Friday, April 2, 2010

A sphere of thought stretched across the world

There are many ways of passing on what we have learnt to those who come after us, and perhaps this is what we should be concentrating upon as we grow older. It is certainly what I feel I need to do, and one of the ways I am doing this is through this blog. Writing a blog is a form of exposure, an opening up of my innermost being to the world at large, and, for me and for everybody else who embarks upon these forms of communication, represents an act requiring some courage. It is the instantaneous nature of it which is both stimulating and frightening.

These thoughts reminded me of the astonishment with which I read Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man, written more than 50 years ago, and in which, with uncanny prescience in view of what was to come, he predicted the advent of the internet. He foresaw what he called a noosphere, a sphere of thought, growing up around the world like a membrane stretched across it, over which thoughts would transfer themselves instantaneously, much as though the world had grown the synapses of a gigantic brain. He predicted that a word spoken in Japan would register in a few seconds in Alaska. And this is what happens now. I need only press a button, and all the words on my screen will fly across to the most distant computer tucked away on some person’s mobile in the jungle or on the steppes of Russia.

How many thoughts, like seeds blown astray on the wind, just dissipate themselves away to land who knows where?

For those who are not familiar with Teilhard de Chardin, he was a Jesuit priest and a palaeontologist, a rare combination, which led to his excommunication by the Catholic church for his views on the origin of Man. He saw the development of this great world brain as an extension of our evolutionary development, and made me understand how crucial to this was the fact that we learned to stand upright on two legs all those millennia ago. As well as releasing our two hands to develop the miraculous dexterity our 10 fingers give us, it led directly to the shrinking of the heavy jaw needed to hold a four-legged creature’s head upright, and thus provided our brains with the space to expand. I like the thought that the trouble we often have with our wisdom teeth is connected directly to evolutionary changes as our jaws continue to shrink and our brains to grow, a fact my dentist confirmed. Teilhard de Chardin was truly a visionary.

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