Teilhard and Other Modern Thinkers on Evolution, Mind, and Matter (part I)


In his The Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin develops concepts of consciousness, the noosphere, and psychosocial evolution. This article explores Teilhard’s evolutionary concepts as resonant with thinking in psychology and physics. It explores contributions from archetypal depth psychology, quantum physics, and neuroscience to elucidate relationships between mind and matter. Teilhard’s work can be seen as advancing this psychological lineage or psychogenesis. That is, the evolutionary emergence of matter in increasing complexity from sub-atomic particles to the human brain and reflective consciousness leads to a noosphere evolving towards an Omega point. Teilhard’s central ideas provide intimations of a numinous principle implicit in cosmology and the discovery that in and through humanity evolution becomes not only conscious of itself but also directed and purposive.

In his introduction to The Phenomenon of Man, evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Huxley provides a synopsis and glowing endorsement of Teilhard’s evolutionary ideas published in The Phenomenon of Man. Huxley writes,

Teilhard de Chardin was at the same time a Jesuit father and a distinguished palaeontologist… [H]e has effected a threefold synthesis—of the material and the physical world with the world of mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one.1

As an eminent evolutionary biologist, Huxley (1887-1975) has much more to say in his exegesis, defense, and endorsement of Teilhard’s innovative evolutionary thought. With regard to the existence of rudimentary mind-like qualities prior to the emergence of reflective consciousness, Huxley writes the following about Teilhard’s contributions.

… evolutionary fact and logic demand that minds should have evolved gradually as well as bodies and that accordingly mindlike … properties must be present throughout the universe. Thus, in any case, we must infer the presence of potential mind… by backward extrapolation from the human phase to the biological, and from the biological to the inorganic. … The brain alone is not responsible for mind, even though it is a necessary organ for its manifestation.2

Years later philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994) and neuroscientist John Eccles (1903-1997) devised a similar notion that the three worlds of mind, brain, and culture are indispensably necessary. For Popper and Eccles, mind programs the brain to evolve culture which in turn stimulates mental development in a feedback loop.3 While Huxley agreed with Teilhard’s view of humanistic evolution, as a secular biologist he could not agree with supernatural elements in Teilhard’s theology. Huxley nevertheless concluded his affirmation of Teilhard’s contribution writing that,

With his conception of mankind as at the same time an unfinished product of past evolution and an agency of distinctive evolution to come … [Teilhard] wanted to deal with the entire human phenomenon, as a transcendence of biological by psychosocial evolution.4

Furthermore, Huxley summarized Teilhard’s paradigm shift in evolutionary understanding with the comments,

Through his combination of wide scientific knowledge with deep religious feeling and a rigorous set of values, [Teilhard] hasforced theologians to view their beliefs in the new perspective of evolution, and scientists to see the spiritual implications of their knowledge. … In the light of that new comprehension, it is no longer possible to maintain that science and religion must operate in thought-tight compartments. … The religiously minded can no longer turn their backs upon the natural world… nor can the materialistically-minded deny importance to spiritual experience and religious feeling.5

Before exploring extensions of Teilhard’s thought in such fields as quantum physics, neuroscience, and depth psychology, I review Teilhard’s thinking about the universe and the emergence of human consciousness, or noogenesis.

Teilhard’s Concepts of Noogenesis and Carl Jung on Individuation
In his magnum opus The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard asks, “How could we imagine a cosmogenesis reaching right up to mind without being confronted with a noogenesis? … Man discovers that he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself, to borrow Julian Huxley’s striking expression.”6 In less technical terms, cosmogenesis denotes the evolution of the cosmos while noogenesis is a more specific term referring to the unfolding of a global membrane of consciousness connecting all human beings. Teilhard posits that because humankind possesses reflective consciousness, we are responsible for the future direction of the evolving culture, science, and religion of an embodied spirituality.

For Teilhard the Omega point is the time-space in which the psycho-spiritual and cultural evolution are consummated. Teilhard’s views concerning the ultimate destination of noogenesis regards the reducibility of psyche or mind to purely material processes in the brain and the entropy of a final death and disintegration of the noosphere as potentially fatal to the achievement of the final unity of matter and consciousness that he called the Omega point. For Teilhard, purpose and direction in evolution are necessary to its consummation in the Omega point. His views are expressed in the following passage:

The radical defect in all forms of belief in progress, as they are expressed in positivist credos, is that they do not definitely eliminate death. What is the use of detecting a focus of any sort in the van of evolution if that focus can and must one day disintegrate? To satisfy the ultimate requirements of our action, Omega must be independent of the collapse of forces with which evolution is woven.7

Teilhard expresses the same view in The Future of Man. He rejects the Marxist notion of a culmination of anthropogenesis in an eventual state of collective reflection and participation in which the individual becomes one with the whole social system. He wrote, “A world culminating in the Impersonal can bring us neither the warmth of attraction nor the hope of irreversibility (immortality) without which individual egotism will always have the last word.”8

Rather than being subsumed into it, individual identity is enhanced through active participation in an archetypal cosmic order or evolutionary process. In Teilhard’s thought, this is participation in the emergence of the noosphere from cosmogenesis. Teilhard summarizes his reflections in The Phenomenon of Man with statements such as, “I adopt the supposition that our noosphere is destined to close in upon itself in isolation, and that it is in a psychical rather than a spatial direction that it will find an outlet, without need to leave or overflow the earth.”9 His vision of the future of humankind is expressed in a succinct passage:

