Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Notes for a quadriformist manifesto — #2: toward socialism in one sector?

TIMN is not a theory that favors socialism. But it has positive implications for people who do advocate socialism.

For years Bernie Sanders, and lately Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have advocated socialism, giving it new standing in our political milieu. Ocasio-Cortez has even joined the Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.). Yet, what the two mean by socialism is fairly mild, far more à la Franklin Delano Roosevelt than Karl Marx. The social policies they tout — e.g., Medicare for all, free college tuition — are controversial but not at all unusual. The same goes for their economic proposals to benefit working-class families (e.g., raise minimum wages, regulate Wall Street).

Thus their approach to socialism is reformist, not revolutionary. Yet they, like other Americans who favor more socialism, still view it in fairly traditional ideological terms: as a government-led system that would span all sectors of society, emphasizing public-sector solutions to policy problems, while curtailing capitalism and its emphasis on private-sector solutions, all in order to reduce America’s mounting class disparities and inequities.

The prospect that Americans would shift from believing in capitalism to believing in socialism disorients most Democrats and alarms all Republicans. But that’s because all these proponents and opponents of socialist ideas are reacting in old triformist (T+I+M) terms, where policy solutions must fall to either the public or the private sector, or get tossed down to burden families and communities. Capitalism and socialism are seen as contradictory, incompatible. That’s the entrenched triformist way. It doesn’t leave much room for maneuver and choice in a society so advanced and complicated as America’s.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Quadriformism (T+I+M+N) points to a new way. TIMN’s view of social evolution foresees a new/next sector emerging: a +N sector. It will take form alongside the established public (+I) and private (+M) sectors. It will function to address and solve problems that the triform system has created but is no longer suited to fixing well. And it will bring a coming-together of its own distinctive activities and actors. That’s what occurred when tribes (T) gave way to states (+I), and then states had to allow room for markets and market actors (+M). Each new combination became progressively more efficient and effective than the old. The same strategic dynamics, spread over centuries, will now reoccur with the rise and maturation of the network form (+N) in the decades ahead.

Right now, this new sector remains inchoate, barely noticeable, rather in keeping with William Gibson’s saying that “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Best I can tell, it will be a “commons sector” (or “social sector”) that assembles together a variety of currently-dispersed efforts to find new ways to address and resolve America’s most complex social problems — notably, health, education, welfare, the environment, and related types of insurance. If so, these activities will eventually migrate (and be migrated) out of the public and private sectors and coalesce into a networked (+N) commons sector, It will operate differently from the other sectors, probably as a set of non-profits, cooperatives, trusts, platforms, and other associations committed to serving the common good, separate from but in cooperation with existing familial (T), public (+I), and private (+M) sectors. This new sector will be about the “assurances” (not “entitlements”) that an advanced quadriform society can and should warrant for the wellbeing and progress of its people.

Such an evolution could be viewed as spelling socialism in one sector, the +N sector. It would not mean socialism across all sectors, nor for a society in its entirety. And it would not be the kind of anti-capitalist economy-centered socialism that Marxists have traditionally sought. But it would still amount to a strong dose of a kind of socialism in one sector.

This may well pose jarring ideological challenges for both the Left and the Right, at least at first. Politicians and others on the Right may react that such a pro-socialist outcome would jeopardize America’s traditions of capitalism and individualism. What they may not see is that creating a quadriform system should lead to healthier families and communities, a smaller, less burdened government, and a freer, more efficient market system — key goals of most conservatives.

At the same time, politicians and others of the Left may object that this outcome would leave capitalism relatively intact, since the market system and private sector would still exist. They may also have to undertake a theoretical rethinking, for this outcome would not be consistent with standard Marxist concepts for analyzing the present and pondering the future — concepts that are mostly economic, relying on language about capital, labor, class struggle, etc. What they may not initially grasp is that the presence of a strong commons sector would benefit working-class families above all, while also generating pressures to condense and clean up the old public and private sectors.

Advocacy of a quadriform system with a commons (or other kind of +N) sector would pose ideological challenges for theorists on both the Right and the Left in yet another sense. From what I’ve seen, hard-core ideologues on both sides tend to call for one TIMN form or another to dominate much of policymaking if not the whole of society. This is contrary to TIMN theory.

Examples on the Right include anarcho-capitalists and libertarians who want the market form to prevail and government to shrink. Also apropos are religious extremists who want Biblical prophecy and doctrine to dominate in ways that may lead to theocratic tribalism. Many may also prefer plutocracy over democracy, another distortion contrary to TIMN’s best principles. The Right has much farther to travel than the Left before grasping the potential benefits of quadriformism.

On the Left, there are still some doctrinaire beliefs that capitalism should be eliminated, the state should wither, and people should return to a neo-tribal condition — all contrary to TIMN. More pertinent and realistic are progressive efforts to theorize what reforms America needs, what it’s next system(s) should look like. But most of these efforts keep dwelling on how to alter if not replace capitalism — very few sense the prospects for a commons sector. The ones that do — notably the pro-commons P2P movement — have many parallels to TIMN. But they have much grander expectations about who and what may belong in a commons sector, and how far society as a whole should be dominated by commons principles. The idea of “socialism in one sector” — or, “commonism in one sector” (yes, commonism, not communism) — would not fully saisfy their theoretical stance(s), as I presently understand them.

