrich sees the only tool for understanding the change and implications of the change as “The Third Wave” perspective (Toffler, 1995, p. 16) as proposed by the Tofflers. Still like the Tofflers, Gingrich sees a sense of direction in the changes, changes which people will make happen (Toffler, 1995, p. 17).
Although the Toffler’s approach covers only recent history, within the last 10,000 years (1995, p. 23), it can still be instructive for any discussion of societal change. Early in their writings, the Tofflers identify three waves of change which swept across the entire population of the earth (1995, p. 14, 19). The first one was the agricultural revolution which occurred over thousands of years and dominated the world until 1650-1750 AD (1995, p. 23). Second was the industrial revolution, beginning about 1700 AD — has been active about three hundred years - in which the world is still engaged but which lost its dominance about 1955 when the white-collar and service workers outnumbered blue-collar workers for the first time (1995, p. 23, 41). [It is worth noting that the Tofflers’ statistics refer to the United States of America specifically and the observations refer to the western world with Japan and Taiwan in general.] Many nations have passed beyond the industrial revolution and have entered into the third revolution-the information revolution which will resolve itself within a few decades (Toffler, 1995, p. 23). Writing in 1995, the Tofflers felt that a few decades would be all that was needed in order to bring the new wave of change to fruition. Unfortunately, they, like other prognosticators, misinterpreted the speed with which change will occur in a society and the dominance of the western model for bringing “Third World Countries” into that model. The current time is over a decade beyond their writing and there seems no limit to the change activity which has overtaken the world. Information access has increased significantly in the last decade, religious wars of ethnic cleansing and economic wars to control resources in the “Third World” have decimated huge populations. Access to information seemingly has not changed the human condition.
The Tofflers were studying and writing in the same time frame that a generation of Trekees were watching programs about an unbounded future; a future filled with wondrous integration of all human beings into a new culture, one guided by doing what’s best for everyone, after some conflict with an alien race that did not hold the same values as the future earthlings, but which ultimately yielded a greater understanding for both races. Whether the Tofflers merely caught the trend as it was developing, or were part of the people who set the stage for the trend does not really matter. What is important is that there is a hint of myopia present in the timeframe indicated by the Tofflers. Star Trek was set in a future 200 years hence. Fortunately, this does not mean that the visioning and trend analysis were wrong, only that the time frame, which they use to indicate the outcome does not correlate with societal shifting.
China’s Transformation
Reflecting on the fantastic growth of India and China as world economic and information powers, in just a few short years, shows that some of the transition activity can be shortened and focused when sufficiently channeled by an over-riding function like a government, rather than waiting for the societal structures to evolve. Still, when the governmental agencies take the initiative there is little left for the average citizen to do but to accept the decisions made by the government and attempt to change them as they are being implemented frequently without success. For example, the world news generating pictures of the person stopping the Chinese tank in Tiananmen Square China has done little to change policy in China, but it did generate an international outcry over treatment of prisoners. However, the impact of the availability of western money has created a climate to help move China from a primarily agrarian economy through the industrial revolution and into the information age in less than a 100 years and it could be argued since “The Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s which destroyed much of the technical infrastructure and threatened obsolescence of the country. By spending tens of billions of dollars annually to bring China into the information age the country is creating an entrepreneurial class where the successful are worth millions and even, for some, billions of dollars. Still large portions of the country are struggling in the agrarian age and cultivating crops by hand or with limited mechanical technology. Consequently, China, existing in all three arenas simultaneously as the “waves” of each of the three revolutions wash over and through the country — variously reinforcing, cancelling, and setting up turbulence with each other (Toffler, 1995, p. 27) similar to the ways that political and economic issues are encountered by people, organizations, and countries. China represents an example of what the Tofflers’ perceive as the world of the future (1995, p. 31): some countries solidly in the First World, others in the First and Second, others in the Third World, and still others in some of two or even three.
The scope of this confluence cannot be under-estimated. It is all enveloping. For instance, the Tofflers view the second way, industrialization, as encompassing: technology, family life, religion, culture, politics, business, hierarchy, leadership, values, sexual morality and epistemology (1995, p. 29). This list is hardly trivial, it is designed to include everything that is considered civilization (1995, p. 28). It encompasses nearly the totality of human experience. In their perspective the conflicts between the waves are seldom resolved peacefully. They cite the American Civil War and the Japanese Meiji War as examples of the clash between the agrarian oriented land owners- the traditionalists — and the industrialized commercial/business owners and workers- modernizers (1995, p. 29). What is not discussed is the relationship between the Third Wave- information, and the First Wave- agriculture. Although the output of the Third Wave is capable of impacting the Second Wave- industry, by producing, for example, assembly line products more efficiently and having higher item to item consistency, it is not capable of replacing the human work performed by hand- tilling, planting, and reaping. Indeed, there are work situations where brute labor is the only viable solution given the economic and societal structures in existence at that place and time and that information would exist only in the form of tribal knowledge frequently limited to only a few members of the community. It can be argued that the wave conflicts can only occur between sequentially oriented waves; hand planting being replaced by mechanical devices being replaced by computer controlled seed distribution and fertilizer dispensing devices built in computer controlled factories. As a result, there is little to be gained by building factories which are computer controlled to ensure specification management when the people receiving the high quality engine driven farming device have no gasoline because there is no distribution system.
This argument of sequence requires a model that is linearly based, i.e., the Second Wave succeeds the First Wave and the Third Wave succeeds the Second Wave. However, the Tofflers maintain that this linear assumption is not valid. Using this linear model assumes that the First Wave falls out following the appearance of the Third Wave leaving only two competing models. In a model some would call progress as equipment becomes more sophisticated gasoline, for example, may no longer be needed but batteries, the product of Third Wave innovation and powered by locally controlled solar cells, which can be placed and left for the indigenous people to use, may be adequate. In fact, the Toffler’s argue that all three forms may exist simultaneously in the world and perhaps even in a single country and that there will be three competing civilizations characterized; by the hoe, by the assembly line, and by the computer (1993, p.21).
Two Catastrophic Wave Transformations
An Historic Lesson.
