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An Evaluation of some aspects of
the Vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Dear Kris, can you distinguish your position from Teilhard's in a nutshell, as I have done? [Tony KELLY, 29.03.02]

Dear Tony, your kind invitation to define my standpoint concerning Teilhard's theories was very stimulating, and prompted me to some deep reflections.

First I've to mention that I admire Teilhard for several scientific reasons. I've not the kind of "autos efa" ("the Master said it himself") adoration as Pythagoras's students had. Not at least because I think that even with the ideas of this Herald of Evolution, evolution is occurring, and science in general inevitably has made some impressive progress over the last seventy years. But what strikes me is that all the recent contributions of science up to now seem to confirm the fundamental concepts of Teilhard. At least he was a very gifted visionary.

The integrative method

Basically I'm not a Teilhardian per se, but someone who searches the "truth", i.e. the deeper evidence of existence. And here comes perhaps my most typical position: I strongly believe that, for the sciences where the modern exact experimental scientific method can't be applied by lack of exactly measurable data and controllable experiments, the integrative method is, as far as I can conceive, the only means to distinguish plausible hypotheses from naive projections, even if the latter are logically deduced from some uncontested principles.

'Integration' is a very important concept for me, more important than evolution itself, but I'm not sure that everybody interprets this notion the way I do. Therefore I'm summerizing here some of its rich meanings and application fields (a more extensive description can be found on another page.

Integration can be defined the creative combination of paradoxical elements, as well in ideas and theories as in active processes. By performing an integration nothing is lost of the values of the elements that feed the integration, due to the working hypotheses that (1) there is only one truth and (2) every conflict can be resolved on a constructive, non-selective way; thus all incompatibilities most probably are due to some inexact (too much or not enough generalized) formulation of the divergent standpoints.

Integration is much more than just good will and mutual empathy. Although openmindedness and a constructive attitude are essential to start with, it demands an arduous intellectual effort, completed by a willingness to actively realize the outcome of the intellectual integration process.

This makes from integration:

1. a way of synthesizing all bits of knowledge, making it more complete and avoiding unnecessary loss of time to retrieve all important aspects of what we are looking for. I'm afraid the overwhelming quantity of information on the WWW eventually will make imperative an integrative structure. Equally required is an urgent extension of HTML to enable integrations and integrative linking of texts.

2. the only harmonious and peaceful way of living: happiness and the sense of living includes the art of integrating one's needs with the possibilities, the limits and the expectations of the surrounding world. I give the same weight to "integration", as, in other cultures, is given to concepts as "Peace", "Harmony", "Ma'at" and "Shalom". One could even describe every psychiatric syndrome as an instance of non-integration.

3. the essence of human communication. Communication is just an attempt to integrate by two or more people. Love is integration, not only with one's intellect but also with one's way of living and interacting with each other. Teilhard stated that love is a local form of a universal process --Brian C. would have no problems to situate this quote : - )

4. most probably the central process in two extremely important mental activities: inductive thinking and creativity, two processes still occurring at an unconscious level. Let's not forget that intuitive induction is the real way science and technology make progress: logical deduction and control of predictions is just a way to falsify or to confirm the --intuitively-- proposed theories. Operationalizing the inductive paradigm may dramatically enhance scientific progress (and the Quality of Life in general).

5. an alternative to the modern scientific method. This is perhaps the most important application of integration. As argued elsewhere, integrative thinking must not replace the sacrosanct exact experimental scientific method, but complement it in fields where the former is not applicable --and too many important domains stay outside the realm of exact science. The popularity of this integrative method is up to now rather restricted, because it demands a completely different scientific approach than the traditional academic world is used to. It requires, amongst other things, a sufficient expertise in different scientific fields. No university curriculum nowadays leads to this capacity, not even philosophy. Futhermore, essential modern sciences as General Systems Theory suffer from this hyperspecialization and fragmentation, as argued by Heylighen.

