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Phenomenon of Man

Someone recommended to me that I read the Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Possibly the hardest book to read in the universe, but it makes some interesting points. It starts off with a geological and biological time recap and discussion on evolution of biology. Then after that it talks specifically of humans.

One of the things interesting that was said was that “With that it bursts upon us how utterly warped is every classification of the living world, in which man only figures logically as a genus or a new family. This is an error of perspective which deforms and uncrowns the whole phenomenon of the universe. To give man his true place in nature it is not enough to find one more pigeon-hole in the edifice of our systemisation or even an additional order or branch. With hominization, in spite of the insignificance of the anatomical leap, we have the beginning of a new age. The earth ‘gets a new skin’. Better still, it finds its soul.”

In some ways here we can talk about the relationship between Pierre’s understanding of humans and the concept of an integral ecology. We are ‘just another genus’ but one that has the capacity to be conscious of how to impacts so greatly on every other genus.

This book was first written in the 50s, so I find it interesting that it says “the age of industry; the age of oil, electricity, and the atom; the age of the matching of huge collectivities and of science – the future will decide what is the best name to describe the era we are entering. The word matters little. What does matter is that we should be told that, at the time of what we are enduring, life is taking a step and a decisive step, in us and in our environment. After a long maturation that has been steadily going on during the apparent immobility of the agricultural centuries, the house has come at last, characterised by the birth bangs inevitable in another change of state. There were the first men, those who witnessed our origin. There are others who will witness the great scenes of the end. To us in our brief span on life, falls the honour and good fortune of coinciding with a critical change of the noosphere.”

You’re probably wondering what the ‘noosphere’ is… to be honest, I’m not sure I get my head around it. I think it is just a name he gives to the phenomenon that we have our collective consciousness… but I may be interpreting it wrong. But what I find even more interesting, is the use of the words ‘birth pangs’ and that at every change or evolution we have these birth pangs. St Paul talks about this in the book of Romans. This is mentioned in Laudato Si, about the world crying out in birth pains/labour pains.

Further more he says “the egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of ‘everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.” How good and true!! He goes on to say that this will never work, and that it is unfair to the marginalised, just as we see in Laudato Si.

He also comments on materialism. “nowadays, over and above the bread which to simple Neolithic man symbolised foo, each man demands his daily ration of iron, copper and cotton, of electricity, oil and radium of discoveries, of the cinema and of international news.” Again, a very true and sad statement. We do demand so much, we see that in examining our ecological footprint. As I always say, we are in a resource crisis where this exploitation of Earth’s resources needs to be managed better and we need to reduce consumption.

It is clear that Pierre has considered the trajectory of the future in his writing. My criticism of this is that he understates its impact. Though difficult to read, it was a worthwhile book and very interesting to see that the writing predicts into the future with accuracy.

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  © Alice Carwardine 2020 from Overturn the Tables.