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What is the Noosphere?

What is the Noosphere?

The noosphere is a term used to describe how human consciousness and mental activity has influence on the biosphere, including its relation to planetary evolution. The word’s origin is associated with the thought of a few seminal thinkers of the early 20th century, including philosopher Eduard Le Roy who coined the term, pioneering geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, and paleontologist and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. For each of them, the noosphere is a way to describe the evolutionary stage that we have arrived at in which the human capacity for thought has become a determinant factor in the development of our planet. 

Vladimir Vernadsky, 1934

Noosphere in Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardin’s Thought

Vernadsky wrote extensively on the concept of the biosphere, the zone of the planet that is characterized by the presence of life. For Vernadsky, “Living nature is the fundamental trait of the manifestation of the biosphere, and by this clearly distinguishes itself from the Earth’s other envelopes. The structure of the biosphere is characterized first and foremost by life.” The concept of the noosphere emerges from the idea that the biosphere humanity inhabits is transformed by our ‘nous’, or thought/mind into a “natural body, new in its geological and biological processes… the noosphere.”

In Teilhard de Chardin’s body of work, the noosphere takes on a more explicitly spiritual role. His perspective sees the evolution of life and the universe manifested in the “birth of thought” in humankind. In his book The Phenomenon of Man, Chardin describes the significance of self-reflective consciousness for the direction that the universe itself has taken. It is of such importance that “Among all the stages successively crossed by evolution, the birth of thought comes directly after, and is the only thing comparable in order of importance to, the condensation of the terrestrial chemism or the advent of life itself.” 

Noospheric Concepts in Biosphere 2

There were those who took up the mantle of Vernadsky’s ideas of the noosphere and the biosphere. One such project was the Biosphere 2 experiment in which an independent and autonomous biosphere was created by a team of scientists and researchers in Oracle, Arizona. The project housed six participants for two years as they lived inside the massive, enclosed laboratory, testing the limits of self-sufficiency and of the pursuit for environmental harmonization, in other words, the integral synchronization of the noosphere with the biosphere. Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics and Biosphere 2 crew member Mark Nelson, relates how Vernadsky’s thought was implicit in the experiment, asserting that as “humanity gained scientific understanding of the Earth and became more cognizant of the consequences of our actions, a noosphere (sphere of intelligence) would eventually arise.”

From the Noosphere to the Anthropocene

The noosphere describes the component parts of our planet that in some sense have given way to the Anthropocene. The deliberate modification of planetary elements (i.e. our ‘resources’) on a vast scale has come as a result of the systems that we have constructed through our collective manifestations of mind or nous. The Anthropocene era began as a consequence of the development of our capabilities to direct and transform our world. In a sense, the current geological stage that our planet has entered is defined by the indelible marks our kind is imprinting upon our environment.

Noosphere and Technology

Technology is shaping the landscape of our world. Because of the insular perspective that many hold toward their place and position in the broader context of life on planet Earth, the relevance of Vernadsky’s work and his approach to the 21st century is perhaps difficult to conceive, yet, it becomes apparent while examining the impact that our systems of organization, authority, and communication are having upon our planet. After all, those systems exist as the palpable materials and items we physically interact with, but they are also expressed in a mental/nous-based aspect that exists only as a reflection of the abstract conceptions we have in our mental and rational constructs. 

Entering the Anthropocene creates an imperative for us to become capable of directing the impact we have on our planet with a modicum of responsibility. Vernadsky believed that the noosphere would become manifest after our world’s societies were unified under a singular overarching and bonding system, a characteristic prominently displayed in our world today through the large and diverse networks present in our lives. Examples of our use of materiality are everywhere around us, just as are instances of the blending of our developed mental faculties with the applications of our technologies. We are coming to an unprecedented elaboration of new languages with new expressions through the blending of our society with an expanding array of technological applications.

Artwork via Brett Richie on Unsplash.

Earth Day: From Cataclysm to Catalyst

Earth Day: From Cataclysm to Catalyst

An annual event celebrated around the world on April 22, Earth Day began as a response to the devastating impact that industrial activity has had upon our natural world. It was specifically precipitated by the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill which released more than three million gallons off the coast of California. After having seen the damage from the spill, US Senator Gaylord Nelson, environmentalists Selma Rubin, Denis Hayes, and others were moved to create an initiative that would raise awareness and push for advocacy surrounding broad environmental issues. In the five decades since Earth Day was created, the world has witnessed more disasters accompanied by growing consciousness around these issues; the relevance and magnitude of its observance has only increased. 

With each published study that demonstrates the catastrophic state of our natural environment comes a subsequent blow for the hope of a world existing in harmony with nature. As the perception of hope for solutions diminishes so our inner psychological state answers in form with a kind of degradation of the outlook we hold for ourselves and our kin. No single person can know the fate of our civilization and confidently discard the possibility of a more gracious and reciprocal relationship with our planet, yet we often live as if it was so; many of us convinced that we have gone too far in the decimation of our environment. 

