October 22-25, 2004
Les Marronniers Conference Centre, Aix-en-Provence, France
Introduction by Mark Nelson, Chairman
Ian Tattersall, Palaeontologist, American Natural History Museum, New York
“The Evolution of Homo Sapiens from Early Hominid Species”
Richard O’Neill, President, The Highland Forum, Bethesda, Maryland
“The Power and Downside of Information Technologies”
Ian MacKenzie, Linguist, Head of the Defenders of British Columbia Wilderness, Vancouver, BC
“The Intelligence of the Traditional Cultures of the Ethnosphere”
Kevin Kelly, Editor-at-Large, Wired Magazine; former editor, Co-Evolution Quarterly, San Francisco, California.
“What Technology Wants”
Christian Rätsch, Ethnopharmacologist, Author, Hamburg, Germany
“Accessing the Intelligence of Plants and Psycho-active Sacred Substances”
John P. Allen, FLS, Chairman, Global Ecotechnics Corp., Santa Fe, New Mexico
“The Noosphere and the Planetary Integration of Art, Science and Enterprise”
Maria Golia, Author, Consultant, Cairo, Egypt
“The World City and the Noosphere” (listen)
Richard Hey, Professor of Applied Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
“Rivers: Ecology, Economic Use and Restoration”
Antony Gormley, Sculptor, London, UK
“Re-imagining the Human Body”
Edward Tenner, Author, Princeton, New Jersey
“Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Law of Unintended Consequences”
Oleg Gazenko, “Space Medicine and Physiology,” Director (Emeritus) Institute of Biomedical Problems, Moscow, Russia
“The Adaptability and Evolution of the Human Organism”
Michèle Decoust and Marie Arnaud, Writer and Film Director, Paris, France
“Dragons of the Sea: An Illustration of Emerging Intelligence”
Berndt Lötsch, Director, Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria
“Esthetics between Biosphere and Noosphere,”
Our noosphere expedition has drawn to a close.
Our speakers, our noospheric explorers brought back gripping tales from a multitude of perspectives.
Ian Tattersall opened our conference with a review of the non-linear evolution of Homo sapiens from a multitude of competing hominid species. Although the product is extraordinary, the process is ordinary – evolution at work. The leap in cognitive abilities including symbolic thought was an emergent property triggered, most probably, by the invention of language. Language and the invention of culture took humanity beyond the pervasive pattern of ancestral mimicking and into the Modern Human. However, evolution will not solve the problems we currently face; these we must solve with our own collective intelligence.
Edward Tenner brilliantly detailed the positive and negative sides of the unintended consequences of technology. He illustrated that the interrelationships between technology, other organisms and humans can be almost impossible to predict since one can’t anticipate deviant ingenuity or the crucial initiatives of a technology’s users. Constraints can and often do have positive unintended benefits. He left us with a Zen technology koan : how can we deliberately set up conditions for something positive to happen undeliberately.
John Allen shared with us his personal saga through frontier culture and technosphere towards the noosphere. His insight that noesis, acts of intentional perception, working on the noeme, objective correlatives are a noosphere-creating mechanism. He showed the design of Biosphere 2 as an interplay of biosphere and ethnosphere and the crucial lack of a developed cybersphere at the time of the project. He advocated the addition of history to the requirements of organized bodies of science and art for the development of a noosphere, for the study of origins/evolutionary history are crucial for making intelligent assessment.
Oleg Gazenko reviewed the contours of noospheregenesis, tracing the cosmic mile markers of the evolution of life and intelligence on the planet. He cautioned us that humanity stands on the precipice – facing catastrophe from the demographic crisis and the increasing rate of human impact on the biosphere. The development of the noosphere is needed to achieve stable co-evolution of biosphere and humanity. He shared with us the remarkable work of the Russian space program, one of the tools of noosphere construction, which offers powerful new ways of understanding the universe and ourselves and which revolutionizes communication and Earth observation. He left us with the magical images of a variety of organisms in microgravity – space age icons illustrating Dr. Gazenko’s take-home message: the future is unknown, but nothing is impossible.