In contrast, TIMN theory illuminates that societies work best when each form functions within its limits, and all forms are kept in balance vis à vis each other, their bright sides dominating their dark sides, with no single form dominating the others. All four forms are crucial. TIMN is thus essentially about limits and balances, about the combination of forms. It thus depends on leaders who can articulate the importance of those limits and balances, the importance of proper combinations. The rise of leaders who call for any single TIMN form to prevail over the others is an ominous sign — utopian monoformism of a tribal, institutional, market, or even new network variety is often a sign of decay that leads to disarray, not to mention dictatorship.

In sum, for all the foregoing reasons, politicians who advocate a turn to socialism, such as Sanders and Ocasio-Perez, would be well advised to cease calling for socialism in society-wide terms, and instead call for socialism in one sector — a sector whose emergence they could assist, and whose design should ultimately appeal to conservatives as well as progressives.

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section III for new paper

III. Implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik

The foregoing points about the noosphere, some nearly a century old, have implications for framing noopolitik in our era. We intend for the development of noopolitik to reflect a keen, clear grasp of the noosphere concept, particularly along the following lines:
  • The noosphere remains a scientific and spiritual concept. It arose from revolutions in thinking about science and evolution, about complexity and consciousness, about the importance of cooperation as well as conflict and competition, about whole systems and self-organization, and about how the world is becoming evermore interconnected and interdependent. It makes knowledge and reason — the expansion of the mind — crucial for humanity to attain its planetary potential and address matters that require systemic holistic analyses and answers.
  • The noosphere has become a visionary political concept as well. But it is not a fantastic utopian idea. It’s an evolutionary “protopian” idea — which means expecting “progress in an incremental way where every year it's better than the year before but not by very much” (Shermer, 2015; Kelly, 2011). Accordingly, the noosphere concept is very much about anticipating and shaping what lies ahead, with a sense of grounded realism as well as hopeful idealism. It is about living within the permissible limits of the biosphere, in part by recognizing and attending to the effects of human activity, so that the biosphere and noosphere are kept in a mutually-beneficial balance. Thus the noosphere concept offers an engaging positive vision of the future; its proponents believe its emergence is the key to the future of humanity.
  • The noosphere concept is embedded with value orientations that its originators deemed best for protecting the biosphere and creating the noosphere. It means to favor views that are ethical and ecumenical, that seek harmony and mutual goodwill, that value freedom and justice, pluralism and democracy. It calls for the world and its cultures to be open and inclusive, in ways that foster unity and variety, a collective spirit as well as individuality — all in order to foster an “inter-thinking humanity”. It is a pro-humanity, anti-war concept. As Moiseev said, “entering the age of the noosphere requires the practical reconstruction of the worldwide order and the establishment of a new thinking, a new scale of values and a new morality.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 171)
  • From the beginning, the noosphere’s emergence has been a function of revolutionary advances in information and communications technologies across the centuries. A more recent point, increasingly important for the future, is that the noosphere’s growth is also a function of the development and distribution of all sorts of sensory apparatuses that will enable what McLuhan aptly called an “externalization of senses”. This revolution in networked sensory technologies is in early phases, and its maturation will surely prove transformative for the noosphere’s growth, perhaps especially for civil-society NGOs.
  • The noosphere concept carries a set of standards for strategy. This is clearest if strategy is understood not only as an art of relating ends, ways, and means, but also as an art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages. Then, valuing the noosphere strategically means thinking and acting in global/planetary ways (spatially), while minding long-range future end-stakes (temporally), and creating new means or forms of agency to shape problems and opportunities at all scales (actionally).
  • Indeed, the noosphere concept, like the biosphere concept, has long implied an end to Westphalian realpolitik-type thinking that nation-states are the most important actors and that material factors matter most. Now, in the information age, other actors and factors increasingly matter more. Reflecting this, proponents of the noosphere helped inspire the establishment of “noospheric institutions” such as the United Nations and UNESCO, as well as Green Cross International, and a range of activist civil-society NGOs (Samson & Pitt, p. 184-185). The time may come, as we propose in Section VI, when aspects and/or parts of the noosphere are defined as belonging to the “global commons” (and vice-versa).
All these points about the noosphere apply to our vision of noopolitik. In a grand sense, the purpose of noopolitik is to prepare the way advantageously for the age of the noosphere, while also protecting the biosphere and geosphere. In a more practical sense, our early definition of noopolitik still reads well, even in light of our updated analysis of the noosphere concept:
“In sum, noöpolitik is an approach to diplomacy and strategy for the information age that emphasizes the shaping and sharing of ideas, values, norms, laws, and ethics through soft power. Noöpolitik is guided more by a conviction that right makes for might, than the obverse. Both state and non–state actors may be guided by noöpolitik; but rather than being state–centric, its strength may well stem from enabling state and non–state actors to work conjointly. The driving motivation of noöpolitik cannot be national interests defined in statist terms. National interests will still play a role, but should be defined more in society–wide than state–centric terms and be fused with broader, even global, interests in enhancing the transnationally networked “fabric” in which the players are embedded. While realpolitik tends to empower states, noöpolitik will likely empower networks of state and non–state actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noöpolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks. In all these respects, noöpolitik contrasts with realpolitik.” (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999; Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007)
While all this implies that the noosphere begs for strategic thinking, we’ve seen arguments that a key component of the noosphere, cyberspace, is “ill-suited for grand strategic theories” — the challenges it poses and the technologies it rests on are said to be changing too rapidly and uncertainly for such thinking, at least for the time being (Libicki, 2014, p. 33). Do such arguments also apply to the noosphere? We think not. By comparison, the noosphere is a more complex, vastly larger, indeed cyberspace-encompassing “space” — and it too is evolving uncertainly, if perhaps less rapidly. And the noosphere is even more difficult to pin down than cyberspace. Yet, our view, along with the views of others we discussed above, is that the noosphere does require grand strategic thinking. In our case, that means advancing the concept of noopolitik.

