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The Phenomenon of Man (1955)

by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This is a difficult book to review, as I wasn't sure what to make of it as a whole. It varies between the brilliant and the confusing, possibly nonsense.
Considering that it was originally written in the 1930s,it starts off very well in giving an overview of the stuff of the universe, and the evolution of complex life, starting from the atom and moving upward through molecular self-replicating units and to ourselves. This is very well informed for its day, and captures the wonder of the world around us, physics, and evolution. Its content, and the excitement of scientific understanding is quite comparable to some of the writing of Dawkins. There are a small number of errors here and there but they are due to the incomplete scientific understanding of that age, and do not mar the gist of the first few chapters.
Where this books starts to really lose the reader is through the use of several new words for concepts that the author is introducing, or his specific use of existing words for strange specialist meanings. Some of these can be justified and aid the understanding, whereas others just serve to confuse the reader, or leave questions as to whether the author is discussing a mystical concept, a philosophical concept, or a scientific concept. Without these problems the arguments presented in this book would have been easier to follow.
What remains though, is that the author was a visionary, including his prediction and discussion of noogenesis and the formation of the noosphere (two of the words he coins here), or in other words the growth of intelligence in a sense as an extension from the physical confines of the human mind, and its encapsulation of the earth. This mirrors in a lot of its details what we have recently seen with the progression of the world wide web or "cyberspace". There are other lines of thought that he reflects on extensively, including the future evolution of the human species, and he was among the first to attempt to tackle many of the difficult questions concerning this. He promotes a global society, without racial segregation, while at the same time seriously exploring ideas of genetic engineering and ethical approaches to eugenics, and technological enhancement (what might be termed transhumanism by some people today). He follows this to an ultimate evolutionary stage that he terms the "Omega Point", some kind of apex of consciousness, spiritual development, social development, etc. This is where the book reaches its peak science fiction levels, possibly straying into mysticism, and I was confused by the argument he put forward to how this all worked. He makes it clear that it is only speculation, but he does speculate very seriously on what to me seemed like quite a tenuous concept.
So, it would be difficult to recommend this book without reservation due to some of its metaphysical aspects which will test the patience of many readers expecting a clearer cut scientific work. Indeed, it was not evident in many places, increasingly toward the end of the book, whether there was anything of substance in some of the discussions due to the obfuscating terminology. However, as a provocation for thought, this book is not in short supply of inspiration, and much worth reading is interspersed among the more tenuous sections. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Feb 23, 2017 |
A dreadful disappointment. The author has a reputation not supported by the content of this rubbish - psycho babble mixed with a discussion of human origins now conclusively known to be wrong.
Read in Samoa Sept 2002. ( )
  mbmackay | Nov 27, 2015 |
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Le Phénomène Humain Author Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The Phenomenon of Man (Le Phénomène Humain, 1955) is a book written by French philosopher, paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In this work, Teilhard describes evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness.

The book was finished in the 1930s, but was published posthumously in 1955. The Roman Catholic Church initially prohibited the publishing some of Teilhard’s writings on the grounds that they contradicted orthodoxy. However, in the last several decades, especially as a result of the writings and statements by officials such as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, Teilhard's theology has been incorporated as part of mainstream Catholic theology.

The foreword to the book was written by one of the key scientific advocates for natural selection and evolution of the 20th Century, and co-developer of the modern synthesis in biology, Julian Huxley.

Summary:
Teilhard views evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity. From the cell to the thinking animal, a process of psychical concentration leads to greater consciousness.[3] The emergence of Homo sapiens marks the beginning of a new age, as the power acquired by consciousness to turn in upon itself raises humankind to a new sphere.[4] Borrowing Julian Huxley’s expression, Teilhard describes humankind as evolution becoming conscious of itself.[5]

In Teilhard's conception of the evolution of the species, a collective identity begins to develop as trade and the transmission of ideas increases.[6] Knowledge accumulates and is transmitted in increasing levels of depth and complexity.[7] This leads to a further augmentation of consciousness and the emergence of a thinking layer that envelops the earth.[8] Teilhard calls the new membrane the “noosphere” (from the Greek “nous,” meaning mind), a term first coined by Vladimir Vernadsky. The noosphere is the Collective consciousness of humanity, the networks of thought and emotion in which all are immersed.[9]

