Towards the Metahuman in 2024

We are on the cusp of a New Year and the crystal ball in New York City, marking the new year, will soon be released in Times Square. While we anticipate crossing the threshold into 2024, we are anxious about what the New Year may hold for us. The world has become vastly complex, and we are struggling to make sense of it on a daily basis. We have entered into, what Teilhard de Chardin called, the Noosphere, the new level of mind brought about by mass media, computer technology and artificial intelligence. On one hand, we are more connected today than ever in the history of humankind, and on the hand, we are fractured by tribalism and polarization. The wars in Gaza and the Ukraine show our brutish, animal side of power and domination, while artificial intelligence reflects our God-like capacity to transcend ourselves. We humans linger between animal and angel. If we step back for a moment and glance across the vast sweep of cosmic evolution, we begin to see that we are but a moment of matter in the unfolding spacetime universe. Only a hundred years ago, humanity was still fragmented, living in relatively independent and isolated regions. Today humankind is increasingly bound together by a dense network of communications links and trade systems. We are in the midst of one of the most significant shifts in the history of humankind, as we transition from individual organisms into a superorganism or what Gregory Stock identified in 1973 as “Metaman” (I prefer ‘metahuman’) brought about primarily by the merger of technology and biology. Much of our anxiety and conflict today is due to the fact that our systems are operating out of outdated principles that cannot support the new emerging reality of planetary, super-organismic life, sort of like driving a ’65 chevy at top speed with four flat tires. The systems that support our daily lives are basically collapsing under the weight of the planetary metahuman.

Teilhard de Chardin anticipated the metahuman almost a hundred years ago. He wrote The Human Phenomenon at a time of war, “from a sense of organic crisis in evolution, to free humanity from fear and despair so as to give new hope and heart for life.”[1] The purpose of The Human Phenomenon is to introduce the reader to the “epic and drama of space-time.”[2] The work seeks to recognize the whole in movement, which neither science alone nor philosophy or theology alone can explain. The “whole” is an irreducible presence that is relational, contingent yet distinct. It has a mysterious unity and active power in itself—a birth, unfolding, and a passing. Humanity belongs to this cosmic whole.

The key to Teilhard’s thought is evolution which, he said, is a general condition to which all theories, systems must conform; a “dimension” to which all thinking in whatever area must yield. Evolution is not a theory but the best description of biological life. While Darwin provided mechanisms of change and adaptation, Teilhard saw evolution as the rise of thought, with the human person as the most complex phenomenon of self-reflective thought. He spoke of evolution as the rise of consciousness, giving birth to a new level of mind which he called the Noosphere. With the advent of the computer, he thought that we could become a planetary organism with a global brain, minds linked together through informational pathways. This is the basis of the metahuman.

Computer technology and artificial intelligence are speeding up evolution in which the Metahuman is growing at an alarming speed. Technology is drawing humanity into a cohesive entity in which activities are highly interdependent. People wear clothing made on the other side of the world and eat food grown on distant farms. However, since we still think of ourselves as individual and separate, we lack an ethical framework for our deep global connectivity. Stock suggests that the rapid growth of the Metahuman will impel radical social, political, and economic changes. He writes:

Many countries have been forced to consider whether they might somehow thrive over the long term by isolating themselves from the challenges of the global economy. The dynamics of Metaman tell us that this path to stability is a fantasy, because worldwide economic integration is inevitable and thus any economic policies that do not allow for it are flawed. Understanding Metaman suggests also that humankind has before it a long and vital future in a world where the natural environment will be managed, where the nation-state will lose its dominance in world affairs, where technology will penetrate virtually every aspect of human life, where human reproduction will be managed, and where local cultural traditions will merge in a rich global culture.[3]

 We are on the fast track to super-convergence—and it scares us. We would rather drive into the future by looking in the rearview mirror than by focusing our eyes on the future of converging life ahead. We prefer nostalgia to creative advance, an imaginative pristine age of the past to the uncertain world of the future, the Latin Mass to vernacular liturgy. The problem of growing into the form of the metahuman is a problem specifically of the West rather than the East or South which espouse highly interconnected cultures. The West has a fixation on Being which includes being itself, substance, atoms, and individuals all governed by rational laws and logical relationships. Fritjof Capra in his classic book, The Tao of Physics, provides a lucid explanation for the West’s problem of Being. The birth of modern science, he states, was preceded, and accompanied by a development of philosophical thought which led to an extreme formulation of the spirit/matter dualism. This formulation appeared in the seventeenth century in the philosophy of Descartes who based his view of nature on a fundamental division into two separate and independent realms; that of mind (res cogitans), and that of matter (res extensa). The ‘Cartesian’ division allowed scientists to treat matter as dead and completely separate from themselves, and to see the material world as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine. Such a mechanistic world view was held by Isaac Newton who constructed his mechanics on its basis and made it the foundation of classical physics. From the second half of the seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century, the mechanistic Newtonian model of the universe dominated all scientific thought. It was paralleled by the image of a monarchical God who ruled the world from above by imposing his divine law on it. The fundamental laws of nature searched for by the scientists were thus seen as the laws of God, invariable and eternal, to which the world was subjected.