An un-discussed implication of this view is that some nations’ political leaders may choose to keep their country as First Wave countries rather than risk the turmoil that goes along with changing a culture into another form. Given that the Tofflers argue that the movement from one Wave-form to another carries with it turbulence and the risk of political upheaval, it is not beyond reason that some leaders may decide it is not in their best interest to foment a movement from one Wave-form to another, one which would give their critics an opportunity to offer new options to the masses of people. For instance, the Alexander Kerensky revolution overthrew the Russian monarchy in the early part of the twentieth century. However, after only a few months the Bolsheviks, hijacked the new government and created a new revolution removing the Kerensky government and implemented a Marxist government as interpreted by Lenin. The turmoil created by the overthrow of the monarchy and the underlying dissatisfaction of the peasant and working classes were tapped by Lenin before the Kerensky government could stabilize the changes in the Russian political, governmental structure, and economic conditions. The lesson is: dramatic change requires time to implement and the resulting turbulence leaves the ruling structure vulnerable to unanticipated internal actions.
The ensuing turbulence of a major cultural or Wave-form change opens the door to unanticipated options. Few political leaders seem to have missed the message of the Bolshevik revolution which said, in the midst of cultural upheaval, it is difficult to anticipate the future. Even in stable democracies, like the United States, there is a recognition that the unexpected can happen when the doors are thrown open for substantial change. An excellent example is the burning of the US flag by American citizens. This subject brought with it an intense public debate about creating a constitutional amendment to prohibit this exercise which many perceive as disrespectful or unpatriotic and others consider an expression of free speech. However, when the topic moved to a constitutional amendment a mixed response occurs among political leaders and legal scholars. Many were concerned about doing anything which would open a constitutional convention and the associated ratification process because once the process is begun there is no way to control what is put forward for ratification. Any topic or issue could be discussed, proposed, voted on, and moved into the ratification process. Thus, with all these unknowns and an inability to control the content or outcome of the process, there is the risk that the participants may create unanticipated change and revise the rules which the current leaders have used to gain, maintain, and manipulate power. As a result, there is a built in resistance by the political leaders, even in democracies, to participate in cultural upheaval.
This awareness of vulnerabilities does not go without recognition. The Tofflers predict the consequence will be “a gradual trisection of the world system into First Wave, Second Wave, and Third Wave states, each with its own vital interests, its own feuding elites, its own crises and agendas” (1993, 219). A subset of this may well be the development of trisections within a country, as mentioned earlier. They see a resurgence of the city state similar to what existed in Europe 500 years ago. There is a sense in their writing of a return to the world of Mesopotamia circa 2000 B.C.E., where all legal agreements were governed by contract including the relationship of the city-state ruler with the people, the economic relationships between merchants, and the relationship between city-states and how they would defend each other: for instance, the example of the Biblical Abraham doing battle with the 5 kings identified in Genesis 14 of the Old Testament. These cities had mutual defense agreements similar to what exists today between countries.
The Tofflers maintain that the building block of the world’s system for the last 300 years has been the nation-state (1993, p. 243). Associated with this rise of the nation-states they observed the rise of the contractual system linking not merely the economic structures of the merchant class, but also of the nations in the form of treaties and other documents describing how the nations are to treat each other. To support this they discuss the existence of contractual obligations which the USA has with other nations: 34 in the late 1930s, 282 in 1968, and in the early 1990s over 1000 treaties and tens of thousands agreements (1993, p. 247).
However, that is not the sum total of their perspective. To this must be added the myriad number of contracts that multinational corporations sign with countries or municipalities. It is these relationships which the Tofflers see as directing the future of the globe (1993, p. 244).
Agreements for mutual defense are often cited as the reason that World War II came about. The linking of countries in support of each other forced actions of engagement which might have otherwise been avoided. The outcome of these mutual defense agreements was the requirement that the country involved was required to enter a war on the side of the country with which it had a support agreement, just like the city-states of the middle Mesopotamian era. Noteworthy at this time was that there were also nation states which dominated the region, such as, Assyria or Babylon. So in the midst of the nation state environment set the city states, having separate legal defense contracts, which were vassals of the greater nation state, a situation which the Tofflers project into the current century (1993, p. 244).
A contemporary example.
As a result of the creation of city-state type structures, the new power of the future is the economic might of transnational corporations reaching around the globe and picking and choosing with which city, province, and country it will develop an economic relationship. The ability to do this ultimately means that large economically powerful organizations have the ability to move outside the Second Wave model of nation states with the consequence of setting groups of people against each other. Already in the 21st century cities, with populations over 10 million are setting the model for what economic development looks like. The large cities of India and China are frequently demonstration projects of what a technology based infrastructure can do to create wealth. In China with the return of Hong Kong to the mainland there exists a powerful economic engine which is being duplicated in other coastal cities bringing with it foreign currency at an amazing rate. Suddenly billionaires are being created because of the rapid expansion of the economy in the areas of construction, automobile manufacturing, and computing related technologies. Much of the economic growth is being fostered by preparation for the 2008 Olympics being held in China. The government wishes to showcase its capabilities and so huge new building are being built specifically for Olympic competition with conversion to public use after the Olympics are completed.
Another example of the impact of technology on daily living is China’s Shenzhen which is becoming a test city for issuance of residency cards that demonstrate the person has the “right” to live in that city and is entitled to certain government benefits. The cards are being augmented with 20,000 cameras that will allow the police to monitor the movement of the population. These camera can be linked to nearly an additional 180,000 private monitoring cameras by a simple request from the police. This technology when added to each police officer carrying a Global Positioning Indicator allows the police department to direct the movement of any specific officer to a place where action is required. This technology and much of the financing is being provided by American firms in contract with the city itself (Bradsher, 2007, p. A3).
Both of these examples show differing aspects of the impact of technology in the emerging world. However, the second example, even within a communistic country, shows that the city state is beginning to demonstrate its own power consistent with what the Tofflers had argued a decade and a half earlier. Hong Kong, prior to returning to the mainland of China, already had a powerful economic engine. Since it was an independent city state, under British management, it was often viewed as a separate Asian economy, and its growth justified this ranking. Shenzhen, a neighboring city to Hong Kong, shows what the Tofflers view as a consequence of computer-based capitalism rather than smokestack socialism (1995, p. 63). Bradsher (2007, p. A3) maintains that the movement to a police monitored society in Shenzhen is an attempt for the communist regime to keep control in the midst of a burgeoning economy where wealth, so far, has created the ability to ignore many of the central governments decrees such as one child per couple, although the central government is attempting to enforce this decree by using a credit reporting structure to intimidate the populace into complying (AP, 2007, p. A8).