Besides, let’s notice that U.S. strategy has long aimed to “assure access to and use of the global commons” — its sea, air, and space domains — and cyber has lately been added to that set of domains (Denmark & Mulvenon, 2010; Jasper, 2012). Thus, cyberspace now seems increasingly headed for grand strategic theorizing. It makes sense to expect the noosphere, in at least some respects, to eventually be deemed part of the global commons. Starting to see the noosphere from a global-commons perspective may even help with framing and specifying what noopolitik is all about, as we further discuss in Section VI.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section II for new paper

II. Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades

The spread of the noosphere concept from the 1920s to the 1990s was well-documented in the impressive wide-ranging collection by Paul Samson & David Pitt (eds.),‎ The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998). As the editors state, “The noosphere concept captures a number of key contemporary issues — social evolution, global ecology, Gaia, deep ecology and global environmental change — contributing to ongoing debates concerning the implications of emerging technologies such as human-created biospheres and the Internet.” Their book’s excerpts provide “the central ideas and key writings of many prominent thinkers”, including Teilhard, Vernadsky, and Le Roy — the original coiners of the term — along with admirers and interpreters Henri Bergson, Julian Huxley, Arnold Toynbee, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Rafal Serafin, Marshall McLuhan, Theodosius Dobhzansky, Dorion Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Boulding, and Nikita Moiseev, among others. Plus Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote the book’s Foreword.

When we first published about noopolitik in 1999, the noosphere idea was attracting evermore interest and adherents. Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia thesis” were derived partly from Teilhard’s ideas. Cyberspace and Wired magazine guru John Perry Barlow was claiming that “The point of all evolution to this stage is to create a collective organism of mind. With cyberspace, we are essentially hardwiring the noosphere.” And scholar-activist Elise Boulding was foreseeing a “many-layered map of the world” à la Teilhard, consisting of the geosphere, biosphere, and a “sociosphere” (families, communities, nation-states, international organizations, and “the peoples’ layer” of NGOs), and atop all that the noosphere. In her view the noosphere consisted of “the sum total of all the thoughts generated in the sociosphere.” Indeed, “[t]he more we can involve ourselves in the networks that give us access to that envelope, the more we can contribute to the emergence of that [global civic] culture.” (Sources: see our 1999 study.)

Boulding’s writings in particular showed that the noosphere concept was gaining resonance and credibility among transnational civil-society actors, more than among government and commercial actors. We still believe it is time for the latter to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age stems, more than ever, from the ability of government and market actors to work conjointly with networked civil-society actors.

Later, when we wrote our update in 2007, we found we were not alone in predicting that the information age would affect grand strategy and diplomacy so thoroughly that a new concept was going to emerge. David Rothkopf urged that “the realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power.” David Bollier favored Netpolitik to name “a new style of diplomacy that seeks to exploit the powerful capabilities of the Internet to shape politics, culture, values, and personal identity.” Europeans prefered infopolitik as the term for a new era of public diplomacy based on “proactive international communication” and “the projection of free and unbiased information.” None of these alternative terms has taken hold; but at the very least they have helped advance the sense that something new was in the making. (Sources: see our 2007 article.)

Today, in 2018, the noosphere concept has still not gone mainstream, but recognition and validation have kept growing. One significant supportive venue is the website Edge, which consults a rich variety of leading thinkers around the world in order to compile answers to Edge’s Annual Question. Regarding the 2010 Annual Question “How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi replied:
“The development of cooperative sites ranging from Wikipedia to open-source software (and including Edge?) makes the thought process more public, more interactive, more transpersonal, resulting in something similar to what Teilhard de Chardin anticipated over half a century ago as the "Noosphere", or a global consciousness that he saw as the next step in human evolution.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2010)
And, to the 2017 Annual Question “What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be Better Known?” historian David Christian replied that
“The idea of the “Noösphere,” or “the sphere of mind,” emerged early in the 20th century. It flourished for a while, then vanished. It deserves a second chance. … Freed of the taint of vitalism, the idea of a Noösphere can help us get a better grip on the Anthropocene world of today.” (Christian, 2017)
Scientists who are clustered around The Evolution Institute, though mostly interested in analyzing social issues and social evolution from a Darwinian perspective, occasionally show an interest in examining the relationships between science and spirituality. One conference in particular (see Wilson et al., 2015) led to scattered positive remarks about Teilhard’s noosphere idea. Accordingly, this idea is “why the current intersection of science and spirituality explored in this roundtable is so exciting and qualifies as a genuinely new synthesis.” The conference included an unusual mix of evolutionary scientists and spiritual visionaries, a few holding New-Age beliefs about “conscious evolution” — a rather Teilhardian notion.

