by John Hazard
“Evolution has evolved its own evolvability with the arrival of… Us!” – Jason Silva
Here’s what I know about the Noosphere: I know there is a concept that imagines human beings in an active state of evolution, not an evolution of form, but an evolution of consciousness. The concept suggests that mankind is unfinished, that he has farther to go in his mental status. Our species is in line for an awakening, an advancement in the main nexus of awareness that goes beyond our material and temporal habits of thought during the last few thousand years.
Since I’m part of that nexus, it’s hard to imagine what such a transformation might look like, or how it might feel, or just what it means to experience a change of consciousness from what has been the norm of my culture for all of recorded history. But I’m game to give it a try.
For starters, what’s a noosphere? It’s best described as a layer of collective human intelligence that is part of the planet Earth, like an atmosphere, only it’s mental. Noos comes from the Greek, it means mind. It’s a concept that first appeared in the early ferment of the 20th century. There was a lot of intellectual activity at that time. That’s when Einstein offered a description of reality that ushered in the era of the modern mind, a mind that was forced to consider mind expanding concepts like the speed of light, or the quantum nature of reality, or the size of an atom, or the age of mankind. The idea of the noosphere was percolating at that moment, the way other ideas like the theory of evolution, or the design of the automobile were being worked on simultaneously by several forward thinking and unique individuals. There was a Russian named Vernadsky, and he was in touch with a Jesuit paleontologist named Chardin, and between them they took the idea very far, especially Teillard de Chardin, who is my source for the idea.
Chardin’s way of describing the Noosphere was introduced in the West at the time of his death in the mid-1950’s, but he and Vernadsky were working it out back in the 20’s and 30’s. Chardin was trained as a scientist, and also, as a priest. He was a French Jesuit paleontologist who was present in China in the 1920’s when archeologists first discovered proto-human remains that pushed the known age of human ancestors back hundreds of thousands of years. Chardin was a restless intellectual, he had a predilection for rigorous training and mystical perception, and the result was a body of written work that is staggeringly brilliant, though densely filagreed with detailed exposition that endeavors to draw associations to stages of evolution and to stages of being. I read his book, “The Phenomenon of Man” during my summer break between my freshman and sophomore years at college, and though I’ve only read the book that one time, I’ve been guided in my thinking these last 40 years by the ideas I discovered between the covers of that book.
Down in Zucotti Park, the locus of origin of the movement known as Occupy Wall Street, an unemployed carpenter refers to the way the protesters have to communicate with each other as “an architecture of consciousness.” He’s not trying to be poetic, he wants to be descriptive. The police have forbidden the use of bullhorns, so the OWSers spread the message one person at a time.
But there is definitely poetry here. OWSers are criticized for having an incoherent message, but I see the message in the medium, just as Marshall McLuhan surmised. The medium, in this case, is the crowd of humanity itself. The message is the creation of a new architecture of consciousness. That is the goal, but it’s hard to imagine how we get there from here.
An Architecture of Consciousness exactly defines the Noosphere. The Noosphere is a design for an architecture of global consciousness. The handful of individuals who have endeavored to give definition to the Noosphere concept suggest we’re in for a dawning of a new type of awareness. Human beings are going to activate a dormant element of their psychic infrastructure and find it is inhabiting a new mindspace.
I’m not psychic, but I’ve seen mental telepathy in action, and I’ve had experiences while using psychedelic drugs that I was convinced were telepathic in nature. But I don’t quite see how a general human population with psychic ability, the ability to read one another’s thought, might actually work, or how it would change human behavior. But I can think of a couple of pathways that might help to imagine it. One path is through psychedelic experiences, and the other is through the Cloud, as in cloud computing.
One of the strongest lessons that people are learning from the use of psychoactive entheogens is the direct perception and the deep understanding of just how gloriously embedded we are in the bosom of Mother Nature. In the 1970’s two scientists named Lovelock and Margulis introduced the Gaia Hypothesis to describe the behavior of the planet as it is observed through scientific measurement. A generation later, the Gaia Hypothesis is now Gaia Theory, because more time and observation have strengthened the core idea. Science now has a comfort level with the body of Gaia, and now some scientists are using hallucinogenic plants to explore the Mind of Gaia.