Refuting a Hopeless Assessment  

It is the loss of hope and instinctual refutation of any possibility of improvement that seems to be so dangerous, for as previously stated, it is highly unlikely that any one of us at any point in history could have the certainty over our entire civilizations denouement, yet this is precisely what we claim when we look at our current state and conclude with self-assurance that there is nothing to be done. As author Christian Schwägerl writes in his book The Anthropocene: The Human Era and How it Shapes our Planet, “it is important to move beyond the doomsdayism so typically associated with environmentalism…”

So it seems that if we are to act in accordance with a vision for better planetary stewardship, we must believe such a vision is plausible; that we are capable of doing so, and that we are not as many have felt “too late, and too flawed” to come up with some effective shift. There has been recent acknowledgment of ‘climate fatigue’, a term used to describe a typical response in today’s youth toward climate and environmental emergencies. It seems pressing to acknowledge that there is an inner psychological component to our circumstance that directly affects our capacity to strive for solutions. So, as our inner state is constantly fed a barrage of information confirming our most feared environmental dread, how can we distinguish the reality of our world and the hopeless one we project outward? 

Climate Crisis as a Mirror

Perhaps some of our answers lie not only in collecting more accurate and representative data but in transforming our capacity to interpret it. We must find a way to avoid becoming dogmatic about the environment’s demise to the point where we think the possibility of change should be repudiated as dangerous because it distracts from the ‘unquestionable fact’ that we are headed toward extinction. And in order to transform our ability to interpret the world we need to come to terms with the attitudes, expectations and assumptions we hold about the world that are deeply embedded within our psyche. In some sense, what we need is to reconcile ourselves with our shadow self, the part of ourselves we obscure and that negatively informs our interpretation of the world, producing conclusions that are based on our preconceived notions of reality as opposed to on what is true or what is possible. 

As Carl Jung pointed out a century ago, there is an inextricable link between the external and internal worlds, and a manifestation in one is often accompanied by a reflection in the other. Jung spoke of large scale events that occurred during his lifetime as having a deep-seated parallel existing in the collective unconscious (the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory/experience and is common to all humankind) of entire civilizations and there is something to be gleaned about our own predicament considering the magnitude of its scale. It is sometimes easier for someone who has lost hope, to believe that it is all unsalvageable precisely because the possibility of hope brings with it the possibility of its loss, and for some that is simply too much to bear. 

Reciprocity and Responsibility: From Spectators to Participants

Much to our chagrin, our role is not one of mere spectators. We must take up our environment as something not separate from us, and certainly not something which we can take for granted as if it were some perpetual machine that will continue its rumbling without affecting us and without being affected by us. The global COVID-19 pandemic has made us all rethink how through our unchecked activity in industrialized meat production we might be creating a source of a number of novel pathogens

In his book What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?, Tony Juniper takes a profound look at how it is that we depend on the natural systems around us in ways we are not even aware of. In fact, he points out a simple but often unacknowledged truth, “Natural capital sustains financial capital.” The unique crossroads at which we stand compels us to make a courageous gesture reflecting this interconnectedness, yet we frequently feel utterly deflated by the popularly held conception that there is simply no use in trying. In order to move forward, we must acknowledge that we cannot do so without bringing our own shadow with us and that if we continue with significant unconsciousness, this, in turn, has the potential of souring any step we take.

 

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

‘Biosphere 2: Lessons & Relevance to Global Ecological Challenges’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance

‘Biosphere 2: Lessons & Relevance to Global Ecological Challenges’ with Dr. Mark Nelson & Sir Ghillean Prance

September 11th, 12:30 pm, Seminar Talk @ The Linnean Society of London

Biosphere 2 was the world’s first experimental laboratory for global ecology. Sir Ghillean Prance, working with NY Botanic Gardens and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in London, was allocated to design Biosphere 2’s unique rainforest biome, testing strategies important for preserving rainforest biodiversity. Dr. Mark Nelson was a member of the original 8 person biospherian crew for the daring 1991-1993 closure experiment. Biosphere 2 demonstrated important lessons relevant for improving our relationship with Earth’s biosphere (Biosphere 1): the technosphere can be designed to support life without harming it; new roles for humans as atmospheric stewards; innovative bio-technologies to recycle wastewater and purify air; high-yield regenerative agriculture without use of chemicals set world records; humans as keystone predators, intervening to protect biodiversity; shared dependence on the biosphere overrides group tensions and subgroups.