Meanwhile, former New York Times blogger, environmentalist Andrew Revkin (2012) cleverly called attention to the concept by referring to it as the “knowosphere” (and “no(w)osphere”). Moreover, pro-commons P2P theorist and Kosmos contributor James Quilligan (2010) included the noosphere, along with the biosphere and physiosphere, in his layout of “the global commons” — criticizing “the Market State” for creating contradictions and then proposing that
“Today’s global superbubble is the result of deep structural imbalances between economic ideology and policy (noosphere), and environment and labor (biosphere) and physical resources (physiosphere). The challenge is to assemble international representatives from all regions and sectors to discuss global commons issues in a negotiating format which integrates these three streams of evolution.”
Elsewhere, psychologist Roger Nelson led the unusual, controversial, and inconclusive “Global Consciousness Project” (GCP; 1998-2015) at Princeton University, as “an international collaboration of researchers interested in the possibility that we can detect faint glimmerings of a coalescing layer of intelligence for the earth, what Teilhard de Chardin called the Noosphere” (Nelson, 2002). Mostly a parapsychology experiment, it deployed engineering devices around the world to try to detect whether a collective consciousness might be forming in response to major world events (e.g., 9/11). According to Nelson (2002), “Suggestions like those made in many intellectual and cultural traditions, that there is an Earth consciousness, appear to have a modicum of scientific support in the GCP results … and that we may be interconnected on a grand scale by consciousness fields.” Not exactly the kind of validation we are looking for, but it does provide another recent piece evincing interest in a “realm of the mind.” (See noosphere.princeton.edu and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Consciousness_Project)

Lately, DARPA (2017) has shown interest in discussing the matter, having organized an event whose objectives included the following agenda item: “Noosphere: Create, measure, and model foundational questions regarding humans, human-machine interactions, and society: For example, are there new approaches to ‘computation’ based on human or animal social or cognitive processes and how might we understand them? We are also discussing how human perception might be a tool in modern conflict resolution.”

Far away, as a result of Vladimir Vernadsky’s early work on the biosphere and noosphere (as well as “noocracy”), plus Alexey Eryomin’s later work on noogenesis and Nikita Moiseev’s work on the noosphere, not to mention Mikhail Gorbachev’s interest in these matters, noos-related concepts have grown in stature in Russia more than has been recognized. They continue to flourish in sub-groups within the Russian Academy of Sciences, notably the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, and the Institute for the Scientific Research and Investigation of Cosmic Anthropoecology. Russians also lead the Noosphere Spiritual Ecological World Assembly (NSEWA), which holds periodic conferences that attract New-Age believers from around the world, notably Jose Arguelles, author of Manifesto for the Noosphere: The Next Stage in the Evolution of Human Consciousness (2011). Other spin-offs from Vernadsky’s thinking include the Galactic Research Institute (GRI) and its Foundation for the Law of Time (GRI-FLT), along with an online activity it organized in 2012, the First Noosphere World Forum. These (and other) New-Age activities may not matter for thinking about American information strategy and diplomacy, but they do indicate the influences that Vernadsky and his Russian scientist colleagues have had not only in Russia but also in odd circuits around the world. (See lawoftime.org and noosphereforum.org).

Lately, extending Vernadsky’s influence and recalling the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, Russian eclectic Anton Vaino co-invented and touted the “nooscope” during 2011-2012 as “a device that records changes in the noosphere” — and as “the first device of its kind that allows for the study of humanity’s collective mind” (Stanley, 2016; Hartshorn, 2016). If fully operationalized, it would deploy a complex system of “sensory networks” around the world to collect data and scan activities in seven areas: the business sphere, market conscience, the infrastructure of human life support systems, technogeneous catastrophes, natural disasters, special-purpose layers, and collective consciousness. Vaino’s influence and the nooscope idea’s purpose and status are unclear. But, curiously, Vladimir Putin appointed him Chief of Staff in 2016, a position he holds today in 2018. This has aroused speculations about whether Putin’s ideas for a “Third Way” and “managed democracy” may now mean imposing a “noocracy” — Plato’s term for “rule of the wise” that Vernadsky reiterated, but applied in mind-manipulating authoritarian Russian ways. (Elsewhere, see the “noomap” start-up at noomap.info)

Actually, throughout history every expansion in interpersonal communications and connectivity has led to new notions that a collective, even global consciousness might be taking shape. The noosphere is but one of many concepts for grasping this. Significant 19th C. precursors were Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s “objective Spirit,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Over–Soul,” and Emile Durkheim’s “collective consciousness”. The early 20th C. brought Henri Bergson’s “creative evolution,” Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious,” and H. G. Well’s “world brain.” In the late 20th C., ideas multiplied that collective intelligence, global consciousness, a global brain, and/or a global mind may awaken from the growth of cyberspace and the Internet. These ideas included, as noted earlier, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia”. These developments also enlarged the possibilities for Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” to form in new ways, apart from physical territory and nation — sometimes taking dark shape, as in the Islamist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri’s notion of the “virtual caliphate” (Lia, 2009). A recent manifestation is the concept of the Anthropocene epoch. Making matters more nebulous and mysterious, philosophers interested in consciousness and quantum dynamics have lately proposed “panpsychism” and “cosmopsychism”, implying a collective consciousness that goes well beyond Durkheim’s original formulation (Goff, 2017, 2018).

