The Human-Human Interface

Teilhard and Technology

Toward an Infrastructure for the Noosphere


Teilhard’s Legacy Conference

November 18, 2005


Donald P. Dulchinos

Senior Vice President

Advanced Platforms and Technologies

Cable Television Laboratories


Neurosphere Institute



Twentieth century telecommunications technology, in Teilhard’s view, is a mechanism for the inexorable evolution of the noosphere.   “A consciousness is that much more perfected according as it lines a richer and better organised material edifice.”  Indeed, “thanks to the prodigious biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each individual finds himself simultaneously present in every corner of the earth.”  If the industrial era and the information age are epochs of incredibly compressed growth and change, then surely the phenomenal adoption of the Internet by the general public and the corporate world in the last ten years is an even more vivid confirmation of Teilhard’s theories.  This paper, adapted from the book Neurosphere[1], surveys the scope and pace of technology adoption relevant to the interconnection of people.  Television, the Internet and mobile telephony are the primary focus of the growth in network infrastructure, the “central nervous system”.  The paper then surveys the state of actual physical interconnection of people with technology through the nascent medical field of neural prosthetics, the material edifice” tying people together.  The paper reviews technology that combines network and personal infrastructure to act as “sense organs” of the noosphere.  Finally, the paper speculates on the implications for human interconnection and shared consciousness of these technologies, and offers some examples of a tendency toward wholeness of humanity, the fulfilled effects of the noosphere of Teilhard’s dreams.

Introduction: Teilhard’s Views of Technology Evolution


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin took his first vows in the Society of Jesus in 1902, and   studied paleontology, beginning in 1912 at the Paris Museum of Natural History.  His parallel interests converged during World War I.  In the winter of 1916, during a lull in the activities of his regiment in Belgium, Teilhard’s philosophical perspective began to take shape.  “Over the landscape of loss and disintegration that stretched out on every side, he superimposed his vision of another world – healthy, whole and growing.”


I think one could show that the front isn’t simply the firing line, the exposed area corroded by the conflict of nations, but the “front of the wave” carrying the world of man toward its new destiny.  When you look at it during the night, lit up by flares, after a day of more than usual activity, you seem to feel that you’re at the final boundary between what has already been achieved and what is struggling to emerge. [2]


Teilhard’s study of the evidence for evolution led him to attempt a reconciliation of the eschatology of Christianity with the mechanism of evolution.  This work was summed up in his book The Phenomenon of Man, or The Human Phenomenon.[3] The book laid out Teilhard’s view that, as summed up by biologist Julian Huxley, man was evolution becoming conscious of itself.


“To a Martian”, wrote Teilhard, “the first characteristic of our planet would be not the blue of the seas or the green of the forests, but the phosphorescence of thought.”  He then projected this notion into the future, where he expected to see “a harmonised collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness, earth becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope.” [4]


Twentieth century telecommunications technology, in Teilhard’s view, is a mechanism for the inexorable evolution of this noosphere.  Writing just before the dawning of the information age, Teilhard was already impressed by the rapid growth of technology. From the perspective of the time scales of a paleontologist, the industrial era certainly exploded on the scene almost instantaneously.


The industrial era and the information age are epochs of incredibly compressed growth and change.  Surely the phenomenal adoption of the Internet by the general public and the corporate world after the introduction of the World Wide Web interface is an even more vivid confirmation of Teilhard’s theories.  Further, Teilhard’s philosophy and his theology were about more than passive viewership or consumption from the electromagnetic channels/feeding tubes.  Trends in technology take us somewhat closer to an integrated participation in those channels.


Thus, a noosphere may emerge in part through the evolutionary vehicle of technology and human use of technology.  This paper briefly presents developments illustrating this emergence in four areas:


  • Network Infrastructure
  • Personal Infrastructure
  • Awareness of The World Right Now (through this infrastructure)
  • Wholeness (or Unity; the interconnection with other minds, leading to noosphere)



Network Infrastructure


A consciousness is that much more perfected according as it lines a richer and better organised material edifice.  [And if humanity is an organism,] we should endeavour to equip it with sense organs, effector organs and a central nervous system.  [Indeed,] thanks to the prodigious biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each individual finds himself simultaneously present in every corner of the Earth.[5]


The easiest area of an emerging noosphere to quantify, and perhaps the easiest to grasp in terms of everyday perception, is the scope and pace of technology adoption relevant to the interconnection of people.  This paper presents several statistical markers, each with qualitatively different impact on individuals who use them.  They are television, the Internet, and mobile telephony.  In the context of a noosphere, some may be more apposite than others.


