The Future of Mankind by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., was professor of geology at the Catholic Institute in Paris, director of the National Geologic Survey of China, and director of the National Research Center of France. He died in New York City in 1955. Published by Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, 1959. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 19: On The Probable Coming of an ‘Ultra-Humanity’
1. Physico-biological definition of the Human: a specific super-state of living matter
At a first approximation, if to begin with we try to observe it from a purely experimental standpoint, the Human amounts to no more than a particular fragment of matter brought locally to a state of extreme complexity or (which seems to be only another aspect of the same phenomenon) extreme ‘corpuscularity’: the effect of its elaboration being to bring about the positive predominance, on a reflective level, of the purposeful operation of individual centers of action over the workings of hazard and large numbers.
On a reflective level: that is what it is important to understand. From the beginning and throughout the history of the vitalization of matter we see the progressive growth of what is in fact psychism within more and more complex and interiorized organic systems (living super-molecules). Millions of years before the birth of Man, the animal felt, discovered and knew; but its consciousness remained simple and direct. Only Man upon this earth, completing the circle of knowledge in the depths of himself knows that he knows -- with the multiplicity of consequences that we all experience, without having fully assessed their stupendous biological significance: prevision of the future, construction of ordered systems, power of invention, regulation (and rebounding) of the evolutionary process, etc. . . . We often hear talk of the ‘intellectual fringe of instinct’ and ‘animal intelligence’. Such expressions, to the extent that the word ‘intelligence’ is interpreted in its full sense of reflective psychism, are scientifically false and dangerous inasmuch as they conceal or invalidate the formidable event represented by the ‘punctiform’ in-folding of a psychic core upon itself -- that is to say, the progress of Consciousness from the first to the second stage of its powers. It is, of course, perfectly legitimate to regard all the biological stems composing the Biosphere as proceeding equally, each according to its own orientation, in the universal direction of considered thought. But what is even more certain, so that it becomes self-evident when we observe the revolutionary biological superiority of Thought over Instinct, is that if a given Phylum X, shall we say, preceding the anthropoids, had succeeded in passing the barrier separating reflective consciousness from direct consciousness, Man would never have come into existence: instead of him, Phylum X would have woven and constituted the Noosphere.
In short, sharply sundered by a critical evolutionary stage from the layers of organized matter in which he exists, Man does indeed represent, at the heart (or summit) of Life, a core of hyper-psychized’ cosmic substance, perfectly defined and instantly recognizable by its growing, pervasive power of reasoned auto-evolution which, so far as we know, it is unique in possessing.
2. Growth of the Human: the Historical Phase of Expansion
The fact that a crucial discontinuity exists between the purely animated envelope of the Earth and its thinking envelope (i.e. between the Biosphere and the Noosphere), which is manifest in the fundamentally different proceedings of Life on either side of this gap between the two layers, naturally does not mean that the Human sprang into existence among the Living in an immediate state of completeness.
In the first place, there is a wide zone of obscurity at the level of the zoological surface of hominization, seemingly impenetrable to our most searching methods of investigating the past, in which we can discern almost no outward evidence of the distinction between Irreflection and Reflection, although this had already been born. The human fetus in the earliest stages of its development, when it is virtually incapable of morphological definition, is a case in point. Even if by some inconceivable chance we were to come upon their traces, can we be sure that we should be able to recognize the first thinking beings, either by their bones or the products of their activity?
And when we come to those increasingly well-defined zones m which Mankind (become almost world-wide by the beginning of the Quaternary Period) spreads and grows as it approaches nearer to ourselves, the fact is surely undeniable -- moreover, it is a phenomenon loaded with consequences -- that in a Mankind in process of planetary expansion, the Human (or Reflective) behaves like a physical magnitude, not simply variable but irresistibly rising: like a vapor which becomes increasingly gaseous as it departs in a rising temperature from its point of liquefaction.
