Selections from Teilhard, The Birth of Thought

“It is true that in the end, from the organic point of view, the whole metamorphosis leading to man depends on the question of a better brain. But how was this cerebral perfectioning carried out–how could it have worked–if there had not been a whole series of other conditions brought together at the same time? …Surely the smallest thing formed in the world is always the result of  the most formidable coincidence– a knot whose strands have been for all time converging from the four corners of space. Life does not work by following a single thread, nor yet by fits and starts. It pushes forward its whole network at one and the same time. So is the embryo fashioned in the womb that bears it. This we have reason to know, but it is satisfying to us precisely to recognize that man was born under the same law of maternity…

…Without trying to picture the unimaginable, let us nevertheless keep hold of one idea–that the access to thought represents a threshold which had to be crossed at a single stride; a ‘transexperimental’ interval about which scientifically we can say nothing, but beyond which we find ourselves transported onto an entirely new biological plane…”

…In the first place it involved a change of state; then, by this very fact, the beginning of another kind of life–precisely that interior life of which I have spoken above…”

…the psychic center, once turned in upon itself… at the same time centers the rest of the world around itself by the establishment of an ever more coherent and better organized perspective in the realities which surround it. We are not dealing with an immutably fixed focus but with a vortex which grows deeper as it sucks up the fluid at the heart of which it was born. The ego only persists by becoming ever more itself, in the measure in which it makes everything else itself. So man becomes a person in and through personalisation.”

“…Above the point of reflection, does the whole interest of evolution shift, passing from life into a plurality of isolated living beings?

Nothing of the sort. Only, from this crucial date the global spurt, without slackening in the slightest, has acquired another degree, another order of complexity. The phylum does not break up like a fragile jet just because henceforward it is fraught with thinking centers; it does not crumble into its elementary psychisms. On the contrary it is reinforced by an inner lining, an additional framework.”

I scooped up these excerpts from the Phenomenon of Man, the chapter entitled “The Birth of Thought.” Interesting points to consider. My mind dwells on these ideas:

The emergence of thought is an organic process, a whole slew of different processes combine to form consciousness, which is then, so to speak, a thing in itself, although entirely dependent upon the environment which formed it. Self reflection, self-consciousness, self-awareness are synonymous with this. Also, the interesting case that throughout evolution, the emergence of consciousness (according to Teilhard) seems to be general direction. But, it doesn’t stop there. The general direction of matter to animate, to become sensitive and dynamic, integrated, and gradually sentient is a fascinating cosmology–although some argue entirely human-centric. I would argue that it is rather “conscious-centric,” in the fact that, life isn’t linear, and so many other creatures may have also been the ones to evolve minds, selves, and eventually cultures.

There is also a possibility that life is a rarity, that in the universe, life does not have the tendency to become more complex over time. There are inhibitors; cosmic rays, differing conditions, lack of atmosphere, etc. that would stop emerging complexity. Or, in Teilhard’s conception, the universe appears mostly hostile towards life, and any “law of complexity consciousness” arising would be as rare as a diamond in the ocean. That may be the case, but given favorable circumstances, isn’t it still fascinating that life does have a non-linear, emergent direction?

Another interesting idea Teilhard presents is the interdependence of life. No creature that has ever lived has “come onto its own.” Each organism is intricately connected to the surrounding environment, and, temporally, to the decisions and mutations of its ancestors. It suggests the idea that even consciousness is not a mere, unique diffusion of “mind,” but instead an emergent and new layer of life. Vastly more complex than biological, but not disconnected from it. Also, the idea of plurality only makes sense in this point of view, if we acknowledge that plurality is also interdependence, and emergence. Or, as Teilhard has mentioned, the point from which many, non-linear processes converge, and something new is born. Thus, we are not isolated societies destined to stretch infinitely on in our own ways, removed from each other. We come together, we meet and are changed by that meeting. Communion is the guiding force of evolutionary processes. Scientifically, there is the ecosystem, tit-for-tat, interdependence–and hopefully in the future as we discover the vastly complex processes underlying evolution, and integrate them, this may help us have a better sense of ourselves and the whole of life.

This raises other points, but I think they can be mentioned in a future blog. Particularly, claims by B. Alan Wallace on the nature of consciousness. He argues that consciousness is beyond the brain, and in fact something “before,” the brain. Consciousness, then, is a convergence of matter, arranged in such a way to gain sentience of some underlying reality, also known as Buddha-nature (Could that be related to Omega point?). Fragments of light shining through. Are these claims valid? They’re huge claims, and I think require anyone exploring them to delve into huge, cosmological and spiritual questions. Definitely the subject for another post!


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