Michèle Decoust and Marie Arnaud presented their film, Dream No Small Dream on the RV Heraclitus – from vision to realization. The film viscerally illustrates the glue that bonds a small group of people, united by common goals and an urgent necessity – the health of the world’s coral reefs – to make a difference. We are taken onboard the ship as it conducts real-time monitoring of the health of the corals, their exchange with traditional cultures – and the forging of a new type of culture – planetary sea people committed to using art, science and adventure in service to the biosphere. The film took us into a microcosm of noospheric intelligence in action.
Antony Gormley brought us images of haunting beauty as we shared his journey as an artist. Using his own body as the material for his explorations, for it is the only form he can investigate from the inside, his works transform the body from being simply a thing to being a place for experience and transformation. His work aims at evoking viewers’ involvement, participating in the energy field and completing the work. He linked his artistic quest to that of the noosphere, completing nature’s work, infusing matter with mind.
Dick O’Neill considered governance from a noospheric viewpoint. He looked at the new strategies required in the information age. Will it undermine classic power politics and make soft power options viable? He outlined some of the rule set resetting needed to move from realpolitik to noopolitik, the leaders of the noopolitik will be different; the shift from communications to content favors the networked, grass roots non-governmental organizations. Building a robust noosphere will ultimately require global consensus
Richard Hey took us into the world of rivers through case studies in ecological restoration and rehabilitation. He showed us what happens when you get it wrong – increased flooding and erosion, sterile and ecologically poor habitats – and what is possible with correct understanding of river dynamics – stable rivers with diverse ecosystems, maintaining water quality and enhancing the human economy. Understanding the nature of rivers, their boundary conditions, allow one to design with nature, minimizing adverse environmental effects.
Kevin Kelly explored the nature, meaning and through line of technology, seeing it as a cosmic force. He traced the phases of cosmic evolution, from the dominance of energy, then matter, now information. The systems of greatest interest are the ones able to persist far out of equilibrium. The technium, the products of the ethnosphere and the technosphere, display the same trends as biological evolution, including convergent evolution and the drive towards increasing ubiquity, diversity, complexity, extropy, information and the evolvability of their own evolution.
Ian MacKenzie explored the myths and realities of so-called primitive cultures, drawing on his intimate knowledge of the nomadic Penan people of the Borneo rainforest. He debunked the noble savage and ecologically-conscious myths, questioning whether any existent culture has consciously acted to ensure their sustainability. He warned that simply reducing resource consumption does not ensure sustainability, illustrating with the examples of tribal farmer cultures which had massive population increase and warfare as a result of adopting agriculture. We have to put aside cultural presuppositions to get to noospheric thinking where we can learn the lessons that every culture has to teach. Each culture and language is a window into another world, another diffraction of our common humanity.
Christian Rätsch shared his life’s work studying psychoactive sacred substances, giving us a taste of the expanded realities they make possible. He communicated his delight and sense of play, as a “born heathen”. He took us into the non-hierarchical world of the Lacandon Mayan Indians, the Nepalese shamans, and the extraordinary community of researchers who have been working to document the plant preparations, rites and knowledge that are found in nearly every human culture. These substances which open the human heart and facilitate mystical experience can play a vital role in humanity’s evolution of the noosphere.
Berndt Lötsch gave us a stunning consideration of beauty from a biospheric and then noospheric perspective. Humans are supremely visual; and our sense of beauty as healthy organisms reflects our response to order, symmetry, visual contrast, mirror-images, rhythm – to our sense of cosmos which originally meant order and beauty. From a noospheric standpoint, humans as thinking observer have a unique capability to see gestalts, forms. Noospheric beauty is found in forms which reveal the complex operation of natural laws, such as the patterns of sand dunes, landscapes, geological structure, waves, growth forms, erosional patterns and powerline architecture.