Let us note the two main phases, one anatomical, the other social, of this process of trans-hominization.
a The anatomical phase. A question that has long been debated among anthropologists is that of how far, given the osteological characteristics of a particular cranium, it is possible to deduce, not only the shape of the brain housed within the cranium, but the particular kind of psychism contained in the brain. It is increasingly clear that in the present state of our knowledge the process is beset by innumerable pitfalls. Nevertheless, in certain cases and within approximate limits, the attempt can yield useful results.
Generally speaking the brain of the hominized mammal not only grows rapidly in size, particularly in its frontal region, but also increases in what one might call its ‘compacity’ -- structurally through the development of associations among the sensory areas, and geometrically through the global folding of the lobes and hemispheres upon each other.
It seems logical, this being so, to postulate the osteological existence, at the beginning of anthropogenesis, of a prehominid fossil stage represented by crania decidedly less curved upon themselves (less ‘globular’) than is the case with modern man: a presumption which is borne out by the very significant fact that at this pre-hominid stage Mankind seems to have been made up of a more or less divergent sheaf of ethnic shoots (‘sub-phyla’?), very much more independent of one another than any racial groups have since been. These indications suggest that the Reflective element, although already discernible in that remote period, had not yet attained the degree of perfection in its functioning that it possesses today.
In fact, it is not until we reach the artist populations of the Upper Pleistocene Age -- the naturalist’s Homo sapiens -- that we really come, in a cerebral and phyletic sense, to the Human in full course of organic consolidation upon itself.
b The Social Phase. I say deliberately ‘in full course’ and not in a full state of completion’: because (and this is what we must realize) it is at this point, in order to ensure the continuance of the process of hominization, that the social element enters to take the place of the ‘anatomical’, which is at least temporarily arrested.
A great many of our contemporaries, perhaps the majority, still regard the technico-cultural knitting together of human society as a sort of para-biological epi-phenomenon very inferior in organic value to other combinations achieved on the molecular or cellular scale by the forces of Life. But in terms of sound science this tendency to minimize its importance is wholly unwarrantable. For if the distinguishing characteristic of authentically ‘vital’ arrangements of matter is that their ‘psychic temperature’ rises proportionately to their degree of complexity, how can we withhold the status of organisms (in the fullest sense) from the groupings, so strongly ‘psychogenic’ in their nature, which are effected within the human mass by socialization?
By this interpretation, it seems to me, nothing is more wrong than to treat the Human as though it has been biologically stationary since the ending of the Ice Age. It may be that to macroscopic observation nothing has changed during this period in the generalized arrangement of the cerebral neurons. But on the other hand, what an extraordinary and irreversible increase of collective consciousness is manifest in the growth, association and opposition of techniques, visions, passions and ideas! What an intensification of reflective life!
Indeed the grand problem with which Man confronts the biologist is not that of deciding whether anthropogenesis has effectively continued its physico-psychic progress during the past thirty thousand years, since the answer to this is clearly evident. It is far more a matter of determining whether, having reached the boundaries of its geographical expansion, Mankind may not be in process of leveling out, its vitality undermined by the very excess of its dimensions.
And here a great surprise awaits us.
3. Growth of the Human. The modern phase of super -- compression
For us to regard present-day Mankind as socially complete, it would be necessary for it, having achieved the limit of planetary expansion as it has now done, to show an appreciable waning of its power of numerical increase. But what we are witnessing is the exact opposite. The statistics for a century past show no gradual stabilization but an immense rise m the earth’s population. It is as though, being geographically compressed, Mankind were rebounding numerically upon itself; with the result that we can now clearly see the tightly meshed mechanism which from the first, although more or less obscurely, has governed its development.
