The noosphere (/ˈnoʊ.əsfɪər/; sometimes noösphere) is the sphere of human thought. The word derives from the Greek νοῦς (nous “mind“) and σφαῖρα (sphaira “sphere“), in lexical analogy to “atmosphere” and “biosphere“. It was introduced by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in 1922 in his Cosmogenesis. Another possibility is the first use of the term by Édouard Le Roy (1870–1954), who together with Teilhard was listening to lectures of Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky at the Sorbonne. In 1936 Vernadsky accepted the idea of the noosphere in a letter to Boris Leonidovich Lichkov (though he states that the concept derives from Le Roy). Citing the work of Teilhard’s biograprapher, Rene Cuenot, Sampson and Pitt stated that although the concept was jointly developed by all three men (Vernadsky, LeRoy, and Teilhard), Teilhard believed that he actually invented the word: “I believe, so far as one can ever tell, that the word ‘noosphere’ was my invention: but it was he [Le Roy] who launched it.”
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 a 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 personalisation, 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 which animates life and fundamentally connects 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, and therefore did not necessarily take place through a gradual process of natural selection. Rather, evolution experiences jumps in complexity (such as the emergence of a self-reflective universe, or noosphere). 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 of human impact on the biosphere have led to a link between the notion of sustainability with the “co-evolution” [Norgaard, 1994] and harmonization of cultural and biological evolution.