In the Peruvian Amazon, the shamans who use the tea they make from a leaf and a vine say that when they drink the tea they can communicate directly with intelligences that identify themselves as belonging to the plant kingdom. They call these intelligences teachers, because that is the way the people in that part of the world have learned to create medicines from plants, and because people believe the “medicine” teaches profound truths.
When I was at the shaman Guillermo Arevalo’s retreat in Peru, I filmed a scene between a scientist with a background in biomedical research and an artist with a refined talent for drawing the human anatomy. Both artist and scientist had come to Guillermo’s to drink the tea they call ayahuasca, because both were interested in researching aspects of their consciousness.
The scientist was Scott Franzblau, Director of the Institute for Tuberculosis Research at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Scott was there because he was looking for insight into the tuberculosis virus. He hoped he might come away from his effort with new ideas for further research.
The artist was a talented young Frenchman who taught anatomical drawing named Eric Avondo. Eric was there to explore his imaginary landscape. When I met him, he had been drinking ayahuasca for more than a month, and he had been keeping a record of his experiences by drawing his visions each morning after participating in the ceremony the night before. His notebook is absolutely stunning, because it documents his ability to learn to navigate the space of the ayahuasca vision. Also, while the visions start out in the sphere of the ego and of the artist himself, over time the visions become more biological, and more detailed. Eric explained to me that each evening, he asks the Mother of Ayahuasca to reveal more information to him. He says that in order to see into biological processes, you have to leave your ego behind and let the pure consciousness take the journey. His images demonstrate concretely what his words struggle to convey.
In the scene I filmed, the scientist sits down at the artist’s drawing table the morning after he and the artist had sat next to each other in an ayahuasca ceremony. The scientist had only been there a week, and his experiences had been powerful, but he had not seen visions of solutions to the problem of tuberculosis.
The artist told him that the vision he was drawing that morning had come to him telepathically during the ceremony. The artist’s vision had come from the scientist!
On camera, the scientist looks at the images and says that the drawings look like the way cellular structures known as lipid bilayers are drawn. Beyond that, he’s at a loss for words. He’s accepting of the core concepts from shamanism of learning about Nature through plant teachers, but he has no experience with such a concrete manifestation of shared thinking.
I tell this story because it’s an obvious example of telepathic communication, and because it occurred while some really serious people were exploring the mysteries of personal consciousness through direct experience by altering the chemistry of their brain cells. Also, this story implies that there is some kind of data bank where knowledge about Nature is stored, and the quest of the participants describes an effort to gain access to this database.
The scientist was looking for new ideas to treat TB. He decided to seek this path after learning that other scientists had successfully had breakthroughs in research that they attributed directly to the use of psychedelics. Kerry Mullis is one individual. Others include Steve Jobs and Albert Hoffman, who discovered LSD. Jeremy Narby, the anthropologist who took the scientist to meet the shaman, had been with a geneticist when she took ayahuasca, and she had a breakthrough vision in which she understood the function of protein landing pads on the DNA molecule and was able to validate her insight when she returned to her lab.
So how do we think coherently about the way this knowledge is received into the human mind by means of chemically altering the brain through plant entheogens? How about a new metaphor?
Marshall McLuhan said new technologies give us new tools for conceptualizing our circumstances. The machines of the Industrial Revolution are extensions of muscles, and came into being when physics described the Universe as a machine that ran like clockwork. The development of electric communications media has given human civilization a planetary nervous system, and turned our world into a Global Village. Now we have advanced computing and hyper-connectivity, including the Cloud. From the Cloud all of human knowledge is available on a digital mobile device.
An iPhone or a Droid can access the Cloud, and perhaps in the same way human beings can access a planetary intelligence where teachers are available to share information of a very high order. And maybe it’s like going to graduate school, where you have to make the choice to seek the information, because the intention signals the aspirant is ready to receive the new lessons.