These alternatives aside, we favor the noosphere concept — it provides the best grounding for thinking about policy and strategy in the information age. Indeed, what Samson and Pitt wrote in their Epilogue in The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader (1998) two decades ago still makes timely sense for public policy dialogue,:
“Once again, we are faced with two questions: in what direction does public opinion want the noosphere to go and in which directions is the noosphere capable of going? Practically speaking, and in today’s world, this translates into asking how the noosphere can be applied to help to solve problems in such areas as environment, health, poverty, violence and inequality.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 181)
With a few word substitutions, their two questions may make sense to pose about noopolitik as well: In what directions do/will international security strategists want noopolitik to go? And in what directions is noopolitik capable of going? To those and other questions we turn next.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Section I for new paper

I. The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution

For discussing information-based realms, the grandest, most abstract, and so far least favored term is the noosphere. This term, from the Greek word noos, meaning “the mind,” was coined — whether separately or collectively is unclear — by French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, along with French mathematician Edouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, in Paris in 1922. They were already familiar with the terms “geosphere” and “biosphere”, long in use, and innovatively decided that the planet would next evolve a noosphere. The idea spread in Europe and America following Teilhard’s posthumous publications in the 1950s-1960s, and in Russia following Vernadsky’s return there in the 1920s-1930s.

Our earlier writings credited only Teilhard. We did not know about Vernadsky (nor Le Roy, who left few writings behind). So we slightly expand here on our past discussion of Teilhard, then provide a new discussion about Vernadsky, followed by some comparative remarks. We also add important points from Le Roy’s perspective. Most helpful for doing so was our reading of Paul R. Samson & David Pitt (eds.),‎ The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998). It contained extracts from Vernadsky’s and Le Roy’s writings that were previously unavailable to us.

Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere

In Teilhard’s view — especially as expressed in The Phenomenon of Man ([1955] 1965) and The Future of Man ([1959] 1964) — the world first evolved a global geosphere and next a biosphere. Now that people are communicating on global scales, the world is starting to create a noosphere — what he variously describes as a globe-circling “realm of the mind,” a “thinking circuit,” “a new layer, the ‘thinking layer’,” a “stupendous thinking machine,” a “thinking envelope” full of fibers and networks, a “planetary mind” and “consciousness”, where Earth “finds its soul.” According to Teilhard, in a metaphor he favored,
“The idea is that of the earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the sidereal scale, the plurality of individual reflections grouping themselves together and reinforcing one another in the act of a single unanimous reflection.” (1965, pp. 250-251).
In the 1964 edition’s Introduction, Julian Huxley further defines Teilhard’s concept as a “web of living thought” and “a common pool of thought”. He also praises Teilhard for advancing “a threefold synthesis — of the material and 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.” And he clarifies that “we should consider inter-thinking humanity as a new type of organism, whose destiny it is to realise new possibilities for evolving life on this planet.”

According to Teilhard, then, forces of the mind — first “psychogenesis” and then “noogenesis” — have been creating “grains of thought” and other pieces of the noosphere for ages, while increases in social complexity and human consciousness have laid further groundwork for the noosphere’s emergence. Now the noosphere may finally be achieving a global presence, and its varied “compartments” and “cultural units” are beginning to fuse. As Teilhard puts it, equating cultures with species, “cultural units are for the noosphere the mere equivalent and the true successors of zoological species in the biosphere.” Eventually, a synthesis will occur in which peoples of different nations, races, and cultures will give rise to “unheard-of and unimaginable degrees of organised complexity and of reflexive consciousness” that is planetary in scope (a “mono-culturation”), arising without people losing their personal identity and individuality.

Fully realized, the noosphere will raise mankind to a higher evolutionary plane, one shaped by a collective coordination of psychosocial and spiritual energies and by a devotion to moral, ethical, religious, juridical, and aesthetic principles. However, he counsels, “No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise”. Moreover, he warns that the transition may not be smooth — a “paroxysm,” a global tremor and possibly an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere.

