Chapter 5: The New Spirit, 1942

The Future of Mankind
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Chapter 5: The New Spirit, 1942


During recent years I have sought in a long series of essays,( not to philosophize in the Absolute, but as a naturalist or physicist to discover a general significance in the events in which we are materially involved. A great many internal and external portents (political and social upheaval, moral and religious unease) have caused us all to feel, more or less confusedly, that something tremendous is at present taking place in the world. But what is it?

What I wish to offer here is the outcome of my own thinking, expressed in a simple and clarified form so that everyone may be able to understand it without ambiguity, and may criticise and (this is my great hope) correct and amplify it.

The present state of the world seems to me to be substantially determined and explained by the influence of two progressive changes affecting human consciousness at the deepest level.

The first change, already far advanced, is taking place in the field of our vision of the world. It amounts to the acquirement by the human mind of a new faculty, the perception of Time; or more precisely the perception of what I would call ‘the conic curvature of Time.(Le Milieu Divin, The Spirit of Earth, What I Believe, Human Energy, The Personal Universe, The Phenomenon of Man, etc.)

The second change, related to the first but less advanced, directly affects our Action. It arises Out of the gradual adjustment of human values in terms of this reappraisal of Time.

1. The Cone of Time.

2. The ‘conic’ transposition of Action.

I deal with these in separate Sections.


1. The Organic Depth of Time and of the Spirit

To understand the spiritual events which are so convulsing the age we live in we need to be constantly looking back (I shall repeat this) to their common origin -- the discovery of Time.

At first sight the concept of Time appears so complete in its simplicity that one wonders how it can possibly be modified or improved upon. Is it not one of the solid facts on which our consciousness is based? Yet we have only to glance over the past two centuries to see that within these few generations our temporal view of the world has come to differ greatly from that of our ancestors.

This does not mean that men had to wait till the nineteenth century before seeing how events, grouped in long series, were absorbed into the past. They talked of Time long before our day, and even measured it, so far as their instruments permitted. as we do now. But Time remained for them a homogeneous quantity, capable of being divided into parts. The course of centuries lying ahead and behind us could be conceived of in theory as abruptly stopping or beginning at a given moment, the real and total duration of the Universe being supposed not to exceed a few thousand years. On the other hand, it appeared that within those few millennia any object could be arbitrarily displaced and removed to another point without undergoing any change in its environment or in itself. Socrates could have been born in the place of Descartes, and vice versa. Temporally (no less than spatially) human beings were regarded as interchangeable.

This, broadly, is what was accepted by the greatest minds up to and including Pascal.

But since then, under the influence, unconcerted but convergent, of the natural, historical and physical sciences, an entirely new concept has almost imperceptibly shaped itself in our minds.

We have in the first place realized that every constituent element of the world (whether a being or a phenomenon) has of necessity emerged from that which preceded it -- so much so that it is as physically impossible for us to conceive of a thing in Time without ‘something before it’ as it would be to imagine the same thing in Space without ‘something beside it’. In this sense every particle of reality, instead of constituting an approximate point in itself, extends from the previous fragment to the next in an indivisible thread running back into infinity.

Secondly we have found that the threads or chains of elements thus formed are not homogeneous over their extent, but that each represents a naturally ordered series in which the links can no more be exchanged than can the successive states of infancy, adolescence, maturity and senility in our own lives.

Finally, we have gradually come to understand that no elemental thread in the Universe is wholly independent in its growth of its neighboring threads. Each forms part of a sheaf; and the sheaf in turn represents a higher order of thread in a still larger sheaf -- and so on indefinitely. So that, Time acting on Space and incorporating it within itself, the two together constitute a single progression in which Space represents a momentary section of the flow which is endowed with depth and coherence by Time.

This is the organic whole of which today we find ourselves to be a part, without being able to escape from it. On the one hand, following an inter-linked system of lines of indefinite length, the Stuff of the Universe spreads and radiates outwardly from ourselves, without limit, spatially from the Immense to the Infinitesimal and temporally from the abyss of the past to the abyss of the future. On the other hand, in this endless and indivisible network, everything has a particular position defined by the development (free or pre-determined) of the entire system in movement. Whereas for the last two centuries our study of science, history and philosophy has appeared to be a matter of speculation, imagination and hypothesis, we can now see that in fact, in countless subtle ways, the concept of Evolution has been weaving its web around us. We believed that we did not change; but now, like newborn infants whose eyes are opening to the light, we are becoming aware of a world in which neo-Time, organizing and conferring a dynamic upon Space, is endowing the totality of our knowledge and beliefs with a new structure and a new direction.