… mankind, taken as a whole, will be obliged . . . to reflect upon itself at a single point; that is to say, in this case, to abandon its organo-planetary foothold so as to shift its centre to the transcendent centre of its increasing concentration… The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind,fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforward rest with all its weight on God-Omega.10

These ideas are similar to Carl Jung’s notion of a continuing incarnation of God especially in human psychic development through individual and collective human encounters with numinous, unconscious archetypes outlined in his Collected Works. Carl Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss psychiatrist who broke from his Austrian teacher, Sigmund Freud, founded the fields of Analytical and Archetypal Psychology. He developed the notion of individuation through encounter with the unconscious and with numinous archetypes of the Self and the God-Image. His notion of the collective unconscious and the archetypes as cosmic ordering and regulating principles reject materialist and collectivist Marxism, and depart from the overly rational position of Freud. Rather, Jung’s thought is sympathetic to Teilhard’s concepts of noosphere, noogenesis, and Omega. As well, Jung and Teilhard converge on the nature of complementarity between mind and matter. According to Jung, individuation

is the development of the psychological individual as distinct from the general collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having as its goal the development of the individual personality. Individuation is a natural necessity inasmuch as its prevention by leveling down to collective standards is injurious to the vital activity of the individual.11

In Jungian depth psychology, symbols represent unconscious archetypes which are timeless, cosmic ordering, and regulating principles. Jung’s archetype of the Self or Imago Dei (God image) is distinctly numinous in character and associated with religious or mystical feelings. This archetype can be understood as corresponding to Teilhard’s God-Omega point in cosmology and evolution. In Jungian archetypal psychology, the unconscious not only transcends space-time,12 it is also co-extensive with the cosmos itself as was Teilhard’s notion of extended mind and reflective consciousness through which the existence of the universe is revealed to itself. These reflections on the relationships between Teilhard’s religious cosmology and Jung’s psychology also bring into focus ideas in physics that explore relationships between mind and matter.

The Implicate Order of Bohm, Jung’s Collective Unconscious, and Teilhard on Psychic Evolution
David Bohm (1917-1992) was a physicist, student of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), and a colleague of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). In his later published work, Bohm evolved a concept of mind co-extensive with the universe that closely resembled formulations by other physicists, psychologists, and such religious thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin. Among Bohm’s contributions to the exploration of reality was an understanding of consciousness as a coherent whole. In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980), Bohm writes “The vast unconscious background of explicit consciousness and ultimately, unknowable depths of inwardness are analogous to the sea of energy which fills the sensibly perceived empty space.”13 In his final work, The Undivided Universe (1993), Bohm expressed the insight that “active information served as the bridge between the mental and the physical.”14

Bohm’s concept of active information as a bridge between mind and matter is remarkably similar and perhaps synchronous with emerging notions of unconscious archetypes as cosmic ordering and regulating principles. These insights provide the basis of an argument for a complementarity of mind and matter. Bohm clearly adopted a dual-aspect monist notion of the mental and the physical being complementary though irreducible to one another, while rejecting reductionism of either an idealist or materialist nature. Like other scientists of his day, he explored a position different from, but resonant with, panpsychism and panexperientialism as well as Teilhard’s concepts of noogenesis and psychogenesis. Bohm’s dual aspect concept of extended mind represents a rejection of a purely monist materialist explanation of the nature of reality.

More controversially perhaps, Bohm like Teilhard proposed human participation in “a greater collective Mind in principle capable of going indefinitely beyond even the human species as a whole.”15 Such collective mind is analogous to Jung’s view of the unconscious psyche and the archetypes.

Bohm summarized his position concerning the role of the observer in this way:

There is no need to regard the observer as basically separate from what he sees nor to reduce him to an epiphenomenon of the objective process. More broadly one could say that, through the human being, the universe has created a mirror to observe itself.16

Such reflections on mind not only represent a position different from metaphysical materialism; they also refute the argument that God is a delusion. In a perspective illuminated by the insights of Jung and Bohm, Teilhard predicted that humanity not only participates in a numinous dimension but also participates in cocreative divinization by directing the future evolution of the biosphere and the noosphere. Teilhard held that the ultimate nature of evolution is psychic. He refers to the “primordial psychism of the first cells”17 and to its completion as “a divine focus of mind.”18 Such an evolution no longer rests on the natural selection of purely random mutations; rather, it has been transformed into a psychosocial or cultural evolution directed by the individual and collective reflective consciousness of humanity. These insights also relate to the work of Wolfgang Pauli on the role of the human observer.

>> Teilhard and Other Modern Thinkers on Evolution, Mind, and Matter (part II)



1 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans. Bernard Wall (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1959), 11.

2 Ibid., 16-17.

3 Popper, K. R. and J. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983).

4 Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenon of Man, 24. 5 Ibid., 26.
6 Ibid., 221.
7 Ibid., 270.

8 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man (London: William Collins and 17

Sons, 1964), 287.

9 Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenon of Man, 287.

10 Ibid., 287-88.
11 C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, vol. 6 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 448.

12 See for instance C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion, vol. 11 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).

13 David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order (London: Routledge, 1980), 267.

14 David Bohm, The Undivided Universe (London: Routledge, 2002), 386.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid., 389.

17 Teilhard de Chardin, Phenomenon of Man, 166.

18 Ibid., 271.


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