The philosophy of Descartes was not only important to the development of classical physics, but also had a tremendous influence on the general Western way of thinking up to the present day. Descartes’ famous sentence ‘Cogito ergo sum’- ‘I think, therefore I exist’ led the Western person to equate one’s identity with the mind, instead of with the whole organism. As a consequence of the Cartesian division, most individuals are aware of themselves as isolated egos existing ‘inside’ their bodies. The mind has been separated from the body and given the futile task of controlling it, thus causing an apparent conflict between the conscious will and the involuntary instincts. Each individual has been split up further into a large number of separate compartments, according to his or her activities, talents, feelings, beliefs, etc., which are engaged in endless conflicts generating continuous metaphysical confusion and frustration. The fragmented view is further extended to society which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments-in ourselves, in our environment and in our society-are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological, and cultural crises. It has alienated us from nature and from our fellow human beings. It has brought a grossly unjust distribution of natural resources creating economic and political disorder; an ever-rising wave of violence, both spontaneous and institutionalized, and an ugly, polluted environment in which life has often become physically and mentally unhealthy.

Cartesian dualism finds itself at odds today with the new sciences of complexity and cybernetics. Mechanistic systems are struggling to survive, as new interconnected systems emerge. It is interesting to note that the media expert Marshall McLuhan saw the pattern of complexity taking shape with computer technology in mid-twentieth century. In a 1960s magazine interview, he shared his insightful thoughts on computer technology by stating:

The total-field awareness engendered by electronic media is enabling us—indeed, compelling us—to grope toward a consciousness of the unconscious, toward a realization that technology is an extension of our own bodies. We live in the first age when change occurs sufficiently rapidly to make such pattern recognition possible for society at large. Until the present era, this awareness has always been reflected first by the artist, who has had the power—and courage—of the seer to read the language of the outer world and relate it to the inner world.[4]

Like Teilhard de Chardin and Gregory Stock, McLuhan envisioned the new humanity emerging through computer technology as super-conscious, transpersonal cosmic being. Like Teilhard, he saw the potential within the human for wholeness and unity:

We must understand that a totally new society is coming into being, one that rejects all our old values, conditioned responses, attitudes, and institutions. If you have difficulty envisioning something as trivial as the imminent end of elections, you’ll be totally unprepared to cope with the prospect of the forthcoming demise of spoken language and its replacement by a global consciousness. . .Tribal man is tightly sealed in an integral collective awareness that transcends conventional boundaries of time and space. As such, the new society will be one mythic integration, a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again.[5]

While political elections have not come to end, the anticipation of a new world order is on the horizon. The prophets and seers of the late 20th century anticipated what scientists are now describing in terms of complexifying evolution. Francis Heylighen, director of the Global Brain Institute at the Free University in Brussels states, “the most important technological, economic, and social development of the past two decades is the emergence of a global, computer-based communication network. This network has been growing at an explosive rate, affecting –directly or indirectly – ever increasing aspects of the daily lives of the people on this planet.”[6] He continues:

The “Global Brain” is a metaphor for this emerging, collectively intelligent network that is formed by the people of this planet, together with the computers, knowledge bases and communication links that connect them. This network is an immensely complex, self-organizing system. It not only processes information, but can also be seen to play the role of a brain: making decisions, solving problems, learning new connections, and discovering new ideas. No individual, organization or machine is in control of this system: its knowledge and intelligence are distributed over all its components. They emerge from the collective interactions between all the human and machine subsystems. Such a system may be able to tackle current and emerging global problems that haveeluded more traditional approaches. Yet, at the same time, it will create new technological and social challenges that are still difficult to imagine.[7]

The fact is, we have been on a rapidly accelerating trajectory of evolution since the last century. It is time to get on board with where we are going and stop leaning on history as our sole support. Teilhard de Chardin gave us a new paradigm of cosmic evolution, an entangled whole of God and world in evolution which continues to grow with complexifying consciousness. Humanity is part of a mysterious cosmic unity that has an inner active power persistent through birth and death, an unfolding of greater complex life in which God is emerging.[8] Despite the massive forces of destruction, both natural and human, evolution insists on greater consciousness because something in the cosmos escapes entropy and does so increasingly.Teilhard called this active presence the Omega principle, an energetic presence of love opens to future fulfillment.