Before studying the implications of this, we must look more closely at the nature and properties of the new environment into which we are being born.

2. The Convergence of Organic Time and the Upward Growth of the Spirit

Within the limits I have outlined, our new awareness of Time may now be regarded as an accomplished fact. Excepting a few ultra-conservative groups, it would not occur to any present-day thinker or scientist -- it would be psychologically inadmissible and impossible -- to pursue a line of thought which ignores the concept of a world in evolution.

But if the Space-Time continuum is now generally accepted as the only framework within which our thought can continue to progress, it becomes the more necessary that we should agree upon the nature and general direction of the flow on which we are borne. Is it a closed vortex, an indefinite spiral, a spreading explosion? . . . What is it that has us in its grip? Moreover, immersed in its movement as we are, do we possess any point of perspective from which we may see in what direction the cosmic stream is bearing us?

The majority of people personally known to me still regard the direction and purpose of Evolution as a riddle that is scientifically unanswerable.

But it is here, in my view, that the importance becomes manifest of an intuitive notion which, timidly evolved less than fifty years ago by a small group of human minds, is now beginning to pervade twentieth century thought as rapidly as did the idea of evolution in the nineteenth century. The discovery of the great phenomena buried in the past opened our fathers’ eyes to the vague, generalised perception of a process of evolution of Life on earth. To gain a clearer idea of the precise nature of this vast biological movement, is it not enough for us simply to open our eyes (are we not already beginning to do so?) to the extraordinary and present greatness of the phenomenon of Man?

I believe this to be the case, and I wish to show why.

It seemed, following the revolutionary ideas of first Galileo and then Lamarck and Darwin, that for the ‘lord of creation’ little was left of his past grandeur. The demolishing of the geocentric theory, leading two centuries later to the end of anthropocentrism, left Man to think of himself as finally submerged and flattened by the ‘temporal’ flow which his intelligence had discovered. But now he seems to be again emerging in the forefront of Nature. Evolution, so they said at the end of the last century, has simply swallowed Man up, since we have proved that it does not go beyond Man. But observing the progress of science during recent years we can see that what is happening suggests precisely the opposite. Far from being swallowed up by Evolution, Man is now engaged in transforming our earlier idea of Evolution in terms of himself and thereafter plotting its new outline.

Let me explain.

The three characteristics which make the human individual a truly unique object in the eyes of Science, once we have made up our minds to regard Man not merely as a chance arrival but as an integral element of the physical world, are as follows:

a an extreme physico-chemical complexity (particularly apparent in the brain) which permits us to consider him the most highly synthesized form of matter known to us in the Universe;

b arising out of this, an extreme degree of organisation which makes him the most perfectly and deeply centered of all cosmic particles within the field of our experience;

c finally, and correlative with the above, the high degree of psychic development (reflection, thought) which places him head and shoulders above all other conscious beings known to us.

To these may be added a fourth particularity which is also of great significance: that of being the latest product of Evolution.

It is difficult to consider these four attributes, relating them to Space-Time, without becoming aware of a prospect which, however we may seek to describe it, comes essentially to this:

Science has lately been very much preoccupied with the changing properties of Matter as we follow it in either of the two spatial directions -- towards the Infinitesimal or towards the Immense. Yet progress in either direction does not bring us a step nearer to the explanation of Life. Why should we not make room in our physics for the organic axis of Time? Following this axis in the downward direction of entropy we find that matter becomes diffused and energy is neutralized. This is something that we have long known. But why should we not take into specific account the cosmic movement operating in the reverse sense, towards the higher forms of synthesis, which is so strikingly apparent? Beneath our eyes, extending from the electron to Man by way of the proteins, viruses, bacteria, protozoa and metazoa, a long chain of composites is forming and unfolding, eventually attaining an astronomical degree of complexity and arrangement, and centered pari passu upon itself while at the same time it animates itself. Why should we not simply define Life as the specific property of Matter, the Stuff of the Universe, carried by evolution into the zone of highest complexity? And why not define Time itself as precisely the rise of the Universe into those high latitudes where complexity, concentration, centration and consciousness grow and increase, simultaneously and correlatively?

