Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan


Teilhard de Chardin(1).jpg

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ (1881 – 1955)

Marshall McLuhan acknowledged Teilhard de Chardin as follows in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962):-

“… since our new electric culture provides our lives again with a tribal base. There is available the lyrical testimony of a very Romantic biologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in his Phenomenon of Man (p.240):
‘Now, to the degree that—under the effect of this pressure and thanks to their psychic permeability—the human elements infiltrated more and more into each other, their minds (mysterious coincidence) were mutually stimulated by proximity. And as though dilated upon themselves, they each extended little by little the radius of their influence upon this earth which, by the same token, shrank steadily. What, in fact, do we see happening in the modern paroxysm? It has been stated over and over again. Through the discovery yesterday of the railway, the motor car and the aeroplane, the physical influence of each man, formerly restricted to a few miles, now extends to hundreds of leagues or more. Better still: thanks to the prodigious biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each individual finds himself henceforth (actively and passively) simultaneously present, over land and sea, in every corner of the earth’.
People of literary and critical bias find the shrill vehemence of de Chardin as disconcerting as his uncritical enthusiasm for the cosmic embrane that has been snapped round the globe by the electric dilation of our various senses. This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the “noosphere” or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction”. (p. 32)


An early article in Wired magazine (Issue 3.06, June 1995) recognized de Chardin’s influence on Marshall McLuhan and his concept of the global village and how both Catholic visionaries anticipated the global consciousness that has been actualized by the Internet:-

A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain

An obscure Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,set down the philosophical framework for planetary, Net-based consciousness 50 years ago.

By Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg

He has inspired Al Gore and Mario Cuomo. Cyberbard John Perry Barlow finds him richly prescient. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve claims his vision helps us find meaning in the cosmos. Even Marshall McLuhan cited his “lyrical testimony” when formulating his emerging global-village vision. Whom is this eclectic group celebrating? An obscure Jesuit priest and paleontologist named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose quirky philosophy points, oddly, right into cyberspace.

Teilhard de Chardin finds allies among those searching for grains of spiritual truth in a secular universe. As Mario Cuomo put it, “Teilhard made negativism a sin. He taught us how the whole universe – even pain and imperfection – is sacred.” Marshall McLuhan turned to Teilhard as a source of divine insight in The Gutenberg Galaxy, his classic analysis of Western culture’s descent into a profane world. (Read the entire article at http://tinyurl.com/nk578on ).


Finally, Canadian scholar and writer B.W. Powe, himself a former student of McLuhan, has written and lectured about the connections between de Chardin, McLuhan and their visionary anticipation of the cosmic consciousness enabled by the Internet:-

 Marshall McLuhan read Teilhard de Chardin’s work in mimeographed pages while he was a young professor at the University of St. Louis. These pages had been passed on to him, zamizdat style, by his student, Walter J. Ong, himself to become a renowned exegete of orality. What McLuhan took from Teilhard was the grand vision of evolutionary consciousness. The modern era, according to Teilhard, was moving into an evolutionary overdrive, where the mind was being externalized in electronic technologies; the biosphere was being enveloped by thought. This is the noosphere. The noosphere is the vibration of the human mind, and the representation of heart, the warming of the world through the potential of the soul.  It is my contention that McLuhan was profoundly moved by Teilhard, and adapted his thought and applied his principles to the emergent global theatre. McLuhan would deny the influence of the great Jesuit archeologist and poet-thinker, but the traces are there in McLuhan’s books and aphorisms. What are the implications of the noosphere? How is it enveloping us today? What is cosmic consciousness? This seminar was also look at the work of the influential Canadian psychologist, Richard Maurice Bucke, who coined the phrase “Cosmic Consciousness”, which McLuhan applied in The Spoken Word chapter of Understanding Media (1964).

It is my contention that there is a mystic drama, an alchemical magnum opus, at work in the recombinations McLuhan initiated from his readings and contemplations of Teilhard and the ideas of cosmic consciousness.

While McLuhan was drawn to dramas of hope, it is essential to see the Janus-faced complementarity in the visions of cosmic consciousness: this age is one of apogee (great heights and hopes) and abyss (violence and breakdown).

These conditions of abyss and apogee act like figure-ground interactions: hope and horror are simultaneous. This is the lesson of instantaneous global communions: baptism into the soul of the world, and thus into its pain and panic, into ecstasies and discoveries. (Example: the massacre in the cinema in the Aurora, Colorado theatre, during a showing of the Dark Knight Rises by a young man claiming to be a comic book character; simultaneously, the science community is abuzz with discoveries of new field particles that could be the missing link in physics, understanding cosmological processes. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nteacmx )

Noosphere and a “map” of the Internet 

One Response to “Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan”

  1. 1 Sebastian Sewanski

    Good. May I add: Joachim de Fiore ist the Maestro suggeritore of “implosion, “global village, noosophere” etc….

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