Although Teilhard’s concept is essentially spiritual, and far less technological than cyberspace or the infosphere, he identified increased communications as a catalyst. Nothing like the Internet existed in his time. Yet he sensed (1964) that 1950s-era radio and television systems were already starting to “link us all in a sort of ‘etherized’ universal consciousness,” and someday “astonishing electronic computers” would give mankind new tools for thinking. Today, he is occasionally credited with anticipating the Internet, as well as the idea of the Anthropocene age. (Sources: Teilhard, 1964, pp. 162, 175–181, 200–4, 235, 303; Teilhard, 1965, pp. 287–290; Teilhard, in Samson & Pitt, 1998, p. 77)

Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere

Vernadsky’s views in some ways parallel, but also differ from Teilhard’s — Vernadsky’s are much more materialist, in spots more mystical, yet less spiritual (Vernadsky was an atheist). Like Teilhard, he too held that Earth first evolved a geosphere, then a biosphere — and a noosphere would be next. Indeed, he wrote the first book on The Biosphere (in 1926), in which he treated the spread of life as an essentially geological force.

In his landmark paper, “New Scientific Knowledge and the Transition from the Biosphere to the Noösphere” (1938), Vernadsky argued that increases and changes in the nature of “biogeophysical energy” — owing to a progression of inventions from fire-making, to agriculture, to modern communications technologies, etc. — explain the planetary spread of the biosphere and the coming emergence of a noosphere. In his words, “This new form of biogeochemical energy, which might be called the energy of human culture or cultural biogeochemical energy, is that form of biogeochemical energy, which creates at the present time the noösphere” (p. 16). This kind of energy, he wrote, lay behind the development of the human mind and reason itself; and it will lead “ultimately to the transformation of the biosphere into the noösphere, first and foremost, through the creation and growth of the scientific understanding of our surroundings” (p. 20).

Vernadsky went on to say that the creation of the noosphere has “proceeded apace, ever increasing in tempo” during the “last five to seven thousand years” despite “interruptions continually diminishing in duration” (p. 29). He evidently expects “the unity of the noosphere” to bring “a planned unified activity for the mastery of nature and a just distribution of wealth associated with a consciousness of the unity and equality of all peoples”. But while it is “not possible to reverse this process”, he expected “the transitional stage” to be accompanied by “ruthless struggle” and “intense struggles” that may span several generations. Nonetheless, he doubted “there will be any protracted interruptions in the ongoing process of the transition from the biosphere to the noösphere” (p. 30). Finally, as he conveyed all this with confidence, he nevertheless wondered whether it all “transcends the bounds of logic” and whether “we are entering into a realm still not fully grasped by science.” He even made positive closing references to Hindu philosophy and to the role of art in man’s thinking (p. 31).

Later, despite his dismay about the destructiveness of WWII, Vernadsky’s article “The Biosphere and the Noösphere” in the journal American Scientist in 1945, compiled from his much earlier writings, reflected his visionary optimism by observing that:
“The historical process is being radically changed under our very eyes. For the first time in the history of mankind the interests of the masses on the one hand, and the free thought of individuals on the other, determine the course of life of mankind and provide standards for men’s ideas of justice. Mankind taken as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. There arises the problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality. This new state of the biosphere, which we approach without our noticing it, is the noösphere. …
“Now we live in the period of a new geological evolutionary change in the biosphere. We are entering the noösphere. This new elemental geological process is taking place at a stormy time, in the epoch of a destructive world war. But the important fact is that our democratic ideals are in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the laws of nature, and with the noösphere. Therefore we may face the future with confidence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.” (in Samson & Pitt, p. 99)
Note that despite his despair about WWII, he still associated the nascent noosphere with such values as freedom, justice, and democracy.

Throughout his varied writings about “the evolution of the biosphere into the noosphere,” Vernadsky extolled the emergence of reason as a powerful, even geological force tied to the development of science and scientific thinking. He thus mostly regarded the noosphere as the “sphere of reason”, the “realm of reason,” the “reign of reason,” and as “the way through which the noosphere manifests itself in the thinking process” — even as “life's domain ruled by reason.” (Vernadsky, 1997, passim)

Vernadsky’s audience was mostly fellow scientists in Soviet Russia, not policy-makers. But he did occasionally argue that government administrators should attend to his findings, and that “Statesmen should be aware of the present elemental process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere.” (in Samson & Pitt, p. 38)

Teilhard and Vernadsky compared

Both Teilhard and Vernadsky shared a deep belief in our planet’s evolutionary path: first a geosphere, then a biosphere, and next a noosphere. Yet their views about causes and consequences differ enough to be worth comparing. Teilhard’s views were far more spiritually-grounded than Vernadsky’s. The latter preferred to explain the noosphere’s emergence in terms of geological and technological forces. Yet, like Teilhard, he expected the noosphere to have wonderful ethical consequences for humanity — as he noted, “a just distribution of wealth” and “the unity and equality of all peoples”. Moreover, while both viewed the noosphere optimistically as a realm of collective consciousness, neither regarded it as a realm of uniformity. Both valued individualism and variety. Both favored a future built on democracy. And, seemingly contrary to Charles Darwin, both thought that evolution depended on cooperation as much as competition.

Both were quite unclear regarding what the transition to the noosphere will be like for people. They both made the transitional phase seem inevitable. At times, Teilhard even made it seem alluringly smooth and peaceful. Yet, if they’d just offered comparisons (which neither evidently did) to the transitions to the geosphere and biosphere, they’d surely have noted that evolution of any kind is often far from smooth and peaceful; indeed, it is often chaotic, disjointed, and violent. Fortunately, Teilhard and Vernadsky at least allude to this prospect — Teilhard by noting that a global tremor, if not an apocalypse, may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere, Vernadsky by noting the likelihood of intense ruthless struggles spanning several generations. Both recognized humanity’s capacity for self-destruction.