At the beginning of the process we have increasingly severe demographic pressure, forcing the human mass to adapt itself as best it can to the confined surface of the earth: an inescapable, mathematical compression, of necessity entailing a concerted effort by individuals to find means of organizing their communal lives by arranging the world around them. So we have inventive effort and the growth of Reflection (i.e. that which is Human) within the Noosphere: a growth which is again transformed (to the degree in which the increasingly reflective and hominized individual acquires a larger radius of influence and greater powers of action) into a further increase of planetary compression. So it goes on: ever-tightening compression compelling ever more Reflection . . .
From the first beginnings of History, let me repeat, this principle of the compressive generation of consciousness has been ceaselessly at work in the human mass. But from the moment -- we have just reached it ! -- when the compression of populations in the teeming continents gains a decided ascendancy over their movement of expansion upon the earth’s surface, the process is speeded up to a staggering extent. We are today witnessing a truly explosive growth of technology and research, bringing an increasing mastery, both theoretical and practical, of the secrets and sources of cosmic energy at every level and in every form; and, correlative with this, the rapid heightening of what I have called the psychic temperature of the earth. A single glance at the over-all picture of surface chaos is enough to assure us that this is so. We see a human tide bearing us upward with all the force of a contracting star; not a spreading tide, as we might suppose, but one that is rising: the ineluctable growth on our horizon of a true state of ‘ultra-humanity’
4. The Face of the Ultra-Human
Clearly, in the light of what I have said, we have no grounds for expecting any relaxation, still less any end, of the process of compressive socialization which has now begun; and this being so it is fruitless to seek to escape the whirlwind that is closing in on us. What is of extreme importance, on the other hand, is that we should know what course to steer, and how we must spiritually conduct ourselves if we are to ensure that the totalitarian embrace which enfolds us will have the effect, not of de-humanizing us through mechanization, but (as seems possible) of super-humanizing us by the intensification of our powers of understanding and love.
The study of this vital question will enable us to define both the physical conditions necessary to the realization of the Ultra-Human and (to some extent!) its probable final aspect.
It may be said that for a long time, under pressure of the external forces engaged in concentrating it, the Human developed in a fashion that was mainly automatic -- spurred on principally, in Bergson’s expression, by a vis a tergo, a ‘push from behind.’ But when intelligence, which originally, as has been well said, was simply a means of survival, became gradually elevated to the function and dignity of a ‘reason for living’, it was inevitable that, with the accentuation of the forces of free will, a profound modification should become discernible in the working of anthropogenesis, and one of which we are only now beginning to experience the full effects. No doubt it is true that certain inward necessities, persisting in the most spiritualized recesses of our being, inexorably compel us to continue our forward progress. What power on earth has ever succeeded in arresting the growth of an idea or a passion, once they have taken shape? But the fact remains that, as Reflection increases, there is added and allied to this basic determinism the possibility of Man’s withdrawal or rejection of whatever does not appear to satisfy his heart or his reason. Which is to say that, given a sufficient degree of hominization, the ‘planetary sequence’ generating the Human can only continue to operate in an atmosphere of consent -- meaning, finally, under the impulsion of some desire. So that in line with, and gradually replacing, the thrust from behind or below, we see the appearance of a force of attraction coming from above which shows itself to be organically indispensable for the continuance of the sequence, indispensable for the maintenance of the evolutionary impetus, and also indispensable for the creation of an atmosphere enveloping Mankind in the process of totalization, of psychic warmth and kindness without which Man’s economic-technological grip upon the World can only crush souls together, without causing them to fuse and unite . . . The ‘pull’ after the ‘push’, as the English would say.
But whence may we expect it to come, this mysterious and indispensable force of attraction, exerting its radiance upon our minds and hearts?
In broad terms it may be affirmed that the Human, having become aware of its uncompleted state, cannot lend itself without reluctance, still less give itself with passion, to any course that may attract it unless there be some kind of discernible and definitive consummation to be looked for at the end, if only as a limit. Above all it rejects dispersal and dissolution and the circle from which there is no escape. The only air which Reflection can breathe must, of vital necessity, be that of a psychically and physically convergent Universe. There must be some peak, some revelation, some vivifying transformation at the end of the journey. Ultimately, and even under the spur of material necessity, only a hope of this kind is capable of sustaining our forward progress to the end.