What does the metahuman mean for us on the brink of 2024? First, that we must shift our thinking from parts to whole, from individuals to systems and field energies, from persons in relationship to relational life systems. We must begin to understand ourselves as part of an ongoing wholeness in evolution. Second, the “whole” begins with the unity of mind and heart, the deepening of soul, and hence the deepening of spiritual energy that binds us to the wider fields of our existence. We must continuously centrate our lives by assuming the hard work of reconciling our shadow self and our opposing inner conflicts, integrating them into the overall unity of the psyche. Third, we must begin to know the world as a complex, multi-faceted matrix of flowing life that is rapidly complexifying. The United States may be independent today but tomorrow it may become a member of a giant global political network. It is time to wake up to our reality and to realize that there is no unique “natural” state to preserve because nature changes unceasingly. We must advocate for changes in our current systems to support complexifying systems of dynamic life.

Artificial Intelligence is advancing our next level of evolution in the Noosphere. While the world seems to be falling apart, we are actually becoming more bound together through complex networks of information exchange. The social integration of people around the globe into some kind of “super-humanity” presupposes the further self-evolution of the whole human species towards a higher order. The personalizing direction of evolution means that the process cannot terminate in the human person who is still in need of improvement; rather evolution is in the direction of the New Person. How to orient our lives in our complex hyperconnected world is our challenge. Teilhard spoke of love as the core energy of the universe and said that the way out of early cosmic termination is by yielding to the power of love, because what we really love is always ‘another’ ahead of us. He wrote: “There is only one real evolution, the evolution of convergence, because it alone is positive and creative.”[9] If life develops in the direction of a greater union, then the new level of humanity must be on the order of love. “Society will inevitably become a machine if its successive growths do not culminate in Someone,” that is, in a deeply personal center of love.[10] The sign of growing personalization is the actualization of love in all forms of life.

Humanity is moving into a new environment, into a world that is being born instead of a world that is, with a new relationship between matter and spirit, a new humanism, and a new understanding of God – complementary movements which mark the beginning of a new era for humankind. Ursula King said that Teilhard “expressed with clarity and forcefulness that we are one humanity, with one origin, and one destiny. We are also a group of humans that have not yet reached maturity in terms of our possibilities. Our immense problems somehow resemble the turmoil’s of youth.”[11] All of humankind bears a profound sense of responsibility for the shape of its own future, and humanity’s future must be developed in close interrelation with all forms of life, with the whole of nature in its global and planetary dimensions.

How can we be ‘architects of the future’? How can we develop a better, higher life for planetary life or what Teilhard called planetization? He reflected on the conditions and criteria by which human beings might become more united – economically, politically, and spiritually. His book The Future of Man carries the motto: “The whole future of the Earth, as of religion, seems to me to depend on the awakening of our faith in the future.”[12] He combined such faith in the future with what he called faith in the world, that is, a faith in the further development of human beings, and in the greater global collaboration and unity among the peoples of the earth.[13] The world is not a place of evil and despair; a tormented place of endless violence. Teilhard spoke of the world as the place of the Absolute: religion is intrinsic to evolution. He wrote:

If I were to lose my faith in Christ, my faith in a personal God and my faith in spirit, I would continue to believe invincibly in the world. The world, when all is said and done, is the first, the last, and the only thing in which I believe. It is by this faith that I live.  And it is to this faith… that I shall surrender myself at the moment of death.[14]

Teilhard spoke of a new threshold in the development of human consciousness and organization, not simply a search for the continuity of life or mere survival. What is needed is the development of life to a higher stage which involves an effort to create a higher form of life, a more unified humanity. He was convinced that despair cannot provide the necessary energy for action, only hope can do so. Humanity now bears full responsibility for its own future; both education and scientific research play a great role in this. It is also an immense challenge – the kind of future we will get depends to a large extent on the quality of people who shape it. He emphasized the need future-oriented, future-affirming beings with a wide, open awareness who have the energy of thought, the vision and perception to recognize the problems of the future and find their solutions, and who possess the necessary energy and will to action for putting them into practice. He was never tired of pointing out that our understanding of science is much too narrow, particularistic, and fragmentary. He saw the insufficiency of science by itself to affect a new type of super consciousness or a higher level of thought on the level of interconnected, planetary life. “However far science pushes its discovery of the essential fire and however capable it becomes someday of remodeling and perfecting the human element, it will always find itself in the end facing the same problem–how to give to each and every element its final value by grouping them in the unity of an organized whole.” Further he wrote: “It is not tête-à-tête or a corps-à-corps we need; it is a heart to heart.”[15] The scientific power of analysis must now be matched by attempts at synthesis, by a more holistic and global way of thinking. We see movements today such as the Global Brain Initiative and the Human Energy project in which scientists, following the insights of Teilhard, are bringing science into a wider forum that includes spirituality and culture.