The development of science and technology causes an expansion of the human sphere of influence, allowing a person to be simultaneously present in every corner of the world. Teilhard argues that humanity has thus become cosmopolitan, stretching a single organized membrane over the Earth.[10] Teilhard describes the process by which this happens as a “gigantic psychobiological operation, a sort of mega-synthesis, the “super-arrangement” to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today individually and collectively subject.”[8] The rapid expansion of the noosphere requires a new domain of psychical expansion, which “is staring us in the face if we would only raise our heads to look at it.”[11]

In Teilhard’s view, evolution will culminate in the Omega Point, a sort of supreme consciousness. Layers of consciousness will converge in Omega, fusing and consuming them in itself.[12] The concentration of a conscious universe will reassemble in itself all consciousnesses as well as all that we are conscious of.[13] Teilhard emphasizes that each individual facet of consciousness will remain conscious of itself at the end of the process.

Reception:
In 1961, Nobel Prize-winner Peter Medawar, a British immunologist, wrote a scornful review of the book for the journal Mind,[15] calling it "a bag of tricks" and saying that the author had shown "an active willingness to be deceived": "the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself".

In the June 1995 issue of Wired, Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg said "Teilhard saw the Net coming more than half a century before it arrived":[16]

Teilhard imagined a stage of evolution characterized by a complex membrane of information enveloping the globe and fueled by human consciousness. It sounds a little off-the-wall, until you think about the Net, that vast electronic web encircling the Earth, running point to point through a nerve-like constellation of wires.

In July 2009, during a vespers service held in Aosta Cathedral in northern Italy, Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on the Epistle to the Romans in which "St. Paul writes that the world itself will one day become a form of living worship", commented on Teilhard:[17]

It's the great vision that later Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. Let's pray to the Lord that he help us be priests in this sense, to help in the transformation of the world in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves.
  davidveal | Oct 12, 2013 |
I really tried to love this book, which contains a number of ideas that I find wacky but exciting. I'm sad to say that it was something of a letdown. The astonishing concepts are weighed down by unpalatable writing (or translating, possibly) and a truly strange style of argumentation. Teilhard's pretense that his worldview, which contains a number of fascinating ties to mystical visions from the medieval West and the Far East, is a simple product of scientific reasoning absolutely fails to convince. I was reminded of Spinoza's Ethics, where the logical apparatus forms a tedious and ineffective mask for the imaginative philosophical/religious core.

This is a landmark book, and I'm glad that I read it. I just wish I could say that it was more of a pleasure to experience. Teilhard seems like a fascinating and somewhat tragic figure; better writing would have made him much more sympathetic. ( )
1 vote breadhat | Jul 23, 2013 |
This is Teilhard's fullest approach to anthropology in the form of a scientific treatise on humanity as a phenomenon, viewed from the perspective of evolution. The intro by Julian Huxley combines a synopsis of the book with Teilhard's life story, culminating in his duel career as a paleontologist and priest. It is a dense book with its own terminology created by Chardin to convey both a scientific and a religious depiction of mankind. Teilhard builds the book on the themes of increasing vision, the development of the brain and the origin not only of consciousness but of self-consciousness.. ( )
1 vote revg | Jul 16, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
It is a book widely held to be of the utmost profundity and significance; it created something like a sensation upon its publication in France, and some reviewers hereabouts called it the Book of the Year — one, the Book of the Century. Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.

...

It would have been a great disappointment to me if Vibration did not did not somewhere make itself felt, for all scientistic mystics either vibrate in person or find themselves resonant with cosmic vibrations; but I am happy to say that on page 266 Teilhard will be found to do so.

...

In spite of all the obstacles that Teilhard perhaps wisely puts in our way, it is possible to discern a train of thought in The Phenomenon of Man.

...

I do not propose to criticize the fatuous argument I have just outlined; here, to expound is to expose.

...

How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? We must not underestimate the size of the market for works of this kind, for philosophy-fiction. Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.

...