Maria Golia completed our noospheric expedition by guiding us into the vibrant world city, taking Cairo as her case study, a 1400 year old human experiment in living together under extreme conditions – with shortages of land, water, breathable air, money and freedom, under a corrupt government which has attempted to keep the population dumbed-down, powerless and dependent. But perhaps surprisingly, this has resulted in a safe, sane and highly resourceful population who maintain themselves through extended family and community networks. Maria invited us to see cities as concretizations of the noosphere that await rediscovery and integration. Our world cities are a legacy humanity leaves to ourselves, to examine them is to look ourselves in the eye.
And so our Noosphere journey ends and begins. And it is, in some respects, only the beginning of the beginning. As we contemplate our prospects, keep in mind Academician Gazenko’s reminder: the future is unknown, nothing is impossible. As we go back to our work and play, may we always be guided by the beauty of the process, reverence for our radiant planet, alive to our destiny in the cosmos.
I’d like to end with one of John Allen’s poems
I wish Impossible
Shot through with scattered light
Celebrating not days and years
But evolutions of revolutions
Spiraling with history
Without some impossible included
Introduction by Mark Nelson, Chairman
Introduction by Mark Nelson, Chairman
It is both an honor and a great delight to welcome you all to the magical environs of the Les Marronniers conference centre and to the 2004 Institute of Ecotechnics meeting on the Noosphere: Art, Science and Ventures.
We have been building towards this conference for a long time. Perhaps it’s appropriate a new millennium has just started, for the effort to realize a noosphere may be a principal occupation and challenge for humanity during the next 1000 years! And some might say that’s an optimistic viewpoint….is such a state of affairs – a noosphere, a sustainable future – achievable at all?
Therefore it’s most appropriate that we have at our meeting Russians from the highest levels of their scientific tradition, for the legacy of Vernadsky’s work and the concept of noosphere is so important there. I recall my introduction to the term when Josef Gitelson, one of the leaders of Russia’s closed ecological system program came to Biosphere 2 and declared the project in which eight humans attempted to act as intelligent stewards of an evolving complex system of which they themselves were only a small part – should have been called not Biosphere 2 but rather “Noosphere 1”.
And how fitting for us to be meeting here in France, for the term, noosphere, was coined in Paris in the early 1920s where three remarkable men were working: Vladimir Vernadsky, the Russian polymath who pioneered biogeochemistry and laid the foundations for the modern understanding of the biosphere, the French scientist and philosopher, Eduard Le Roi and Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist and mystic. It’s not terribly important for our purposes which of them originally coined the phrase, whether it arose from a synergy of their thinking, or was inspired by Vernadsky’s lectures on the biosphere at the Sorbonne. What is of greater importance is the meaning and interpretation we give the concept.
Briefly, the etymology of the word. Noos comes from the Greek word meaning the mind, and the related word, Nooin, that could be translated as the act of intentional perception. In scientific usage, sphere is used to denote a pervasive global presence or process, as in hydrosphere, geosphere, atmosphere, biosphere.
Teilhard de Chardin visualized the noosphere as a sort of spiritual dimension – a sphere of mental activity encapsulating the planet. Vernadsky, however, used the term in a grounded and scientific sense. Seeing that humanity had become a “geological force” in the modern biosphere, profoundly impacting the cycling of matter, Vernadsky understood that our creativity could be a power for good or serve destructive, life-denying ends. Vernadsky saw humanity as inseparable from the biosphere and perhaps its most refined product. One of his writings, Science as a Planetary Phenomenon, celebrates the unprecedented acceleration and spread of a scientific understanding of nature and humanity’s place in it.
For Vernadsky, the noosphere, meaning the harmonious and scientifically-based participation of humanity in the evolution of the biosphere, represents the coming “geological era”. While some have argued as to whether the term implies human control and dominance of biospheric processes, it is difficult to imagine that Vernadsky with his comprehensive understanding of the vast scale and magnitude of natural biospheric cycles could assign humanity such a pre-eminent role. Rather, he thought it imperative that humanity learn to better integrate our evolving technologic, economic and cultural needs within the biosphere which sustains all life. In more recent Russian thinking, this is often shortened to the noosphere resulting from the harmonization of the technosphere with the biosphere. Becoming more conscious of our place and role in the biosphere, humanity will refashion itself to become conscious and cooperative agents of evolution.