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

A recent landmark report from the United Nations unnervingly warns of a strong risk of global crisis as early as 2040. The report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was written and edited by 91 scientists from over 40 countries analyzing more than 6000 studies. Their findings suggest that if we do not change our global economic system drastically in the next few years, and we keep continuing to let off large carbon emissions into the atmosphere as well as using coal as an energy source, we will begin to see the worsening of food-shortages, wildfires, the mass die-off of coral reefs as well as the beginnings of coastal flooding.

The Need for a New Direction

With the current paradigm of ecological catastrophe in mind, we find ourselves losing hope and it becomes increasingly more difficult to imagine a future in which we coexist symbiotically with our biosphere. Although the biospherians were sealed in the closed ecological framework of Biosphere 2, lessons learned from the experiment and teachings gained have escaped far beyond its physical structure, leaking out into the lives of its inhabitants and many that came into contact with it, encouraging them to live out a path aligned with planetary needs. The experiment’s surprises underscored how much is still unknown about biospheres at large. Biosphere 2 caught the world’s imagination, tapping into the desire of people to reconnect and forge a new relationship with our planetary biosphere. Its lessons are increasingly relevant in the Anthropocene era as we find ourselves desperately in search of a new direction.

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More About Dr. Mark Nelson

Dr. Mark Nelson is a founding member and Chairman of the Institute of Ecotechnics (UK/USA) which consults to innovative field projects in challenging biomes around the world. Such projects include the world city project, the October Gallery or the ocean biome project, the R.V Heraclitus. Nelson’s research includes closed ecological systems, ecological engineering, restoration of damaged ecosystems and wastewater recycling. He was Direction of Space and Environmental Applications for Biosphere 2, and a member of the eight-person ‘Biospherian’ crew for the first two-year closure of the experiment, 1991-1993. His latest book, Pushing our Limits: Insights from Biosphere 2, tells of his experiences and lessons learned during his experimental enclosure. He is also the author of The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving our Planet One Flush at a Time, and Life Under Glass: The Inside Story of Biosphere 2 (with Abigail Alling & Sally Silverstone).

More About Sir Ghillean Prance

Sir Ghillean Prance FRS PPLS has conducted 39 expeditions to study the Amazon flora. He is a former Director of  Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, author of 24 books and monographs and extensive papers on the taxonomy of tropical plants, ethnobotany, and conservation. He was involved with the development of rainforest biomes at Biosphere 2 and at the Eden Project. Most recently, he worked at co-editor of the landmark academic volume, Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs: 50 Years of Research.

 

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

What’s Really Happening To Our Planet?

Tony Juniper, well-known British environmentalist and adviser to Prince Charles, understands what’s happening on our planet. While he’s been fighting for a more sustainable society, Tony has also been sharing information about the dramatic changes that have been happening on earth. In the following video, you can hear some of the numbers that can help you understand the changes that are going on today.

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10 Quick Facts About Climate Change from Tony Juniper

  1. Since 1950, the world’s population has tripled
  2. The number of cities with a population of over 10 million people was: one in 1950, ten in 1990, and is twenty-eight today
  3. Global energy demand is expected to double by 2030 compared to 1990 (with most new capacity coming from renewable sources)
  4. Only about 1/4 of the planet’s agricultural land is being used to grow crops, the rest is being used to raise animals
  5. About 97.5% of the planet’s total water resources is salt water, about 0.3% is liquid water at the surface, the rest is locked in groundwater and ice caps
  6. Since 1900, the consumption of construction materials, metals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass has increased tenfold
  7. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the planet’s atmosphere are higher now than at any point in at least the last 800,000 years
  8. Ten thousand years ago, 99.9% of vertebrate biomass was composed of wild animals; today, 96% of vertebrate biomass is made up of people and their domesticated animals
  9. The rate of animal and plant extinction taking place on the planet today is approaching a rate not seen on earth for 65 million years
  10. Since 1962, the area of protected habitat on the planet, in the form of national parks and nature reserves, has increased fourteen fold, to reach more than 33 million square kilometers

Understanding What the Planet Does for Us

Tony Juniper | What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

As we try to understand what’s happening to the planet, we can also learn what the planet does for us. Take a more in depth look at the services that nature freely provides to humanity, many of which we don’t even realize.

In What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? British environmentalist Tony Juniper points out that we think everything nature does for us—providing water, pollinating plants, generating oxygen, recycling miracles in the soil and much more—is free, but it isn’t. Its economic value can, and has been, measured. And upon realizing what that value truly is we would stop treating our natural systems in a destructive manner. For example, in 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost the US $81 billion and the damage still remains. If the land around the levees hadn’t been redeveloped for shipping and aquaculture, at an estimated value of $100,000 to $450,000 per square mile of natural mangroves, then it is believed, much of the damage caused to the city would not have occurred.

During recent years, environmental debate worldwide has been dominated by climate change, carbon emissions and the greenhouse effect. But a number of academic, technical, political, business and NGO initiatives indicate the emergence of a new wave of environmental attention focused on “natural capital,” “ecosystem services” and “biodiversity,” things nature does for us.