I started thinking about the way shamans learn about Nature when I heard Terence McKenna describe the shaman as the quintessential figure of the 21st century. I also started thinking about the exponential rate of change because of Terence, so I was excited when I heard about Ray Kurzweil’s description of the Singularity. Ray is a technologist and theoretician whose way of thinking is grounded in Moore’s Law, named for Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. Moore noticed at the beginning of the era of the microchip that the number of transistors that could be put on a chip would double every eighteen months into the foreseeable future, and as this occurred, computers would get smaller and faster and cheaper, and more work would be done in any given moment of time, giving simplicity and credence to the illogical notion that “time is speeding up.”
Ray Kurzweil has advanced the notion that as time speeds up, as humans and computers become more enmeshed, and as technology makes possible the construction of physical things at the level of the individual atom, we are headed for some kind of inevitable transformation of our consciousness that he has labeled a Singularity, because he wants to infer a change so profound that it’s as though it is outside the boundaries of our conventional thought process. That’s why the Big Bang, the event that got the Universe started, is called a singularity, because it’s outside the known laws of physics that emerge as a result of its occurrence.
Ray: “What will happen when and if greater-than-human intelligence is created, either by enhancing the human or building an artificial intelligence? Already, technological advances pave the way for further technological advances at an ever-accelerating rate; if intelligence itself could be brought to engineer still greater intelligence in a strong positive feedback loop, the consequences (for better or for worse) would be unimaginable.
And this: An effective model of the neocortex is coming into focus based on a pattern recognition module which is capable of recognizing and predicting patterns… Each of us has about a billion such modules in our brain. That has been sufficient to enable humans to dominate the planet but not sufficient for us to solve our most pressing problems. So why not increase this to ten billion or a trillion? That is where we are headed as we merge with our intelligent technology.
I went to the Singularity Summit in New York recently because I wanted to see how the Noosphere concept might fit with the concepts that Ray Kurzweil has done so much to articulate. The schedule was packed with presentations with headings like “The Human Brain in Jeopardy: Computers that Think” and “Planetary-Scale Intelligence,” and “The Neurobiology and Mathematics of Consciousness,” so I got there early enough to get my press pass and grab a seat in the spacious auditorium of the 92nd St.Y. It was still before 8AM, the time when Ray’s keynote address was scheduled to begin, so I went into the banquet room for some coffee. I heard a voice that had a sing-song cadence and stocatto word delivery that caught my mind pattern and entrained itself to my thoughts. I didn’t know who I was listening to but I knew I was definitely at the Singularity Summit.
“…What new forms of artistry are going to unfold? Nanotechnology: what are we going to MAKE? So that’s kind of like, where I come in. My inspiration is… Freeman Dyson, the physicist, he talks about, like, infinity in all directions, and he has this wonderful line where he says that this new generation of artists are going to be writing genomes the way that Blake and Byron wrote verses. He said it at a dinner at TED organized by the Edge Foundation, it was about the new age of wonder. He went from chemistry and physics to a new age of biology and computation. He’s at the next level. He understands that combination between art and science, sort of that dance, you know, where you need to change people’s consciousness.
I glanced at this guy’s nametag. I was being entrained by Jason Silva.
“People think of technology they think of like, metallic objects but they don’t really understand that technology’s a conduit for human flourishing, right?, a prosthesis that extends the thought reach of the human consciousness and extends the boundaries of the human mind, you know, whether the iPhone is the extended mind, you know, outsourced cognition,, or you know the technology of music to make symphonies or the technology of oil painting like when it was Van Gogh and Picasso. So what new forms of art will come out of synthetic biology and technology and…?”
And just like that, I found what I had come there to find. But I still had to pour myself a cup of coffee.
Listening to Jason talking in the flesh, and since then watching his videos on YouTube and Vimeo, I’m hearing a voice that is seamlessly blending the themes behind my idea of an emerging Noosphere. Jason is in love with the idea of the Singularity and it has set his imagination on fire. He’s articulating the inevitability of some kind of technological deliverance into a new human state of being, but he’s also well versed in the wetter concepts such as the Universe being embedded with intelligence. He’s describing the Rainbow Bridge I’ve been seeking.