These relevances explain why I'm so enthousiastic about Teilhard:
1. He uses, perhaps for the first time in the history of science, integration as a scientific method: his synthetic view of the evolution of the universe, where he uses the overall applicability of his "laws" as the convincing scientific argument par excellence. Traditional scientists in general are feeling uneasy with this approach that they only can qualify as "unscientific".

2. In his description of evolution, integration is apparently the central process. In the earlier stages of the evolution of the universe it is principally the factual integration (increasing complexity, with "natural selection" being only one aspect of the trial and error process leading to more integration), but at the higher, "conscious" levels of evolution, and especially in the Noosphere, intellectual integration becomes predominant.

3. Doing so he enabled and proposed an integration of two intellectual approaches up to now incompatible: science and religion, although fundamentalists on both sides tend to deny this, and some even accuse him of trying to save religion from its decline by lack of scientific foundations.

My enthousiasm is enhanced by the discovery, in recent decades, of some important scientific data reinforcing Teilhard's visions:
1. No less than three new levels were added to Teilhard's evolutionary scheme: the quarks level (2), the superstrings level (1), and the eobionts level (6) intercalated between the molecular (5) and the protozoic (7) level.

2. The elaboration of the General Systems Theory suggesting that his Evolution theory finally only describes the spontaneous development of natural systems, making his theory rather a kind of natural history than of philosophy.

3. Modern philosophers, including Heylighen, Turchin and Joslyn of Brussels University (the Principia Cybernetica Project) "rediscover" Teilhard's fundamental systemic processes, labeling them "metasystem transitions".

4. Whitehead's Process Theory, rediscovered in recent decades, confirms and describes the general evolutionary idea of Teilhard (and, by the way, Darwin, Lamarck and the others)

5. Popular postmodern authors, including Capra, Kurzweil, Wilber and Hagerty, advocating a more global and holistic approach than the aristotelic-cartesian, in fact propose to do what Teilhard did half a century earlier.

6. The Gaia hypothesis takes into account some of Teilhard's ideas, but neglects some important other.

Nevertheless, some of Teilhard's ideas need to be further elaborated, and some of his concepts reformulated. These points include:

1. An elaboration of the detailed processes of the socialization, including the Noosphere and the WWW. Teilhard only used very general terms to describe it, rather pointing to the final stage, the Omega Point, than to the intermediate stages, with which we are confronted on a daily basis.

2. A clarification of the Global Brain / Global Mind issue. Teilhard gave many arguments supporting rather the Global Mind than the Global Brain hypothesis but, anyway, he wasn't very clear and apparently not very conscious of the Global Brain possibility and other computer- to- human- brain interactions.

3. I fear that the use of Christianity as the final religious embodiment will perhaps prove too naive one day. Sensitive issues including God and Christogenesis are to be reconsidered, although they are touching archetypes.

4. I've the impression that Teilhard underesteemed psychology as the central science of the future. In fact, this science is the study of human functioning at an individual and social level. Politics, economic management, scientific progress, ethics and religion finally can be considered as empirical, pre-scientific, dilettantish forms of psychology. Socialization and Noosphere in fact are the most grandiose applications of psychology.

5. The whole range of identity blurring phenomena including genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, cloning, immortality by the transfer of "mental contents", etc. don't have any place in Teilhard's considerations although their importance is paramount.

Concluding I could state that I love the Teilhardian approach as a brilliant and very inspiring application of the postmodern and "post-scientific" way of thinking avant la lettre, rather than as a kind of postbiblical revelation. Evolution is a universal law, also for Teilhard's Evolutionism.

[Kris, Easter 2002]

 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin s.j. died on Easter 1955 in New York.
His grave is at Hyde Park, New York,
at a former Jesuit seminary that was sold
to the Culinary Institute of America ("CIA"...).
The keys to the cemetary
can be obtained from the Institute's security office.

Posted 30/3/02