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? contains impactful stories imparting warnings about unfortunate occurrences such as a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance of India’s vultures (drugs administered to cattle killed the birds, leaving uneaten carcasses that led to an explosion of wild dogs), as well as promising and enlightening tales of how birds protect fruit harvests, coral reefs shield coasts from storms, and rainforests absorb billions of tons of carbon released from automobiles and power stations. As a result of its immediacy, Tony Juniper’s book will entirely change the way you think about life, the planet and the economy.

Raising Earth Consciousness on Earth Day

Raising Earth Consciousness on Earth Day

Raising Earth Consciousness

This Earth Day 2016 feels like a particularly poignant moment in the relationship between humans and the Earth. Just as on Mother’s Day we take extra time to reflect on our debt of gratitude to Her who gave us life, we similarly take the opportunity of raising Earth Consciousness on Earth Day to consider our connection with and appreciation for our Mother Earth.

Earth Day began in 1970 as a reflection of the growing awareness of our responsibility to the planet and the web of life – including us – that it supports. At the time the influence of Eastern spiritual thought and the introduction of psychedelics inspired a more holistic view of our relationship with the natural world. The realization dawned that our industrialized civilization was having negative impacts on the biosphere and that environmental protection was a growing necessity.

In the following video, Allan Badiner, editor of Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics, discusses the connection between psychedelics and Earth consciousness, and the importance of these ideas in the Anthropocene.
(read more below the video)

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Observing Earth Day in the Anthropocene

As we reflect on the Earth in the early decades of the 21st Century, we see radical imbalance. The Ecologist reported that climate scientists have reached a consensus that human activity has been driving climate change. There is a growing recognition that we have entered a new geological time period known as the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Working Group has found that “humanity’s impacts on Earth should now be regarded as pervasive and sufficiently distinctive to justify a separate classification.”

Humans have introduced entirely novel changes, geologically speaking, such as the roughly 300m metric tonnes of plastic produced annually. Concrete has become so prevalent in construction that more than half of all the concrete ever used was produced in the past 20 years.

Wildlife, meanwhile, is being pushed into an ever smaller area of the Earth, with just 25% of ice-free land considered wild now compared to 50% three centuries ago. As a result, rates of extinction of species are far above long-term averages.

But the study says perhaps the clearest fingerprint humans have left, in geological terms, is the presence of isotopes from nuclear weapons testing that took place in the 1950s and 60s.

The Guardian

We can feel overwhelmed when we see the environment faced with so many threats. How do we begin to change our lives in ways that will have a meaningful impact on the global situation? We need to embrace the challenge of living in harmony with the planet.

A new kind of nature is being created, one that is shaped by humanity. It consists of the sum of all the changes caused by humans on earth.

As we come into a deep understanding of the impact of our actions on the global community, Nature is calling us to redesign our lifestyles, adopt new social structures, rewrite the codes of our major institutions, and regenerate the planet’s natural systems. To do this requires breaking free from conditioned consumerism and enforced separation.  We have the responsibility to care for the Earth by making choices that support the flourishing of the planet and its people, from our next-door neighbors to the members of remote tribes. This responsibility is also to ourselves, as we owe our existence to this interdependent web of life. By making changes in our lives at the individual level, we will see that change reflected in the whole world.

Taking on Earth Consciousness – and Taking Action

Now is the time—the critical moment on our timeline—to leverage the overarching vision and tools afforded by our understanding of Earth Sciences and the wisdom provided by traditional indigenous cultures. The message of Earth consciousness is growing louder. It reaches us from the voices of Amazonian plant teachers, such as ayahuasca, and from indigenous wisdom. Scientists have been confirming the healing effects of these ancient sources of wisdom, affirming the use of these tools that lead us to a more integrative, whole system perspective of our relationship to the biosphere.

By changing our habits and activating solutions, we can regenerate the planet; by changing our hearts and spreading compassion, we can heal the world. This Earth Day, you can try one of the four daily practices of love and gratitude for the Earth shared by Pachamama Alliance. By working with practices such as these, or any way that you feel deepens your connection to Pachamama, Mother Earth, we grow in Earth Consciousness.

Get the Code!

Books are some of the most powerful tools to we have to evolve our consciousness and guide our actions. Synergetic Press publishes books that carry the code of a sustainable, regenerative, thriving human future. We focus primarily on Earth science and evolving human consciousness, which we see as complementary aspects of humanity’s continuing evolution. See some of the titles below to explore the ideas that form the foundation of Earth Consciousness.

anthropocene_720Me and the Biospheres

Wastewater-Gardner-Coverayahuascacoverfront_coverzig_zag_zen_front_covervineofthesoulcover

 

 

 

 

 

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