One of the problems for the Chinese central government which a booming city based economy is generating is the awareness that the assigning of societal ills to capitalistic societies is not valid. China is existing in the trisected country model presented earlier. Peasants, in search of a better life, are streaming to the big cities at the rate of 10 million per year and 150 million still do not have permanent residency cards allowing them some governmental benefits (Bradsher, 2007, p. A3). These same peasants have become a simmering caldron for the national government. With television, radio, and computer internet they are aware of the better standard of living in the city and are demanding that they be included in the economic growth which still has not reached them. Thus, having access to the technology of communications has created dissatisfaction with the current environment and an awareness that it is not the capitalistic nations that have created their economic straits, but rather the central government which has not given them the same benefits to be found in the large cities or to the wealthy entrepreneurs who own huge condominiums, drive luxury cars, spend large sums on restaurant meals, or have multiple children.
Contrarily in recent months the American media has made it clear that “made in China” has become synonymous with posing a health danger to yourself, your children, or your animals. In earlier decades this would not have been an issue for Americans because the products would not have been imported from China in the first place. However, in the current environment of global competition cost per unit of product generally drives management decisions concerning place of manufacturing. Since economically China has the ability to produce many products significantly cheaper than other countries, purchasing of their products makes economic sense. Unfortunately Chinese governmental regulations concerning product safety are substantially different from American standards. Additionally governmental oversight of the manufacturing and finishing of those same products is much more lax than American oversight and American product liability laws. However, the Chinese government and American governments in August 2007 signed an agreement which brought the Chinese oversight and production safety requirements much closer to the American model. Simultaneously, the American companies will be required to do “point of production” safety analysis helping to ensure unsafe Chinese products will not inadvertently enter the USA even if the manufacturing company violates both Chinese and American governmental standards.
The Toffler’s perception that the world is becoming a much smaller place; one where ideas and values merge and enjoy a common meaning seems to be happening. Not only are the ideas that support emerging technology finding a positive reception, but they are even being welcomed in the process of wealth creation where only a few decades ago it would not have seemed possible. Additionally, as is evident in the case of Al-Queda and its sophisticated use of the internet as both a propaganda tool and a means of providing global communications and control, the emerging technology is helping to create a polarizing environment where nations do battle with non-national entities residing as mini-governments within the realm of sovereign states as predicted by the Tofflers. Thus, globalization has a two pronged impact, decreasing the distance between technologically sophisticated people and governments, while at the same time increasing the ability to create a gulf between users of that technology.
The development of states within the context of nations and the relationships between these states and transnational business alliances, although harkening back to the early Mesopotamian nations, brings with it the notion that in the near future relationships with business will matter more than relationships with countries, in terms of providing employment- thereby reducing population unrest –for the masses. If this is also an accurate prediction by the Tofflers, then the world should be prepared for an undoing of the last several centuries facilitating the ascendancy of the nation state. As is evident in China, it is not other nations bringing wealth, except as an extension of the global business venture, but business with headquarters in a particular nation. Some see the European Union as an example of creation of a multi-national state attempting to manage the relationship of trans-global businesses which tend to splinter the national state as the Tofflers foretold. Whether or not it will succeed remains to be seen because in a global sense the EU represents what historically would have been many large states or small nations and each of these small nations has been historically advocating for its own agreements with business entities.
Summarizing the Tofflers’ arguments leads to a vision of continuously increasing technology both solving global divisions while simultaneously creating divisions within the global community based on the understanding and use of technology. Specifically, it is reasonable to assume that the three tiered world forecasted will continue into the foreseeable section of the 21st century. Still these predictions are for the relatively short term even though they indicate a general movement into the future. It seems substantial shifts in technology cause, not only major impacts on the existing structures of society, but also significant shifts in the interactions of the global population. Extracting from this it is possible to suggest that the consequence of technology is the creation of multi-tiered populations with some benefiting from the changes while others continue subsistence living with little incentive to change this situation as was evident in the movement from the first wave to the second wave and forecast for the third wave. So for the short term, the outlook is rather bleak for the total population in the Tofflers’ vision.
Teilhard de Chardin
Historical Context
Leading History
Asking whether or not this is the best that can be expected for the future of humanity is an appropriate question. Are there any other scenarios that will provide a picture of an unfolding future wherein people start to share concern for each other while simultaneously moving towards a cohesive future which benefits not merely them, but also all they touch? Are there any other early Star Trek vision focused prophets of our time? To answer this it is necessary to return to the early part of the 20th century, the source from which the Star Trek vision may have derived.
One of the impressive things about the original Star Trek episodes was that they were not “preachy” about what they saw in a possible future. Rather they assumed an onward and upward progression of the human species. This subtle message was more clearly stated in episodes where the crew meets other civilizations which are significantly more advanced socially and ethically than the “Federation”. The parting lines were similar to, “They think we humans have a great potential, and in another 1000 years we might be ready to contact them again”, or, “They’ll contact us in another millennium. By then we should be ready to establish relationships with them”. Granted these are very optimistic statements about the future of humanity. Granted they portray the best in humanity and what it has to offer. Perhaps this is what gave the series such a lasting impact on the current generations. However, these statements do not portray the impetus behind the movement to this future world. Rather, they portray the consequence of the impetus which is more subtle.
Then what is the impetus that carries humanity forward into the possible future portrayed in the series. But before that question can be answered, another must be asked. Is there an overall impetus which drives creation of which humanity is merely apart? This question is more complex because it drives not merely the biologic creation, but also the inorganic creation and cannot be simply brushed aside as rudimentary thinking. Astrobiologist Paul Davies (2005, p. 50) asks a similar question when reviewing the book, Looking for Life, Searching the Solar System, by Clancy, Brack, and Horneck (2005). He reaches far beyond the merely biologic to ask: “Could there be a ‘life principle’ at work in nature that automatically steers matter and energy towards life?” He follows this question by observing that no one has yet scientifically demonstrated that this statement is inevitably working through the laws of physics and chemistry. Interestingly he concludes that the finding of life, of nearly any kind, on another planet would go a long ways towards demonstrating the inevitable conclusion to this question.