As we enter 2024, we must widen our minds and expand our hearts. Now is not the time to shrivel up and declare defeat. We must find within ourselves the energy that gives us a zest for life and to actualize love through our creative gifts and imaginations. War is a terrible thing but so is defeat. To give up in the face of our immense and complex world, as if we are helpless, is to miss the opportunities open to us every minute of every day. We are not simply to live, but to “superlive”: to live a fuller, better, more rewarding life shared with one’s fellow human beings. We live in a world of infinite potential, and we must choose whether or not we will create a world of love or settle for a world of hate and violence. If love is our deepest reality, then every breath of every day we must choose to love. In our highly charged world of political opposition, fake news and sheer hate, love seems antiquated or irrelevant. But love is the reason we are all here to begin with and it is this truth alone that makes us desperate for God.

A loveless world is a violent world which cannot be sustained indefinitely. The metahuman expresses a deep impulse within the flow of love for greater unity and wholeness. Teilhard thought that God and world form a complementary whole so that fulfillment of the world in love will be fulfillment of God’s own life. This may be realized billions of years into the future, perhaps in union with other forms of intergalactic life, but at this moment each one of us contributes to the completion of God. Love is no longer an option but a responsibility; it is not about personal fulfillment but contributing to the world soul. We may struggle with love, fail in love, or feel loveless but Saint John of the Cross gave us a very simple way forward: where there is no love, put love and you will find love. May this be our goal in 2024.

Notes:

[1] Sarah Appleton-Weber, introduction to The Human Phenomenon (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 1999), xxi.

[2] Appleton-Weber, Introduction to The Human Phenomenon, xxi.

[3] Gregory Stock, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism (New York: Simon and Schuster, January 1, 1993), 22-23.

[4] Marshall McLuhan, “The Playboy Interview,” Playboy Magazine (March 1969): 4

[5] McLuhan, “The Playboy Interview,” 17.

[6] Francis Heylighen, “Conceptions of a Global Brain: An Historical Review,” in From Big Bang to Global Civilization: A Big History Anthology, eds: Barry Rodrigue, Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev (Berkelely: University of California Press, 2012), 1.

[7] Heylighen, “Conceptions of a Global Brain: An Historical Review,” 1.

[8] Appleton-Weber, introduction to The Human Phenomenon, xix.

 [9] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York: William Collins & Sons, 1971), 87.

[10] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, trans. J. M. Cohen (New York: William Collins & Sons, 1969),81.

[11] Ursula King, “Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision of Science, Religion and Planetary Humanity: A Challenge to the Contemporary World,” Journal for the Study of Religion vol. 31,1 (2018): 135 – 158 at p. 143.

[12] King, “Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision of Science,” 144.

[13] Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, 121, 175.

[14] Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution Christianity and Evolution, 99.

[15] Teilhard de Chardin, Future of Man, 75; W. Henry Kenny, A Path Through Teilhard’s Phenomenon (Dayton, OH: Pflaum Press, 1970), 138.

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8 Comments

  1. Maria Aldina Lopes Brás on January 12, 2024 at 3:22 am

    Good Morning! Please, can someone tell me something about “God’s algorithm”?
    Thank You.
    Best regards
    Aldina

  2. Chris McBride on January 11, 2024 at 11:22 am

    I appreciate these thoughts and aspirations for the future (Omega draws us), having been listing toward despair at times, during recent years.
    I came across a few printed pages of a paper I wrote in 2010- the full writing is on some memory stick somewhere:) The title of the rather unfinished work is:
    Teilhard and Keating – Unity Through Higher Consciousness

    I have difficulty articulating those sparks of insight that emerge, but it seems to me that the human brain needs meditation as well as glucose and oxygen and beauty in order to evolve.
    I did see something recently about some kind of virtual reality program that is for meditation…
    Preserving and practicing contemplation is needed in case the virtual system crashes.

    Love and Peace,
    Chris

  3. Laury Hartman on January 2, 2024 at 7:27 pm

    Grateful for your courageous, intelligent and thoughtful ways of writing! I’m reading your new book, “The Not-Yet God” ~~ brilliant, and stunning! Deep bow of gratitude for your voice, and conviction to keep calling us to a new way of ‘being’…..I am with you, Ilia!