Television spurred McLuhan’s coinage of a Global Village.  There is no doubt of its impact on world culture, though there are mixed opinions of the value of that impact.  For the purposes of this paper, television in its current form as a one-way, broadcast medium may not be the most relevant of technologies.  (Statistically, television is not included in Table 1 because over 50 years it has become nearly universally available through over-the-air or satellite broadcasting, even though many individuals in developing countries do not own televisions.)  As a possible improvement to the technology, the author has spent the last five years trying to promote a common technology platform for interactive, two-way television. [6]  Aligning multiple industry interests in order to do this has been problematic.  But the fusion of television with Internet access, through advanced digital televisions incorporating cable modem technology, is on the cusp of deployment in the U.S.
The Internet, along with the World Wide Web interface, is now the almost axiomatic example that some technology advocates refer to when they speak of the social and spiritual impact of technology.  The Internet allows unintermediated, two-way communication between anyone.  That is, there is no high barrier to entry compared to what it takes to produce and market television programming.


Mobile telephony is now the fastest growing of the three technologies, and it is perhaps the most intimate.  Easier to carry around than a computer, more likely to connect “friends and family” than either television or the Internet, and it also has the advantage of requiring a smaller investment to get started in both a personal and network development sense.  This latter point is why individuals in developing countries are more likely to interconnect via wireless technology.


The network infrastructure to support access to the Internet comprises copper telephone wires, coaxial cable television wires, satellite connections, cellular transmitters and wireless data networks.  Wireless data networks, particularly in the form of wireless fidelity or “wi-fi” (found for example in airports, hotels, or retail shops like Starbucks) is growing in leaps and bounds.  The underpinning of wi-fi, the use of unlicensed spectrum, provides a near frictionless ability for capacity to be added.  Such growth can happen on a small scale, and be provided in the direction of greatest use.  It is an almost organic phenomenon, like phototropism in plants.  Not coincidentally, a start-up technology provider in this market is called Tropos Networks, and advocates speak of the creation of wi-fi “clouds.”  The terminology is explicitly borrowed from that of organic life.
The growth in Internet connectivity and mobile phone usage are presented in Table 1, and two elements stand out.  One is the obvious rapid growth over the last ten years, faster than previous curves for technology adoption for radio or television or VCRs.  The phenomenon is one of the most striking in the history of human cultural emergence.  The second is the fact that 15% of humanity is already connected to the Internet, and at current rates, that percentage will approach universality in just 15 more years.


Table 1


  1995 2000 2005
Internet Connections 1 10 million 100 million                  300 million
Internet “Users” 2 16 million 451 million (7%)    957 million (15%)
Broadband Connections-U.S. 3   0     7 million      38 million
Mobile Phone Customers-U.S. 4 28 million   97 million    194 million
Mobile Phone Customers-World 5   700 million (10%) 1,500 million (23%)
World Population     6,430 million

1 Number of computers connected to Internet: Internet Systems Consortium

2 Especially in developing countries, multiple users per computer connection.

Source: All About Market Research,

3 Federal Communications Commission

4 Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association

5 2005:; 2000: GSM World at


Personal Infrastructure


[Each human] now demands not only food but a daily ration of iron, copper, electricity, cinema and international news.  [7]


Growing in parallel with network infrastructure, the access of people to that infrastructure is growing ever more portable, personal and capable of greater bandwidth.  General purpose as well as special purpose devices promote an enhanced personal interconnection to the world of information and even sensory data that is now available through connection to the Internet.


Personal computers were the first device for access to the Internet.  PCs are now ubiquitous in developed countries.  Initiatives such as a $100 computer, announced at the recent World Summit for the Information Society, may extend that development globally.[8]  In the meantime, shared access through “cyber-cafes” brings more users to the interface.