But does the finding of life on another planet inevitably lead to a conclusion that there is a direction to the universe? Is there really a conclusion that life must continually move towards some yet unspecified goal, or is the consequence merely of the perception that there is a goal? For instance writing in Consciousness Reconsidered, Owen Flanagan, (1992, p. 58) declares, “consciousness did not need to evolve at all. But since it did, there are resulting design constraints. An optimally designed system with finite powers better not be conscious of everything. Any efficiently designed finite cognitive system will be sensitive to far more than it is conscious of.” There is nothing in this approach which would require that consciousness need be anything except an offshoot of an evolutionary effort. Yet, he does leave the door open by inferring that something ‘may have’ influenced the development of an evolutionary outcome creating consciousness. In subsequent discussion he argues that consciousness is a product of the natural outcome of being human. For him it is,
“not because of some mind’s ‘I’ or some immutable transcendental ego shadows my experience. It is because of my organic nature, because of the way thoughts hang together in evolved human beings. The self emerges. It is a complex construct that we are eventually able to represent in language and in thought” (1992, p. 221).
In his writing, the idea of consciousness evolving as a vehicle to engage the universe does not make sense. Consciousness is “an add-on” to the process of human evolution, a by-product of the development of the human species. Thus, humans would not be humans, in the sense that we think of them today, without this by-product.
Consciousness lets people understand their environment and their interactions with the environment both after the fact, and in planning for a future experience. Consciousness provides the ability to reflect on previous experience, events, or interactions, determine interaction points, analyze the consequence of the interactions, perform consequential reviews of those actions, propose new actions in similar situations, project the consequences of those new actions, analyze the probability of those actions being projected, determine which alternatives provide the greatest valued outcome, and set those conclusions aside until needed at a future date. This entire sequence of actions would be necessary for a species to survive a complex and changing set of environmental conditions as it successfully migrated through changing terrain and encountering significantly different animal species during the move from one geographical area to another in the process of populating the earth. Given this it might seem that nature was working hand in glove with the population distribution of humans around the globe. This could be unintentional and unguided, but this position lacks a reasoned support. Even Charles Darwin perceived the hand of guidance, albeit evolution (natural selection) in the development of future generations (1859/1979, p. 459). Consequently, there must be some relevance to the long term maintenance of this capability to reflect on the self, the actions of the self, the actions of other persons, events, and animals, and the interaction with the environment.
Two centuries before Darwin’s writings, Isaac Newton took the existence of the natural laws of physics as a form of proof, based on the elegance of the universe and the fact that the universe could be described in terms of natural laws, of the existence of God (Maddox, 1998, p. 117). For Newton the existence of simple equations to explain complex relationships within the natural world must be proof of an underlying structure. How else might this elegance and beauty be explained? Just as Darwin, two centuries later, would marvel at the beauty and guidance that made the human species, Newton too marveled at the elegance of the universe and what must have made it possible – some type of guiding hand. For Newton it was God and for Darwin it was natural selection once life had been breathed into the living organisms (Darwin, 1859/1979, p. 455). Both great scientists saw a direction to the development of organic life, even though the mechanism was different. What then are the series of statements that relate humans to the laws of physics and chemistry in modern times?
Anthropic Principles
Maddox (1998, p. 116 ff.) describes the consequences of the Anthropic Principle, first put forward in the mid-1960s by physicist and astronomer Robert H. Dicke, in this way.
The anthropic principle in this connection amounts simply to the observation that people such as ourselves and the objects that surround us would not exist if there were, say, two of four space dimensions. In other words, of all the universes and the accompanying laws of physics that might have made their appearance 10 or 20 billion years ago that which we inhabit is a variant that is conducive to our own existence. … Empirically minded people take the view that the statement is a monumental banality. But there is no doubt it lends support to religious opinions that the universe we inhabit embodies divine design (p. 119).
Over time, this principle has seen much modification and even developed special cases of its existence. Today, authors Davis and Poe (2002, p. 109ff.) recognize four special instances of this principle: weak, strong, participatory, and final. The weak argues that if the universe were not fit for life, there would be no humans. The strong maintains that the universe must have the parameters it has and this perspective frequently cites multiple universes or multiple “big bangs” which ultimately produces the universe in which people live. The participatory presents the view, referring to quantum mechanics- that reality exists once an observer (by implication a self-reflecting being) is present, that because the universe is being observed it can occur. The Final Anthropic Principle promulgated by astronomer John Barrow and physicist Frank Tipler proposes that “Intelligence must come into existence and once it does it can never die out” …. Thus, Barrow and Tipler are saying God does not exist now but that all of life is evolving into God (Davis & Poe, 2002, p. 112-113). Based on the writings of Barrow and Tipler, Davis and Poe apparently see a connection to the work of Teilhard de Chardin and his concept of an Omega Point.
The concept of a Final Anthropic Principle moves beyond the discussion of merely the organic and animate objects discussed by Darwin, beyond the drive for technology acquisition presented by the Tofflers, and into the perception of Darwin that there has been a divine hand present in the world in which people exist. Although the Final Anthropic Principle proposes that the divine hand is forthcoming, does that mean once it exists it is incapable of moving backwards through time and influencing its creation and development within current time? This question echoes the many questions presented in the science fiction genre where this paper started and to which it must return for the discussion of the Omega Point of which de Chardin, a Roman Catholic priest and paleontologist of the early and mid-twentieth century, wrote.
Karl Jung writes about the spiritual problems of modern humanity (Jung, 1987, p. 456 ff). He describes how modern mankind is unable to find solace and acceptability of the self because he is unable to accept the teaching of the older religions. Mankind is wanting to experience spiritual events for himself or herself, yet unwilling to give credence to the lessons from history and psychic development. Specifically, he writes, “Western man lives in a thick cloud of incense which he burns to himself so that this own countenance may be veiled from him in the smoke” (p. 472). It is this recognition of a malaise in contemporary humanity that drives the future forward and captured the thinking of Teilhard de Chardin, who none-the-less conceived of modern man as bored (1964/2004, p. 139).
De Chardin Summary
Sir Julian Huxley, wrote of his own struggle to understand this problem of human potential and its apparent halting after millions of years of evolution in his introduction to de Chardin’s The Phenomena of Man (1975): “I was searching to establish an ideological basis for man’s further cultural evolution, and to define the position of the individual human personality in the process—a search in which I was later much aided by Pere Teilhard’s writings, and by our conversations and correspondence” (P. 12). As can be observed, Jung was not the only one of the leading thinkers of his time that were frustrated by the human condition. Many were grappling for a means to incorporate the apparent gap in human awareness of another dimension to humanity and the changing global and scientific conditions of the times.