  4. Alice MacDonald on January 2, 2024 at 11:33 am

    Thank you Ilia! What a profoundly wise and hopeful analysis of where humanity finds itself today. I was especially struck by ” the forthcoming demise of spoken language and its replacement by a global consciousness.” I feel this in my own life as the increasing limitation of language or words to transform our consciousness. At the same time I am being pulled to, as Nicodemus suggests, reenter the Womb and experience the primal Silence out of which a new humanity is still being birthed. We are still being formed as Teilhard has said, in this “ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God” This is the struggle in which we find ourselves, trying to re-cognize ourselves in all the possibilities that the imagination is producing, looking for the image and likeness of the Love that is birthing us as the Beloved Child. This is a spiritual birth happening within the “flow of greater unity and wholeness.” It is time to stop talking and experience the powerful unifying Presence within Silence. It takes courage and great “labor” to bring forth this Child of the Divine individually and collectively. The waters have broken. We are being called out of the womb to be at Home in a new world of Peace, Justice and Love, a mirror of the world which birthed us. We are “groaning in the pains of childbirth” and we must not abort this birth because we are at the end stage of pregnancy, the waters have broken and we are in the great turn towards the Light, if we have eyes to see.

  5. Dr Nikolai Blaskow on January 1, 2024 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you Ilia for this insightful article and your tireless work to bring theology and spirituality in alignment with what is actually happening. You are amazing. Thank you for your faithfulness.
    Nikolai

  6. Joe Masterleo on January 1, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    In some ways I understand who the “we” is so often referenced in this column. In other ways I do not. Seems like it refers mostly to the human species, or world at large, most of which is and always has been in axial dislocation, adrift in radical separation from the divine, and thus at the mercy of the runaway trends so identified. I’m not worried. There’s always been a leavening centrist element that has a stabilizing effect on the whole, eventually reeling it in from troubling extremes running amok. We’re in the midst of those convulsive and chaotic extremes now, and have been before. Yet I’m confident that if the stabilizing co-creative elements in humans cooperating with the divine eventually don’t stabilize the whole, then naked divine intervention itself will, as is so often recorded in the sacred writings, and keep the listing ship of creation from sinking entirely. And if perchance it is allowed to providentially sink, it’s to clear the slate for a more radical renewal. Either way, barring some unforeseen cataclysmic event, the planet as we know it, along with some form of life upon it, isn’t about to disappear. And either way, our faith and confidence ultimately lies in divine engineering.

  7. Kay Jackson on January 1, 2024 at 8:19 am

    Evolution involves all matter. All matter belongs to the “cosmic whole” and, thus, is filled with divine light. Consciousness. The spark of unique “thisness” that keeps each snowflake a marvelous miracle.
    The Noosphere is the collection of this cosmic force on earth.
    The Noosphere is not the internet. AI is not the internet. The Noosphere is the collective consciousness, the collective thinking, grasping, understanding, and meaning which leads to the development of the thoughts which bring wonderful inventions as the internet and AI(Language of the Noosphere, pages.nyu.edu).

    The convergence of the Noosphere has given us every invention from our nests in trees, to using fire, clothes, herbs, the wheel, up to our cell phones and beyond! Unfortunately humans, like most animals, prefer routine. Change is required for wisdom and 99.9 percent of all human life has never been open to change. Change takes work and energy. It require placing yourself in risky and thus vulnerable situations. The majority of people crave stability or power and within such an unresilient world, love cannot enter. Why? Love require openness, vulnerability, risk resilience.

    So until the Noosphere is filled with resilience…Love takes a backseat with most decisions and inventions.

    ( I just had a thought, in many ways the birds and other “wild” animals so many mock show us resilience every day-by coming and giving us another opportunity, another chance to learn. Some may call this routine, I call this Love. )
    See Cac.Org, Jan 1, 2024, for a reading about resiliency

  8. George Marsh on December 31, 2023 at 3:15 pm

    I love the concept of infinite possibilities. “With God . . . .” Yet God made our world finite, including water, which is becoming scarce in many areas. While floods and tsunamis astound, drought and toxic water supplies are widespresd. I read that using Artificial Intelligence costs vast amounts from water supplies. Moreover, AI produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide, much more of which earth’s atmosphere, oceans and old-growth forests cannot absorb safely. We hear of people being warned not to take needless jet flights, to say nothing of luxury cruises. Can the Center for Christogenesis find room in its ever expanding universe for the conservation of increasingly limited resources like clean air and water? Indigenous Americans urge preserving our habitat for at least seven more generations. I believe they and other conservation-minded people need to be considered by exponents of visionary AI practices.

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