It’s a constant theme these days: Where is technology taking us? Are we heading towards greatness, or just hyperconnected collapse? This challenge was foreseen a century ago by the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
A world-renowned paleontologist, he helped verify fossil evidence of human evolution. As a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, he penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence; that a meaningful vision of the earth and the universe would have to include, as he put it, “the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.”
The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. It’s up to us. Some enlightening conversations about this man with Teilhard de Chardin biographer Ursula King, New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.
Read more and hear the unedited interviews for "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution" on the On Being website.
Q:Can someone at On Being recommend a good book to start reading the works of Teilhard de Chardin? I was transfixed by this show! Thank you!
Most definitely! There are two books I’d definitely recommend reading.
The first is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings Selected. It’s edited by the religious scholar Ursula King, who is a guest voice in our podcast on "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution."
This book is a good introduction to Teilhard’s spiritual thinking and biographical notes. Ms. King writes a beautiful summary at the beginning that gets at the heart of Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality, which “creatively welds together science, religion, and mysticism in one unifying synthesis.”
Ms. King doesn’t just write about him and selectively quote from his writings. This is a good thing. She pulls healthy sections from some of his most notable works — including Writings in a Time of War, The Divine Milieu, Heart of Matter, and The Phenomenon of Man — which allow you to imbibe the sensibility of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his own words. The translations are passionate and very readable, thank goodness, because we’ve come across other translations will make you feel like you’re eating week-old bread with nothing to wash it down.
I’d also recommend reading Amir Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull. Mr. Aczel is a superb storyteller and popularizer of great scientific minds and finds. For devotees of Teilhard, Mr. Aczel may not do enough, but his focus on the French Jesuit’s role in the discovery of Peking Man in 1929 gives the reader a sense of Teilhard as scientist who is trying to reconcile his religious beliefs with those of the Catholic Church.
Teilhard de Chardin’s struggle is at the heart of Aczel’s book. It’s an adventure story too, trotting the reader all over the globe, introducing us to countries and cultures of the day that speak to our own ongoing wrestling match about evolution.
Whereas, Ms. King’s compilation will force you to read slowly, think deeply, and savor Teilhard’s passionate langue and ideas, The Jesuit and the Skull lets you buzz through with a liveliness and vitality of a good summer vacation exploration.
Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"The human is matter at its most incendiary stage."
~Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955)
Where is technology taking us? Are we heading towards greatness, or just hyper-connected collapse? This challenge was foreseen a century ago by Teilhard de Chardin.
A world-renowned paleontologist, he helped verify fossil evidence of human evolution. A Jesuit priest and philosopher, he penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence, that a meaningful vision of the Earth and the universe would have to include “the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.”
The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. It’s up to us. Krista Tippett visits with Teilhard de Chardin’s biographer Ursula King, and we experience his ideas energizing New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.
Plate tectonics. Intentional community. Human frailty as an essential quality of our evolution. This interview with French geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon will move you in ways you didn’t think possible. He’s got a way of bringing his science into his personal life that’s instructive for us all.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good? Are we built to pledge our lives to a group, even to the risk of death, or the opposite, built to place ourselves and our families above all else? Scientific evidence, a good part of it accumulated during the past 20 years, suggests that we are all of these things simultaneously. Each of us is inherently complicated. We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners — not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal — but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution. …
The eternal conflict is not God’s test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out. It might be the only way in the entire universe that human-level intelligence and social organization can evolve. We will find a way eventually to live with our inborn turmoil, and perhaps find pleasure in viewing it as a primary source of our creativity.
—E.O. Wilson, from his New York Times Opinionator post “Evolution and Our Inner Conflict”
Definitely worth a read, especially if you have never heard of the competing theories of kin selection and multilevel selection being battled out by evolutionary biologists.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Science of Storytelling
by Colleen Scheck, APM producer
Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel "Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance," anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it?
That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel "Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative." While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.
The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?
In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.
What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?
(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)
Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.
Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.
SOF Live! Krista in Conversation with Robert Wright
February 2nd, 2010 ~ 7:00–8:30 pm CST
Cowles Auditorium, University of Minnesota HHH Institute (get directions)
» watch online | » RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be live-streaming video of Krista’s interview with New York Times best-selling author, Robert Wright. He’s the author of The Evolution of God, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, The Moral Animal, and Three Scientists and Their Gods. Professor Michael Barnett will moderate the question-and-answer session with our in-house and online audiences. The program will be followed by a reception in the Humphrey Center atrium.
We will start broadcasting video of the event at 6:45 pm CST, 15 minutes before the start of the interview. If you plan to attend in person, please RSVP by sending an email to email@example.com. There’s a hard start time of 7 pm for this event. And, please stop by and say hello!