Mobile telephony is the logical transition from network to personal as it embodies the twin trends of increased mobility and increased miniaturization.  Increasingly cell phones do more than merely interconnect people’s voices.  Cameras, personal organizers and other features are now commonly built in.  Data messaging in the form of email or text messaging is growing virally (as the marketers say – again a biological term), especially among younger users.
Another technology illustrating the trends in personal technology is the wristwatch.  All the same features migrating into the cell phone are also migrating into the watch, albeit with an understanding that the display area is limited in size.  But a wristwatch is even more portable and does not require the user to shift focus onto a screen and a series of button pushes or typing.  A simple glance at the watch’s interface can tell me the user where he is (altitude, longitude, latitude) with much greater specificity than his own eyes.  This facility is due to the interconnection of the personal infrastructure with the network infrastructure and its wide array of sources of information.

But the wristwatch also serves as the final frontier for external personal infrastructure.  It is the stepping off point of the transition from external interfaces to internal, where things really get interesting.

The first stage in internal interfaces are RFID (radio frequency identification) implants, which are whole micromachines surgically placed inside the body.  RFID devices, containing identification numbers, first came into use as the next generation of barcodes.  Small transmitters attached to products or inventory send ID information that can be read by scanners more quickly and easily.  They have even come into use for mobile inventory, such as livestock RFID transmitters, embedded in tags stapled to the ears of cattle.   It did not take long for such devices to migrate to humans, first embedded in personal documents like passports, and then implanted in humans.  One example is the Verimed system, a microchip from VeriChip corporation that contains personal medical information that can be scanned by emergency medical technicians in case of a medical condition resulting in unconsciousness.

RFIDs are now where television was before the Internet – one-way, “broadcast” in nature.  The nascent medical field of neural prosthetics is the most evocative of recent developments, a field where the interface between human and Internet is two-way.  And most important, neural prosthetics come very close to serving as an interface to the constituents of the mind itself.

In medical technology, neural prosthetics are taking their place in line of other somatic prosthetics dating back, one supposes, to the peg leg.  More recently, artificial limbs have been created with a great range of action and reaction, signaled electronically from the users own brain.  Artificial retinas, which replace the light gathering function of the retina and send the signals to the optic nerve for action, are another amazing example.  Current research at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere focuses on designing transmitters to send electronic messages to properly equipped prosthetic limbs or organs.  The range of targets is remarkable:


  • Retinal Prostheses
  • Auditory Prostheses
  • Bladder Prostheses
  • Diaphragm Prostheses
  • Cerebellar Stimulation
  • Artificial Legs
  • Artificial Arms


The target limbs or organs in turn are equipped with receivers that enable the individual controllers to get feedback from the limbs or organs in terms of pressure, resistance and positioning.  The feedback instantaneously provides context for the next control transmission.  “Recently, a blind individual had an array of 38 microelectrodes with percutaneous leads implanted into her visual cortex for a period of three months.  She could see and describe visual phosphenes produced by electrical stimulation through the electrodes.  Researchers are now seeking permanent implants in concert with an external sensor device that transmits visual information to the brain.” [9]


In summary, experiments have signals coming forth from the brain to effect changes in the world, and changes coming into the brain to change the view of the world.  Right now, neural prosthetics operate at a fairly low level of resolution. That is to say, when patients are able to make a leg muscle move or move a cursor across a computer screen, instrumentation can only detect general areas of neural activity. Researchers are working at the level of a single neuron, and are figuring out how neurons make synaptic contacts with other neurons.    It will take a while to resolve more complex movements into the proper prosthetic connections, but that too appears to be only a matter of time.


Looking deeper into human consciousness, Wilder Penfield at the McGill University almost fifty years ago recorded neuronal activity associated with memories and emotions.  It is reasonable to ask whether those neuronal patterns can be recorded, encoded, and then transmitted and decoded by the brain of another.   Certainly, it will take even longer to map the neural correlates of emotions, individual thoughts, or consciousness, the latter defined by one as “the feeling of what happens.”[10]  This investigation of the neural correlates of consciousness has only recently taken shape, thanks to philosopher David Chalmers and others.[11]  Direct electronic communication of consciousness is some distance into the future, but the roadmap appears to be visible now.


