The Planetization of Mankind

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A website of modest size, such as this one, cannot hope to do justice to the complexity of the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. So this is essentially a personal selection by the author of some important Teilhard themes. And because in Teilhard there is so much to choose from, it is likely that this website will always remain in a state of flux.


Teilhard traveled a great deal in connection with his fieldwork as a paleontologist. With an open and communicative disposition, he made friends from many different cultures. As a Catholic priest and a member of an international religious order, he was very conscious of the universal nature of his church. All of these factors contributed to giving him a global outlook. His writings covered the period from 1916 to 1955. This was a period darkened by two world wars, but at the end of each war there was a growing consciousness of human solidarity, resulting in organizations seeking world peace and social and economic improvements. It was also a period that saw crucial technological progress, such as radio and television, air travel, and even the beginnings of computers (he would have loved the Internet). Teilhard celebrated these developments and the resulting connectivity:

Today, with the astonishing increase in the speed of transport (particularly in the air), with radio and television, each one of us can already be physically present, in practically a few hours, to any person whatsoever, anywhere at all on the surface of the earth, and enjoy verbal or visual contact with him in a few fractions of a second.[1]

He also commented on the increasing interdependence resulting from the industrial enterprise and the global economy:

It is no longer possible for us to live and develop without an increasing supply of rubber, of metals, oil, electricity and energy of all sorts. No individual could henceforth manage to produce his daily bread on his own… Take simply the case of an aircraft, or a radio, or a Leica: and consider the physics, the chemistry and mechanics such things presuppose for their existence- the mines, laboratories, factories, arms, brains, hands. By virtue of its construction (and this is undeniable) each one of these devices is, and cannot but be, only the convergent result of countless disciplines and techniques whose bewildering complexity could be mastered by no single worker in isolation… Already we see in them the work not simply of man, but of mankind.[2]

The Noosphere

Teilhard uses the term Noosphere (the sphere of mind or thought, or the thinking earth) to refer to the increased level of development and sharing of human knowledge (apparently philosopher Edouard Leroy was the first to use the term, but Teilhard and Vladimir Vernadsky independently developed the concept).

Let us rather accept the fact: Mankind, as we find it in its present state and its present functioning, is organically inseparable from that which has been slowly added to it, and which is propagated through education. This 'additive zone', gradually created and transmitted by collective experience, is for each of us a sort of matrix, as real in its own way as our mother’s womb. It is a true racial memory, upon which our individual memories draw and through which they complete themselves.[3]

In fields embracing every aspect of physical matter, life and thought, the research-workers are to be numbered in hundreds of thousands, and they no longer work in isolation but in teams endowed with penetrative power that it seems nothing can withstand... The Noosphere, in short, is a stupendous thinking machine.[4]

Philosopher Karl Popper has also written on this subject in a scientific context: "All work in science is work directed towards the growth of objective knowledge. We are workers who are adding to the growth of objective knowledge as masons work on a cathedral."[5] And returning to Teilhard: "terrestrial thought is becoming conscious that it constitutes an organic whole, endowed with the power of growth, and capable of and responsible for some future."[6]

Global Responsibility and Love

This increasingly interdependent and complex world is an enormous challenge that humankind, now more conscious of global responsibilities, is gradually being called to assume:

To nourish mankind, to enable it to survive and continue on its road in spite of the increasing complexity of its organization and needs, to ensure the maintenance of its physical welfare, to fuel the devouring furnace of its intellectual preoccupations, this is indeed a labor so vast that only those who have put some part of their faith and of their hope into it, only those who have sworn to love it with an unswerving love and to put all their fervor into it, will have the strength and drive to carry it through.[7]

The increased sense of humanity as a collective enterprise with a common knowledge base has the potential of improving human life, but for the individual it carries the danger or the fear of being lost in the multitude, of anonymity:

All that matters at this crucial moment is that the massing together of individualities should not take the form of a functional and enforced mechanization of human energies (the totalitarian principle), but of a 'conspiration' informed with love... With love omitted there is truly nothing ahead of us except the forbidding prospect of standardization and enslavement- the doom of ants and termites. It is through love and within love that we must look for the deepening of the deepest self, in the life-giving coming together of humankind. Love is the free and imaginative outpouring of the spirit over all unexplored paths. It links those who love in bonds that unite but do not confound, causing them to discover in their mutual contact an exaltation capable, incomparably more than any arrogance of solitude, of arousing in the heart of their being all that they possess of uniqueness and creative power.[8]

By reason of some obscure innate affinity, some immanent need to put our hands on what is stable and absolute, we feel germinating in us, or suddenly bursting out, a yearning to exchange the isolation that concentrates us on ourselves for a wider existence and a unity of a higher order... an ill-defined nostalgia for something hidden within us which transcends and fulfils us...[9]

[1] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "The Evolution of Responsibility in the World" in Activation of Energy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), 212.

[2] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "The Atomism of Spirit" in Activation of Energy, 36-37.

[3] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "Social Heredity and Progress" in The Future of Man (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 32.

[4] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "The Formation of the Noosphere" in The Future of Man, 179-180.

[5] Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), 121.

[6]Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Sense Of Man,” in Toward the Future (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 13.

[7] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "Mastery of the World and the Kingdom of God" in Writings in Time of War (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 82.

[8] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Grand Option” in The Future of Man, 57.

[9] Pierre Teilhard the Chardin, "Cosmic Life" in Writings in Time of War (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 15-16.