When I became aware of Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, I noticed that one of Ray’s conclusions about the human journey is this: “It is the destiny of Mankind to seed the Universe with intelligence.” That seems kind of mechanistic to me. It reminds me of Rene Descartes who said, “I think, therefore I am.” Since Descartes, human culture in the West has thought of intelligence and consciousness as something that is located within the confines of the skull, and is unique to the individual.
But scientific and technological breakthroughs have yielded new metaphors to re-conceptualize intelligence and consciousness. We’ve got wireless communication and cloud computing, so thinking about fields of intelligence becomes easier for Westerners to do. So I contrast Kurzweil’s idea of human destiny with Amazonian shamanism, which says that it is the destiny of human beings to perceive that the Universe is already intelligent and to awaken to that reality.
Trying to verbally express what we’re really talking about when we’re talking about the Noosphere, the self-reflecting field of awareness that we may be on the cusp of manifesting, is hard to do. So far, I’ve established that the quest is more than building a technical infrastructure, though that’s half of it, but it’s the meta part of it, the actual state of awareness that I’m interested in. And I believe that psychedelic experience is revealing to more and more people that there is an aspect of consciousness that is not generally part of their normal state of awareness, and it’s somehow bigger than we are. It’s an intelligence that can reveal information about the way the world works, and how things are so interconnected. And the experience of encountering this intelligence, this Other, is humbling and deeply profound, as it teaches all the while.
Just listen to Jason Silva talk about the influence of psychedelics on the development of our digital universe:
It’s interesting to draw comparisons between psychedelics and computers, but you know, Timothy Leary used to say you take psychedelics to get rid of your mental filters, to get rid of your pre-conceptions, to sort of expand your sphere of possibility, to unbound, to free your mind, right, and when he saw the potential of computers and the internet he came out in the 90’s as a techno-optimist and said, “The computers are the LSD of the nineties!” not to mention the fact that a lot of the engineers who invented the personal computer and the micro-processor, who re-conceived of computers as these big Von Neumann centralized things into these tools that could free individual minds, to be extensions of individual minds, they were all tripping when they had those realizations and those A-Ha moments to begin with…
…but I think that’s what computers do to each and every one of us, I mean these forms of technology extend the reach of each and every one of us and extends our ability to create connections with one another, so we all become nodes in this, like, macro-brain, and, I think the emergent properties of self-organization that we find at other scales of reality, will start to occur on this scale of reality… but at the same time, you can sort of like surf that wave of bliss so much farther, you know, we don’t have to worry about gravity or temperature or distance, it’s just kind of like, your mind can soar through the Cosmos, in a way, just like with the psychedelics, you know? …The fact that the guys who discovered the DNA molecule were said to have tripped on acid is not a coincidence, either.
Simon Powell just published “The psilocybin Solution.” Here is the best book on the subject of the way consciousness is altered by psilocybin mushrooms. It surveys the history of the use of the plant, and makes clear how briefly the knowledge of the experience has been available to western minds. (I used mushrooms in the early 70’s when I lived in North Florida. I picked strofaria cubensis right out of the cow patties). Powell reminds the reader that using mushrooms is not a party drug experience. The encounter is too serious and filled with meaning. And it’s this aspect of the profundity that accompanies the experience that makes me wonder about the way the Noosphere might come into existence, and how it might change our way of thinking. Powell shows us that the Other is out there. But in the future, will we have to alter our brain chemistry to have contact with it, or might there be some shift, some change of vibration, some way that we might be entrained by its presence as a normal part of our walking around awareness?
“… if the evolution of organic life and human consciousness represents the inexorable unfolding of a potential woven into the fabric of Nature, then what further potential is yet to be expressed? P237
…reality as we know it might be coded to produce some climactic output at some latter stage of its evolutionary progression. Equally plausible is the idea that our interconnected computer technology might spawn some new level of informational cohesion- a kind of virtual dimension into which the agency of human consciousness can be transferred. In point of fact … through the rise of telecommunications and computing technology, the Earth does seem to be wiring itself up into an integrated digital network, a bioelectronics entity in which widely dispersed informational systems like the human psyche can instantly communicate with one another across the globe. This magical technology, similar as it is to the communicational activity of the synapsing neuronal brain, is clearly evolving at an unprecedented rate, and the eventual emergence of a more “tangible” cyberspatial dimension of some kind seems assured. Indeed, judging by the boom in media speculation about the near future of computing systems along with the escalating popularity of Internet-enabled WiFi phones, it would appear that a fully immersive cyberspace of one sort of another is within reach. P238
The Singularity is near, indeed.