A cosmogenesis embracing and expanding the laws of our individual ontogenesis on a universal scale, in the form of Noogenesms: a world that is being born instead of a world that is: that is what the phenomenon of Man suggests, indeed compels us to accept, if we are to find a place for Man in this process of evolution in which we are obliged to make room for him.

We still hesitate, as I have said, over the form which we may conveniently attribute to Space-Time. But the fact is that we have no more time for quibbling. If it is to be adjusted to Man, the high point and effective spearhead of evolution; if it is to contain and propagate the Noogenesis through which the march of events expresses itself with an increasing clarity, Space-Time must be given whatever form is most appropriate. Caught within its curve the layers of Matter (considered as separate elements no less than as a whole) tighten and converge in Thought, by synthesis. Therefore it is as a cone, in the form of a cone, that it can best be depicted.

And it is within this cone, newly shaped in our consciousness, in terms of it and in accordance with its requirements, that we must look to see how the transposition of all human values is irresistibly proceeding.


1. Towards a New Humanism

To accept that Space-Time is convergent in its nature is equally to admit that Thought on earth has not achieved the ultimate point of its evolution.

Indeed, if in virtue of its especial curvature the Universe, following the line of its principal axis, is really moving towards a state of maximal synthesis; and if furthermore, as practical observation shows, its human particles, taken as a whole, still possess a formidable potential of synthesis: then our present situation cannot be anything but ‘energetically’ instable. We cannot stay where we are at present, either physically or psychically; but looking far ahead we may descry an ultimate state in which, organically associated with one another (more closely than the cells of a single brain) we shall form m our entirety a single system, ultra-complex and, in consequence, ultra-centrated. . . . We thought that we had reached the limit of ourselves. Now we see Mankind extending within the cone of Time beyond the individual; it coils in collectively upon itself above our heads, in the direction of some sort of higher Mankind.

Let us enumerate and assess the changes of outlook and attitude that are inescapable for any person who has become aware of this prospect. I maintain that for such as he the Universe emerges from the shadows. It shows its true face, acquires its true value, glows with a new warmth and finally is illumined from within.

Let us look rapidly, one by one, at these phases of the transformation.

a Firstly, the Universe emerges from the shadows. That is to say, it clarifies itself to the eye of reason, and precisely in those regions where it threatened to plunge most deeply into darkness. On the one hand 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. On the other hand Evil, in all its forms -- injustice, inequality, suffering, death itself -- ceases theoretically to be outrageous from the moment when, Evolution becoming a Genesis, the immense travail of the world displays itself as the inevitable reverse side -- or better, the condition -- or better still, the price -- of an immense triumph. And in its turn Earth, that microscopic planet on which we are crushed together, is seen to be no longer the meaningless prison in which we thought we must suffocate: for if its limits were less narrow and impenetrable could it be the matrix in which our unity is being forged ?

b Secondly, the Universe shows its true face: that is to say, it traces its outline for our liberated gaze. In its present state Morality offers a painful spectacle of confusion. Apart from a few elementary laws of individual justice, empirically established and blindly followed, who can say what is good and what is evil? Can we even maintain that Good and Evil exist while the evolutionary course on which we are embarked has no clear direction? Is striving really a better thing than enjoyment, disinterest better than self -- interest, kindness better than compulsion? Lacking a look-out point in the Universe, the most sharply opposed doctrines on these vital matters can be plausibly defended. Meanwhile human energy, being without orientation, is lamentably dissipated upon earth. But this disorder comes logically to an end, all the agitation is polarized, directly the spiritual reality of Mankind is revealed, above and ahead of each human being, at the apex of the Cone of Time. The best way of reaching this objective has still to be found. But is it not in itself a consolation and a source of strength to know that Life has an objective; and that the objective is a summit; and that this summit, towards which all our striving must be directed, can only be attained by our drawing together, all of us, more and more closely and in every sense -- individually, socially, nationally and racially?