Into this confusion stepped de Chardin and his theory that saw humanity moving consistently towards a better future. One not driven by technology, as in the works of the Toefflers but rather by an inexplicable and unstoppable sense of destiny derived from the very essence of the creative aspects that placed matter into the universe. De Chardin, according to Huxley, (1959/2002, p. 13) “in 1925 [he] coined the term noosphere to denote the sphere of mind, as opposed to, or rather superposed on, the biosphere or sphere of life, and acting as a transforming agency promoting hominisation (or as I would put it, progressive psychosocial evolution)”. Implicit in the concept of noosphere is the perception of mind as an outgrowth of the existing and developing mental and psychological aspects of living beings. But de Chardin did not stop at this observation, rather he offered up the idea that the very existent of the earth as a sphere forced the intensification of thoughts and ideas upon the entire realm of life which existed within the context of the sphere (1959/2002, p. 17).
The conclusion of this intensification will be the development of an intersection de Chardin called point Omega , “where, [according to Huxley,] the noosphere will be intensely unified and will have achieved a ‘hyperpersonal’ organization (1959/2002, p. 19). Huxley added that for de Chardin, “persons are individuals who transcend their merely organic individuality in conscious participation” (1959/2002, p. 20). De Chardin had a “conception of mankind as at the same time an unfinished product of past evolution and an agency of distinctive evolution to come” (1959/2002, p. 24). And de Chardin himself wrote that one scenario can develop as humanity moves towards Omega in it there would be an increasing warmth radiated by humanity upon itself as a result of reflections from the noosphere which yields the final convergence occurring in peace (1959/2002, p. 288). He also admits to the nearly opposite scenario in which evil may continue to manifest in ever new forms (1959/2002, p. 289). In either case there will be the overcoming of evil at some point and the appearance of Omega for humanity. In this he sounds like a Zoroastrian priest who points out that evil has already been vanquished and we are merely awaiting the time when good will triumph over the evil in time and space.
This summary of some of the thinking of de Chardin has been necessary because of the deep and often mysterious or unfinished thoughts which he presents in his writings. It is these unfinished thoughts and ideas with implications reaching well beyond the purview of a Roman Catholic priest that resulted in de Chardin being prevented by the Church from publishing his writings during much of his professional life—1926 until his death in 1952 on Easter Sunday: implications which might lead a person to conclude that original sin did not exist, at least in the traditional sense, and that evolution, “which produced the human brain [without which] there would be no sanctified souls” (1964/2004, p. 13) was an important part of the human experience and development. One of the reasons that de Chardin created a conflict within The Church was his comment in the next paragraph on this page. “I mean the rise on our inward horizon of a cosmic spiritual center, a supreme pole of conscious, upon which all the separate consciousness of the world may converge and within which they may love one another: the rise of a God” [italics and capitalization in the original] (1964/2004, p. 113). The capitalization of God is a referential for the supreme deity and therein lay his transgression. As seen earlier in this paper, de Chardin did not literally mean humanity bringing God into existence. Instead, he meant that God would appear out of His creation, in which He had immersed Himself.
In another instance de Chardin offers that “If it its true, as I suggest, that salvation lies in the direction of an Earth organically in-folded upon itself” (1964/2004, p. 236). This is another instance where it is necessary to understand the context from which de Chardin is drawing his meaning, rather than the words which he uses to encompass his argument. He is describing a future point at which humanity will have neared the end of its God given evolution and helped to have prepared the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Unfortunately these comments, in a new and developing theological perspective, meant that The Church could not allow the discussion to continue. De Chardin accepted the limitations and did not publish during his lifetime after the order was given.
De Chardin’s Theory
A discussion on the works of de Chardin can best begin with his perception of the place of humanity in the universe. “[W]e must not forget that the human soul, however independently created our philosophy represents it as being, is inseparable, in its birth and in its growth, from the universe in which it is born” (1965/2001. p. 23). Clearly presented in this statement is the awareness that the human being is more than merely physical and more than merely mental or more than both. The human being is linked to the very matter of the universe and to the specific aspects of the noosphere. It is in de Chardin’s mind impossible to separate the living from the inorganic realms from which they originated. As a paleontologist, and a proponent of evolution, he viewed the development of the living world as a forward moving vehicle carrying life into ever higher levels of complexity moving up Lipton’s ladder. “Life shows signs, as it does today, of requiring us, by the very virtue of its movement toward a state of higher Being, to sacrifice our individuality” (1964/2004, p. 33). For him life is a constant progression forward into what some may see as a mist, but de Chardin sees a change towards a collectivization of humanity and the universe which is no longer an order but a process (1964/2004, p. 261). Evolution requires that humanity continue to strive towards some type of clearly defined, but to humanity unclear future. He sees it as a foregone conclusion that humanity must become what evolution is dictating because “it would be easier, at this stage of evolution we have reached, to prevent the earth from revolving than to prevent Mankind from becoming totalized” (1964/2004, p. 226). Use of the word totalized is another term for describing the process of collectivization which he uses in other places.
What can it mean that the universe is no longer an order but a process? Surely it must include the perception that there exists a level of change in the universe verses the constancy some seek and expect to find. For instance, the ancient Greeks recognized that there were two ways of viewing the world around them: things which seemed eternal (unchanging) and things which were capable of, and apparently required to, change. And so their world was organized into eternal and changing categories. However, de Chardin supposes that the universe is not constant but rather a work in progress—something which by its very nature is unstable. He carries this reasoning to its ultimate conclusion when he argues: “Historically, the stuff of the universe goes on becoming concentrated into ever more organized forms of matter” (1959/2002, p. 49). The ultimate form of this organization manifests in the human spirit for de Chardin. He evens reflects, “The question of whether the Universe is still developing then becomes a matter of deciding whether the human spirit is still in process of evolution” (1964/2004, p. 6). This strong link between developing of the human spirit and the universe carries with it the inherent statement of a process, but only if it is acknowledged that the human spirit is still changing.