Which raises another question about the nature of the transition: Teilhard and Vernadsky both saw the noosphere as evolving piecemeal around the planet, much as did the geosphere and biosphere, with some parts arising here and then spreading there, other parts elsewhere, with interconnections and interactions increasing over time, until the entire planet is caught up in webs of creation and fusion. But neither Teilhard nor Vernadsky specified exactly what parts and pieces may matter along the way. Teilhard at least indicated that “compartments” and “cultural units” bearing “grains of thought” will do the “fusing”. That isn’t much to go on, but it’s helpful for thinking strategically, as we argue later.

Le Roy’s depiction of the transition

Le Roy’s few writings on this subject offer further insight into how the transition may occur. In his book on The Origins of Humanity and the Evolution of Mind ([1928] in Samson & Pitt, 1998), Le Roy turned to a “hydro-dynamical” metaphor for showing how the noosphere may emerge from the biosphere. It would not resemble the growth of a branching tree, but instead occur by way of spurts, jets, and spouts that finally link to form a layer. In his words,
“Take the biosphere. Let us imagine in it a few points here and there where spurts, strictly limited and hardly surpassing above the middle level, and where jets grow little by little, open up and finally link up their spouts, spreading a layer that covers the Earth. The layer is ultimately superimposed on the primitive layer and covers it like multiple currents. This is the noosphere, spurting and emanating from the biosphere, and finishing by having the same amplitude and same importance as its generator. … [It is] “the spurting points that [will] attach the noosphere to the biosphere.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 66-67)
Those metaphors aside, Le Roy went on to identify real-world factors that will drive creation of the noosphere: “division of work, game of association and habit, culture and training, exercise of all types; from where come social classes, types of mind, forms of activity, new powers”. He noted that this will ultimately lead to a separation and spiritualization of the noosphere — “a disengagement of consciousness increasingly free and pure, and the constitution of a superior order of existence; the order of spirituality, reaching a point of perfection where the noosphere would strain to detach itself from the biosphere as a butterfly sheds its cocoon.” According to Le Roy, it is “this mysterious force of thought cohesion between individuals that allows the start of organised union in a unique layer”. (Samson & Pitt, pp. 67, 69)

In other words, Le Roy viewed the expansion of the mind and the creation of the noosphere as a planetary process that will lead to the noosphere’s separation from the biosphere:
“We are, in truth, confronting a phenomenon of planetary, perhaps cosmic, importance. This new force is human intelligence; the reflexive will of humankind. Through human action, the noosphere disengages itself, little by little, from the biosphere and becomes more and more independent, and all this with rapid acceleration and an amplification of effects which continue to grow. Correlatively however, by a sort of return shock, hominisation has introduced, in the course of life, some formidable risks.” (Samson & Pitt, p. 5)
This depiction by Le Roy of the noosphere’s emergence is quite dramatic, even gripping and visionary — as are the depictions offered by Teilhard and Vernadsky. Maybe that helps to explain why, thanks to these three foundational thinkers, the noosphere concept has persisted and grown, not only over time and but also across scholarly, spiritual, and other boundaries. A brief survey of recent developments follows.

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: draft of Introduction to new paper

The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After

by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla

Twenty years ago we proposed noöpolitik (nü-oh-poh-li-teek) as a new approach for American information strategy (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 1999). According to our argument, strategists will have to rethink what is “information” and see that a new realm is emerging — the noosphere, a global “realm of the mind” — that will profoundly affect statecraft. The information age will continue to undermine the conditions for traditional strategies based on realpolitik and material “hard power,” and lead to new strategies based on noopolitik and its preference for ideational “soft power.” A rethinking is needed because the decisive factor in the new global wars of ideas will be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik.

The noosphere and noopolitik concepts relate to an organizational theme that has figured prominently in our work about the information revolution: the rise of network forms of organization that strengthen civil-society actors. Few state or market actors, by themselves, seem likely to have much interest in fostering the construction of a global noosphere, except in limited areas having to do with international law, or political and economic ideology. The impetus for fostering a global noosphere is more likely to emanate from activist NGOs, other civil-society actors (e.g., churches, schools), and individuals dedicated to freedom of information and communications and to the spread of ethical values and norms. We believe it is time for state actors to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age will stem, more than ever, from the ability of state and market actors to work conjointly with civil-society actors.

Ten years ago we provided an update on the promise of noopolitik (Ronfeldt & Arquilla, 2007) for the first edition of a handbook on public diplomacy (Snow & Taylor, 2009). In it, we summarized our 1999 report and added four new points: (1) Other new information-age concepts similar to noopolitik — notably, netpolitik, cyberpolitik, infopolitik — had appeared, but all (including noopolitik) were having difficulty gaining traction. (2) Instead, the concept of “soft power” had come to dominate the strategic discourse in government, military, and think-tank circles, even though its definition was flawed and lacked operational clarity. (3) Meanwhile, in non-state arenas where noosphere-building ideas had taken hold, activist NGOs representing global civil society were becoming major practitioners of noopolitik — but the most effective practitioners were militant jihadis organized in global networks and outfitted with sophisticated media technologies. (4) Against this background, we argued that American public diplomacy would benefit from a course correction to head in the direction of noöpolitik. But we also cautioned that conditions for doing so were less favorable than when we first fielded the concept a decade earlier — and propitious conditions seemed unlikely to re–emerge anytime soon.