c Thirdly, the Universe acquires its true value: that is to say, it grows, even to the least of its elements, limitlessly in our esteem. For the man who sees nothing at the end of the world, nothing higher than himself, daily life can only be filled with pettiness and boredom. So much fruitless effort, so many wasted moments! But to those who see the synthesis of the Spirit continuing on earth beyond their own brief existence, every act and event is charged with interest and promise. Indeed, it does not matter what we do each day, or what we undergo, provided we keep a steady hand on the tiller -- for are we not steering towards the fulfillment of the World? In the New Time there is no longer any distinction between those things that we classified on other levels as physical or moral, natural or artificial, organic or collective, biological or juridical. All things are seen to be supremely physical, supremely natural, supremely organic and supremely vital -- according to how far they contribute to the construction and closing of the time-space cone above us.

d Fourthly, the world glows with a new warmth: that is to say, it opens itself wholly to the power of Love. To love is to discover and complete one’s self in someone other than oneself; an act impossible of general realisation on earth so long as each man can see in his neighbor no more than a closed fragment following its own course through the world. It is precisely this state of isolation that will end if we begin to discover in each other not merely the elements of one and the same thing, but of a single Spirit in search of itself. Then the medium will be established in which a basic affinity may be born and grow, springing from one seed of thought to the next, canalizing in a single direction the swarm of individual trajectories. In the old Time and Space a universal attraction of souls was inconceivable. The existence of such a power becomes possible, even inevitable, in the curvature of a world capable of noogenesis.

e Fifthly, and lastly, the Universe is illumined from within: that is to say, it shows itself to be capable of fulfilling the highest of our mystical aspirations. By virtue of the convergence of the cosmic lines, as I have said, we must surmise the existence of a higher centre of consciousness ahead of us, at the apogee of Evolution. But if we seek to determine the position and analyze the properties of this Supreme Centre it soon becomes clear that we must look far beyond and far above any mere aggregation of perfected Mankind. If it is to be capable of joining together in itself the prolonged fibers of the world, the apex of the cone within which we move can be conceived only as something that is ultra-conscious, ultra-personalized, ultra-present. It must reach and act upon us, not only indirectly, through the universal network of physical synthesis, but also, and even more, directly, from center to center (that is to say, from consciousness to consciousness) by touching the most sensitive point in ourselves.

Thus it is that our humanity, renewed in its love of living and spurred on in its aspirations by the discovery that there is a peak to the arrow-course of Time, comes logically to perfect itself in an attitude of self-abandonment and adoration.

2. Towards a Christian Renewal

As recently as yesterday Christianity represented the highest point attained by the consciousness of Mankind in its striving to humanize itself. But does it still hold this position, or at the best can it continue to hold it for long? Many people think not; and to account for this slackening impulse in the highest and most complete of human mystical beliefs they argue that the evangelical flowering is ill-adapted to the critical and materialist climate of the modern world. They hold that the time of Christianity is past, and that some other shoot must grow in the field of religion to take its place.

But if; as I maintain, the event that characterizes our epoch is a growing awareness of the convergent nature of Space-Time, then nothing can be more ill-founded than this pessimism. Transferred within the cone of Time, and there transmuted, the Christian system is neither disorganized nor deformed. On the contrary, sustained by the new environment, it more than ever develops its main lines, acquiring an added coherence and clarity.

This is what, in conclusion, I wish to show.

What is finally the most revolutionary and fruitful aspect of our present age is the relationship it has brought to light between Matter and Spirit: spirit being no longer independent of matter, or in opposition to it,(Provided of course, that we do not understand ‘matter’ in a ‘reduplicative’ and restricted sense to mean that portion of the Universe which ‘redescends’, escaping the rising stream of the Noogenesis.) but laboriously emerging from it under the attraction of God by way of synthesis and centration.

But what is the effect, for Christian faith and mysticism, of this redefinition of the Spirit? It is simply to confer absolute reality and absolute urgency upon the double dogma on which the whole of Christianity rests, and by which it is summed up: the physical primacy of Christ and the moral primacy of Charity.