Awareness of The World Right Now


[T]hanks to the prodigious biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each individual finds himself simultaneously present in every corner of the earth.[12]


The use of personal infrastructure to access a staggering range of information through a vast and still growing network infrastructure yields to the individual not only a great quantity of data but an increasingly useful and personal penumbra of sensory and qualitative information.  The global vision across space and time finds fuller corroboration today.


The phenomenon of webcams is the result of simultaneous trends in the spread of the internet with the development of digital camcorders.  A webcam is simply a digital camcorder, running live in some location, with the images recorded being streamed out onto the Internet for access by anyone with an Internet connection.  Now webcams may be found in communities all over the world, in urban, suburban and rural settings, and focused on people, landscapes, or even animal herds.  Rather than waiting for CNN to go there, the individual at her own volition makes herself “simultaneously present in every corner of the earth.”  At this point, there are even cameras operating on other planets.  The NASA landers currently exploring Mars are sending us pictures of a place 30 million miles away.


One interesting application is the Weather Bug[13], which sits unobtrusively on the computer desktop and informs the user, in real time, of the temperature and other weather conditions.  It takes advantage of worldwide networks connected in turn to sensors distributed around the globe by the National Weather Service and other entities.  The user’s sensory apparatus is magnified exponentially.  Moreover, the Weather Bug can be programmed to update forecasts in real time.  With this century’s greater understanding of weather patterns, one can “sense the future”.

As features like the Weather Bug migrate closer and more intuitively to my real time consciousness, my awareness of the world around me grows in usefulness and richness, and perhaps so too does my understanding.  This latter point, in perhaps a trivial way, hints at how a noosphere changes the nature of an individual’s experience of the world.

A more speculative or even mystical development has emerged from the ongoing refinement of Internet search engines, such as Google or Yahoo.   These sites now make available a running tally and ranking of the searches taking place on a given day, or in actual real time.  People do not go the Internet with every thought they have, but these rankings do reflect a surface snapshot of what is going through the minds of at least a majority of people online at a point in time.  One site refers to its version of this tally as the Google zeitgeist.  Another, more ambitious, refers to the “Webcrawler subsconscious.”






[A] harmonised collectivity of consciousnesses equivalent to a sort of super-consciousness, earth becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope. [14]


Taken in its totality, the use of personal interfaces and network infrastructure to allow a real-time, in-depth awareness of the world around us inevitably enters one into the spiritual dimension.  Entrance into the spiritual dimension can happen on a small scale with the experience of Internet-mediated group minds, can take on global dimensions in “noospheric institutions”[15] such as Doctors Without Borders, and can happen in group efforts which are about undertaking physical projects using the resources of tens of thousands of Internet users at the same time.


The Well, based in California, was an early form of computer-based communications.  It comprised a simple interface for typed conversation, spread out over time.  Perhaps due to the requirement that no user speak anonymously, or due to the higher monetary costs of speaking at the time, the experience led many users to characterize it as an online interconnection of minds.


The author found early on that the Well was not a depersonalization as critics of computer mediated communication had it, but the opposite, a hyper-personalization.  Communication tended to be more honest and to speak most directly of concerns of deepest importance to the speaker.  When the author’s participation was at its peak a few years ago, he called it a “community that lives in the back of my mind.”  Just ongoing conversation, day after day, led to personal connections that carried over into the face-to-face world.  In one case, a relationship developed that led to marriage, as one participant left her husband to have an affair with and eventually marry another Well participant.  The interconnection was just that strong.


Now there are many other types of such communication vehicles, for example Friendster

and LiveJournal.  The author found that some of these appear to have a level of intimacy that surpassed even the powerful emotions he shared on the Well.


By the way, there’s nothing magical about technology when it comes to group mind or something like it.  Music (performance or listening at a concert) sports (playing or cheering) and holy war are some examples.  We don’t tend to think of those so much as group mind, perhaps because they tend to be set events of limited duration, whereas technology increasingly has this always-connected quality.


And so this large scale phenomenon of the internet is not a technology phenomenon – it is, in Teilhard’s coinage, a human phenomenon.  Unity, on a small scale and on a large scale appears to be happening.