Placing himself firmly on the wrong side of a limb of diminishing size de Chardin argues, “to discover that if things hold and hold together, it is only by reason of complexity from above” (1959/2002, p. 43). He argues for turning a traditional view of evolution upside down and arguing for a superintending consciousness which is reflected in all matter and culminating in the evolution of the human brain. His discussion of “The Stuff of the Universe”, chapter one, (1959/2002, p. 39 ff) presents a strong case for the inter-relationship of consciousness to even the most elementary forms of matter or in its summary form (1964/2004, p. 123 ff). It seems clear to him that there is a forward movement to matter that can only be explained by an overwhelming force driving complexity versus stasis. De Chardin was a contemporary of Sri Aurobindo Ghose, the Indian philosopher and mystic (1872 – 1950), and in a sense de Chardin’s arguments sound very much like Aurobindo’s at this point. According to Ken Wilber’s introduction to Aurobindo’s A Greater Psychology, “it [consciousness] evolves its own higher levels which brings about the emergence of Matter, Life and Mind in the world (2001, p. xvii). Aurobindo asks,
what is consciousness—it is not composed of parts, it is fundamental to being and itself formulates any parts it chooses to manifest—developing them from above downward by a progressive coming down from spiritual levels towards involution in Matter or formulating them in an upward working in the front by what we call evolution (2001, p. 11).
De Chardin’s perspective does not seem far removed from the perceptions that Aurobindo iterates. He concludes that “evolution is an ascent towards consciousness” (1959/2002, p. 258) which as a paleontologist seems consistent with his training. In fact, he goes further and asks, “How indeed could we incorporate thought into the organic flux of space-time without being forced to grant it the first place in the processus” (1959/2002, p. 181).
De Chardin sees the complexity of the universe as a positive thing, as a sign of the appropriateness of humanity’s presence within the confines not of a vast cosmic ocean with no islands for respite, but rather an island in the cosmic ocean offering a place to develop and evolve. He posits a non-threatening universe when he states:
the overwhelming vastness of the Cosmos need no longer appall us, since the indefinite layers of Time and Space, far from being the lifeless desert in which we seemed to be lost, show themselves to be the bosom which gathers together the separate fragments of a huge Consciousness in process of growth (1964/2004, p. 82).
What a wonderful picture this must have been for people recovering from the First World War and headed into an unseen future including the Second World War. Technology which had seemed at first to offer such hope for humanity was suddenly seen as a tool to literally destroy thousands of people at a time rather than provide the savior for which people had hoped. Possibly for the first time a scientist was seen as offering a future that was hopeful even while acknowledging that there was not a constant path forward when viewed from a short distance, but there was hope when viewed from the longer perspective of history and pre-history. Can this view of the hopeful presence of technology—as described by the Tofflers, who openly admit that things must change if technology is to lead the way, be a reflection of the time prior to which de Chardin wrote? Or, can it be that the current era is merely taking the short distance view of history and not capturing the perspective which de Chardin described as a huge consciousness moving humanity forward? In the following page (1964/2004, p. 83) he notes it is comforting to know that there is an objective to life, that this objective arrives at a summit, to which our striving is directed—voluntarily or otherwise, is obtained by all people drawing together in a myriad of ways: “individually, socially, nationally, and racially”. For him life is pulling all people together to create a new planetary structure, a complete and integrated noosphere, a planetary collective consciousness or soul. His model includes the understanding that the universe exists beyond our most basic aspirations. In point of fact he describes a universe which “shows itself to be capable of fulfilling the highest of our mystical aspirations” (1964/2004, p. 84). For him there exists a deep relationship between matter as manifested in the universe and human consciousness.
De Chardin does not see a separation between evolution and human development. They are inextricably bound. In one sense he observes that the process of life appeared once and only once on earth and that “once and once only has life succeeded in crossing the threshold of reflection” (1959/2002, p. 276) which sounds like the consequence of The Final Anthropic Principle. For him the process of reflection is the ultimate movement, thus far, of the paleontological and archeological “tree of life” which defines the structure out of which the various plants and animals developed in ever increasingly complex forms (1959/2002, p. 270). Specifically he argues,
But because the specific orthogenesis of the primates (urging them towards increasing cerebralisation) coincides with the axial orthogenesis of organized matter (urging all living things towards a higher consciousness) man, appearing at the heart of the primates, flourishes on the leading shoot of zoological evolution (1959/2002, p. 180)
However, it must remain clear that for de Chardin, the sense of evolution is not related strictly to the phyletic kingdoms it also includes the entire planet (1959/2002, p. 182) which because of the presence and forward evolutionary movement of hominisation eventually “finds its soul” (1959/2002, p. 182). The planet is treated as if it has a special place in creation because of the birth of reflectiveness / consciousness among its inhabitants. This specialness manifests as a sphere encircling the planet, and it is called the noosphere. Much as with the growth of the biological organisms there developed a biosphere over time, so too is it with the development of consciousness that a sphere of reflective capability exists (1959/2002, p. 181). Here is evidence that thought forms the basis for his understanding of universal manifestation of the immaterial guiding the development of the material. This is where he parts company with Aurobindo who saw that consciousness exists independently of thought and that thought formed only a minor component of consciousness for: “Consciousness is a fundamental thing, the fundamental thing in existence – it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all this is in it – not only the macrocosm but the microscosm is nothing but consciousness arranging itself” (2001, p. 10). Surprisingly, a reading of de Chardin consistently brings the reader back to what seems to be a definition of consciousness in the form of reflection and more rather than merely thought which is how he articulates it. In his defense it can be argued that during his life western science was only beginning to recognize consciousness as something separate from thought.
As a paleontologist, de Chardin sees the role of consciousness, much like many scientists, as function of reflective ability – a component of thought, rather than the deeper meaning ascribed to it by Aurobindo. Ultimately he describes the process of evolution as a response to the Incarnational aspects of God moving into matter and appearing as the redemptive work of the Christ. Yet even this is not enough because a reading of his work moves the discussion back to its early theological work with God unifying nature and Himself becoming part of the very structure of matter (1959/2002, p. 293) – starting before the existence of matter and taking charge of the forward movement of matter from energy to inorganic, to organic, to cellular. Specifically, de Chardin writes: “How does he unify it? By partially immersing himself in things, by becoming ‘element’, and then, from this point of vantage in the heart of matter, assuming the control and leadership of what we now call evolution” (1959/2002, p. 294). Yet, de Chardin is using evolution in a slightly different sense here than is customarily used. For him evolution does not mean merely the process of organic movement to increasingly higher levels of development culminating with consciousness of the human being as did Darwin. Instead, he must be reflecting back to the very creation of matter in its smallest and most basic form. Earlier still, back to the point just before the environment to create matter occurred, back to the universe before it appeared in Guth’s Inflation Model describing how the universe came to be a series of clusters rather than an even distribution of matter throughout. Yet, even here is inadequate. God was be invested into the environment out of which the Big Bang derived its potentiality. And this is where de Chardin would have the reader arrive, at the point where all of the potential for matter, for soul, for spirit began. At that point the discussion with de Chardin about evolution can begin.
