The noosphere is a philosophical concept developed and popularized foremostly by the biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky.
Vernadsky defined the noosphere as the planetary “sphere of reason”. The noosphere represents the highest stage of biospheric development, its defining factor being the development of humankind’s rational activities.
The word derives from the Greek noos (“mind”, “reason” or “to spin the thread of the mind”) and sphera (“sphere”), in lexical analogy to “atmosphere” and “biosphere“.
The concept cannot be accredited to a single author. The founding authors Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed two related but starkly different concepts, the former being grounded in the geological sciences and the latter, in theology.
Both conceptions of the noosphere share the common thesis that together human reason and the scientific thought has and will continue to create the next evolutionary geological layer. This geological layer is part of the evolutionary chain.
Second-generation authors, predominantly of Russian origin, have further developed the Vernadskian concept, creating the related concepts: noocenosis and noocenology.
History of concept
In the theory of Vernadsky, the noosphere is the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth, after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life).
Just as the emergence of life fundamentally transformed the geosphere, the emergence of human cognition fundamentally transforms the biosphere.
In contrast to the conceptions of the Gaia theorists, or the promoters of cyberspace, Vernadsky’s noosphere emerges at the point where humankind, through the mastery of nuclear processes, begins to create resources through the transmutation of elements. It is also currently being researched as part of the Princeton Global Consciousness Project.
Teilhard perceived directionality in evolution along an axis of increasing Complexity/Consciousness. For Teilhard, the noosphere is the sphere of thought encircling the earth that has emerged through evolution as a consequence of this growth in complexity/consciousness.
The noosphere is therefore as much part of nature as the barysphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. As a result, Teilhard sees the “social phenomenon [as] the culmination of and not the attenuation of the biological phenomenon.”
These social phenomena are part of the noosphere and include, for example, legal, educational, religious, research, industrial and technological systems. In this sense, the noosphere emerges through and is constituted by the interaction of human minds.
The noosphere thus grows in step with the organization of the human mass in relation to itself as it populates the earth. Teilhard argued the noosphere evolves towards ever greater personalization, individuation, and unification of its elements.
He saw the Christian notion of love as being the principal driver of noogenesis. Evolution would culminate in the Omega Point—an apex of thought/consciousness—which he identified with the eschatological return of Christ.
One of the original aspects of the noosphere concept deals with evolution. Henri Bergson, with his L’évolution créatrice (1907), was one of the first to propose evolution is “creative” and cannot necessarily be explained solely by Darwinian natural selection.
L’évolution créatrice is upheld, according to Bergson, by a constant vital force that animates life and fundamentally connects the mind and body, an idea opposing the dualism of René Descartes.
In 1923, C. Lloyd Morgan took this work further, elaborating on an “emergent evolution” which could explain increasing complexity (including the evolution of mind). Morgan found many of the most interesting changes in living things have been largely discontinuous with past evolution.
Therefore, these living things did not necessarily evolve through a gradual process of natural selection. Rather, he posited, the process of evolution experiences jumps in complexity (such as the emergence of a self-reflective universe, or noosphere), in a sort of qualitative punctuated equilibrium.
Finally, the complexification of human cultures, particularly language, facilitated a quickening of evolution in which cultural evolution occurs more rapidly than biological evolution.
Recent understanding of human ecosystems and human impact on the biosphere have led to a link between the notion of sustainability with the “co-evolution” and harmonization of cultural and biological evolution.