But how are we to imagine it, how conceive it, this awaited peak of anthropogenesis, without which we shall refuse, and ever more stubbornly, to move at all?
Here we are confronted by two partly divergent and opposed answers: not merely theoretical and abstract solutions, but eventualities that have been slowly maturing in the experience of Man throughout the ages, and have now been abruptly brought into the daylight of our consciousness by the sudden emergence of the totalizing forces to which we are compelled to adapt ourselves.
According to the first answer (the ‘collectivist solution’) it will suffice to ensure the biological success of our evolution if Man organizes himself gradually on a global scale in a sort of closed circuit, within which each thinking element, intellectually and effectively connected with every other, will attain to a maximum of individual mastery by participating in a certain ultimate clarity of vision and extreme warmth of sympathy proper to the system as a whole. A higher state of consciousness diffused through the ultra-technified, ultra-socialized, ultra-cerebralized layers of the human mass, but without the emergence (neither necessary nor conceivable) at any point in the system of a universal, defined and autonomous Center of Reflection: this, by the first hypothesis, is all we are entitled to look for or desire as the eventual highest end of hominization.
According to the second answer on the other hand (the personalist solution’) a Center about which everything will be grouped, a keystone of the vault, is precisely what we must look for and postulate with all our strength, in order that nothing in the human edifice may crumble. For by this theory, if a real power of love does not arise at the heart of Evolution, stronger than all individual egotisms and passions, how can the Noosphere ever be stabilized? And if a nucleus of ultra-consistency does not emerge at the heart of the cosmic movement, by its presence ensuring the ultimate preservation of all the incommunicable sum of Reflection sublimated through the ages by anthropogenesis, how shall we be persuaded (even under the external pressure of planetary shrinkage) to embark upon a journey leading to total Death? Indeed, to fuse together the human multitude (even taken in its present state of super-compression) without crushing it, it seems essential that there should be a field of attraction at once powerful and irreversible, and such as cannot emanate collectively from a simple nebula of reflecting atoms, but which requires as its source a self-subsisting, strongly personalized star.
This, at least by implication, is the sense of Christian argument and feeling during two thousand years. I am convinced that it is a belief that the urgency of events will increasingly compel biologists and psychologists to adopt. So that the greatest event in the history of the Earth, now taking place, may be the gradual discovery, by those with eyes to see, not merely of Something but of Someone at the peak created by the convergence of the evolving Universe upon itself.
Many people, of course, will hesitate to accompany me so far in my inferences and predictions. But to keep within the bounds of what is indisputable, it appears to me that from the facts I have set forth two conclusions emerge which must be accepted by anyone who does not refuse to see what is happening in the world today.
The first is that the Human (Or the Reflective) not only genuinely represents, in the physical sense, a definite segregation of ‘cosmic matter’ raised to a higher (and ever-rising) state of complexity and consciousness; but also that this separate Human element cannot achieve its final equilibrium except by coiling and concentrating, though both compulsion and attraction, on a planetary scale upon itself, until it becomes a natural unity, organically and psychically indivisible.
The second conclusion is that, in terms of this ultimate state of organization and interiorization, our present condition is still so immature that Mankind in its existing form (and although there is nothing more ‘adult’ in the Universe with which, thus far, we can compare it) cannot be scientifically regarded as anything more than an organism which has not yet emerged from the embryonic stage.
So that in any event, whether personally centrated or a-centrated in its eventual form (we may leave that question open) a vast realm of the Ultra-Human lies ahead of us: a realm in which we shall not be able to survive, or super-live, except by developing and embracing on earth, to the utmost extent, all the powers of common vision and unanimization that are available to us.
Unpublished. Paris, 6 January, 1950