Although de Chardin does not specify this in his writings, it must be so. For him this type of discussion was many decades into the future, even after his death. The argument for creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) would require this awareness. That God was the spark that initiated the Inflation which created the world hardly, in today’s time, seems revolutionary. In his time it might well have seemed that God was being moved outside the intimate day-to-day management of the world by a position like this. Even today, this idea may strike some theologically inclined people as removing God from the aspect of what has traditionally been viewed as how God works. But this need not be the case. De Chardin saw God as investing all matter in the basic form of the universe by bringing matter into existence as a manifestation of His presence. And it was this presence which allowed for the movement from the appearance of matter, to the appearance of differentiation in matter, to creation of atoms, to creation of inorganic molecules, to the creation of organic molecules, to the creation of biologic cells, to the appearance of organic communities, to the development of all life which became the phylum structure referred to as the “Tree of Life” ultimately leading to the creation of consciousness. Thus within a model expanding on de Chardin concepts about the “how of God becoming ‘element” it is possible to conclude that God has indeed been guiding the process of the evolution of the universe. He lauds his time, albeit a source of cynicism about technical growth, as a source of the awareness that the relationship between Matter and Spirit was brought to light and that spirit emerged out of matter being guided by God (1964/2004, p. 86).
His ideas do not merely stop at God becoming element and entering creation. He sees God as being willing to wait until humanity has come to a point of development, evolution—to use his term, at which point humanity and God unite. It is as if God is waiting for the noosphere to reach a critical mass before there is a re-unification of God with this evolving consciousness of humanity. As de Chardin states:
By a perennial act of communion and sublimation, he aggregates to himself the total psychism of the earth. And when he has gathered everything together and transformed everything, he will close in upon himself and his conquests, thereby rejoining, in a final gesture, the divine focus he has never left. Then, as St. Paul tells us, God shall be all in all [italics in original] (1959/2002, p. 295).
For him this reunification is virtually guaranteed because the Christ has risen, and what can that mean, but that the world has also arisen (1964/2004, p. 235). This is the point of Omega . A point where collective reflection occurs. “[I]t is F2 [focus of consciousness] apparently breaking away from its temporal-spatial frame to join up with the supreme and universal focus Omega ” (1959/2002, p. 309). Thus, Omega is seen as both an event and a process.
He sees a huge shift coming in the cosmos. A profound redefinition of what it means to be composed of matter. This indwelling is entirely consistent with his portrayal of matter in the universe to which he devotes the entire first chapter in the text (1959/2002). For him there are aspects of matter which must be more than miniscule specs of dust and atomic debris which happened to accidentally aggregate in a few billion years and uncountable number of times becoming ever more complex as the accidents continued and becoming increasingly complex and not destructive in the collisions. “In other words, in a converging Universe each element achieves completeness, not directly in a separate consummation, but by incorporation in a higher pole of consciousness in which alone it can enter into contact with all others” (1964/2004, p. 47). Another aspect of evolution that is unique to de Chardin is that consciousness is a direct consequence of increasing complexity. Consequently, there is another link between matter and spirit (1959/2002, p. 308). To even maintain that there is a higher pole of consciousness at this most primary level brings back the question; to what end would matter be so imbued?
This movement for him leads ultimately to “a qualitative value which expresses itself—like all biological progress—by the appearance of a specifically new state of consciousness. …. I am thinking here of Christian love” (1959/2002, p. 295). It might well be argued that this progress of which he speaks is a logical outcome of his training as a priest. Still this observation does not explain the statement. As a paleontologist his training would argue against this position, if only as a matter of peer pressure. However, the church thought his ideas so difficult to conceive and discuss that they banned him from publishing. If he were willing to accept this limitation, maintain his cleric collar, and continue his work without publishing arguing that his conclusion is primarily the consequence of his priestly training does a disservice to the life that he led and the limitations he accepted. Certainly his thought was guided by his training in both disciplines. He argued, decades before its time, for the importance of both religion and science and that “they are the two conjugated faces or phases of one and the same complete act of knowledge” (1959/2002, p. 285). Both of the disciplines in which he was trained must carry equal weight in an approach which is essentially integrative. Therefore, his understanding of this approach to integration of science and theology must ultimately lead to a point where each enables the other to help complete humanity, and this completion manifests as love which encompasses not only people, but all creation.
An optimist, de Chardin realized that the history unfolding itself in his time was not the history of which humanity will eventually write. Rather it was merely the appearance of a short interlude which will be defined by people being driven by the forces of collectivization (1964/2004, p. 106) which are merely the consequences of the processes utilized by the planet to bring about its highest potential through the third phase of planetary development with humanity reaching towards an organicosocial supercomplex (1964/2004, p. 108). The collectivization of which he speaks is not the “clumsy and incomplete” (1964/2004, p. 112) collectivization practiced in his time, but rather a coming together in recognition that humanity is not merely the same race but rather the same person (1964/2004, p. 113).
The Second Coming
As the collectivization advances and people become essentially one person and the noosphere reaches culmination God will manifest out of the matter, out of the noosphere, out of the collectivized human energy system. De Chardin talked about this point in time and space where God would appear as the Omega point. Yet the Omega point was more than merely the point at which God would appear. It is clearly the point at which the Second Coming of Christ would take place, although he did not use language of this type. However, he was not silent on this issue. In his book, The Divine Milieu he offers a chapter on “The Expectation of the Parousia”. In aonther book he writes:
For if truly, in order that the Kingdom of God may come in … it is necessary, as an essential physical condition that the human Earth should already have attained the natural completion of its evolutionary growth, then it must mean that the ultra-human perfection which neo-humanism envisages for Evolution will coincide in concrete terms with the crowning of the Incarnation awaited by all Christians (1964/2004, p. 268).