…When one has encountered the Other through the visionary effects of a strong dose of psilocybin mushrooms, it becomes quite evident that, whatever the Other’s ultimate intent, consciousness is an essential part of the plan. P246
I like this next quote because it sounds like the way Kurzweil describes how artificial intelligence can write software based on feedback. Perhaps, as in fractal geometry, this is true at all scales of Nature.
I provided the reader with a model of consciousness that views it as a flowing pattern of information generated within an intelligent, self-organizing Universe. Once one has accepted that we and all other patterns of information are natural expressions of a self-writing language-based Universe, that Nature is everywhere smart and contextually significant, then one is compelled to go on to examine the “meaning of it all.” P249
Contextually significant. In Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” the main thrust of the description of his experience using mescaline is how ordinary reality is pervaded by significance when one is under its influence. It seems that in the right frame of mind, everything has meaning, and there is no concern with time. Every moment is an eternal present, and there is a desire to be fully conscious and awake.
Recently a group of Mayan elders led by Humbatz Men made a journey to sacred sites across the USA, and they had with them 13 crystal human skulls. The origin of the skulls is lost, and all that’s left is an ancient mystery. The Mayans believe they are fulfilling a prophesy by bringing the skulls together at this time and performing ceremonies that are designed to invoke their power, a power which is said to involve the ability of human beings to gain access to the cosmic database. I have no idea if this is the case, but what if it is a literal truth?
Perhaps the most notable conveyor of the idea of the Noosphere in recent times has been Jose Arguelles. Arguelles just died, but he has left us with a beautifully written book he calls “Manifesto for the Noosphere.” He clearly envisions a new synthesis of collective human awareness, a new state of mind that is a shared experience.
“Just as the biosphere is the unified field of life and its support systems…so the noosphere is the unified field of the mind, the psychic reflection of the biosphere. Because we as a species, the aggregate of consciousness-bearing cells of the evolving Earth, are not yet awake to our role as a planetary organism, so too the noosphere is not yet fully conscious. When humanity becomes conscious of itself as a single organism and unites to activate the noosphere, we will find the collective resolve and will to reconstruct the biosphere and divert the energy of the human race from a path of destruction based on a mechanized abstraction from nature to a new harmonic order of super-organic reality based on an entirely different state of consciousness than has yet existed on Earth.”
Somehow, part of the description for how we get there from here is caught up in our perception of time. Mostly, our way of thinking about time is by thinking about the big hand and the little hand on a clock. Time is linear, and we perceive it when we pay attention to the phase of the moon, or the rising and setting sun. And of course, we get older day by day.
Arguelles insists we can’t awaken to the Noosphere unless we adopt a new calendar, the Mayan calendar. The Mayan calendar pays attention to different cycles of nature during the course of the year. The Tzolkin is 260 days, the same amount of time that is required for a human being to gestate in the womb. There are signs for days based on other systems that use the numbers 13 and 20. And most intriguing, they ascribe specific qualities to specific days. In essence, the Maya believe there are many different types of time. Arguelles believed that for 21st century humans to transition into a new state of being, we are going to have to learn “to be” in time like the Maya.
So maybe Terence McKenna got it right when he called the shaman the quintessential figure of the 21st century. Shamans have a technique for entering into conversation with the Other. This knowledge that the shamans possess has become a new meme in the global culture and it’s being amplified by its presence in the Cloud. Jeremy Narby has been conducting live webinars in conversation with experts who have extensive experience with the ayahuasca vision quest. The Cisco Systems web environment normally conversing about corporate matters is now pulsing to life an Earth based New Human Sentience.
And as heady as all this is, I know its essence is easily found in a still moment, sitting in a canoe on a lake at sunset and becoming aware of a pink lily, and on the tip of the lily there’s a drop of water, and when I look into the drop of water, I can see everything.