We hear echoes of the noosphere in the growing sense that we are facing an unprecedented ecological crisis; and in the calls for transforming human activities and population to sustainable levels.. Everyone can read the handwriting on the wall. As it was succinctly formulated: “Things that can’t go on forever, don’t.”
We added three subthemes to our noosphere conference: art, science and ventures. Why art? Well, Vernadsky did not limit the noosphere to humanity’s scientific investigations alone, and specifically mentions artistic and cultural knowledge as part of the noospheric developmental process. The term “Art” comes from root words meaning to join or fit together. The human propensity to make things, creativeness; skill; making or doing of things that have form and beauty. At least one of our speakers intends to address the notions of beauty and aesthetics from a noospheric perspective, and, as we always do, we have included artists in our dialogue for art is the growing tip of human sensibility and consciousness. The creation of a noosphere will have need of artistry, of a developed sense of beauty and form, if things are to be joined and fit together in a deeply organically satisfying way.
Science, a term now ubiquitously used and abused, stems from the root Latin word Sciere, meaning to know. Science essentially means a state or fact of knowing as opposed to intuition or belief; systematized knowledge derived from observation, study and experimentation. Those who would turn science into our modern religion, demanding belief and faith, subvert its very essence. Biospherics – the emerging science of the biosphere, demands use and integration of all the human sciences, for as ecology teaches us, everything is connected to everything else. Is there a possible science of the noosphere – noospherics? Vernadsky wrote that scientists are responsible for the uses that humanity makes of their findings, and the technologies they give rise to. Is the sphere of evaluation the noosphere, where the impact and integration of human technologies with the biosphere can be fully elucidated?
And finally, the last of our triad, Ventures. The word originally meant “a happening”; its current meaning is a risky or dangerous undertaking especially a business enterprise in which there is as great a danger of loss as a chance for profit. As modern business gurus make clear, the greater the risk, the greater the potential profit. In humanity’s ventures into noosphere creation, there is certainly risk, appalling risks, for the future and health of both ourselves and our biosphere are on the line. But there is no turning back. Perhaps as our opening speaker will explain, we passed the point of no-return when the last competing hominid species was eliminated, and our tool-making ancestors spread around the globe, intent on “disturbing the universe” and seeing what a cerebrally-highly endowed critter could do. For, as T.S. Eliot wrote, “and so each venture is a new beginning, a raid upon the inarticulate” (and aware of entropy and necessity of progressive approximations in a complex and ever-changing world) he notes that each venturous raid upon the inarticulate is made “with shabby equipment always deteriorating in the general mess of imprecision”
The metaphor of the blind men and the elephant has spread around the world. It well illustrates the state of confusion that results when specialists examine parts of a large and complex system, without realizing they are simply encountering differing parts of a unified whole. Reality, like an elephant, is not divided into categories or academic departments, nor is it partitioned between the artists and the scientists, the literate and the cultures who still value direct experience. Add to our difficulty if the elephant is the noosphere, that we are dealing with an emergent phenomenon, not yet fully in existence; and something which will never be static and complete, for it will form part of a constantly evolving complex system.
I see our meeting then as an exploration – our speakers as noospheric explorers, bringing back reports of their ad-VENTURES and experiences in their chosen fields of investigation, information that must be integrated by us all into aspects of the multi-faceted intelligence that a noosphere demands.
What realms of intelligent, mindful participation are possible that we can collectively bring into being? Our tools: all the arts of joining things beautifully together while we systematically observe, study and experiment on the cutting-edge of the various fields of knowledge where the greatest risks and profits lie, ever aware of the abyss which threatens our progress and the garden of earthly delights that is the reward of true intelligence.