Thus, although he uses different language, de Chardin is stating that the Second Coming of Christ will occur and that it will occur as a result of a shift in the way humans interact. Furthermore, this shift will be the result of a global, in the broadest sense possible, realignment of humanity creating a new energy form which unites and integrates with the energy system that has become the planet earth.
On another level de Chardin challenges the reader to move beyond the cultural interpretation that has been passed on from generation to generation. He asks of the reader that he or she rethink the location of the appearance of Christ. For him the coming is not related to some existence which descends from above. Instead it results from someone coming from Ahead (1964/2004, p. 262). Thus, the Incarnation which The Church believes to have been an event inserted into time and space becomes the preview of the Second Coming which is also an event manifested in time and space. This perception requires the acknowledgement that the workings of God in the sphere of human habitation results from traditional divine superintending of time and space into a process which transforms time and space as a result of the outworking of the divine presence which imbues all creation. There are two classic Christian interpretations that add to this discussion. The first is the appearance of the divine spirit in the experience of creation. A reading of the original Hebrew in Genesis chapter 1 verse 2 describes the Spirit of God not as moving as it is generally translated, but as more of a brooding like a mother hen does for her chicks. Secondly the sense that in Romans chapter 8 creation groans awaiting the redemption of universe by the Second Coming and which seems a plausible scenario in his works.
The consequence of this radical change in human behavior which permits the Second Coming of Christ is the envelopment of the planetary noosphere upon itself which fosters the emergence of God out of the element that He created. As a result, the appearance of Christ is the culmination of the evolutionary processes and progress that formed and impregnated matter with spirit. In the preface to The Divine Milieu, another Roman Catholic priest, Pierre Leroy, S.J., writes of de Chardin’s view: “Matter and spirit, then, as we know them, in our universe, are not two separate substances, set side by side and differing in nature. They are two distinct aspects of one single cosmic stuff and there is between them no conflict to baffle our intelligence” (1965/2001, p. xviii). De Chardin himself refers to the movement of a person through his or her life as an activity which not only builds up the soul but additionally participates in “the completing of the world” (1965/2001, p. 24). A page later he tells the reader that the creation has not been finished long ago as some might imagine, but rather “it continues still more magnificently, and at the highest levels of the world” (p. 25). Such is the power that the individual wields in support of the Second Coming of the Christ.
Matter, the soul, and the Christ are all inter-related in his thinking (1965/2001, p. 26). However, they are not the same thing. And as has been shown previously, the term the soul does not refer strictly to the soul of a person, but rather includes the soul of the planet. De Chardin, after having asked the reader to think in larger and larger perspectives, does not limit his thinking to merely a single evolutionary module which is the one and only example in the universe. He offers, “Life (though probably localized on a few rare planets) compels us increasingly to view it as an underlying current in the flow of which matter tends to order itself upon itself with the emergence of consciousness” (1964/2004, p. 168). His openness to possibilities that God is greater than people can conceive becomes apparent in this quote. First, he offers the potential that life and consciousness might well be more than a random act upon the 3rd planet from Sol. He recognizes that the inherent presence of God in matter forces an upward movement of energy into every increasing levels of complexity (1964/2004, p. 123 ff). It is this upward movement which exists throughout the universe which may, as he states in another writing, create consciousness in other planetary noospheres which are then able to unite and form a network of consciousness units (1959/2002, p. 286), perhaps all reaching Omega at the same time, although he does not address this in his writings. Second, that matter contains an impetus for organization of itself in a manner which shows progress from the constituents of matter, through organic molecules, and into cellular structures (1964/2004, p. 123 ff). Because of the presence of God matter can not not organize itself and in de Chardin’s approach which must eventually lead to Omega where ever, and how many times, the universe has created consciousness in separate locations.
De Chardin Conclusion
The initial questions asked focused on whether or not there was a sense of direction to the events attempting to engulf contemporary humanity. Are the tsunamis, the monsoons, the wars, the famines, the world peace marches, the peace conferences all part of some movement of energy towards some ineluctable goal? For some peoples their world is literally crumbling around them. For others their most pressing concern is whether to spend fifty dollars and fill the car tank with gas today or tomorrow. The contemporary world is afloat with contradictions and aphorism thrown relentlessly at those viewing or listening to electronic media. These statements come in the form of news reports or musical compositions, but come they do. And they come in torrents, each hoping to garner the listener’s attention. Each hoping to become the current and future meme. But the questions being asked in this paper reach beyond the “News at 11” passing out of information and into the matrix of knowledge. Ultimately, the question must be stated directly, “Is there a superintending function directing the currents of time and space into some unseen future?”
It should be noted that Darwin saw a place for a superintending influence in the creation of life, even if he perceived the influence to disappear after the process got started. For him God did exist in creating the first aspects of life, but then disappeared from the scene. Bruce Lipton sees some type of influence impacting the life processes because of the movement up the ladder towards ever higher levels of consciousness. For him life will continue to evolve and eventually become something about which we can currently only fantasize because we can not imagine what it will be. Barrow and Tipler suspect that all life is evolving into some type of encompassing consciousness which is essentially described as God.
The Tofflers in their history viewing assessments see the movement driven by technology and technologic change. Whether the Wave is first--agrarian, second--industrial, or third--information they are all defined by changes in technology which create shifts in the social, economic, and political structures utilizing the technology. In their model there is no place for a superintending function. There is only the movement of invention by people seeking to create something that will meet a need not previously defined. The consequence of this activity is for good or evil depending upon the user. The outcome is not directed, except by human emotions or desires. As a result, their answer to superintending would be no. It is all random.
De Chardin offers another approach and a complex methodology that describes how the approach actually works. He builds upon his understanding of the evolutionary process and sees that God is intimate in each aspect of His creation. It is this divine underpinning that creates evolution and simultaneously links humanity to the environment in which it is born (1965/2001, p. 23). Humanity is moving towards an Omega point where God will manifest out of His creation, humanity will transform as the noosphere reflects back to humanity an ever growing consciousness, and the Second Coming of Christ will materialize leading humanity and all creation into a new aspect of its future (1965/2001, p.130). De Chardin would tells us there is a superintending influence guiding the universe because it exists in the very constituents of the universe—each component of an atom, each cell, and each person whether on this planet or possibly some other planet where life has been seeded by matter and evolution.

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