The larger scale phenomenon is reflected in so-called noospheric institutions.  The European Union, like the United Nations before it, appears to be such an institution, tying people together beyond national boundaries.  Unlike the UN, the EU has developed an enormous web of legal, economic and electronic interconnections that make it a noospheric institution in practice as well as theory.  Another example, Doctors Without Borders, seems to be a noospheric institution that draws together people and resources in the service of a higher calling, and operates in a unified and effective way that transcends national boundaries.


One final observation, merging the ideas of small scale collective consciousness with global institutions, is the phenomenon of grid computing.  Grid computing is an example of large scale collective action, a noosphere in action.  As a group of supporters puts it, “[g]rid computing is increasingly being viewed as the next phase of distributed computing.  Built on pervasive Internet standards, grid computing enables organizations to share computing and information resources across department and organizational boundaries in a secure, highly efficient manner.  [A network of many computers surpasses the computing power of even supercomputers.]  Grid computing enables research-oriented organizations to solve problems that were infeasible to solve due to computing and data-integration constraints.  Over time grid computing will enable a more flexible, efficient and utility-like global computing infrastructure.”[16]


Grid computing has entered the mainstream as the latest addition to the corporate computing toolkit.  But even business hype pales beside the evolutionary perspective. Grid computing represents the harnessing of personal and networked computation in service of a single goal and to act, in at least one sense, as a single entity.


Table 2 presents a very small sample, but reflects the range of implications.  Grid computing ranges from a goal-directed, near term exercise in medical research, to activity that is global and even cosmic in scale and scope.


Table 2



Cancer Research

Compute Against Cancer is a collaborative effort among researchers at academic and private laboratories, government agencies, nonprofit cancer organizations and the general public. The project supplies researchers with access to a massive computing platform to help reduce the effects of chemotherapy, study the structure and behavior of cancer cells and create better ways to screen new cancer drugs.

Climate Prediction


The experiment aims to investigate the approximations made in state-of-the-art climate models.  The model response to slight tweaks in these approximations is studied by running the model on thousands of home/school/work computers.
Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.

Source: CERN (European Particle Physics Lab) Grid Café at

Omega Points – Speculations on Interconnection and Consciousness

What does a noosphere look like?  The grid computing example is presented as one possible example, grounded in the mundane expression of millions of computers, crunching away toward the same end.  At the other end of the spectrum, collective consciousness is a concept so vast that we don’t yet have the vocabulary to describe.

In an earlier era, the Kennedy assassination brought together the people of a nation around their televisions for days.  In the current era, the events of 9/11 (remember when they weren’t yet called “terrorist attacks”) had a similar effect.  Ask people to recall their feelings and emotions in those days.  Many of them will try to express their impressions of something so large that they groped even for terms to describe it.  In the author’s view, one way to characterize the terrorist attacks was as the incipient form of war inside a noosphere.  As much as Teilhard believed that harmonization would breed understanding, it may that a noosphere under formation has still not harmonized each individual within it.

Even as we grope for words to describe collective consciousness, this paper is intended to be a modest beginning at assembling the data, in at least the area of technology, and to begin to make the case that a noosphere is forming around us.


[1] Donald P. Dulchinos, Neurosphere, Boston: Weiser Books, 2005.

[2] Mary Lukas and Ellen Lukas, Teilhard; A Biography, New York: McGraw Hill, 1981, p. 50.

[3] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, New York: Harper & Row, 1959.  Page numbers from Harper Colophon edition, New York, 1975.  A more accurate translation from Teilhard’s French is The Human Phenomenon.

[4] Teilhard,1959, p. 251.

[5] Teilhard.1959, p. 240.

[6] See the OpenCable project at

[7] Teilhard,1959, p. 246.

[8] UN Debut for $100 laptop for poor at

[9] Multichannel Transcutaneous Cortical Stimulation System at

[10] Antonio Damaso, The Feeling of What Happens, New York: Harcourt, 1999.

[11] Center for Consciousness Studies at

[12] Teilhard,1959, p. 240.

[13] Weather Bug at

[14] Teilhard,1959, p. 251.

[15] Ursula King, Feeding the Zest for Life, Metanexus Sophia at

[16] Global Grid Forum –