Today, another ten years later, as we prepare this new update, noopolitik remains a promising concept for American information strategy. However, it’s not alive and well in the United States, where even “soft power” is lately in decline as a strategic concept. Instead, our major adversaries are the ones who are working on developing noopolitik — but in dark ways and by other names — and they’re using it against us. These new circumstances may mean, to echo Charles Dickens, that we are now living in “the worst of times” — yet precisely because of this adversity, potentially also “the best of times” — for revisiting the promise of the noosphere and noopolitik.

So we’re doing this update differently. Our initial writings analyzed at length the increasing importance of information and the nature and growth of three realms — cyberspace, the infosphere, and the noosphere. We did so in order to recommend that strategists begin to gravitate toward the noosphere concept. However, by now the importance of information and those three realms is conceptually more familiar to strategists. Thus, for this update, we are skipping re-summarizing our initial analysis and instead diving straight into discussing the noosphere concept in more detail — from its origins in the 1920s, to the spread of its influence today, a century later.

We proceed this new way partly because we have learned more about the noosphere concept. Also, we have found new implications for discussing the prospects for noopolitik. We conclude by providing a fresh assessment of noopolitik as it applies to the current strategic situation of the United States — the country that should be most highly attuned and attracted to noopolitik.

Updated notes about the noosphere and noopolitik: introductory remarks about a revised series of posts

Several months ago, co-author John Arquilla and I agreed to update our ten-year-old chapter for a new revised edition of a 2009 handbook on public diplomacy (Snow & Taylor, 2009). Our chapter back then was titled “Noopolitik: A New Framework for Public Diplomacy”. We have now drafted a major update and rewrite. This series of eight or nine posts provides recent versions of our draft sections. The final paper will still need further edits and revisions, and probably a severe shortening.

As I post these recent drafts, section by section, I am going to delete the corresponding earlier rough drafts that I posted during February-May.

In brief, our argument is as follows: As the information age deepens, a globe–circling realm of the mind is being created — the “noosphere” that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (and others) identified ninety years ago. This will increasingly affect the nature of grand strategy and diplomacy. Traditional realpolitik, which ultimately relies on hard (principally military) power, will give way to the rise of noöpolitik (or noöspolitik), which relies on soft (principally ideational) power. Ultimately, noöpolitik is about whose story wins.

Here is what the new paper’s outline currently looks like:

The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After
by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla


I. The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution
Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere
Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere
Teilhard and Vernadsky compared
Le Roy’s depiction of the transition

II. Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades

III. Implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik

IV. The Future of Noopolitik (Revisited)
Global civil-society actors as proponents of noopolitik
Displacement of realpolitik as the noosphere grows
Early glimmers of noopolitik

V. Pessimistic appraisal of today’s turmoil for the noosphere and noopolitik
Washington failing at noopolitik
Moscow, Beijing, and Wikileaks turning noopolitik against us
The noosphere in fragmented disarray

VI. New hope for the noosphere and noopolitik — the global commons
Environmental science and civil-society perspectives on the global commons
Military perspectives on the global commons
Intersecting implications — a new combination of forces for the future

VII. Getting America back on track through noopolitik
The way ahead as we previously saw it
A new vision for the way ahead

Select Bibliography

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Our original RAND report, titled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward An American Information Strategy (1999), is available here:

Our follow-up paper, “The promise of noöpolitik” (2007), which summarizes the RAND report and was edited down for the chapter in the public diplomacy handbook, is here:

Readings in overcoming political tribalism — #3: David Brooks on” Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

In this sterling op-ed, David Brooks reminds us of the historical roots of conservatism and the values that traditionally animate it: seeking too build a social order, indeed a “sacred space”, that nurtures individualism along with community, mostly for the sake of freedom, while protecting it over the centuries first from abstract ideologies, then from industrialization, and lately from big government. But in America as well as England, such endeavors “have fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.” Brooks deems market fundamentalism “an inhumane philosophy” that leads to excessive individualism and social atomization, thereby next inducing a turn to tribalism.

Accordingly, “Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.” Problem is, says Brooks, it’s not the kind of belonging that conservatives traditionally value — instead, “His tribalism is the evil twin of community.”

Thus, “In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism. The threat comes from those two main currents of the national Republican Party. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.

“Today you can be a conservative or a Republican, but you can’t be both.”

Brooks concludes his excellent analysis by placing his hope not in the GOP but in “beautiful communities” where he sees “good citizens and healthy attachments” being nurtured anew.

We need more of this kind of thinking on both the Right and the Left. Otherwise, I fear, we are being headed ever farther toward plutocracy for the rich and fascism for the poor, not tto mention illusions of democracy for the rest of us.

To read for yourself, go here: