Anaxagoras, a pre-Socratic philosopher, was one of the earliest thinkers to begin to articulate the notion that the whole cosmos is a unity in which everything is connected with everything else. Anticipating the Neoplatonists, who would elaborate on similar insights many hundreds of years later, he spoke of an all-pervasive “Nous” or mind functioning as the glue which unites and guides the evolution of all things. Plotinus would eventually speak of an original Being, the One, from which emanates the “Nous”, which subtends all physical manifestation in the world. Plotinus presented this Nous as the key to his philosophy of unity as a principle that is at once transcendent and immanent, and therefore, an early “Western” embodiment of what we might call panentheism and panpsychism. The Neoplatonists likewise spoke of a “world soul” whose function was to bridge the nous with the spatiotemporal world.
Similar insights would reemerge in the modern world in the work of Jesuist priest, philosopher and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose “noosphere” corresponded roughly with the Neoplatonist concept of the world soul. Chardin’s “noosphere,” however, referred more specifically to planets in general, and especially earth, functioning as the motor of human consciousness on Earth, although he did accept the possibility of multiple noospheres associated with other planets, and he took seriously the possibility that these noospheres could and did communicate with one another.
Chardin distinguishes between two domains of energy, one local and spatiotemporal, the other (what we would now call) nondual.
- “Tangential” energy — that which operates within the spatiotemporal world and is measured by modern physics. This physical energy, for Chardin, is nothing more than materialized psychic energy.
- Radial / Axial energy — that which provides a direct link with t he “Omega” which guides the evolution of the spatiotemporal world. Increasing “centration” of this realm leads to an increase in what he terms “complexity-consciousness.”
He sees energy as fundamentally a matrix of consciousness and a teleological driver of evolution rather than something that can be reduced mathematically to calculable vectors. Energy, most fundamentally, constitutes a “transcosmic” radiation of which discrete organisms are the receivers. In this respect, the human brain is a receiver of consciousness rather than its origins. He refers to this fundamental origin of sentient energy as “interior” energy, and complains that physicists tend to only believe and deal with tangential energy. Scientifically, he admitted that he did not know how to link these two forms of energy with one another, and anxiously awaited the advent of some sort of bridge law that would connect the two, and he believed that the purpose of the link was to eventuate in a kind of emergent planetary consciousness which he termed the “noosphere,” an ultimate and necessary culmination of evolution that would provide a link between science and religion. This emerging consciousness he would term “The Great Monad.”
Teilhard would eventually meet with Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian geologist who founded biogeochemistry and who popularized the term “biosphere.” Like Chardin, Vernadsky saw life as a natural product of the cosmos rather than the accident of a series of non-teleological mishaps. He was confident that scientific investigation across many fields would inevitably converge upon the principles that generate and govern the emergence and continuation of life. In seeing life as an inevitable product of geology, he anticipated what would come to be known as the “Gaia Hypothesis”, originating explicitly with James E. Lovelock.
Part of what made Chardin’s work so controversial in the eyes of the Roman Catholic authorities of whose Church he was himself an authority, is the view of evolution he propounded and its conflict with the notion of original sin. From his perspective, suffering and “evil” were necessarily moments in the evolution of the cosmos and the consciousness it generates, rather than the unfortunate and accidental consequence of a dereliction of free will among individual consciousnesses following their creation. He saw contemporary human consciousness as in the early stages of a certain “noogenesis,” referring to a modification of human consciousness from a view of atomistic individuals into a greater union from which a qualitatively unique and more highly evolved consciousness would emerge. It is the dynamic process of change and the subsequent structure of consciousness towards which he directed his so-called “hyperphysics.”
The first appearance of life, for Chardin, could be observed in the emergence of the “biosphere.” We are currently in the stage of the emergence of the noosphere, and he eventually anticipated another qualitative and fundamental change in consciousness which he referred to as an “Omega” state which he termed a greater “complexity-consciousness” and an “internal centro-complexification.” He saw this qualitative change as eventuating in both individuals and in collective humanity in general t hrough a process he alternatively referred to as “centration” and “centrogenesis.”