Let us see.

a The Primacy of Christ. In the narrow, partitioned and static Cosmos wherein our fathers believed themselves to dwell, Christ was ‘lived’ and loved by His followers, as He is today, as the Being on whom all things depend and in whom the Universe finds its ‘substance’. But this Christological function was not easily defended on rational grounds, at least if the attempt was made to interpret it in a full, organic sense. Accordingly Christian thinking did not especially seek to incorporate it in any precise cosmic order. At that time the Royalty of Christ could be readily expressed in terms of His ascendancy through moral law; or else it was sufficient that He should prevail in the non-experimental, extra-cosmic sphere of the supernatural. Theology, in short, did not seem to realise that every kind of Universe might not be compatible with the idea of an Incarnation. But with the concept of Space-Time, as we have defined it, there comes into effect a harmonious and fruitful conjunction between the two spheres of rational experience and of faith. In a Universe of ‘Conical’ structure Christ has a place (the apex!) ready for Him to fill, whence His Spirit can radiate through all the centuries and all beings; and because of the genetic links running through all the levels of Time and Space between the elements of a convergent world, the Christ-influence, far from being restricted to the mysterious zones of ‘grace’, spreads and penetrates throughout the entire mass of Nature in movement. In such a world Christ cannot sanctify the Spirit without (as the Greek Fathers intuitively perceived) uplifting and saving the totality of Matter. Christ becomes truly universal to the full extent of Christian needs, and in conformity with the deepest aspirations of our age the Cross becomes the Symbol, the Way, the very Act of progress.

b The Primacy of Charity. What the modern mind finds disconcerting in Christian charity is its negative or at least static aspect, and also the ‘detached’ quality of this great virtue. ‘Love one another . . .’ Hitherto the evangelical precept has seemed simply to mean, ‘Do not harm one another’, or, ‘Seek with all possible care and devotion to diminish injustice, heal wounds and soften enmities in the world around you.’ Hitherto, also, the ‘supernatural’ gift of ourselves which we were required to make to God and to our neighbor appeared to be something opposed to and destructive of the bonds of feeling attaching us to the things of this world.

But if Charity is transplanted into the cone of Time nothing remains of these apparent limitations and restrictions. Within a Universe of convergent structure the only possible way in which an element can draw closer to its neighboring elements is by tightening the cone -- that is to say, by causing the whole layer of the world of which it is a part to move towards the apex. In such an order of things no man can love his neighbor without drawing nearer to God -- and, of course, reciprocally (but this we knew already). But it is also impossible (this is newer to us) to love either God or our neighbor without assisting the progress, in its physical entirety, of the terrestrial synthesis of the spirit: it is precisely the progress of this synthesis which enables us to draw closer together among ourselves, while at the same time it raises us towards God. Because we love, and in order that we may love even more, we find ourselves happily and especially compelled to participate in all the endeavours, all the anxieties, all the aspirations and also all the affections of the earth -- in so far as these embody a principle of ascension and synthesis.

Christian detachment subsists wholly in this wider attitude of mind; but instead of ‘leaving behind’ it leads on; instead of cutting off, it raises. It is no longer a break-away but a way through; no longer a withdrawal but an act of emerging. Without ceasing to be itself; Charity spreads like an ascending force, like a common essence at the heart of all forms of human activity, whose diversity is finally synthesized in the rich totality of a single operation. Like Christ Himself; and in His image, it is universalized, it acquires a dynamic and is humanized by the fact of doing so.

To sum up, in order to match the new curve of Time Christianity is led to discover the values of this world below the level of God, while Humanism finds room for a God above the level of this world. Inverse and complementary movements: or rather, the two faces of a single event which perhaps marks the beginning of a new era for Mankind.

This double transformation is something more than a speculation of my own. Throughout the world at this moment, without distinction of country, class, calling or creed, men are appearing who have begun to reason, to act and to pray in terms of the limitless and organic dimensions of Space-Time. To the outside observer such men may still seem isolated. But they are aware of one another among themselves, they recognize each other whenever their paths cross. They know that tomorrow, rejecting old concepts, divisions and forms, the world will see what they see and think as they do.

Peking, 13 February 1942. Psyché, November 1946.