I have read and studied The Phenomenon of Man with real distress, even with despair. Instead of wringing our hands over the Human Predicament, we should attend to those parts of it which are wholly remediable, above all to the gullibility which makes it possible for people to be taken in by such a bag of tricks as this. If it were an innocent, passive gullibility it would be excusable; but all too clearly, alas, it is an active willingness to be deceived.
added by jimroberts | editMind, Sir Peter Medawar (Jan 31, 1961)
 

» Add other authors (26 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pierre Teilhard de Chardinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Huxley, JulianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, Daniël deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If this book is to be properly understood, it must be read not as a book on metaphysics, still less as a sort of theological essay, but purely and simply as a scientific treatise.
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Book description
Scritto tra il 1938 e il 1940, rivisto e completato soprattutto tra il 1947 e il 1948, Il Fenomeno umano è sicuramente l'opera più conosciuta di Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), gesuita, scienziato e filosofo tra i più discussi personaggi della prima metà del Novecento, sia in ambito laico sia cattolico, letto da scienziati, commentato sia da teologi che da filosofi.

Concepita come divulgazione scientifica, l'opera, pubblicata postuma nel 1955, intende parlare dell'avventura umana nella natura. Ma per analizzare il fenomeno umano nella sua interezza, l'autore ritiene indispensabile innanzitutto analizzare il processo che, secondo la teoria evolutiva che l'autore re-interpreta, ne ha preceduto l'apparizione e lo sviluppo. Non un'opera onniesplicativa sull'essere umano ma, come afferma significativamente lo stesso autore, il tentativo di individuare una legge sperimentale che descriva la capacità della materia di organizzarsi in forme nuove rispetto a quelle presenti nel passato.

Come è noto, su esplicita affermazione dello stesso Teilhard, questo libro non deve essere letto né come un'opera metafisica, né tanto meno come un saggio teologico, ma esclusivamente come una "memoria scientifica" che intende parlare solo del fenomeno, ma anche di tutto il fenomeno. Nell'intenzione dell'autore, infatti, il metodo da lui adottato deve garantire una descrizione scientifica dell'uomo, seguendone coerentemente i legami genealogici nella scala evolutiva che lega l'inorganico all'organico, ma allo stesso tempo deve fornire anche una interpretazione del fenomeno umano come asse e freccia dell'evoluzione. Proprio quest'ultimo aspetto costituisce la parte più controversa e discussa del pensiero teilhardiano in quanto si intreccia inevitabilmente con le meditazioni del filosofo e del teologo, benché lo stesso autore ha cura di specificare di non essersi avventurato in tali spazi. Il suo intento è, almeno nelle intenzioni, di rimanere rigorosamente all'interno di una descrizione fenomenologico-scientifica del posto occupato dall'uomo all'interno della natura. Ma è consapevole del fatto che se, anche in campo scientifico, non si voglia rinunciare ad inserire l'esperienza in un visione estesa alla totalità, gioco forza scienza, filosofia e religione necessariamente convergono, come accade ai meridiani in prossimità del polo. Ciò non significa, per Teilhard, che si confondano, né che cessino di guardare al reale sotto aspetti e piani diversi. Questa distinzione di diverse chiavi di lettura della realtà, se corretta da un punto di vista metodologico, nella prospettiva di Teilhard non prelude tuttavia ad un dualismo ontologico, che confina la scienza alla sola dimensione materiale, alla cartesiana res extensa, ma ad un riconoscimento che anche lo spirito è espressione della creazione e che quindi può, o meglio deve, essere riconosciuto anche all'interno dell'indagine scientifica.
(piopas)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 006090495X, Paperback)

Pierre Teilhard De Chardin was one of the most distinguished thinkers and scientists of our time. He fits into no familiar category for he was at once a biologist and a paleontologist of world renown, and also a Jesuit priest. He applied his whole life, his tremendous intellect and his great spiritual faith to building a philosophy that would reconcile Christian theology with the scientific theory of evolution, to relate the facts of religious experience to those of natural science.

The Phenomenon of Man, the first of his writings to appear in America, Pierre Teilhard's most important book and contains the quintessence of his thought. When published in France it was the best-selling nonfiction book of the year.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:18 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Visionary theologian and evolutionary theorist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin applied his whole life, his tremendous intellect, and his great spiritual faith to building a philosophy that would reconcile religion with the scientific theory of evolution. In this timeless book, which contains the quintessence of his thought, Teilhard argues that just as living organisms sprung from inorganic matter and evolved into ever more complex thinking beings, humans are evolving toward an "omega point"-defined by Teilhard as a convergence with the Divine"--P. 4 of cover.… (more)

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